Brian Godawa is a Christian screenwriter and author of the Amazon bestselling Biblical fantasy novel “Noah Primeval.” He joins the show to discuss why there is so much controversy surrounding the new film, “Noah,” and how the controversy compares to “Passion of the Christ” in 2004. “Noah” has been edited many times to appease Christian critics like Godawa, but he’s still not happy with the final version. Godawa explains how the film turns into environmentalist propaganda.
Brian Godawa is the screenwriter for the award-winning feature film, To End All Wars, starring Kiefer Sutherland. It was awarded the Commander in Chief Medal of Service, Honor and Pride by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, won the first Heartland Film Festival by storm, and showcased the 2003 Cannes Film Festival Cinema for Peace. He wrote and directed the documentary Wall of Separation for PBS, Lines That Divide: The Great Stem Cell Debate for CBC Network, and School’s Out: Political Correctness Vs. Academic Freedom for Boulevard Pictures. He also adapted The Visitation by best-selling author Frank Peretti for Ralph Winter (X-Men, Wolverine).
Mr. Godawa’s scripts have won multiple awards in such screenplay competitions as Carl Sautter, The Nicholl Fellowship, Austin Heart of Film, Fade-In, Worldfest, Writer’s Network, Chesterfield Writer’s Film Project, Columbus Discovery Awards and Reader’s Digest Screenplay Competition.
He gives lectures at high schools and colleges on screenwriting, as well as the art of watching and writing movies. He has had his articles on movies and philosophy published in magazines around the world, most recently winning First Place from the EPA for his article on the philosophy of The Matrix.
His book, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment (InterVarsity Press) is in its ninth printing, and his new book Word Pictures: Knowing God Through Story and Imagination (IVP) addresses the power of image and story in the pages of the Bible to transform the Christian life.
Find out more about Brian Godawa at www.godawa.com.
Narrator: Speakers, publishers, consultants, coaches, and info marketers unite. The Speaking of Wealth show is your road map to success and significance. Learn the latest tools, technologies and tactics to get more bookings, sell more products and attract more clients. If you’re looking to increase your direct response sales, create a big time personal brand, and become the go to guru, the Speaking of Wealth show is for you. Here is your host, Jason Hartman.
Jason Hartman: Welcome to the Speaking of Wealth show. This is your host Jason Hartman, where we discuss profit strategies for speakers, publishers, authors, consultants, coaches, info marketers, and just go over a whole bunch of exciting things that you can use to increase your business, to make your business more successful and more and more passive and more and more automated and more and more scalable. So we will be back with a great interview. Be sure to visit us at SpeakingofWealth.com. You can take advantage of our blog, subscribe to the RSS feed, and many other resources for free and SpeakingofWealth.com and we will be back with a great interview for you in less than 60 seconds.
Start of Interview with Brian Godawa
Jason Hartman: It’s my pleasure to welcome Brian Godawa to the show. He is a Christian screenwriter and author of several books and I think you’ll be very interested in the self-publishing world as it applies to books and film. So, that’s what we’re going to talk about today and Brian is coming to us from my hometown, Los Angeles. Brian, how are you?
Brian Godawa: Good, Jason. Great to be here.
Jason Hartman: Good. Well, it’s great to have you on the show. So, you’ve got, what, 11 books now?
Brian Godawa: No, about 9 or 10, depending on how you see it. But yeah, about 10 books now.
Jason Hartman: Fantastic. And when did you first decide that you could make a living for yourself in the world of self-publishing whether it be books or film?
Brian Godawa: Well, I’ve always been a filmmaker for the past 15 or plus years. And I’ve kind of ended up as an independent filmmaker. There’s two major routes. In the past, it was sort of like if you wanted to make movies, you gotta try to break into Hollywood and deal with the big studios and the millions of dollars and all this.
I’m a screenwriter – not all writers fit into that mode because of the content that you write or because of the style that you use. And so I ended up with mostly independent film production which is low budget movies and documentaries and such. And that can be a very fulfilling thing because when you’re working in the big studio system, money speaks and people force you to do things and make changes for the sake of their bottom line dollar. And I understand that but you’re at the mercy of that. But when you’re working in an independent film, you have more control over the content. So, a lot of us artists tend to like that.
Like I said, been doing that for many years. And just going along okay, it’s a tough world when you’re working independent. But I also discovered just a few years back the power of self-publishing thanks to Amazon and other companies like Smashwords, but mostly Amazon and Kindle. And they started to create a system that was available for the many hundreds of thousands of people who are writers or who love to write but can’t get an agent, can’t get a big publisher to get interested in the material. And as the big publishers get bigger and bigger, they demand more and more blockbusters and they’re less interested in taking chances with smaller writers. So, in other words, it’s sort of like they’re getting more interested in superstars and celebrities to write their books who already have huge audiences. Well, that’s kind of a Catch 22, but what do us little people do?
Well, Amazon opened up the opportunity. And they’ve been doing this now for, I don’t know, maybe 8 or more years. But a few years ago, but a few years ago I kind of started doing it out of necessity because I was having a bad year in my income with independent filmmaking and I just said well I gotta do something else, too, and I started writing a novel and Amazon afforded you the opportunity to just publish it yourself through them and they have print on demand paperbacks so that basically you just provide digital files and then they offer every opportunity to the buyer to buy it as a digital book or as a paper book, Print on Demand, so you don’t have big inventories and all that kind of stuff. It kind of works perfectly. And, plus, they give you an amazing royalty, as high as 70% royalty on your books whereas the traditional publishers give you 10% or less sometimes.
So, that whole scenario is just exciting. And I entered it a few years ago and I didn’t actually expect it to become a source of income but it has. Just within a couple of years, it’s become a source of income – not a lot of income, I need additional resources, but I can see its potential as I move forward. And it’s been a great opportunity and blessing because, like I said, you don’t have to rely on being accepted by the big establishment system. It’s opportunities for the little guys. And it’s amazing how many good writers there are out there. There’s a lot of bad one, I admit that, but there’s a lot of good ones that still can’t get accepted by a big publisher. And this is the opportunity for the to get their work out and let the public speak, by how they buy it, what they’re interested in.
Jason Hartman: It’s definitely democratized, the system, there’s no question about it. And it’s leveled the playing field quite a bit and just distributed opportunity to so many more people. So, it’s a great time in which we live – no question about that.
What also strikes me as interesting about it, and this is just a philosophical sideline – we’ll get into a little more of the how to here in a moment, but as you said when you were making film and maybe you have some friends or associates in the field of film of course, and working for a big studio or authors that are going to publish and you’re getting vetted by someone else – they have to get someone else’s permission, in essence some gatekeeper. So, everybody gets in the sort of area where they’re selling their own soul in a way. They’ve got to sell out. They’ve got to compromise on the content. And they can’t say exactly what they want and get their message out.
So, the content really, nowadays, has become a lot more honest. It’s become a lot more gritty. And it’s just more authentic than I think it’s probably ever been before.
Brian Godawa: I think that’s the advantage – and risky. And I had this problem with my book series. I started a book series. . .My first novel that I wrote was Noah Primeval. And it’s basically retelling the story of Noah from the bible. But it was from a very different perspective, sort of like Lord of the Rings. What if it was sort of told like a fantasy-like story? And then that’s grown into a big series of like 8 books. But when I first started that, it was really hard to get publishers interested in it because usually publishers who look at the religious material, they want either Amish love stories for safe religious people or they want hardcore fantasy which is like Game of Thrones, right? Well, I had both together – I had this religious and fantasy mixed together and they don’t like that. They don’t know how to cope with that because a lot of time they just say well we can’t sell that.
So, there’s a lot of risky ventures that us little guys will take because, like you said, there’s authenticity and we’re willing to take the risk. And a lot of us fall on our faces because it doesn’t always work, but it also affords that opportunity for great creativity that’s being squelched by the system. And even though the system does provide a vetting opportunity – and I will admit that in principle it’s actually a good thing of course because they vet out bad material and if a publisher has a good name for a responsibly publishing, you can sort of trust that their material is gonna be more trust worthy, I get all that.
And the downside of democratization is of course if anyone can do it, then there’s a lot of bad stuff. And as time goes on, there’s a lot of increasing bad stuff on Amazon so I won’t deny that. But that’s what you get with freedom. That’s the downside and upside of freedom. With freedom you have less security but it’s all what you value. So, with less freedom, you’re gonna have a stronger gate. And, by the way, gatekeeping can be corrupt, too. And, in fact, it often is. If you don’t toe the philosophical line of the people who are gatekeeping, they’re gonna reject your material just because they don’t like it or they don’t agree with it, not because it’s not good. So, there’s corruption on all levels. But democratization is a great opportunity and it carries with it the downside. . .But there are ways that the market can work that out as well.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, no question about it. Tell us some of the lessons you’ve learned, what has worked and what hasn’t worked in your self-publishing career, whether it be with the book side of it or the film side.
Brian Godawa: Well, for both the book and the film, I think at the end of the day probably the crowning importance of all of it, of any of it, is your goal should be to produce the most excellent product that you can and that means paying for more if you need to.
In other words, if you’re just a little person and you don’t have the money to pay for a professional editor to help you or pay for a good professional cover, I understand that but it’s worth it to take the risk and take a loan out and do it right because if you do it wrong and just say I can’t put the time or money into it because I don’t have it so I’ll just see the best I can get, you are placing yourself out there. And once you’re out there, it doesn’t go away. It goes out into the internet and it’s all over and it could ruin your chances for doing further material that people will like. And so whatever you’re doing, put in the kind of money and time to make it the most professional that you can because a lot of times individuals on their own don’t recognize that value.
And then another thing is, when you’re in this world of publishing, and I would say movies, too, but particularly publishing, is it’s not just about one-offs. People aren’t looking as much for just one great book. They’re looking for series. So most of these successful self-published authors will tell you write series, whether it’s a trilogy or like mine – I’m gonna have 8 books. I didn’t intend it to be that long but it just great because it was so cool. Because it’s about series, it’s about continuity, and that builds your audience.
And that brings me to a 3rd element which is if you’re going to do this on your own, a lot of artists hate this, a lot of content creators hate the marketing side of things, and I’m one of those who does, but you have to accept that maybe 40 to 50 percent of your time is gonna spent on marketing. Because you can have the best book in the world, the best documentary in the world, but if nobody sees it it’s not gonna matter. And it’s all about getting the word out and I think the key is still distribution. So, you’ve got to put some time into learning techniques and tactics for marketing yourself and building your audience.
One simple way that I did was I did the standard I created a website for the series which, by the way, the website, you can go to NoahPrimeval.com and that will hook you into the big website which is about the whole series. And I created a website for the series that I interact with fans and I try to be active with them. I don’t just let it sit out there and do nothing because people are more interactive these days thanks to social media. They want to be interactive and they’ll just reject you if you don’t. So, you try to build a fanbase. Get email signups so you get all the people’s emails and keep them up to date.
So, even though you’re a little nobody, which is basically how I started, you try to build a fanbase, build an audience that you can stay in contact with, and then as you produce future material, you start with those people and they help you get the word out. You don’t need a big, huge advertising budget if you’ve got a good word of mouth. So, these are some things that I’ve had to learn in the process over the last 200 years I’ve been doing it. But it’s really helped me tremendously. I’ve gotten a lot of good reaction.
And I didn’t mention social media. And that’s my weakness – I admit that’s my weakness. But I have done some social media, I do have obviously a Facebook page for my series, Chronicles of the Nephilim on Facebook. So, I kind of work between the website and Facebook and I do tweet. But I’m not as aggressive in it as other people are. But to the limited extent that I use it, I do believe in it because I notice people are into that. And that’s how they keep up with information.
One last thing, if I can throw this in, if you are that entrepreneur like me, if you’re like that person who is just trying to sell their next book that they wrote or next documentary they made, you really have to respect the audience. You don’t just use social media as a means to advertise because people won’t listen to you then. You have to intelligently engage, make posts that talk about things and interact with whatever it is you’re interested in. But interact with people. Don’t just slap on your “Hey, I got my new book out!” or “Hey, I got my new documentary!” “Go here! Support me! Support me!” People get tired of selfishness. You need to provide something for them and then they’ll interact with you.
Jason Hartman Yeah. And I think that rule has been around for a long time. We’re just doing it in different media nowadays.
Brian Godawa: Exactly.
Jason Hartman: Absolutely, very good points. Are there any maybe technical things that you want to talk about, whether it be how you format something. . .And, again, we’d love to hear more about the film world especially because we talk a lot about books – we’ve had Kindle experts on and people talk about that. It’s always interesting and we always want to talk more about it, but the film thing is a little more unique.
Brian Godawa: Well, the film thing, it is concurrent with the books in the sense of because of the cheapening of the production costs, now the average person can do it. So, now you don’t need to print 10,000 books and have an inventory and all that kind of stuff. But also, on the film side, now because of the advancements in camera quality, you can buy a consumer grade high resolution camera and have it with plenty of quality to be able to publish your own documentary and maybe even feature film. Because of the advent of YouTube and just the internet in general, people have accepted the lesser quality.
Jason Hartman: It’s almost more authentic in a way. People like it.
Brian Godawa: I would definitely say that. There’s an authenticity that I actually like about that at times.
Jason Hartman: Right, a lot of people do. People respond very well to that. In the old days, if you wanted a 6 minute corporate video, first of all you’d spend $10-15 thousand which is absurd and it would be really slick and all of this crazy stuff. But nowadays, the YouTube concept of that, more gritty, authentic, less professional thing, it really works better in a lot of ways.
Brian Godawa: Especially for today’s millennials. They’re braised on that. But you have to realize, just think about it though, that’s just another genre, and it will have its heyday but people will demand more and newer things, and you can’t rely on it totally is what I’m saying, but you’re right. I think the main key was just the super affordability of high quality production equipment that we never had before in history. Before, like you said, if you wanted to make a film, not only did you have to pay the $10,000-$15,000 for a corporate video, but look, the equipment if you wanted to make it, it would be $10-15-20 thousand worth of quality video equipment. And then there’s thousands of dollars in lights and lighting and all this stuff that was prohibitive for the normal person.
But now, even your iPhone, people have shot movie with the iPhones and they’re good enough quality. So even if you want to maintain a higher quality, you can still get it today with just consumer grade material. But you’re right – there also is this stylistic approach that when we’ve seen it in feature movies with The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, which I actually like that kind of stuff, but what I’m saying is even apart from that you can still create good quality now because the equality of the equipment is so much better you don’t need all the thousands of dollars of lights. You do need an education on how to do it well, but nevertheless, that can be attained.
Jason Hartman: Most of that quality really comes through in the editing, though, doesn’t it?
Brian Godawa: Yes and no. I mean, editing can make a huge difference. And I know editors and they have saved projects at times. But if it’s not there originally, they can’t make it up. So, you do have to be able to know how to shoot. I guess what I would say is the biggest misnomer is for people to think, well, I love movies and I can buy my little camera now for $1000 dollars and I can make my own movie. Well, it’s not that simple. Just like any other business or any other profession, every craft requires a knowledge and expertise of the craft. So, if you want to do that, sure you don’t have to go to college and get an expensive education, but you should do some research, you get some books, do some reading, do some practice testing because there is all kinds of production values that I think are important to understand if you’re going to do it on your own. And you can learn these things from some books and then do the practice.
But what I’m saying is even though there is an authenticity to these sort of run and gun style movies that we see, the real good ones you’ll notice, though. You actually may not notice. . .If you don’t make movies, you don’t realize there’s a lot more to it than just picking up a camera. You just don’t see it, right?
So, for instance, a lot of people who don’t know how to make movies don’t realize how important sound is. And they just shoot with whatever sound they have in the camera and that will completely make a movie terrible.
Jason Hartman: Couldn’t agree more.
Brian Godawa: A lot of amateurs don’t realize that. They don’t realize that in order to get the great sound that we’re used to, that’s a highly specialized technique that an individual with a particular mic is actually making sure that’s all being taken care of. We don’t see that, so we don’t know. So, there are some things I think is important to learn. But by and large, it’s attainable now whereas it wasn’t for the little guy.
Jason Hartman: So, if someone wants to produce an independent film, a series of YouTube videos, a feature length documentary, what do you consider to be like a minimum budget for something like that? I know it’s all over the board. I understand you can spend $10,000 or $10 million.
Brian Godawa: If you’ve already got the camera and the equipment, then it would be a matter of. . .I would say if you’re going to do traveling, if you’re going to interview people outside of your own state, these are all things to take into consideration. So, a minimum. . .I know people who’ve done it for next to nothing. Here’s what I would say. If you’re going to start out, then make sure that you don’t take off too much more than you can chew. So, if I’m gonna do a little documentary and I want to do a documentary on such and such. . .What might be an example? Whether or not solar power is doing well or do a documentary on solar power, something like that. . .
Jason Hartman: Well, how about Wall Street corruption?
Brian Godawa: There you go, Wall Street corruption, right? If you live in California, that means you’re gonna have to go to New York to get a lot of footage – that’s gonna require staying in the hotels, all this kind of stuff. It would be easier if you already live in New York and then you can say “Okay, I can handle that because I can get down there for free.” So take into consideration where your material is gonna be shot and don’t do a “I’m gonna do a documentary on nuclear war” because no one’s gonna talk to you in the government who is important enough. Start small, start with something that’s close to you. I mean, I’ve seen kids do documentaries that were just cute and wonderful about something in their own life. So, realize that there can be creativity on small. . .Don’t take a subject matter that’s too big for you when you’re starting out. That’s the number one thing. But in terms of budget, at least try to have a couple thousand dollars because of all the little things that happened. .
Jason Hartman: That’s just amazingly low. My number, when I asked you that question, I was kind of thinking $40,000 as sort of the minimum really that you can. . .I mean, you’re not filming it yourself, right? So, say, you’re going to appear in it and say you’re going to be doing interviews, right? So, you need a director of photography and you need an editor. Most of the money seems to be spent in editing. And I’ve looked at quotes and quoted my own projects for this because I’ve got a documentary film that I want to do. And it really seems to be like you’re bumping up against that $40,000, right?
Brian Godawa: I was really thinking more in the lines of the average person who just wants to try it out and do it because he loves it, but absolutely. If you really want to do a more professional version, sure, around $40,000.
Jason Hartman: And that’s not gonna be great. Like if you want to do it really well, you gotta get your sound balanced, you gotta get a lighting guy. . .
Brian Godawa: Yes, a good editor. . .
Jason Hartman: And then you’re at $60,000.
Brian Godawa: Here’s the thing, though. You get those guys to work for free by having ownership in it. So what you have to do is you have to be willing to give up some control or give up some ownership of the profits in order to get the movie made. Because it’s more important that you get a movie made and that it gets seen and then that leads to a better project. And so a lot of those people, I’ve worked with a lot of people who are willing to do that. So, that’s so you can put all the money into the production as much as possible. However, that’s not always the case. And the one guy that you definitely want to pay for if you have to pay for someone is the editor because that is a person who often times they can’t take time off of their day job in order to help you do it so you have to give them something to do that.
But a lot of the other creative that I’ve worked with, cinematographers, even actors and stuff, they’re all willing to work for free as long as there’s some kind of backend deal. And most of them realize that the backend deal is probably not gonna happen but it also becomes a resume piece for them. So, it all depends on the kind of people you can get to work for you. But by and large, yeah, you do need a staff of about 5 or 6 people, a good camera photographer, a good soundperson, and you also want someone who’s gonna be a producer who can do all the leg work of getting all the interviews and making all the phone calls so the director can focus on working with the writer, with the script, however you’re going to do that. And the director is the one who does the interviews and such.
So, you want a team. Don’t think you can do it all yourself. There are a few out there, a few amazing guys like Robert Rodriguez and other filmmakers who’ve done everything themselves, but even then they had a staff of a few guys who knew everything and could help them out.
Jason Hartman: Good stuff. Okay, so anything else you want to mention about the documentary thing? I mean, the hardest part is getting distribution, marketing it. And this really goes back to what you were saying at the beginning of our conversation which is you gotta do all that marketing.
Brian Godawa: Yeah. I wanted to throw out one thing before I go into marketing. For my movies, the minimum that I’ve gotten away with, and I’ve done it with professionals in the business who get paid but we all get paid very miniscule, my minimum has been $200,000. But that’s making a PBS quality grade. . .Like I did a documentary on the separation of church and state and PBS took it and they have all these stringent requirements of quality and such. And that was about $200-$250 thousand. So, if you want to do it professionally, and everyone works kind of cheap but everyone does get paid – that’s what I’ve seen by experience. And that’s a smaller documentary, not a real fancy documentary, right? So, I just wanted to throw that out there because I forgot to mention that, sorry.
Now, getting into marketing, marketing, yeah, that’s a whole other thing. And the basic rule of thumb with filmmaking is whatever your budget is, double it, because you’ll need an equal amount for marketing. So, if you say I’m gonna try and make this documentary for $50,000, well then figure well I gotta raise another $50,000 to market it because you can’t just make a movie and then everyone goes to see it. You’ve got to get distribution. And sometimes it requires doing your own distribution. Now, one of the other cool things about the whole Amazon situation is there is a company. . . Netflix does offer opportunity for independent filmmakers who do not have a studio behind them or any money behind them, if the movie’s good enough quality, which is a low standard, but if it’s good enough, there is the ability to get your movie on Netflix. So, that’s kind of cool. That’s that democratization happening.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, Amazon has that for audiobooks as well. Of course they have it for Kindle books. But tell us about the Netflix service, I didn’t know about that. What is that called?
Brian Godawa: I don’t know. I haven’t worked as much in that field, more my producers have dealt with it for some of my movies. But that’s what I’ve discovered is yeah, you can actually go to Netflix and there’s a lot of independent films on there that don’t have any distributers and a lot of them are real bad. But nevertheless, that’s totally workable. You have to work out a deal with them and then they get. . .From the reality is, from what I’ve heard, you don’t really make any money on it. But who cares? Again, if you’re a nobody, you’re trying to get your movie seen and then that leads to the next project and in the next project you get more money.
But in terms of distribution, though, too, on Amazon you can also distribute your own DVD. So, if you go straight to DVD, which is really the common thing, if you’re a little guy you’re not gonna expect that you’re gonna get a movie in the theaters and that’s okay. Your goal would be to get it to a DVD and get your DVD sold. Well, Amazon now allows you through their Create Space store, in the same way that they will provide print on demand books so you can sell paperbacks of your books without having inventory, they do the same thing with DVDs. And there you also get a pretty good royalty. I don’t know what it is because I haven’t done that yet. But it’s that opportunity for getting around the big establishment distribution system.
Jason Hartman: Well, Brian, this has been fantastic talking to you. We really covered two great areas of the self-publishing industry – one of course books a little bit but to a larger degree hopefully documentary films which I think can be a great marketing tool for speakers, authors, consultants, coaches, with people maybe not reading as much nowadays. You hand someone a DVD, you send them a link for a documentary film that kind of explains something in 90 minutes, and I just think there’s a big opportunity there. So, maybe a lot of people listening never thought of themselves as a movie producer, but now is the time to actually consider that. Brian, am I crazy?
Brian Godawa: No, you’re not. Oh, and I want to throw in one other thing, too. There’s also now the digital distribution where it’s not even DVDs. Like on Vimeo – Vimeo is a very popular video site – Vimeo now allows you to upload your movie and then pay-per-view on Vimeo directly digital off the internet. And that means you just get royalties as people watch it. So, yeah, there’s just an increasing number of opportunities for different forms of distribution for films.
Jason Hartman: Fantastic, good stuff. Well, Brian, thank you for all the great ideas and great content here in this show. Give out your website if you would. Tell people where they can find you.
Brian Godawa: Sure. Just basically go to Godawa.com. And I’m kind of a Renaissance man, so you’ll see everything from filmmaking to graphic design and I’ve got little sort of trailers and stuff for the movies I’ve done and mention of some of the books that I’ve written. And if you want to go learn more about the series that I’ve written of novels that have to do with different bible characters like Lord of the Rings, you can go to NoahPrimeval.com I guess would be a good starting point and that’s a website full of cool trailers and artwork and all kinds of cool stuff. And you can learn more about the series there.
Jason Hartman: Excellent, well, some good stuff here. Brian Godawa, thank you so much for joining us today.
Brian Godawa: Thank you for having me, Jason.
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Transcribed by Ralph
The Speaking of Wealth Team