Shaffer Nickel’s Journey of Authenticity in Cinematic Storytelling

Shaffer Nickel has been making videos about his family, friends, and community since age 10.

Shaffer Nickel Films

Filmmaker Shaffer Nickel has been making videos about his family, friends, and community since the age of ten. Since then, he’s been sharing authentic, vulnerable moments of his life with a global (and ever-growing) YouTube audience.

Learn more about what keeps Shaffer inspired, why he welcomes discomfort, and how he utilizes the search features on Musicbed to find the right music for his work.

Musicbed: What sparked your passion for filmmaking/storytelling?

My passion for storytelling was handed down to me from my wonderful family. My dad is a wildlife photographer/painter and my mom is an amazing writer. My two sisters also give me so much I want to remember every time I see them. Chronicling the details of our childhood and lives up until this point has materialized in a body of work I’m proud of in a technical way, but far more so in a sentimental way. 

What keeps you motivated and creatively inspired?

The highly cliche and more true answer is that I’m inspired by my friends, my town, and my life at large. In “Clay Pigeons”—Blaze Foley’s song about life as an artist on the road—he says, “I’ll start talking again when I know what to say.” I usually am driven to make a video when my life shows me something worth talking about. The less-true answer is, of course, other artists, movies, commercials, and so on. They play a role for sure but in my eyes, even the most standard life is so much more exciting than any movie I’ve ever seen. Some of my best memories are from my job as a bellhop at a run-down hotel. I still translate moments from that job into punchlines for my videos. Being alive is very motivational. 

What makes a story visually appealing? What role does music play in storytelling?

I’m still learning about visual language. It’s a target that never stops moving. I’m better at it than I used to be but I’m still pretty far from where I think I can. I personally like surrealist imagery. Danny Boyle has a fun way of communicating through pretty abstract scenes and I try to emulate that tone whenever I can. Music is amazing because it is in itself an art form that emulates tone. Good music can make just about any shot look intentional and thought out. If you don’t believe me just play Chopin’s Nocturne op.9 no.2 over some home video footage. 

What elements do you think are essential for crafting a compelling story?

‘Essential’ is a big word. I’m old-school I guess but I think a human is the only truly essential part. I’m not thrilled that machines are being built to simulate the emotional output of the human heart and mind. I’m compelled by sincerity and by definition, sincerity can’t be faked. I think people are unbelievably good at detecting sincerity, so none of this scares me too much, it just forms my idea of what is and isn’t compelling. 

How important is music in your work? 

I’m to the point now where I think I need to dial back the use of music in my work. It feels like a superpower when you’re trying to communicate a feeling and there’s a song that slots in perfectly and does all the heavy lifting for you. Music is present in every stage of my creative process. It inspires me, it helps me decide on a feeling for the next scene when I write, and it molds the editing in ways I rarely anticipate. Is it a superpower or a crutch? I can’t be sure but either way, my life and work wouldn’t look the same without it. 

What advice would you give other filmmakers/creatives who are just starting their careers?

Don’t listen to advice. 

How do you balance pushing boundaries creatively and delivering what your client wants or audience wants to see?

There’s this great quote by Caitlin Thomas that says, “There is nothing harder for an artist than to retain his artistic integrity in the tomb of success. A tomb, nevertheless, which nearly every artist: whether he admits it or not, naturally wants to get into.” Good artists care a lot more about creative freedom than they do about money. Good artists care more about what they think than what their audience wants them to think. I’m a good artist sometimes, but I’m still learning. It’s great when an artist, an audience, and a client all align. That said, if at least one of those parties isn’t getting challenged now and then it’s generally a sign it’s time to push the boundaries a bit further.  

What is the most challenging aspect of being a filmmaker/creative?

I have a hard time separating myself from my work. I don’t want my videos to be too much of a personality. I strive to be a well-rounded person with good boundaries, but boundaries are hard when you love something. I want to be a son, a brother, a friend, and a community member first and an artist second. I’m guilty of shuffling those priorities, but I’m a work in progress. 

What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?

I love all my YouTube videos a lot. I’m critical of them and some are hard to watch now but I’m really thankful to have such a cohesive backlog of my life. They’re always my favorite projects. I am particularly proud of ‘Take Playing Seriously,’ ‘How to Fall in Love with Fear,’ ‘I Can’t Believe in God Anymore,’ and my latest video about anger.

How do you search for music on Musicbed? What are some tips that you’d give other filmmakers to search on Musicbed?

My technique is a little excessive, to be honest. This will also probably sound insincere but I’m dead serious. Once or twice a week I will make a cup of coffee, sit down at my computer, hop on Musicbed, and filter through every single new release up until the last time I checked. When I find something good, I’ll save it to a playlist. My playlist has every tone you could hope for and by now it’s a really extensive list. There is so much amazing music on the site and some of my favorites slip through the cracks a bit. I think the curation and organization of the platform are heads and shoulders above every other option, but my taste is pretty specific. Plus I genuinely love the dopamine rush when I find something that feels like it’s all mine and everyone else is going to miss it. I’m a seasoned Musicbed user by now, so I don’t recommend this to everyone but man, it’s been such a fulfilling practice. 

Why do you utilize Musicbed in your work? 

Is it too blunt to say I just really don’t like bad music? For better or for worse I’m overly passionate about quality and I’d rather just not upload something than upload a video with low-quality music. Musicbed has a mysteriously high density of unreal options. It’s like opening a new tube of tennis balls. I think few people would disagree. It’s just the best. 

Listen to a curated mix of some of Shaffer’s most-loved music and experience his music discovery process on Musicbed for yourself—start your free 14-day trial today.