The Amber Stitt Show

Focus On Talents: A Filmmaker's Musings on Success, Consistency, Patience, Persistence, & Professionalism with Josh Dragotta

October 10, 2023 Amber Stitt
The Amber Stitt Show
Focus On Talents: A Filmmaker's Musings on Success, Consistency, Patience, Persistence, & Professionalism with Josh Dragotta
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to The Amber Stitt Show! 

In this episode, host Amber Stitt welcomes Josh Dragotta, a talented director, producer and audio/video editor working remotely with a Los Angeles based advertising agency. 

Join them as they discuss Josh's journey in the film industry, from his early days in Tucson to his current passion for directing documentaries. 

They delve into the importance of following your creative passions, the power of networking, patience, persistence, professionalism, and the evolution of one's career. 

If you're interested in the behind-the-scenes of filmmaking, the art of storytelling, and inspiration for every type of career, this episode is a must-listen. 

Don't miss out on the valuable insights and wisdom shared by Josh in this episode of The Amber Stitt Show! 

Josh Dragotta has been working in the entertainment industry for more than twenty years. His work as a director has earned him selections in film festivals both domestically and internationally. 

He has directed countless short films and music videos as well as two feature films. Josh is currently in post production on his third feature entitled Cabali and The Tiki Mug Obsession due to be released in 2024. 

In addition to directing, Josh has been a professional A/V editor working for theatrical advertising agencies in Los Angels for the past ten years editing teasers, trailers, and commercials.

To learn more about Josh please use these links:

Amber Stitt [00:00:00]:

Hello, and welcome to The Amber Stitt Show. I am your host, Amber Stitt, and today we're going to welcome Josh Dragotta today to the show. Welcome, Josh.

Josh Dragotta [00:00:08]:

Hi, thanks. Thanks for having me.

Amber Stitt [00:00:10]:

I thought that we'd mix it up a little bit by having a producer/editor. What is your title exactly, Josh? I want the audience to know a little bit about you, or maybe a lot about you. And I think there's more to the story than what I've learned from our mutual colleague. So, I'm going to let you share a little bit.

Josh Dragotta [00:00:25]:

It depends on the week. It depends on the day. My occupation is as an AV, an audio video editor. I work for an ad agency in Los Angeles. And so that's sort of like the day to day gig. But the passion what sort of keeps me up at nights and gets me up in the morning is directing and documentaries in particular.

Amber Stitt [00:00:51]:

And I like that you're bringing that up because I feel like we're moving into this world of a lot of people, or even my clients. They have their primary and then they're also doing other things. Maybe we'll call it passive income strategies. There's this other thing that's driving them and sometimes that day job might morph just into the passive income, or there's a mix. I almost feel like that's the beauty of what's coming up next generation, even down to Gen Z, is you can really create anything you want to do for your profession. Or, as you become a subject matter expert, you might then go, "Aha", I can help with this. Your network, or community brings something to you and you go, "Okay, here's this new idea. This is great, let's try this out."

Amber Stitt [00:01:32]:

And so let's go back in time a little bit. And for the audience of Pathways of Peak Performance, it's really we start with the foundation of focusing on talents, but that's really this large category of personal development and the story behind where you are today. So, I know we talked about you being in Tucson, Arizona. You work with people on the West Coast. How did this even begin for you?

Josh Dragotta [00:01:51]:

Well, I lived in Tucson for a number of years in the late mid to late 90s into early 2000. And while I was here, I made a film. I did a feature I did a bunch of music videos and stuff like that, but I made a feature film. And when I finished that film, I needed to move to LA. Just simply because of that's where the...

Amber Stitt [00:02:10]:

Proximity, the vibe, community, network, further career advancement.

Josh Dragotta [00:02:15]:

So got to LA. And just sort know, knew, no, I didn't have any family in the business, or anything. It was just like really sort of green. And I just got a job as an executive assistant, and I got a job as a coordinator, and then I got a job as a location scout. And I just started sort of working my way. But the whole time in that process, I kept making videos, I kept making short films and kept networking and meeting people. I had always, as a matter of circumstance, had to edit. Like, it was just I couldn't afford to pay an editor to edit my stuff.

Amber Stitt [00:02:49]:

Solo entrepreneurs, are you hearing this? Sometimes you just have to do it all.

Josh Dragotta [00:02:55]:

And after a bunch of short films and lots of music videos, I decided to direct another feature film. And it was exciting. It was a documentary called, "Satan's Angel, Queen of the Fire Tassels". And it got us some really good recognition, allowed me to travel, go to film festivals internationally, went to Helsinki. It played in Tel Aviv. It played all over the place. And then I needed to make some more money.

Amber Stitt [00:03:21]:


Josh Dragotta [00:03:22]:

So that's where the editing sort of came to light in terms of an occupational pathway. I got in with an ad agency and started editing a lot of documentaries, short forum documentaries, behind the scenes documentaries for DVDs, and then short promos for TV and Internet and theater ads.

Amber Stitt [00:03:40]:

But you always knew you had that creative vision to see where things almost probably from an aesthetic. But you talk about AV, too. Like, there's the sound quality, there's certain things that you're perfecting and really paying attention to that people just naturally are used to, especially now more than ever. But there's a lot of work that goes into it behind the scenes. And maybe there's more innovation now, but still, you have to have that seal of approval of quality before it can be released to the world.

Josh Dragotta [00:04:05]:

You're so right. Yeah. I mean, I think that early career helped because I had to do so many of those things. I had to have a producer hat. I had to constantly thinking about a budget, I had to constantly think about a deadline and presentation and the marketing elements of whatever I was doing. So it helped. When it came to doing a short form doc, I inherently knew what I needed to edit to put together a story. It was a lot of creativity, which is what I liked, because producers or creative director would give you, they'd say, "Okay, here's 300.

Josh Dragotta [00:04:37]:

Now we're going to do a little piece on how they prepared to get themselves in shape and lift weights" and all this kind of stuff right?

Amber Stitt [00:04:43]:

Like your trailer, of whatever it might be, to summarize whatever you're focusing on.

Josh Dragotta [00:04:48]:

So storytelling was just something that I had to kind of learn from a very, very beginning, and I think it's helped me.

Amber Stitt [00:04:55]:

I like how you share the steps as you're going through these jobs. I work a lot with the younger kind of the next generation, but I want also people that are in this phase of transition. A lot of people are doing this retirement kind of switch from what they might have always done and they're seeing maybe a consultant role, or something else. I see two different worlds because I have a lot of older business partners, or strategic partners, and then I see the need for these young minds to come in. Sometimes if something doesn't make sense, it can at some point. So there's some faith in that. The work that you're learning, it can be applicable later. So something's not fully connecting, but you're doing this to survive, it can come around and you might not have that "Aha" moment until five years later and you're like, oh, that makes some sense.

Amber Stitt [00:05:38]:

So giving yourself some patience that I don't think you're going to always just know what you're supposed to do when you grow up, or maybe you just keep evolving and you're always doing a little bit more as you grow. And I think that's what's kind of cool about getting older is I can say there's some wisdom there in the track record but.. Absolutely. You talked about going out to a city to kind of alone and just meeting people. There is a way to utilize your community to kind of fast track and work with people that can help you get to that next level quicker, faster. So I'm not saying skip steps, but sometimes there's some steps that don't make sense, but keep trying and pushing forward. I mean, you could be a testament to that.

Josh Dragotta [00:06:18]:

I think that is the key. Somebody told me this a long time ago and it stuck with me. You always hear the phrase, "It's who you know." It's who you know, right? Like it's all about who you know. Well, somebody told me, "It's not about who you know, it's who knows you." So really just putting yourself out there, constantly networking, constantly creating. If you're pursuing a career in the creative arts, you've got to keep creating because your skill-set will get better, your communication skills will get better, and your network will get bigger. There'll be things that you need and that other people need and you'll work together to create something.

Amber Stitt [00:06:54]:

I'm so happy you bring this up because communication is one thing. My brain was heading towards this point. I did not want to gloss over your documentaries and what goes behind the scenes to then get to these festivals and then have it go global because you're kind of glossing over the importance behind what that really means. And I only have a small sliver of understanding what production value is putting yourself out there. I think there's like two things I want to ask you more about the documentary side, but I also want to touch on the fact that you're talking about people the more people who you know, but like, who knows you? The mentors I have in my world, they talk about that all the time and they'll almost apologize, like, "If you don't know me, that's my fault. Let me get you some access to something," so it's almost like you're evolving this portfolio. "So creatives," you said, "keep creating."

Amber Stitt [00:07:40]:

I don't know that it's for creatives anymore. Just if you are not creating some movement, some volunteerism, something, whatever it could be, you could be missing out because there's so much global competition now, too. But communication, humans need that. So if we are not communicating, or giving people access to the great work, you won't be as relevant I guess is the point. So we have to keep working on communication skills. Even last night we had this dinner party and they were talking about how and I almost say it's like the currency any more. If you can't communicate and bring tribes of people together that are literally creating new ideas, it might be in your form, or fashion. I do a lot of strategic planning and consulting, too, outside of a selling insurance.

Amber Stitt [00:08:22]:

We talk about thought leadership. But I think you're so right in that fine tuning. If you're not really sure what your story is yet or where you're talented, diving into personal development but working on communication skills hands down, you can't go wrong there.

Josh Dragotta [00:08:36]:

It's huge.

Amber Stitt [00:08:37]:

So thanks for bringing that up. But let's talk about the behind the scenes and the reason I want to talk about behind the scenes for entrepreneurship, or people that might not want to be business owners but have this idea and they're inside a corporate organization. "Intrepreneurship" they can call it, too. You have these ideas for these documentaries and so how does it start an idea, you wake up and you're like this is wild, but we should do this. Or, is it a person that you meet, or both?

Josh Dragotta [00:09:01]:

There are some projects that I do that I'm like, "Oh, that would be a great idea." I have one idea right now that I have been sitting on and I want to do it so badly and it's a documentary but it's big and I need more money for it. But in the case of the past two docs, they've come to me. Like in the case of the Satan's Angel film, we had a movie that we were doing, a short film and we were going to festivals with that and my producing partner met her at on of these festivals and he called me and he's like...

Amber Stitt [00:09:31]:

Which is a connection.

Josh Dragotta [00:09:33]:

"Dude, I just met this woman, like you're going to go crazy. She has got a story." So that's one and then with the new one that I'm working on now, "Cabali and the Tiki Mug Obsession".

Amber Stitt [00:09:42]:

Fantastic video.

Josh Dragotta [00:09:44]:

Thank you. Thank you so much. Beautiful editing.

Amber Stitt [00:09:48]:

I want to go there. I just want to go there and hang out.

Josh Dragotta [00:09:50]:

Oh, you've got to. Once it's open it's going to be a gas. It's fun. But in the case of that picture, this one that I'm working on now, the person came to me and said, "Hey, I have this idea, I'm making this bar..." and he's talking, he's talking, he's talking. And he goes, and I'm going to put these tiki mugs in. I have this collection of tiki mugs. It's close to a thousand. I'm like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.

Josh Dragotta [00:10:10]:

What do you mean you have tiki mugs? And what do you mean you have what are you talking about? And he's like, "Oh, like tiki mugs, I'm going to put them in this place." And I'm like, okay, that's a movie.

Amber Stitt [00:10:18]:

Who's obsessed with yeah, I mean, that's a detail. Someone's just going to go, yeah, he didn't even think it's like, if you have these crazy ideas, let them be crazy and big, even if they don't make sense to anybody. And it can be lonely, too. Like, having to justify it. I can see it, "What? What do you mean?" "Trust me, you got me." And that's where your community can help vet you out, too, and say like, "No, he'll make it work." Yeah, well keep going.

Josh Dragotta [00:10:40]:

No, you're right on the money. And I said to him, I'm like, "Well, let's go over to your house and I'd like to just interview you and just shoot you in your environment." To me, that's like the first once you think you might have something, like, in my case, a documentary, okay, here's the person that's the subject matter, the protagonist, if you will. Right, let me shoot them. And I want to see what they're like on camera. Because if they're dull, or they're just not that interesting, or they can't convey this story on the camera, then you're kind of like, it's a great story, but you don't really have a good lead character in your movie, or your story. So I went over to his place and, man, I'll tell you, it's like he just was going through the whole house and I shot him for a couple of hours. And I'm going through all that footage now, and I'm pulling from that first.

Amber Stitt [00:11:28]:

Oh, yeah, it's probably like so much gold magician hat.

Josh Dragotta [00:11:32]:

Yeah. So it's that kind of thing. And the you build from there.

Amber Stitt [00:11:37]:

So you have these ideas. There's different forms to take shape to get the screenplay ready, or whatever you're doing, let's just say in this type of world. And then you have to say, what's my budget and who do I want to be in it? I think I saw some footage of you in a pool, like a supermodel reel almost for somebody. Was that you?

Josh Dragotta [00:11:57]:

Was it a kickstarter, maybe?

Amber Stitt [00:11:59]:

And so it's like you have these ideas, then you got to go find the money. And again, there's no difference between, I think this directing in this documentary with investing in yourself or your business. It takes some money, but sometimes it doesn't have to be your money. It could be a project, that's crowdfunded or there's other ways. And so I think part of having you here is that if there is an idea that just doesn't make sense. There is potentially a way, but there might be a creative way. So in your world, it'd be getting people to maybe what do they call it? Crowdfunding, or investing into your project.

Josh Dragotta [00:12:34]:

Right, we've done that.

Amber Stitt [00:12:36]:

Yeah, but I mean, sometimes you might have to take and put money into personal development. I think we could always be learning, but I want people to think about, like, these things that we naturally just have on TV, or that we just see. It takes a lot of marketing ad spend to get access to people, to then see it as you're trying to channel energy and efforts. Are you doing all that you can to really put your ideas into motion, work on them behind the scenes? It takes work. It's not going to be easy, but if you can really put it together and then use the people that you know and who knows you, that can also help you launch. I think you've had a couple of different projects where it's taken shape or form of like you weren't expecting it. And then this last one went all over the globe. Right?

Josh Dragotta [00:13:18]:


Amber Stitt [00:13:18]:

I mean, is that normal to be in US. Festivals and then move beyond?

Josh Dragotta [00:13:23]:

I don't mean let's create our own norm. For me, I was like, "This is great!" Like, "Yeah, I'm going on the road with this movie for three weeks." We had a good story and people around the world wanted to hear it, so it gave us that opportunity.

Amber Stitt [00:13:40]:

So is there anything, like, if you could go back, I don't know, ten years and say "Hey" to yourself, your former self, is there any advice to give to the younger you?

Josh Dragotta [00:13:50]:

Oh, gosh. Well, there's always things you think about. To your point earlier with raising money, because I think that's really, really important.

Amber Stitt [00:13:57]:

Because you don't want to give up just because the funds are not in your account right now. There could be a way, and there could be strategic partners. And I think for my industry, sometimes people feel like if I'm an investment advisor, I have to have the biggest firm, or we'll just say anything in financial services, I need to have the biggest XYZ. But I'm finding that if you specialize in niche down and bring in some partners, you're not going to show up to A-B-C-D, but you're still getting, you're participating. And it also keeps that kind of fresh and exciting, too, when you have multiple projects but you're not physically showing up to them, some of those people might be funding some of these things. There's ways to be creative, I guess, is the point.

Josh Dragotta [00:14:36]:

Yeah, I agree. What I found in all of my projects, and every one of them, is once you start getting a ball rolling and you're able to show the progression of the project, it's like a snowball. It really starts to grow. And people just want to be involved and then you can pay that forward to other folks. Do you know what I mean? Like what you're talking about. Then you can jump on other projects and have your hands on those. We're in a really interesting time, certainly with crowdfunding. And also in my case, documentaries, they've really become popular.

Josh Dragotta [00:15:04]:

They weren't this popular before. I mean, if you made a documentary.

Amber Stitt [00:15:07]:

It was just like it's like National Geographic. And you're like, that's what old people watch.

Josh Dragotta [00:15:10]:

No, yeah, now it's everything.

Amber Stitt [00:15:13]:

It's storytelling too. And I think sometimes when we go back to how can you make an impression? And people say, "I don't have a great story. I didn't have some trauma, or I had some major trauma." There's like different dynamics. But I think that's where people want real, authentic storytelling, and being relatable. And I think that's where in the last few years, I feel like it's been, what would you say? Three years. Five years.

Josh Dragotta [00:15:36]:

When we did our film, we put it out in 2012. At that point, Netflix was just starting to acquire docs so that the could put on their platform. But prior to that, it was like they were getting things and now they'll play it. But at that point, they started to say, "Oh, this is a branded Netflix documentary." It's been the last, I don't know, maybe the last ten years in which we've seen, yeah, I would say about a slow ramp up.

Amber Stitt [00:16:00]:

But then you're seeing the culture change too, with these big actors coming in and doing the series now, not so much the movies. So there's an interesting shift there too. But that just goes to show, just like the one way people have been doing things does not mean there can't be an evolution of some sort that can work. And we've seen that with podcasting and having things not just be on the media being controlled by others. Like, let's talk about what you and I want to talk about. And put that out. Yeah. So I felt like when we were meeting, it was like and I think I mentioned this, too it's like there's this book, "Big Magic" by Elizabeth Gilbert, there is a part of this.

Amber Stitt [00:16:35]:

And I talk about my podcast and my grandmother, who's amazing. We call her Marvelous Marjorie, but she sent me this book, and she goes, Page 34. And I think it was 34 or 32. But they talk about ideas are like entities, and this is not scientifically proven, but there is something you're mentioning. It's almost like this energy, this magic that can happen if you're working on something and you truly believe in it. And it's just making some sense. There then it can translate. It's going to bring people around you that can help you execute.

Amber Stitt [00:17:02]:

And so that's where I always go back to focusing on talents, too. Like if you know you're good at X and you need a person that can do Y and Z. Then you have your team. And it can be independent contractors. It doesn't mean employees. Or, you can really mix this up or strategic partner and revenue share on things after you get the work done. And there's so many ways to do it. So that's where I think the takeaway for the patience for today would be really utilizing, like how you had said, the creativity.

Josh Dragotta [00:17:28]:


Amber Stitt [00:17:29]:


Josh Dragotta [00:17:29]:

It'll open doors and it'll contribute in a way that you might not see right away, but it could if you're consistent, if you're passionate, if you're talented, if you're all those things, it will bring, I believe it will bring all those people that you need for those little roles. I mean, with this movie we're doing right now, we were in a spot where we needed money. I mean, as always, it's always the case, right? So I created this scene. It was a two and a half minute scene, and it'll be in the movie. But the whole goal of this thing no spoilers. No spoilers, but the whole point of this thing was to just show it to a couple of money people and let them see what I mean. Now, I'm telling you, we color corrected it. We mixed it.

Josh Dragotta [00:18:13]:

Like, we got all the sound effects that we like. We made this thing look like what the movie will look like, and we got money. It was like, "Okay, these guys are for real. Yeah, we'll put money in." That's just one example.

Amber Stitt [00:18:27]:

There is a constant thing happening in the conversation with you, consistency. You talk about being talented, or doing some of these things, but what I'm hearing, that and this is the same thing with marketing. You could pay mentors to tell you it's not always the IQ, or the book smart, it's the person that keeps showing up and being consistent. So for the audience, motivate for today, for the listeners, that what are you doing that you know that you're talented in? What are you doing to push that to the next level and surrounding yourself with the environment that's going to let you move into that? And that could be that. Pushing yourself out of a grouping of people to go to people that want to elevate that. That's what I'm hearing. It's like the money was the main thing and you perfected. And so that's where the details do matter.

Amber Stitt [00:19:08]:

If you think that you can just show up and kind of coast through it, it's really you have to really show up and set yourself apart, whatever that is for you.

Josh Dragotta [00:19:16]:

I think that's so true. And if nothing, the past 20 years in this business has showed me is what you're going to put in front of people has to be the absolute best that you can possibly do. And you have to look at the things that are great, and you have to achieve that. You just have to. You cannot sacrifice anything in the process, you have to be as good as it possibly can.

Amber Stitt [00:19:38]:

The foundation and the process. I like that, too, because really you can have a business that's making money, but if the concrete foundation is not built in the house correctly, you're going to potentially have some issues down the road. So I feel like to kind of wrap this up, it's like sensing that energy around the ideas, but then also having some patience with yourself because it can work itself out in different phases or depending upon maybe the environment or the community that you're putting yourself around. But I'm really excited to see where this goes now that I've known you for a couple of months now, waiting. So I'll have to get that special invite to the special place. I don't remember the location of the bar.

Josh Dragotta [00:20:17]:

It's in Oro Valley. It's going to be an Oro Valley.

Amber Stitt [00:20:19]:

Oh my gosh, that's so funny.

Josh Dragotta [00:20:22]:

Are you in Oro Valley?

Amber Stitt [00:20:23]:

The way that the vibe is like, "We're on an island."

Josh Dragotta [00:20:26]:

You're going to just be blown away when you go in this place. It's just remarkable.

Amber Stitt [00:20:30]:

Is there anything that you think would be helpful or fun that we didn't touch on, that I just didn't know enough about you to ask?

Josh Dragotta [00:20:36]:

The community. Just surrounding yourself with, focus on helping others, and the those folks help you like, whatever it is, it doesn't have to be movies. It could be whatever.

Amber Stitt [00:20:46]:

Genuinely reciprocating.

Josh Dragotta [00:20:48]:

Totally. I mean, I said this just a moment ago, but just giving it your all and taking your time, don't rush, patience, and persistence and professionalism. Those are the three things.

Amber Stitt [00:21:03]:


Josh Dragotta [00:21:05]:

Sometimes when I get a job at work and they're like, you got to come up with a 30 second spot. It's got to tell this story." And you'll look at your timeline and you'll be like and you'll stare at it and it's daunting because it's blank. But just like taking a second, being patient and thinking about it. Maybe you got to rewatch the movie or whatever it is, but just knowing that you'll get to the end of it and I don't know, not stressing about it. It's very easy to get stressed out these days, you know what I mean?

Amber Stitt [00:21:29]:

Well, so those of you that are analytical listening in, sometimes there's not a direct metric. It doesn't mean you're not supposed to be tracking, watching the game tape, or whatever it is for your world. But sometimes if there's not a direct conversion, we call it, or like a metric, to say, "I sold something here." There's still a lot of clients on people's, let's say email list for example, where they are not purchasing, but they're consuming, but that can still matter and you never know where that's going to take. So I think to wrap this up, we'd really focused on part one, which is focusing on talents. But as I came into this episode today thinking about how to arrange it. Number five is focusing on community, and we have talked about that in different ways here. But really putting yourself out there can change lives.

Amber Stitt [00:22:14]:

And in the business world, it might not always make and monetize, but it doesn't mean there's not a potential relationship, a future conversation. I just had one earlier today, and we had a conversation how our business models don't really work, but we talked about the community aspect and how we might be able to do something in 2024. And it's really just like in your community, leaving your house, everywhere you go, you can make an impact. So professionalism, smile more, potentially, just be kinder. It can do a lot. And you never know who you're going to meet by kind of getting yourself out, putting your phone down and just being present. So I think that you embody that in that creative space that you have. So hopefully that's motivating to the listeners out there today of just think about it in your own industry, how can you take yourself seriously? Give yourself some grace, though, and put yourself around people that want to help you kind of build out those ideas.

Amber Stitt [00:23:07]:

You never know what it could be, what it's going to lead you to.

Josh Dragotta [00:23:10]:

So true.

Amber Stitt [00:23:10]:

So thank you for being here and being creative with me. I always like a good strategy session and talking about really the big magic we can create together.

Josh Dragotta [00:23:18]:

Thanks for having me.

Amber Stitt [00:23:19]:

Appreciate it so much. I'm going to see you soon, too, in real life.

Josh Dragotta [00:23:23]:

Please keep me posted.

Amber Stitt [00:23:24]:

You're my neighbor.

Josh Dragotta [00:23:25]:

Awesome. I love it.

Amber Stitt [00:23:27]:

All right, listeners, hopefully you feel motivated. We'll talk to you next time. Thank you for listening.

Josh Dragotta [00:23:32]:


Amber Stitt [00:23:36]:

Thank you for joining us on today's episode of The Amber Stitt Show. For more information about the podcast, books, articles, and more, please visit me at Until next week, enjoy your journey at home, and at work. Thank you for listening!