“We’re living in an amazing time for visual storytellers. The digital cameras and the post-production software can do things that just a few years ago would have cost millions. Because we don’t have huge crews or large salaries for the cast and crew (most of us are volunteering or are working WAY below our usual rates) we have to rely on creativity and ingenuity to make the show engaging and professional.”
Brett Monk has been a radio, TV and film professional for over 30 years. He is the director and showrunner for the Mount Hideaway series on Amazon. He has acted, directed, and crewed in hundreds of productions over the years. He also planted a non-denominational church where he served as Senior Pastor for 10 years. In addition to his film activities, he co-owns a successful real estate business. Brett lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, daughter, and goldendoodle.
I recently watched the Mount Hideaway pilot episode and was definitely drawn in by it’s energy and humor. Clearly it’s made by people who enjoy the creative process. Season one episodes are being filmed now. I can’t wait to see ‘em.
In this interview, Brett discusses the creative process, blending work and art, and sharing your story.
Jim Wall Coaching (JWC): Could you give us an overview of Mount Hideaway?
Brett: Mount Hideaway is a family-friendly murder mystery TV series now airing on Amazon Prime and paid streaming. The show is filmed in Northern Virginia and Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley with an all-local cast and crew.The pilot episode was released under the title Mount Hideaway. After airing for over six months and tens of thousands of views, the concept was re-worked and will soon be airing as Mount Hideaway Mysteries.
The story is based in a fictional small town in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, just outside a classified government facility. Bethany Shanholtz, a beautiful young government operative, has been assigned to investigate a series of mysteries that threaten both the town and the facility. She’s hampered by the fact that this is her hometown and everybody there remembers her as an awkward teenager who left town after the mysterious disappearance of one of her classmates. She must confront both the enemies of the town and her own past, while maintaining the “cover identity” of her former self.
The vision of this show is to create a highly entertaining family-friendly TV series with strong female characters. Our goal is that women of all ages (and the men who love them) can enjoy a show with drama, action, and romance without worrying about being surprised by profanity, sexual situations, or gratuitous graphic violence.
Mikayla Mulgrew is the producer and lead actor in the Mount Hideaway series. While Mount Hideaway is her first nationally-distributed project as a lead actor and producer, she excels in keeping the sets organized and giving the show a vision for family-friendly entertainment with strong female characters.
The series is being produced and financed independently by the producers. Funding comes from the producers and from the support of fans via the Patreon crowdfunding platform. The show receives a portion of the advertising revenue from Amazon when episodes are viewed and we are seeking additional distribution after more episodes are produced.
JWC: How long were you thinking about Mount Hideaway before giving it life?
Brett: There are some characters and story lines that have been in my head for years. But it was really just about two years ago when we really started developing the project that is now Mount Hideaway.
JWC: How similar is the Mount Hideaway story to your own?
Brett: That’s a really interesting question. So I’m not a beautiful young female spy. ? But living in the DC area, I spent many years making training films for government agencies, including classified projects within the Intelligence Community. So I do have just a little background and understanding of that world.
The heart of the story though, is about someone who came from a small town, moved away, and then later reconnects with their past. I have definitely experienced that and I draw from that in the story of Bethany.
JWC: How much writing do you do for Mount Hideaway?
Brett: We have an amazing team of writers for the series. It includes Mikayla, the co-producer and star of the show, as well as several other really brilliant storytellers. I take the final responsibility for the overall story, but it’s definitely a team effort.
JWC: How does having a micro-budget enhance your creativity?
Brett: We’re living in an amazing time for visual storytellers. The digital cameras and the post-production software can do things that just a few years ago would have cost millions. Because we don’t have huge crews or large salaries for the cast and crew (most of us are volunteering or are working WAY below our usual rates) we have to rely on creativity and ingenuity to make the show engaging and professional.
One really neat thing that our lack of budget does, is that it forces us to build our fanbase “organically.” Studios rely on huge marketing budgets. But we’re building our audience through relationships with our local cast and crew, as well as local businesses who let us use their stores and restaurants and farms as locations. We give them as much publicity as we can and it has turned into a delightful win-win for everybody. We’ve also made some great friends along the way so far…
JWC: What’s been the biggest surprise in the process of making a movie and series?
Brett: I have to say that one unpleasant surprise is just how cruel and mean-spirited some online “reviews” can be. People who think they are hiding behind the anonymity of an online handle can say some really ignorant things that nobody would ever say if they thought they’d ever be held accountable for their words.
JWC: Thank you for your honesty in that reply Brett. Have you begun season one filming?
Brett: We’ve had the pilot available for a little over six months and are just getting started with the filming of the first full season.
JWC: What are your talents and strengths?
Brett: I think what I really bring to the table is the ability to look at a bunch of opportunities and resources, and then figure out a way to put them together in a way that helps people. What I mean by that is, right now there’s a unique opportunity to be able to create a show with relatively inexpensive equipment and put it in front of a global commercial market. We’re putting together a business model for producing a financially sustainable TV series using an “indie film” workflow, which we hope can encourage others to do the same thing.
JWC: Which do you prefer, acting or directing?
Brett: I love both pretty much equally.
JWC: I get the impression that your life is much more interwoven than just “I work,” and then “I create.” Are there any connections between your job at Equity Rise Real Estate and your work as a writer/director?
Brett: I helped found the Equity Rise Real Estate Team in Northern Virginia with a vision to gather a small, close-knit group of people together in a family atmosphere, and serve people in a way that honors God and blesses people. That’s pretty much the same vision as Mount Hideaway. Mikayla and I are gathering a precious family of cast and crew. We’re doing our best to bless and honor our cast and crew, as well as our viewers and fans.
JWC: What encouragement do you have for someone who has a story to tell?
Brett: I have great encouragement for today’s storytellers. I don’t think there has ever been a better time to express your God-given creativity. You can start by making videos with your friends on your phone and posting them to YouTube. Then you can improve your craft and work your way up to anywhere you want to go.
When I got my degree in “Radio/TV/Film” in the 1980’s, cameras weighed thirty pounds and cost tens of thousands of dollars, and there were only four or five TV Channels. Nowadays, there are unlimited opportunities to create, share, and grow.