To say that Naples filmmaker John Scoular has arrived in 2016 is to state the obvious. Over the past six months, he’s written, directed, filmed, edited and co-produced (with his wife Madeline) two major documentaries that beyond our local markets, will gain him national and even international exposure.
But how he’s gotten to where he’s arrived, that’s just as interesting a story to tell — as well as a lesson in the value of believing in yourself, doing whatever it takes, striving to always improve and having someone who loves you share your dreams.
“I feel fortunate,” he says. “It took 20 years and a lot of twists and turns. Like in football, sometimes you’re in the zone and sometimes you’re not, and for whatever reason, this year I’m in the zone.”
Football is a good way to begin the story of John Scoular, and the University of Texas El Paso is the place — where he was a scholarship starting quarterback while majoring in drama. When the NFL didn’t come calling, he packed his bags and moved to Manhattan to continue his study and pursuit of acting. But after two years in New York he up and left, landing in Fort Myers where he got a job at South Seas Island Resort (then South Seas Plantation). “Don’t ask me why, I just got fed up,” is how he explains the move.
Eventually, though, Scoular got the acting bug again and found his way to Los Angeles — where he performed in small theaters, directed both theater and short film, and began dabbling in writing. But at age 33, another bug bit him — “some kind of infection” — which destroyed all of the cartilage in his knee and damaged his ankle. “So the acting was pretty much done at that point, I couldn’t run anymore, and I had a lot of time to write.”
He also had time to contemplate his next move and, still passionate about the entertainment industry, he took jobs on short films and gained “invaluable experience” working for a number of big name directors, one of them named Francis Lawrence of the Hunger Games fame. When he watched Lawrence pick up a camera during a Pink music video shoot to get the “right shot,” Scoular got his next bug — and his next stop was the Los Angeles Film School to hone his crafts in cinematography, screenwriting and directing.
As Scoular gained experience in Hollywood on the other side of the camera, he also gained confidence in his writing skills, dusted off an old play and birthed a film: Lunatics, Lovers and Poets. “We shot it on film, I called in a lot of favors, we spent all our money and then some.” But his confidence was rewarded, as his first feature film won at six film festivals across the country (including a number of “bests”) and was released in 15 states without any studio backing.
The experience would change his life. “As I was flying all over the country, I noticed that most of these films weren’t being produced in Hollywood. About that time, we’d had our second child and I looked around and asked myself: do I really want to raise my kids in L.A.?”
The answer was no. So with the support of his spouse Madeline — “who was producing music videos at the time and making good money” — John Scoular and family finally arrived in Southwest Florida.
And here’s where his story really begins.
Quickly learning that the business of filmmaking in Southwest Florida isn’t quite as robust as California, Scoular decided to focus on being the best in one niche of the industry. “I decided I was gonna be the water guy,” he says. “So pretty much I shoot on water, whether it’s in the swamp, on a chase boat or in a chopper. It’s exciting. It’s fun. It’s beautiful.”
Beyond supplementing his income, it also led him to develop a relationship with Lance and Harry Julian, a father-and-son team who relocated to Florida and founded Pure Florida, a boat tour and rental company — but who, in their past lives, were among Hollywood’s leading marine production companies for film and television. In 2013, the two parties began collaborating on projects, most notably documenting the potential development of an artificial reef off the coast of Naples. But more on this later.
Through some other connections, Scoular was introduced some 15 months ago to Fort Myers artist Marcus Jansen and assigned to film a promotional short for a product — and almost without anyone knowing, his first documentary of 2016 began to take form. “As Marcus and I became comfortable, he began to really open up about his life and his amazing art,” Scoular recalls. “When that happened, I knew we had something.”
That something is Marcus Jansen: Examine and Report, a powerful documentary of one of the world’s hottest artists that enjoyed its world premiere this past April opening for the Fort Myers Film Festival, where it won “Best Local Film.”
The documentary coincides with the release of Marcus Jansen: Decade, a book of the artist’s work published by the internationally renowned SKIRA Editore of Italy, and will follow Jansen as he tours the world over the next few years with museum screenings in New York, Milan, Beijing and elsewhere.
The world premiere was “a night of smiling,” Scoular recalls. It was also his only day off over the course of what will probably be five months, as the very next day he was back on the water, filming Paradise Reef — the documentary he and the Julians were funded to produce by Collier County. Paradise Reef will tell the story of the construction of an 18,000-tons-of-concrete artificial reef and its positive impact on both ecology and tourism, and will debut June 30 on local PBS affiliate WGCU and sister stations throughout Florida.
“Those are two pretty impressive resume builders over the last six months,” Scoular admits. “On one hand, I’m glad the kids (editor’s note: now four) are fed. On the other, it doesn’t escape me that we were able to leave L.A. where everyone’s chasing success, we’re raising our children a block from the beach and I’ve found a way to live a creative life. It’s been exhausting, but it feels good.”
Story by John Sprecher | Images by Madeline Scoular