In the most concise terms, Bryn Mooser is both a humanitarian and an award-winning filmmaker. His humanitarian efforts came first when he joined the Peace Corps after college, working in Gambian agriculture. Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, he then became the Country Director for Artists for Peace and Justice (APJ), helping to build Haiti’s largest cholera center. As a result of his efforts in Haiti, he was named one of Esquire Magazine’s “Americans of the Year.” Mooser has also helped to build APJ’s secondary school in Port-au-Prince which now annually educates 2,400 Haitian youth.
Witnessing the ways in which technology, specifically social media, can change lives inspired Mooser to think about the evolving ways in which people are able to share their stories. “When I joined the Peace Corps in 2001, there were no cell phones and very few landline phones in West Africa. The following year, cellphone towers started popping up and people got cell phones overnight. I saw that technology was going to connect the entire world in ways that we couldn’t possibly anticipate or imagine,” he recalled. “During my visit to Haiti in 2010, I saw how social media was spreading. Cellphones and technology began connecting people, giving them ways to share their stories. Technology was changing the dynamic of who held the power to tell stories. That was very exciting to me; I realized the ‘old-world’ way of a small minority dictating the narrative of the world was going to change.”
We want our stories to have an impact on the way people see the world. A common thread in a lot of our work is the strength of the human spirit; it’s people making sacrifices to make their community a better place.
After working in the non-profit sector, Mooser realized that he needed to shift courses and affect change in a different way. “I hated fundraising,” Mooser confessed. It became frustrating for him to divert passion and energy away from the core mission and into fundraising events. “That’s why I pivoted to start a for-profit company that would have purpose at its core; I thought I could make a bigger impact and have an effect on people’s lives.” While the purpose of his time as an aid worker was genuine, Mooser finds himself more pessimistic of large non-profit organizations at this stage in his life. “I’m more cynical about the ability of large non-profits to make an impact in the world than I was at the beginning. I feel much more closely aligned to some of President Kennedy’s original ideals of the Peace Corps. He envisioned a person-to-person impact that you have in somebody’s life by listening to their story and telling yours,” he explained.
As a result, Mooser and David Darg co-founded RYOT, a Los Angeles based media company. Mooser now creates documentaries to highlight unique and powerful stories, shining a light on important issues and exemplary people. Mooser and Darg, also an aid worker, both began their young adult lives performing humanitarian work which helped shape their compassionate viewpoint and drive to tell human stories. “When you are in a time of tragedy or in a natural disaster, the first thing that you are struck with is the strength of the human spirit. If you talk to anybody who’s ever been in a disaster zone, they’ll say, ‘I never realized how strong people were and how beautiful it is to see a community coming together where people are helping each other,’” Mooser acknowledged. “It’s carrying somebody across a river that’s flooded. It’s driving a boat up to somebody’s house to rescue them. I feel lucky enough to have seen that all over the world and that’s the story that we want to tell. We’re very influenced by our time as aid workers because we saw the best of humanity in the worst of situations.”
In keeping with his feelings about working in the non-profit sector, RYOT hasn’t implemented direct fundraising efforts or involvement initiatives for every film they’ve produced over the last 3 years. “That’s part of changing my own definition of what ‘impact’ means,” he said. “We want our stories to have an impact on the way people see the world. We’re hopefully going to be out there combating cynicism rather than trying to fundraise for various efforts off of every story we tell.”
One of RYOT’s recent documentaries, Fear Us Women, is rife with moving messages. It’s the story of Hannah, a Canadian woman, leaving her country to fight against ISIS as a volunteer sniper with an all-female Kurdish army seeking to liberate women in Syria. Darg met with Hannah and knew that hers was a story that need telling. “A lot of times, stories end up finding us,” Mooser reflected. “When we see a story like Hannah’s, it’s very clear that it’s something we want to share with people. A common thread in a lot of our work is the strength of the human spirit; it’s people making sacrifices to make their community a better place.” RYOT’s documentaries often aim to uplift and inspire its viewers to enact change in their own lives as well as the lives of others. “I certainly know that the stories we are telling are of people who inspire me and our team here. I’m hoping their stories and our work continue to inspire people,” he remarked.
Many people will never experience what it is like to be in a war zone or refugee camp. Through our work [with virtual reality], you will be better able to understand what people in these circumstances are going through and be more inspired to help.
With close to 250 films in RYOT’s catalogue, Mooser and his team have told some incredible stories in compelling ways. “The film of which I’m most proud is Body Team 12. It was nominated for an Oscar and is currently on HBO. It tells a really powerful story of a woman who was a Liberian Red Cross worker. She showed incredible strength collecting bodies of people who had died from Ebola,” Mooser recalls. It’s an exciting time for upcoming RYOT films as well. On Her Shoulders is a 2018 Sundance Film Festival Award-winning documentary about a young, extraordinary Yazidi woman named Nadia Murad. She is a human rights activist, a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, the recipient of the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize and the Sakharov Prize, and the UN’s first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. The film was acquired for distribution by Oscilloscope and will be released later this year. “Fire on the Hill is about to open at the LA Film Festival and it’s about a group of guys from Compton who rode horses as a way to escape their situations, with some ending up on the rodeo circuit. We also have an augmented reality film called Terminal 3 that’s really powerful. It just opened at the Tribeca Film Festival and will soon be out in public,” Mooser explained. Additionally, RYOT recently partnered with VICE to establish a multi-million-dollar fund to create feature documentaries from visionary filmmakers that push the boundaries of storytelling. “I’m especially proud of this partnership,” Mooser proclaimed. “All of the projects will have a focus on diversity and inclusion, both in front of the camera and behind. We are looking to find up-and-coming filmmakers with a distinct point of view to tell compelling stories and shed light on narratives that need to be told.”
I’m especially proud of our partnership with VICE where all of the projects will have a focus on diversity and inclusion, both in front of the camera and behind. We are looking to find up-and-coming filmmakers with a distinct point of view to tell compelling stories and shed light on narratives that need to be told.
Aside from telling captivating, inspirational stories of resiliency and hope in the traditional documentary medium, Mooser and his team at RYOT have used virtual reality to enhance their ability to convey what they experience as journalists. “Virtual reality is an amazing medium to bring you inside the story,” he described. “We made the first virtual reality film in a disaster zone in Nepal after an earthquake. We’ve also used virtual reality to film inside a Syrian war-zone in our film, Welcome to Aleppo. For the first time, we used virtual reality to bring people into these places that, up until then, they’d only read about.” Using immersive experiences to tell stories allows for a more personal connection to the subject matter as it places the viewer in the center of the story. “Many people will never experience what it is like to be in a war zone or refugee camp. Through our work, you will be better able to understand what people in these circumstances are going through and be more inspired to help,” expressed Mooser.
Now, more than ever, I think that it’s easy to turn on the news and feel hopeless and sad; you feel like giving up. There’s actually a lot of beauty in the world and there are many solutions to problems. The thing we have to fight against is apathy. Don’t ever give up on a mission that you really believe in.
Virtual reality films can be viewed on a computer, but as Mooser explained, they are best seen on a headset. “Virtual reality headsets are still getting out there in the world. As the technology improves and makes them smaller and less bulky, I think you’re going to see more opportunities to experience virtual reality firsthand.” The power of virtual reality storytelling is something that RYOT will continue to explore, as they work to develop new technologies and filmmaking techniques that will continue to bring viewers closer to the story.
Mooser widely credits determination and enthusiasm for his current life path and achievements with RYOT. “To be successful, the most important thing is passion and drive. If you have those things, you will be set up for success. You also have to be prepared to fail often and fast, learning from everything and not giving up,” he noted. RYOT set out on a specific mission to tell stories that could move the world, helping to shift narratives. “Now, more than ever, I think that it’s easy to turn on the news and feel hopeless and sad; you feel like giving up,” Mooser said. “There’s actually a lot of beauty in the world and there are many solutions to problems. The thing we have to fight against is apathy. Don’t ever give up on a mission that you really believe in. You will succeed in it by any means necessary because it’s the only thing that you want to do and it’s the only thing you could ever see yourself doing. If the stakes are that high, you won’t fail.”
Elon (Musk) is a very close friend of mine from whom I’ve learned so much about perseverance and commitment to vision and mission; the greatest lesson that I’ve ever learned from him: against all odds, never give up.
Mentorships are also an important part of growth and focused learning, offering guidance and support along the path of finding one’s passion. One of Bryn’s most influential mentors is Tesla’s Elon Musk. “Elon is a very close friend of mine from whom I’ve learned so much about perseverance and commitment to vision and mission,” he stated. “I’ve watched him go through challenging times in his companies while never giving up. In fact, I’ve seen them exponentially grow. That’s the greatest lesson that I’ve ever learned from him: against all odds, never give up.”
As is the case with journalistic endeavours, exposing truths through storytelling can be a confrontational business. It can mean challenging large organizations, corporations, and public figures, risking costly push-back and outside attempts to silence the story. “I’m always happy to take on the fight if it’s a good fight to win. I think the risk that we take is when we’re silent in the face of injustice and so that’s why I worry more about whether or not I did everything that I could have done in a given situation,” Mooser confessed. “Those are the things I ask myself; I don’t worry whether an organization is too mighty to fall.”
At the end of this summer, RYOT announced the launch of a ground-breaking innovative entertainment studio that will use Verizon’s 5G technology to revolutionize the next generation of content creation beyond virtual reality. Opening this fall, the RYOT Innovation Studio will house Verizon’s Playa Vista, California campus. As part of its 5G Labs program on the East and West coasts, Verizon’s 5G RYOT Lab in Los Angeles will build on the success of the company’s 5G lab in New York City.
As for what’s next for Mooser, RYOT’s documentaries are his continued focus. “Creating a positive impact and storytelling have always been my true passions. RYOT perfectly combines these two things and they drive my life’s work. I couldn’t imagine working on anything else,” he affirmed.
Something tells us he won’t have to.
Instagram: @thisisryot / @brynmooser
Twitter: @thisisryot / @brynmooser
♦ This cover story interview was originally published in Issue 21 of Face the Current Magazine, featured on pages 44-49. Order a print copy or subscribe to print at our SHOP.