DERRICK Interview with Blind Filmmaker Michael Schwartz

November 11, 2016

michaelschwartzEncouragement Speaker Derrick Hayes gives a DERRICK Interview by asking 7 questions through each letter of his first name to give you an insightful perspective from other experts, entrepreneurs, celebrities and up and coming super stars.

Today’s DERRICK Interview is with Michael Schwartz who is a legally blind filmmaker and owner of Trailhead Productions brings fifteen years of experience in television news and production to the table, and you’ll see what that means all along the way. An award winning reporter, Michael knows television and works for you with the same dedication and ideals valued by the best in the business.   “We’re the storytellers, not the story.”  That means that at Trailhead, we never forget that you and your dreams are the stars of the show.

D is for Dream. What is your dream, goals or what have you achieved?

I’m a big believer in breaking through boundaries. Although I’ve been gradually losing my eyesight since I was thirteen years old, my dream was to pursue a career in visual storytelling, and I’ve never taken “no” for an answer. Through a career as a broadcast reporter and photographer, and now as a documentary filmmaker, I’ve seen firsthand that it’s possible to merge the worlds of visual storytelling and visual impairment. From my first job all the way through my current film. Following my own passions, though, cannot and should not be the end of the story. My dream is to change perceptions, raise expectations and make a difference in the world of inclusion for people with disabilities.

E is for Education. What is your educational background and how do you use it daily?

I went to the University of Missouri School of Journalism. What I loved so much about my education there is that no matter what your specific goals were, you had to learn everything about the business. It wasn’t good enough to want to be just an anchor, or a reporter, or a photographer, or any of the other jobs in journalism. You had to learn it all, and I had so many opportunities to learn skills that have benefited me throughout my career as a storyteller. Understanding what makes up a good picture, learning how to tell a concise story, understanding how to combine dozens of stories to build a newscast that makes sense… it’s all about crafting stories that make a difference.

R is for Resource. What resources do you bring to the table that makes you unique or stand out?

The first resource actually doesn’t have anything to do with tools of the trade. It has to do with drive and resilience. The fact of the matter is that if you’re going to be a visual storyteller who’s visually impaired, there has to be an inner belief in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, nothing else matters.

I also rely on the twin pillars of of communication and partnership. While it’s easy to talk about the mechanics of how I do my job – working with the spatial and acoustic dynamics of an environment or a set to frame a shot, or shooting on a 4K camera to edit in a 1080 timeline, or not thinking of color itself as much as color profiles to use waveforms and vectorscopes to craft the mood and design of a shot, these are all just that” mechanics. They explain how do my job, but not why I do my job. I do my job because I get to work with a team of creative professions who share a creative vision. It’s what gets me up every morning in search of great stories to tell.

R is for Ready. When did you realize you were ready for what you are doing now?

I think the key to realizing your dreams is that you shouldn’t wait until you feel you’re 100% ready. The truth is that day may never come. There will always be at least one unanswered question, one skill you could hone a little more, one step you may feel you’re not ready to take yet. Life is about leaps of faith. When I set out to start my own business, one based on a risky proposition and an uncertain outcome – staring a video production company even though I’m visually impaired – the one thing I had was a belief that I could succeed. Yes, you start a venture with as many resources as you can muster and your prepare as much as you can, but success is based on action, and action requires at least a certain amount of faith in yourself. Really, I knew I was ready because I believed in myself.

I is for Individual. Name at least one individual in your network that others should learn more about and why?

I can’t speak highly enough of my colleague and friend Maxwell Ivey. Max calls himself the Blind Blogger, but his life is about so much more than his blindness. It’s about always seeking self-improvement, expanding horizons and making a difference. Max knows how to start with a dream, use the resources he’s developed over the course of a lifetime of finding unique solutions to difficult challenges, learning new skills to help him achieve his goals and always looking to the future.

C is for Challenges. What challenges have you had to overcome?

I believe that the challenge anyone with a dream has to overcome is facing down low expectations. What I’ve found is that people tend to rise to the expectations we set for them. As a creative artist – a filmmaker – who is visually impaired, I work every day not only to coordinate a creative vision with my team, but also to lead others to a world where there is no barrier to achievement. I direct and even shoot documentaries, and will continue to do this throughout and beyond the process of losing my eyesight. This is because there is a certain truism that we all have to come to accept, that pursuing one’s passion is the best starting point, because there are no barriers to accomplishment.

K is for Key. What keys to success can you leave for upcoming entrepreneurs and leaders?

There is really one key to success. Set the bar high for yourself and for those who share your passions. This doesn’t mean you’ll never make a mistake. As they say, that’s why pencils have erasers. High expectations push you to challenge yourself, and it motivates you to constantly question your own assumptions… even the ones you don’t know you have. Expecting the highest level of performance from everyone you work with encourages you to pursue nothing short of excellence.

Michael is a friend of mine, and I want to encourage you to support his new documentary series, “The Palette Project: Losing Sight, Maintaining A Vision.” He’s made it really easy to pledge with a micropayment of just $1 for the videos he’s posting on his Patreon feed. This is a great way to show your support, and you can make a difference by helping him make a difference. Plus, you get to see some pretty amazing videos of some pretty amazing people, and learn what it’s like to be a visually impaired filmmaker. – Maxwell Ivey

The DAILY (Derricknyms, Apps and Ideas to Lift You) Message for Thursday

August 22, 2013

Encouragement Speaker Derrick Hayes brings you The DAILY Message on Thursday August 22nd, 2013 to empower and inspire you to your next level.

(Please read and Like, Share, Retweet or Reblog The DAILY Message)

In This Issue:

1. The Daily Derricknym is DOLLAR. Another Day Another DOLLAR (Daily Optimism Let’s Life Assure you Resources

2. Today’s word is Sign. Before you go for it there will be symbols in your mind of what to look for on your way. Paying attention to the safety signs in from of you can save you strife and save your life. This is brought to you by Motivation Your Mobile and you can download Today’s word to your Android or I Phone.

3. Idea for today is to save a life.

Derrick Hayes, an alumnus of Tennessee State University provides you with The DAILY Message and is  available for small and large meetings, church events, academic speaking engagements and workshops. Please visit Derrick’s website at  and to book him for a speaking engagement or media event, send an email to  or call (706) 615-1662.

Christian rap group returns to entertain, encourage with holiday show

December 13, 2008

by Laura McKnight – Staff Writer

HOUMA — Christmas is about to get a sweet new beat.

Christian rap trio, Sons of a King, known as S.O.A.K., is set to perform at 6 p.m. Saturday in Talbot Auditorium on the campus of Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. The group, part of the holy hip-hop movement, includes (from left) Yung Semaj of South Carolina, Lunie 3:80 of Atlanta and Judah Man of the Chicago area. To watch a music video by the group, visit Local audiences can celebrate the season with holy hip-hop as a trio of Christian rappers stages its “Lil Rapper Boy” concert in Thibodaux this weekend.


Sons of a King, known as S.O.A.K., are set to perform at 6 p.m. Saturday in Talbot Auditorium on the campus of Nicholls State University. Doors open at 5 p.m. Tickets are $10 each.

“I’m looking forward to the people,” said Yung Semaj, one of the group’s rappers, in a phone interview, citing the warm welcome the group received during last year’s show in Thibodaux. “I’m also looking forward to the food.”

The group, part of a Christian rap movement known as Holy Hip Hop, features three rappers who mix their various styles and backgrounds for one gospel-inspired flow. S.O.A.K. members include Lunie 3:80 of Atlanta, Judah Man of Chicago and Yung Semaj of South Carolina. This weekend’s show follows the late November release of the group’s newest album, “Rags 2 Royalty.” The trio performs original rap music as well as Christian remixes of popular songs like “Crank Dat Holy Ghost” and their version of the hit “Walk It Out” by Unk.

S.O.A.K. performed on the Nicholls campus last December, drawing about 230 people from the Houma-Thibodaux area, Morgan City and Raceland to the show, said Mileina Battaglia, owner of Just Jazzin’ Dance in Thibodaux, the group organizing the event.

“I hope that this year we will have even more people come out and that we put on the best show for them,” said Lunie 3:80 in an e-mail to The Courier. “We want to see people walk away from this with a new outlook on life and know whatever you are going through today, it will be better tomorrow.”

Battaglia said she expects larger crowds this year as seats in the front and center of the auditorium have already sold out, and a number of youth groups plan to attend.

After last year’s show, crowd members told Battaglia they wished they had brought more people along for the performance, she said. Some had no idea what to expect from a set of holy hip-hoppers, but biblical lyrics and danceable beats won their affection, she said.

“People absolutely loved it,” Battaglia said.

S.O.A.K. created a music video during last year’s visit, using Talbot Hall, the Howard Johnson, a day care and other spots in the city as sets. The video for “Dance All Night” showcases dance and tumbling moves by Battaglia’s students as well as children and teens involved in Hope Extreme, an urban ministry in Houma.

The rap trio also staged a free pre-show performance for Hope Extreme, an act that fits in with S.O.A.K.’s mission to make a positive impact on youth, Battaglia said.

The rap group performs at churches, schools, events and outreaches across the country, but Yung Semaj said S.O.A.K. is eager to return to Cajun country.

“This is the one we’ve been waiting on,” he said.

Lunie 3:80 described the group’s last visit as “super great,” writing that Thibodaux “felt like a home away from home.”

The Atlanta rapper said he enjoys the food — “Hands down, and the fact that the community was so open in welcoming us like we lived there.”

He also likes “the rush of being on stage performing something that you created” and seeing audiences get touched.

“But the best part is getting to fellowship with the fans after the show is over,” he writes.

Yung Semaj also talked about the enthusiastic welcome from locals, the gumbo and his craving for more praline catfish.

“I’m a big seafood lover,” he said.

Battaglia and S.O.A.K. set up last year’s show after Battaglia contacted them to tell them how much their music had impacted a local student.

The dance instructor uses a lot of hip-hop music by Christian artists, including S.O.A.K., in her dance practices and performances. The studio includes a ministry team that dances and tumbles at local community events, such as the annual Thibodeauxville Fall Festival.

Battaglia and the rappers have kept in regular contact since the 2007 show, with Battaglia and her dance students traveling to various places to serve as backup dancers for S.O.A.K.

Battaglia and seven other dancers, including males and females ranging in age from 8 to 35, danced during S.O.A.K.’s performance of “Warrior” at the Holy Hip Hop Music Awards in Atlanta last year.

The same group danced for S.O.A.K. at Beach Blaze, an annual Christian rock and rap event in Panama City Beach, Fla. S.O.A.K. and the local dancers also visited five Florida schools during the trip, performing Christian rap and speaking to about 2,100 students about self-esteem, integrity and making good decisions.

“They said, ‘We didn’t know they had music about church that was this much fun,’ ” Battaglia said.

Battaglia traveled on her own to South Carolina to perform with S.O.A.K. at a Christian music event, then at an outdoor block party in a low-income neighborhood.

S.O.A.K.’s music falls under the label of Christian rap or holy hip-hop, but Lunie writes that their sound serves as “God-centered music for the masses,” often gaining more acceptance from the general public than the church crowd.

Yung Semaj said he hopes audiences see that God uses different — sometimes head-bobbing — tools to reach people. He compares S.O.A.K. to a contemporary version of the Bible’s King David, himself a songwriter and musician, and hopes crowds join in the beat-driven praise.

“I’m just like baffled at how my gift that God has given me, that others can participate in it,” he said.

For information on the show, call Battaglia at 447-8005 or e-mail her at

For information on the rappers, visit, http://www.lunie, and

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