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Grand Rapids Film Festival judge looks for films with unique stories

Daniel Dobson applies the same critical analysis to Grand Rapids Film Festival submissions that he applies to his own creative work.
Daniel Dobson

Daniel Dobson /Courtesy of Daniel Dobson

Grand Rapids Film Festival

April 9-13

Eve Lounge at the BOB

20 Monroe Ave NW

Grand Rapids Public Museum

272 Pearl Street NW

KCAD Woodbridge N. Ferris Building

17 Pearl Street NW

Pyramid Scheme

68 Commerce Avenue



This story is part of a series focusing on the Grand Rapids film scene and the Grand Rapids Film Festival. To read the rest of the series, click here.

Daniel Dobson has a rich and diverse portfolio: he has done two combat tours in Iraq with the U.S. Army, has worked as a filmmaker with nonprofit film company Flannel on Ed's Story, has served as president of Fuse Pictures since 2008, and writes and speaks publicly on political and faith-based issues. Last year he was a guest on CNN’s Faces of Faith and was a contributor to Morning WOOD. This year he is a third-tier judge for the Grand Rapids Film Festival.

“I’m a thorough believer that life is an adventure and if you’re not doing anything and everything you’re missing out,” he says. “I want to do everything and go everywhere and see everything.”

Since 2008 Dobson has served as executive producer on Ed’s Story, a seven-part series documenting his father, former Calvary Church pastor Ed Dobson, as the elder Dobson deals with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The younger Dobson graduated from Cornerstone University in 2013 with a bachelor's degree in media and communications. He has owned Fuse Pictures, which offers production consultations in addition to shooting movies, since 2008. 

Daniel Dobson also currently serves as a third-tier judge for the Grand Rapids Film Festival, which will run April 9-13 downtown. The third round of judges recommends films to the fourth and final round of judges, which ultimately award films.

“I looked for a unique story or a story told in a unique way,” he says. “That was number one. It also has to be a well-performed piece. I’m a firm believer that if you have good actors and a good story you can shoot something on an iPhone and it will be good. I’ve seen a lot of films with a story that’s been done a hundred times before and it hurts to watch. I love stories and good structure and archetypes, and there are two local films I watched that I couldn’t give enough praise for. When a film gets those things right I love it. When it doesn’t, I hate it.”

Dobson applies similar principles to his own work at Fuse Pictures.

“If I don’t feel a story is unique enough I don’t pursue it,” he says. “Writing is tough. It’s introspective and lonely and soul-crushingly difficult. But once you hit your pace and figure out the story and the characters and everything clicks, it’s magical.”

Fuse Pictures’ head writer is currently teaching children in China, and Dobson regularly corresponds with him about projects through CeltX. Dobson says his belief that collaboration is essential in every aspect of filmmaking goes back to his team-based training in the military.

“I've got a few people in town that I absolutely love working with, and I believe that one talented individual, no matter how talented they are, will never produce something better than a team," he says. "I don’t feel comfortable making movies without a good team. You can make a movie with a team of guys here in town but it’s hard to keep that team together.”

Dobson was on his second tour in Iraq when he filmed an amateur movie with fellow soldiers during free time. The introduction to the world of filmmaking convinced him to leave Western Michigan University after returning from the military to enter Cornerstone University’s media and communications program.

“[The military film] was my first foray into making movies. There was a steep learning curve because I knew nothing,” Dobson says. “It built some bad habits in me, but I came to understand that movies don’t just get made but are forced into existence. That’s stuck with me as I’ve tried to make a career out of [film].”

Dobson is currently working on a feature film based on a true story with Fuse Pictures about a young evangelical girl that encounters opposition to her faith when she attends college. He also continues to work for the U.S. Army as a multimedia illustrator.

Dobson predicts Ed’s Story will be finished this year.

“We’re about to jump into production on the last two [installments],” he says. “I’m excited to have it come to a conclusion because it’s been rough. [The end of the series] is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Dobson says he isn't sure what the future holds for him, although he plans to continue writing and speaking.

“I love making movies because I like telling stories and connecting people to an idea,” he says. “I’m an experiential writer. Everything I’ve done is through trial and error. As long as I’m expanding what I can do, I’m expanding what I can write about and speak to.”

To read Dobson’s writing, visit his blog. For more information on Ed’s Story visit the series website. For more information on the Grand Rapids Film Festival visit their website or email the festival.

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