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Alumni Profile: Daniel Goldhaber AB '13 (director, writer, producer)

by Laura Frustaci

Daniel Goldhaber AB '13 is a director, writer and producer based in Brooklyn. He graduated from Harvard where he studied Visual and Environmental Studies. In 2018, he directed the Netflix horror film, CAM, which won Best First Feature at the Fantasia Film Festival. His second film, HOW TO BLOW UP A PIPELINE, premiered in the Platform Section of the 2022 Toronto Film Festival, where it was acquired by NEON for theatrical release.


Daniel Goldhaber (AB ‘13), director/writer/producer of HOW TO BLOW UP A PIPELINE, has been obsessed with movies since a very young age. “I was bitten by the film bug at ten or eleven,” Daniel notes. “I started writing scripts, bought a computer and taught myself to edit.” 


Daniel went on to attend Harvard and study VES (now AFVS), for which he is very grateful. “That was home,” Daniel recalls. “I feel like the education I had, especially VES, is really precious to me, in terms of setting forth a way of thinking about craft and the purpose of making a film.” His dedication to the craft led him to assemble time lapse videos for CHASING ICE, the Academy Award-nominated documentary about the Extreme Ice Survey. He was credited as an assistant editor and found that experience integral to his cinematic beginning. 


Upon graduating from Harvard College in 2013, Daniel worked freelance, doing anything he could to make money. Ultimately, he saved enough to begin his first full-length project: CAM. The film is a psychological horror piece focusing on the world of webcam sex work. Directed by Daniel and written by Isa Mazzei, the two came up with the story together along with their third collaborator Isabelle Link-Levy. Ultimately, the film was backed by Blumhouse and picked up by Netflix.


This was the first feature Daniel had worked on, and he found the process hugely educational. “The biggest learning curve from going from a short to a feature is the industrial mechanisms of the process,” Daniel explains. “Capital and time is the medium of the industrial filmmaker. I use the word industrial to talk about a certain level of production value, to make a movie that has commerciality that will allow it to become a commodity. Now anybody with a smartphone has the capability to make a 90 minute movie, but it may not be exhibited as a commercial product.”


After CAM, Daniel was working on development for other films when the book HOW TO BLOW UP A PIPELINE by Andreas Malm came to him. Inspiration struck. “It felt really exciting and important,” Daniel says. “I love finding friends and collaborators who love working together and finding ways that tell stories in an accessible way… getting under the hood of modern life and modern politics and modern systems.” So, that’s what he did. 


From there, the film was made and became a huge success, garnering acclaim across the festival circuit. HOW TO BLOW UP A PIPELINE tells the story of a group of young environmental activists who plan and execute a daring mission to sabotage an oil pipeline. What’s interesting about this film is the way it presents a “challenging moral landscape,” Daniel notes. “You have to separate the morality of property destruction from the morality of doing harm to another living thing. If you destroy an oil pipeline, if you sabotage our oil system, are you going to cause downstream effects that do cause harm to innocent lives?” 

And that morality question imbued within the film’s perceptions wasn’t something the team considered as they were making it. “We never really felt that this is a film that’s calling to action, or that we had a moral responsibility.” Daniel reflects. “People hold leftist film to that kind of standard, but no one is out there calculating the moral cost of Marvel movies. Often we allow leftist films so much less room to exist as storytelling. There are inherent prejudices that are so baked into cultural criticism.” This film was never intended to be an inspiration or a ‘how to’—  despite its name. It’s a creative interpretation on taking matters into one's own hands when constantly facing the hopelessness of climate change that’s engulfing younger generations in particular. 


“I feel that hopelessness every day in my life. I struggle with it.” Daniel confirms. “This climate doomism to some extent has always been a part of being human. We’re dealing with catastrophes of our own making, which is part of what gives it that edge, but this is how it’s always been. It’s ultimately just a different form of this thing that my ancestors have always dealt with. It does mean allowing yourself joy and community and for me. And I’m just trying to find a way to embrace the instability.”


As a writer/director, Daniel does feel that there is one obligation that creatives have to the society for which they create: honesty. “Humans are inherently very creative,” He muses. “I think for filmmakers and for storytellers, storytelling has always been a foundational element of the way that humans make up society. Part of that has been a way to communicate knowledge, morality, and to form the fabric of culture. I think that the thing that storytelling does is it imparts those values and knowledge in a way that shapes our consciousness.” As creatives, Daniel thinks the questions we must ask ourselves are: What kind of culture are we trying to create? What kind of ideas are we trying to inject?


But not all work can have a social impact, or at least, it’s impossible to approach the art making process with that in mind, Daniel theorizes. “Conceptualizing one’s art of storytelling based on its believed social impact is a fool’s errand. You can’t know what a movie or a story is going to do. That is a very capitalistic way of approaching art, like trying to evaluate it in some objective terms. There’s an idea sometimes that just because you have an idea for a film that is yours and it’s personal, it should be made. For me, it’s ‘Is this something new?’”


Along with creating something new, Daniel has other wisdom to pass along to aspiring filmmakers. “Work with your friends,” He says. “Build a creative community, make work that’s generous to audiences and that speaks to people. It doesn’t need to speak to a lot of people. Find out who you’re making it for, and then make work for those people passionately and lovingly. Chase that honesty of your experience, your fears, things that interest you, and try to challenge yourself. The joy of collaboration is having people in the room who say ‘you’re wrong’. That’s what gives film dimension and gives film richness.” Daniel adds, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Young filmmakers fail when they don’t ask for help.”


He elaborates: “I’ve only gotten anywhere because I asked for help from my friends, from industry people, and a lot of people say they don’t want to help you and that’s fine. If you want to make movies, make movies. Making a movie is starting a business, and the way you start a business is you prototype the product, and eventually if it’s good, that’s going to attract people. If you want to make work, start making it in whatever way makes sense for you to attract people to support you. You just have to start.” 

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