Dan Mace Demonstrates Perseverance with The Bru Show

When shooting a documentary and dealing with real people and events, things do not always go as planned. Filmmaker and YouTuber Dan Mace knows this all too well, having learned it throughout his career on YouTube and with his discovery+ series, The Bru Show.

Mace prepared for the unpredictability of documentary filmmaking through his time working for YouTuber Casey Neistat. Neistat’s “work ethic is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Mace says. “He’s also just an incredibly moral, guided man, and his content is something that was never created in a way that seemed like it was just for the views.” His time with Neistat forced him to “constantly flex the creative muscle in my brain to be able to conceptualize daily,” giving him the flexibility skills he would need later on.

Eventually, Neistat urged Mace to focus on his own YouTube channel. There, he created an early version of The Bru Show called The Not Normal Show. Mace began an ambitious project in which viewers could plant a geotagged “seed,” which was an unfinished idea, on a global map. “The intent was for me to fly there and finish this idea with you,” he says. “However, 45,000 seeds were planted.” Traveling around the world and completing that many ideas would take “20 generations,” he says, not to mention the cost. He felt that the “idea was a failure to a point because I overpromised and underdelivered.”

In a turn of luck, however, Warner Bros. Discovery (at the time just Discovery) reached out to him about doing something with The Not Normal Show and the concept of the global seeds. In a major setback, Covid-19 swept the world, and the idea had to be shelved. Mace kept the general concept in mind, however, and vowed to complete 12 of his own most challenging ideas—including uncovering the alleged Ugandan space program of the ’70s, an idea of the overly ambitious Idi Amin, which was listed among TIME magazine’s worst 100 ideas of the century.

“My understanding was that we were going to strike gold from the get-go, and people were going to know everything about the space program,” Mace says. “We had done prior research just to ensure that we would be able to uncover tiny little snippets to create a compelling story.” Upon interviewing the townspeople, though, he found that most had never even heard of the program. When he seemed to get a lead and was put in touch with a local historian, he was told there was only a 1 percent chance the program really existed.

Mace says he was on the verge of giving up, but he and his small team pushed forward on their third day in Uganda and ended up uncovering another story—that of Chris Nsamba, a young Ugandan who built a homemade rocket in his mother’s backyard at 14 years old. “The story with Chris was the perfect story,” Mace says. “It was an unfinished story of an African dreamer.”

Though The Bru Show’s investigation into the governmental space program didn’t go where Mace had thought it would, it led to this wider story of African dreamers in the space industry. Mace is now working on a feature-length documentary on this very subject with Warner Bros. Discovery.

In yet another example of things not going according to plan, sadly, Nsamba—who was going to be the focal point of the feature-length documentary—passed away several weeks ago. In researching his story, however, Mace uncovered similar stories throughout Africa. “You’ve got these massive dreamers currently,” Mace says. “Not Idi Amin, though Idi Amin’s deluded ideas may have led to some people, like Chris Nsamba, believing in the future of African space travel.”

Mace discovered the story of Siyabulela Xuza, a South African scientist who first began making jet fuel in his mother’s house at the age of 16 and built his own rocket. Xuza was later awarded a scholarship to Harvard, received special recognition from Michelle Obama and had NASA name a minor planet after him.

“It’s an incredible piece of this film,” Mace says. “It just escalated it to a point where it’s far larger than we ever could have imagined. I’m not a religious man, but maybe this was some sort of guide to say this story needs to be told.”

Mace and his producing partner Ryan Frame are working on finding a deal that will take the story global. “We’re working on the deal that’s going to not serve us as filmmakers in the best way but rather serve the story in a global sense,” Mace says. “We want the film to be able to get put on whatever platform is going to firstly get a theatrical release and then be something that’s going to be seen by as many people as possible around the world to truly showcase Africa in the most colorful, beautiful and unique way possible.”

They are working on a fictional version as well. While documentaries often target a specific subset of viewers, fiction feature films “reach a larger audience, so we can tell this beautiful story,” and then say, “this is based 100 percent on truth, and you can go and watch the actual story roll out” in the documentary.

Throughout this long journey, Mace says he “learned a valuable lesson, which was to—this sounds so cliche—never give up.” His story and lesson offer other documentary filmmakers hope that, even if something doesn’t go to plan, it just might lead to somewhere better.