Fighting For Independence

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Dan Hayes

Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

The Maysles Brothers and their pioneering cinema verite work had a profound impact on my approach to filmmaking. The foundation of a good piece starts with respecting your subject for who they are.


What motivated you to make your impact video?

My motivation to make this video mostly came from Jerral. After all that he went through in service to our country, to be a part of an experimental project where he could potentially regain some function was very exciting and worthwhile. When Tom McCreery and Mike McLoughlin of the Applied Physics Lab told us what they were trying to do with Jerral we couldn’t pass up on the opportunity!


Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

We use the Sony PXW-FS7 and do a lot of pre-production for our stories.


Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.

We use extensive pre-interviews and put together a Script and Storyboard before we arrive to help our production team understand the vision for a piece. This allows us to help our subjects speak in an authentic voice but also helps us focus before we start editing.


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

Pretty close! We added Jerral’s daughter Anastasia and Tom McCreery who had a personal relationship with Jerral to strengthen the story.


Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.

Our Director of Photography, Dustin Oakley, took the lead on many aspects of this project and he said that the family’s reaction was definitely the most powerful part of this filmmaking experience.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

Give yourself a deadline and make stuff! When I started, I did a lot of slide shows with music, short wedding videos and entered contests. All these things helped me build my skills.


What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

Interacting with the people we are profiling. Everyone has an interesting story and being a filmmaker allows me to meet new and interesting people with different passions. Basically it’s a dream job.


What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

I always bring my iPhone which has a meditation app called Headspace on it. Every evening before a shoot, I iron my clothes and lay them out, I print all my questions and release forms and the next morning, I wake up early and meditate to get myself in the right mindset. I feel like this helps me stay calm and present with the people I’m interacting with.


Please provide a brief description of the work or organization featured in your video:

The John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab’s team of neuro and robotics researchers have built one of the most advanced bionic arms in the world. They’ve had success with amputee patients using the bionic arm. Now the APL is conducting experiments with people like Jerral Hancock to build a state-of-the-art prosthetic arm that can be used by those who have sustained spinal cord injuries in addition to the amputation of a limb.


What have you learned about the value and impact of the project?

Human beings have an incredible ability to find new solutions and drive progress. It’s made so crystal clear by the people in these stories. It is a privilege for us to be able to capture that.


Please share a personal story about your experience making this impact video.

At one point during the filming as Jerral was really starting to get the hang of using the arm, he took a bit of a step back and said “I’m worried about getting too attached to this thing…” In that moment, everyone on set was reminded of the daily struggle Jerral and his family face and just how hard everything is for him. It was a powerful moment.


What do you want audiences to take away from this video?

I won’t answer this question. 🙂 For audience to decide.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

What’s the point of this video?

What did you learn?

Did it make you think about the topic in a new way? How?


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

Sign up at for more stories like Jerral’s or visit the John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab website.


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.) relevant to the context of the issue discussed in your video:,



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