From homelessness to working with Bad Bunny, comeback inspiring
How did an ambition-fueled, Livonia-raised videographer transcend from a penniless man sleeping four nights on a Los Angeles beach in 2018 to capturing the three-day 2022 Major League Baseball All-Star Game festivities with crazy-high-tech videography equipment for the Major League Baseball Network and ESPN?
“The lowest point of my life was sleeping on the beach that first night,” Raimi Mukhal recounted. “I pulled out some of the clothes I had in my suitcase and backpack and laid them on the ground and then used the rest of them to cover me because it was freezing cold. I kept waking up. Finally, at around 4:30 a.m, I hid my stuff under the Santa Monica Pier and went for a run. I ended up having to steal a banana and Gatorade because I didn’t have any money to buy anything.
“Truthfully, that was the highest point of my life, too, because I realized that if I could survive that, I could survive anything.”
If Mukhal’s 32-year-old life was a map, it would be punctuated by at least three adversity-filled mountain ranges – all of which he ascended with grit, resilience and friendship.
After graduating in 2008 from Livonia Churchill High School where he fared well academically and played defensive end for the Chargers’ football team – “I wanted to play quarterback but they were looking for somebody with more mobility than I had,” he added – Mukhal got his wish to play QB for the semi-pro Detroit Seminoles.
His highlights-filled summer performance caught the eye of former University of Michigan and Indianapolis Colts running back Mike Hart, who was an assistant coach at the time for Eastern Michigan University.
“Mike Hart was in contact with me quite a bit that summer,” Mukhal said. “But then I broke my hip (during a game) and that kind of ended that dream.”
Undaunted, Mukhal enrolled at Schoolcraft College and ultimately Wayne State University. He studied six years to secure a degree in physical therapy before failing a test just before crossing the finish line.
“When I closed the book (after his last exam), the first thing I saw was my camera,” he explained. “I picked it up and started taking pictures of Detroit. The first picture I took I posted (on social media) and Local 4 News hit me up and asked if they could spotlight it on their nightly news.”
Mukhal, who would take videos on vacations and turn the footage into short documentary-like films for him and his family, quickly mastered the art of capturing images and turning them into magic.
ROUGH TIMES AHEAD
The biggest challenges-scarred mountain he scaled presented itself shortly after his one-year marriage hit the rocks.
Living in Louisiana where his wife’s traveling-nurse job had planted him, Mukhal followed an urge to move to Oceanside, California, where relatives were opening a Benito’s Pizza franchise.
“My cousin, Mauro, called me and asked if I could take video of the grand opening,” Mukhal said. “I ended up going and started realizing this is where I really wanted to be.”
Armed with only a camera, $30 in cash, a wardrobe consisting of some clothes in a suitcase and backpack, and a failed marriage, Mukhal landed in Oceanside, where he diligently (and unsuccessfully) searched for a job for two weeks.
“I came across Seth Shapiro (the CEO) at Diesel Films, but I didn’t have work to show him,” he recounted. “I knew I had to go to Los Angeles to get some production-company experience.
“I didn’t have any money, I was crying every day and I couldn’t focus. Mauro booked me a train from San Diego to LA, where I spent the next four days living on the beach. I didn’t want to ask anyone for more money. Part of me knew this was just something I had to go through.”
Nearing the height of desperation, Mukhal finally caught a break.
“I found out about a surfing competition taking place near where I was living,” he said. “I filmed it, edited it quickly and sent it to Seth. On the very last day I was going to stay in LA, Seth texted me and said, ‘Can you be here by noon today?’.”
Shapiro hired Mukhal, who was still without a home.
“That’s where Jon Haddad comes into play,” Mukhal said, referring to his childhood friend who had moved to the West Coast. “He told me he heard I was in LA and told me I could live with him for two weeks. Well, two weeks turned into two years. Seth had me doing video production for the NBA, NFL and ESPN.”
Life was good … then Covid-19 reared its ugly head, sucking dry Diesel Films’ professional sports contracts and putting Mukhal back in the unemployment line — but only temporarily.
Mukhal accepted a marketing position at Next Door Lending, Haddad’s fast-growing company currently based in Bingham Farms, Michigan. Among his responsibilities was utilizing his finely-honed production skills to create videos of up-for-sale homes.
“It’s amazing how it worked out because the real estate industry started booming right after Covid hit,” reflected Mukhal, who has since founded his own company, ROAM Studios.
Once the pandemic eased and life returned to close-to-normal, Shapiro invited Mukhal to periodically shoot professional sports again, including a video related to Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles and last month’s MLB All-Star Game festivities.
“I got to meet Denzel Washington, I mic’ed up Bad Bunny and followed him around with a camera for the All-Star Celebrity Game … just amazing stuff considering where I was not long ago,” Mukhal said.
“The entire experience helped me grow my faith and reset my moral compass. Ultimately, it has led to fulfillment and happiness.”
One mountain at a time.
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