Brevard Filmmaker Makayla Wheeler Takes to Sea & Sky for 'Double or Nothing'
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Brevard Filmmaker Makayla Wheeler Takes to Sea & Sky for 'Double or Nothing'

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Makayla Wheeler with her underwater camera on a commercial shoot in Rock Springs, Florida. "Shooting out in the water, no matter the conditions, is my happy place," she said. Photo by AJ Neste

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Makayla Wheeler films Scott Johnson crossing from Bimini to the U.S. mainland, along with the other paddlers attempting it - Travis Suit, Ryan Burgess and Todd McLaughlin - at sunrise. They were about 20 miles in.

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The team paddles through the Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis at sunrise. The crew was on board the catamaran supporting and filming. Photo by David Scarola

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Makayla Wheeler films freediving activities on one of the beautiful pristine reefs in the Abacos for the Bahama Beach Club. Photo by David Scarola

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Makayla Wheeler films the amazing spearfishing that is abundant near the Bahama Beach Club in the Abacos. Photo by David Scarola

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"Double or Nothing" film poster.

While meandering through the horse riding trails in Brevard County, Makayla’s Wheeler’s sense of adventure connected her to her future career.

As a young teen, Wheeler would hop on her trusty steed, Shotgun, and join friends to explore the palmetto scrubs and fields west of Cocoa. Accompanying the group was an ample supply of iPod Nanos.

“We would shoot videos and make crazy adventure films,” Wheeler said. 

Wheeler became so enamored with video production that her mother contacted Orlando-based director and producer Randy Baker to mentor her daughter.

“Randy was a godsend in my life, he gave me a bunch of gear and taught me all the tech aspects,” said Wheeler, who opened her video production company while still in high school.

Unlike many filmmakers, Wheeler, now 25, opted to bypass film school. 

“You really don’t need a degree to be in the arts and entrepreneurship arena,” she said. 

Her career trajectory has been spot-on, allowing Wheeler to amass a portfolio that includes projects around the country and in the Bahamas. Her client list includes Hurley International, an American company that is one of the leaders in swimming and surfing wear and accessories, Ron Jon Surf Camp and Bahama Beach Club in Abaco, Bahamas, among others.

Wheeler’s latest documentary, “Double or Nothing,” premieres at Melbourne’s Oaks Stadium 10 on Feb. 3 before its online release the following day. 

Three years in the making, the movie was produced in partnership with Piper’s Angels Foundation to raise awareness of the nonprofit’s epic fundraiser, the Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis. The Crossing is a long-distance endurance paddle challenge and international championship race that takes paddlers 80 miles across the Gulf Stream. 

Participants launch from Bimini late in the evening and paddle their boards to the Florida mainland. The event was inspired because of the incredible health benefits of the ocean for those living with cystic fibrosis, a terminal lung disease that affects Piper Suit, daughter of Piper’s Angels Foundation founder and executive director Travis Suit. 

The focus of the film is the miraculous life of Scott Johnson, who, like Piper Suit, grew up with cystic fibrosis. 

“Scott was diagnosed at 3 months of age,” Wheeler said. “In the early 1970s, children with CF were not expected to live to see age 3. His parents were basically told to take him home and love him as much as possible because he was most likely not going to be around for very long.”  

Scott defied the odds, but at age 29, the lungs of the North Carolina resident had so deteriorated that he critically needed a double lung transplant. The survival rate for a double lung transplant is less than seven years, but don’t tell that to Johnson, now 51 and the first double lung transplant to complete a full Ironman. He challenged himself again by tackling the Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis. 

“Scott is so, so inspirational,” said Wheeler, who documented the race from a catamaran support boat. “It’s a life-changing experience for everyone.”

Wheeler’s film powerfully and beautifully renders a story of the human spirit’s ability to not only survive against seemingly insurmountable odds, but also to thrive despite them. 

The filmmaker has always loved capturing stories from unique angles, going back to her first drone, which she bought with contest winnings in 2013. She added in underwater cinematography in 2015. And now, her air and sea shooting skills pay off in “Double or Nothing.”

“It was extremely important in this documentary for it to be as cinematic and immersive as possible,” Wheeler said, “and that is why I chose to build a team that would be able to capture drone, ground and underwater cinematography in order to do Scott’s story justice.”

Early reviews say she's done just that.

“Makayla's vision for delivering incredible cinematic shots is at the core of her beautiful storytelling,” Suit said. “She has masterfully crafted this film to showcase and honor the remarkable life of Scott Johnson, and in doing so, created an inspiring legacy piece we will all cherish."

“Double or Nothing”

  • Watch the official trailer
  • The public is invited to the Melbourne premiere of “Double or Nothing” on Saturday, Feb. 3, at The Oaks Stadium 10, 1800 W. Hibiscus Blvd., Melbourne. 
  • Red carpet arrival begins at 6:15 p.m. ahead of the 7:30 p.m. film screening.
  • A Q&A session with Scott Johnson and Makayla Wheeler follows the screening. 
  • Tickets are $10, available at this link.

For those unable to attend at The Oaks, the film will premiere online at noon, Sunday, Feb. 4. You can subscribe at this link to get notifications.

Makayla Wheeler, MGW Productions
Instagram: @mgwpro
Facebook: /mgwpro
LinkedIn: /makayla-wheeler-7028a3221/

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