A cult was taking over his Los Angeles dance community. He made a Netflix documentary to spread the word.

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Tim Milgram is a director, cinematographer, and producer in the Los Angeles dance community.After learning about the management company 7M’s control over some of his peers, Milgram wanted to do something.The result is the hit Netflix docuseries “Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult.”

    One day over dinner in 2019, Tim Milgram got some disappointing but understandable news. Isaiah Shinn, who shot video for his production company and dance studio, told him he’d be parting ways with the company to work full-time for his father, who wanted to “invest in him.”

    Milgram wasn’t surprised that Shinn would depart to join the family business. But he was surprised when he later learned that the family business was 7M Films, a management company that would come to be dubbed “the TikTok cult.”

    It would take more than two years for Milgram to connect the dots. The director and producer in the Los Angeles dance scene had worked with former 7M members BDash and Konkrete on his own content and had crossed paths with content creators the Wilking sisters at events. So when Melanie Wilking and her parents posted an emotional livestream saying they had lost all contact with Miranda and alleging that she was “no longer in control of her life,” Milgram knew he had to do something.

    The result is “Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult,” a three-part Netflix series that alleges Shekinah Church pastor Robert Shinn lured Los Angeles content creators to his talent management company 7M Films and subjected them to sexual abuse, as well as cult-like behavior, including encouraging content creators to cut ties with family members. (Shinn has denied all allegations against him.)

    The series, on which Milgram serves as a co-executive producer, has been wildly successful in spreading the word about 7M: In its first week, it amassed 4.4 million views and was one of the most-watched original series on Netflix, according to Variety.

    “I think it’s a beautiful thing for us to be able to stand up against something like that,” Milgram told Business Insider of creating the doc. “For us in the dance community to be able to stand up and say, ‘No, this is not okay for an organization like this to take advantage of dancers’ — that is a triumph.”

    Below, Milgram talks to Business Insider about the documentary’s inception and what he hopes will change now that the world has seen it.

    Tim Milgram is a veteran of the Los Angeles dance community.

    @timmilgram via Instagram

    What started it all? When did you first think about making a documentary about 7M?

    When I saw that video, my heart sank. The Wilkings were so careful not to say the wrong thing. And it seemed like they were genuinely scared. They didn’t want to cause any harm, do anything that would push their daughter further away. And seeing how genuine they were in that video… a lot of people in the dance community saw it and started talking to each other. I did some of that as well.

    But I also started digging, trying to find records of anything pertaining to Robert’s businesses, dealings that might connect him to this thing. At the same time, people on the internet started posting about it. I started putting this all together: Wow, this seems to go really, really far back: This isn’t just about 7M management. There has been something going on for multiple decades.

    What happened next?

    The day after seeing their video, I called the Wilkings. We spoke for about an hour and a half. It was an incredibly emotional experience for me because I felt like I really needed to help them. There was a lot that they didn’t and couldn’t say in the video. And what I talked to them about brought me to tears. I was pacing around my house, just wiping tears away. I knew after that phone call that it was going to be my mission to try to help them.

    Milgram and Isaiah Shinn working on a music video in 2019.

    Courtesy of Tim Milgram

    You had been well-acquainted with Isaiah and even met the Shinn family.

    I knew they were religious. Isaiah came across as a very wholesome, friendly Christian man. I thought he was a very respectful guy. However, when I asked about his faith, I got really vague answers, but I never pushed. I always got a strange vibe when I was [at the Shinn house] working with Isaiah.

    What were your first impressions of 7M’s content creators?

    I thought the videos were great. At first, I was rooting them on, like, wow, these videos are going super viral. And what a successful thing Isaiah was doing, I applauded it. Then, after seeing the [Wilking] video and realizing this whole time that what I’d been watching is not what I thought it was — that was a really visceral thing for me.

    What motivated you and your producing partner Briana Frapart to pitch this as a documentary?

    Dancers are always being taken advantage of. We’re paid late, certain jobs don’t have the best working conditions or the best rates. Companies wanting to take advantage of genuinely talented people — this is not something new. This is just a different version that nobody has seen before.

    Watching as this organization in an organized manner take advantage of dancers, doing what it did to their families — I couldn’t let that be. I’ve been in Los Angeles for almost 14 years now. I’ve pursued dance professionally, I opened my own dance studio. I’ve been filming dancers the majority of the time I’ve been here, and I’ve created an immense amount of content. I’ve seen these situations, heard all these stories, and been in situations where things felt unfair. When I saw that video, I felt like I wasn’t just trying to help their family. I felt like I was trying to help my family.

    Melanie Wilking in “Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult.”


    How did you approach the Wilking family and Melanie to convince them to participate?

    It was a long process of maintaining a relationship with them. At first it was just me, then it was Jessica [Acevedo, an executive producer]. It was building a foundation of trust that we were going to handle this with the utmost care, that we weren’t out to just make some money or make a thing about their family to try to exploit them. Because that was absolutely not the case.

    The first five months were brutal. We reached out to friends of 7M members, as well as choreographers who worked with them. A lot of people were scared; they were hesitant to comment or be involved. Nobody wanted to take the risk. And we didn’t really know the details of what was happening. We were digging in the dark, just trying to figure out, what really is this thing?

    We needed [the Wilkings] to know that all of us, including them, were in alignment on what we wanted the outcome to be. And because of the nature of the situation that Miranda was in, it’s very hard for any family — not just the Wilkings — to know what the right thing is to do in that situation. So yeah, it took time.

    Have you talked to Isaiah since he left?

    We remained in contact a little bit at the beginning of 2020, but we just stopped talking after that.

    What do you hope for him?

    Ultimately, Isaiah is a victim whether or not he benefits from being in the business with his dad. Isaiah is somebody who I used to call a friend, and hopefully can call a friend again. I would genuinely love for that to happen.

    What do you hope the series’ impact will be?

    I want this organization to stop what it’s doing. I believe that there is a future where every victim of this thing comes out of it and finds their own path in life. To me, that’s the most important thing. Seeing this at No. 1 on Netflix was a surreal moment of some victory. When people say congratulations, there’s a bit of bittersweet sorrow because I want the impact of the documentary, which might not come right away. And hopefully the impact is that people put pressure on this organization and put pressure on Robert. That’s the only way that any kind of change is going to happen.

    But at the moment of this interview, Miranda is still in the organization. That was initially the driving force for me to want to get involved in pursuing this. It was not to get a Netflix documentary. It was the outcome that still hasn’t happened yet. So when I hear Congratulations, it’s No. 1, that’s awesome. But I can’t fully accept it. I feel a certain sadness.

    I’m not a documentary filmmaker. My origin is filming dance, being a dancer, and providing a physical space for people to train and to find community. It’s not about my career as a filmmaker or as a producer. It’s about leaving a legacy of some sort of positive change in our dance community.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

    Read the original article on Business Insider


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