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Omaha Magazine

Dan Napoli is All About Connections

Nov 01, 2022 09:55AM ● By Kara Schweiss
Dan with his compute and his dog

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

As head of post-production and creative, Dan Napoli runs Hurrdat Films, a division of Hurrdat Media. He also hosts two Hurrdat-produced podcasts: Reel Life with Dan Napoli, featuring film directors and their projects, and Yellin’ In My Ear (with John Battistini), with Gen X/MTV generation-themed content. He began his career as a music supervisor and also has experience as a writer, producer, director, and editor. In college, he worked at a record store and as a radio deejay. 

And every experience relates to another on some level.  

“I think the common thread—it’s storytelling, but it’s deeper than storytelling—it’s connection,” Napoli said.

Napoli’s own story of connection starts at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where he earned a degree in journalism and sports marketing. He also intended to play baseball, but an injury halted that plan his freshman year. Instead of punctuating a sad story about a dream unfulfilled, the injury opened up new opportunities. (And Napoli didn’t know it at the time, but baseball would also be a conduit to a future documentary project.)

“I got to have more of a life,” he said. “And I really loved it at Kearney…I didn’t go there just to play baseball. There were other things binding me there, and I just kind of dug it.”

Napoli was able to replace his meager scholarship income with a record store job, and considering his college studies and deejay gig, he envisioned a career in radio or the music industry in Los Angeles. But there was another connection with later significance: paintball. 

During the 1994 Major League Baseball strike, Napoli and his fraternity brothers watched alternative programming on ESPN, including the World Paintball Championship. “They were airing everything that potentially looked like a sport,” Napoli said. That exposure led to some group outings to a paintball field in Kearney owned by Ed and Mary Poorman. 

“Turns out, five years later the record store goes out of business. I’m a blue-collar kid, and I have to have a job,” Napoli recalled. 

Ed Poorman was prominent in the paintball world, and Mary Poorman often frequented the record store to buy alt-punk music. The couple also owned Warped Sportz, an action sports retailer, and offered Napoli his first career-related position in marketing and promotions—eventually expanding to video projects—as he entered his final semester of college in 1999. 

“That work led to my first production gig as a music supervisor,” Napoli said, adding that it was great field education, from learning about usage rights to realizing that “not everything can be the intensity of Slayer.”

Seeing viewers’ reaction to the final video project at a 2000 screening set Napoli on the path to becoming a director whose signature is storytelling and music. Prior to Hurrdat, Napoli led his own “very indie” film production company for over a decade.

“As a documentary director, my job is to take you into this world,” he said. “It’s two-fold: to serve people from that world with the story and a deeper level of it, and to take an outsider to this world and experience it and connect.”

The work involves distilling copious information and footage down to a compelling story that can be told in a couple of hours. 

“I think my best strength is coming at it from journalism,” he said. “It’s so basic, and you want to dress it up and make it visual, but how do I get to my ‘five Ws and one H’? (making reference to the who, what, when, where, why, and how principals of storytelling.)

Hurrdat Films produces both entertainment projects and works for brands and agencies. Napoli has produced over a dozen documentaries but is best known for the award-winning 50 Summers, which features the Omaha Storm Chasers in an examination of Minor League Baseball, and Best Kids In Texas, a look inside the world of professional paintball and the movement that created the San Antonio X-Factor. Both documentaries are available on iTunes and Amazon Prime.

Napoli is currently overseeing three documentaries in various stages of production: Heart Means Everything, about American mixed martial artist Raufeon Stots; another about professional paintball, We Can Be a Dynasty, and an early-stage project about record stores and their revival. 
Photojournalist Christopher Dilts met Napoli at a trade show 20 years ago. 

“In the decades since then, we’ve both remained close friends and found opportunities to collaborate and work together on projects, building on that love of narrative and storytelling married with powerful, intimate images,” he said. “Recently, I’ve really enjoyed working with him on his Raufeon Stots doc. I don’t have any real background in MMA or pro fighting, but Dan knew that I love a character, love storytelling, and would instantly connect with this subject if he sent me in, even just for a day or so.”

“I’m super-driven,” Napoli said. “If I believe in it, I believe in it.”

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

Photo by Bill Sitzmann


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