Mike Ambs credits his success as an independent filmmaker to a combination of hard work, dumb luck, and “always saying yes to opportunities that challenged and scared me.”
Being challenged, being scared — these are feelings Ambs thrives on. It’s what prompted him, at age 21, to undertake a 4,200-mile bicycle journey across the United States. It’s also what brought him to Kickstarter in 2009, where he successfully raised post-production funds for his first feature film: a documentary following a young man embarking on the same epic solo bike ride that Ambs had years earlier.
After a second project to film additional scenes and wrap up production, For Thousands of Miles premiered in 2014. Documentary filmmaker Robinson Devor called it an “enduring, mysterious, and unexpectedly moving film.” Ambs has since made it available to watch online for free.
Ten years after he first started filming For Thousands of Miles and with three more directing credits to his name, including two short films created in collaboration with Google and Disney, Ambs has had time to reflect on what he’s learned.
“To be honest, I’d be further along if I had spent less time being hard on myself,” he says. “It’s one thing to hold yourself to intense standards, but it’s important to not become your own worst enemy.”
It’s one of many lessons he tries to share as the co-founder of the Bureau of Creative Works, an audience-supported studio that premieres short films from independent filmmakers.
Whether your medium of choice is celluloid or canvas, MP3s or 3D printers, Ambs says, “make time for the things that spark your interest, even if it's not yet clear where those interests might lead. The creative projects I've found most rewarding are the ones that surprised me and took on a larger life than I would have ever expected.”