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Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Brian Lawes Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

My hope is that my current film, Lost Kings, can open people’s eyes to the realities of wealth inequality and food insecurity in our world. It’s a project I care deeply about, and that was actually adapted from a longer feature script I plan to make next.

As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Lawes.

Brian Lawes is an award-winning director, writer, and producer. His film and commercial work has played all across the world at Academy Award® and BAFTA qualifying festivals, as well as to online and broadcast audiences.

His most recent film, Lost Kings, won the Jury Awards for Best U.S. Narrative Short at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, Best Short at the Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival, and has now qualified to be considered for a 2022 Academy Award®.

Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?

Thank you so much for having me! It’s an honor to get to speak to you all. My background in film really goes all the way back to childhood. I started as a theater actor and fell in love with movies at a very young age.

As I got older, I transitioned out of theater acting and started writing and directing my own work with friends. It was really these early projects that galvanized my love for the whole writing and directing process. After finishing school, I continued creating and sharing my own independent films and eventually found my way to the festival circuit where my films have been able to reach an even larger audience.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

So many different memories come to mind. The funniest for me is probably the early moments of making films in high school with friends where I was also an actor in the projects. We all had tons of fun together and laughed a lot in the process.

Most interesting in my career as an adult has been the incredible people I’ve met along the way. So many talented individuals have crossed my path and truly inspire me in my own filmmaking.

I helped on several short films early on in my career, observing how older directors navigate the filmmaking process, and I really learned a great deal through those experiences.

Most memorable was when I was 20 years old, I was on a set where Destin Daniel Cretton was helping as a producer. He and I had very little interaction as I was helping in the Art Department, but I was watching and learning from everyone constantly and it was very formative for me. That experience pointed me towards his film Short Term 12, and since then he’s been a director I really look up to in the industry.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

A few years back, I got the chance to spend a little bit of time talking to Dr. Bernice King about her life, her memories of her father, and who he was as a young man in his 20’s. Hearing about him through her words was really impactful for me– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is such a giant figure in history, it was surreal to hear about him in such a personal way from his own daughter.

It can often feel so impossible to live a life that dares to impact the world as he did. But in those moments of hearing about him, it emboldened me to be brave with my own life. I felt profoundly reminded that the invitation to impact the world stands ready in front of us all; it’s just not often that people accept it.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

I’m most inspired by those in history that found the courage to step out and do things differently — to be willing to go against the norm for a higher purpose. The people that stood up against something that we now see as wrong or unjust, but at the time had been normalized in culture.

In hindsight, we applaud and honor the individuals who do this — but they’re rarely recognized in the moment. It’s usually not until years after that most see their impact on society as a whole.

I can’t imagine the courage it took in the moment, when people thought they were crazy, or when others fought against them. That must have been such an intense experience of cognitive dissonance where at times they doubted their vision in the face of opposition; but nonetheless, these are the figures in history who often pave the way for us to grow and evolve as people. And I’m inspired and thankful for their courage to do so.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

My hope is that my current film, Lost Kings, can open people’s eyes to the realities of wealth inequality and food insecurity in our world. It’s a project I care deeply about, and that was actually adapted from a longer feature script I plan to make next.

I believe the story Lost Kings offers empathy to an often faceless issue in our cities and can help foster a better understanding of the financially desperate situations many find themselves within today.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

Great question. Truthfully, I don’t have a single mountaintop moment that acted as a catalyst for my pursuit of telling meaningful stories. It’s been much more of a slow march towards my dreams and passions.

I often offer the advice to not wait for such a singular moment of motivation; if such a moment happens, that’s an incredible gift. But I’ve learned that more often I cultivate passion and energy towards my dreams just by showing up daily to find them. I really believe it’s our daily decisions that shape our lives in bigger ways, and I have to credit the many small steps and decisions over my career to have made the realization of my films possible.

If I’ve ever had an “Aha Moment”, it’s been the clear realization while I’m on a film set that I love what I do, I believe in what I do, and I don’t plan to stop telling stories as a filmmaker because it feels like I’m right where I should be in the world.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

My film has introduced me to several audience members who say, “that boy in your film, that was my story.” It’s been really powerful to hear how the film impacted them and to hear how they felt represented in a true way by the characters and situations in the story.

Beyond that, it’s been really meaningful to hear audience members share about how they see the world a little differently after seeing our film; I hope it can bring awareness and empathy to those who don’t realize these issues exist in their city.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Recognize that situations of wealth inequality and food insecurity exist everywhere. (2) Consider the fact that even if you don’t experience it personally, it does impact you because our communities are way more interconnected than we often realize. (3) Ask yourself what small changes/steps you can take in your daily or weekly life that can start to engage and improve this issue in your own community.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

One I hinted at earlier, but I’ll say it more succinctly:

(1) Don’t wait for inspiration. Show up daily to find it.

The story behind this is that it’s been the only approach to writing that I’ve ever found to work. I look for the incremental, small steps that I can do daily to cultivate inspiration and discover my dreams over the long term.

Next, I would say:

(2) Enjoy the process.

This one is always difficult for me. It’s much easier to just enjoy the moment when you arrive at a goal, but I find that leaning into the enjoyment of the process actually is part of the secret of a successful career. The gift isn’t just the finish line, it’s that you get to do the thing in the first place. And joy will come if you allow yourself to see the journey as part of the reward.

(3) People matter most. Find and cultivate a crew of healthy, kind, and gifted collaborators.

Whatever your industry, if you want to go far you’ll need to do it alongside other talented individuals. The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to find not just talented collaborators, but well-rounded people to create with that share your love of the process. Life is too short to not enjoy those you work with, so make sure to find the right people along the way.

(4) Expect obstacles. They’re often a sign you’re working towards something worthwhile.

Early on, it can be easy to get discouraged when things don’t go as planned. But I’ve found that the most rewarding pursuits in the world are guaranteed to have difficult moments of failure. Start seeing these setbacks as inevitable and actually part of moving forward. Learn from failure, pursue through obstacles, and keep your eyes on the larger goal.

(5) Trust your intuition and remember your vision.

It’s important to not lose sight of why you started working towards your dream. Come back to the “why” you started in the first place. It’ll guide you to your next step if you get stuck or lost along the way. Obviously, don’t use this as an excuse to not grow or listen to the wisdom of others. But also remember that your intuition and vision are uniquely yours, and sometimes they know the right move even if it doesn’t seem logical at the time.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Start by asking yourself, “what ways am I uniquely wired to shape the world around me for the better?”

Within us all there is tremendous potential to impact others, and in ways that only you uniquely can. Embracing this will not just add tremendous value to the world, I believe it all will also help you discover a deeper, more meaningful way of living.

We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I think what Bryan Stevenson is doing through the Equal Justice Initiative is incredible. He inspires me. There’s a great book and movie called Just Mercy that speaks to why. And not coincidentally, a favorite filmmaker I already mentioned made the film. It’s definitely worth a watch.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Several quotes came to mind during this interview, but I’ll go with this one.

“What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here — that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

–Walt Whitman

I realize this quote may not be the most accessible from it’s first read. But what it says, the poem it comes from, and its use in the film Dead Poets Society were deeply impactful on me as a teenager. This is one of my favorite movies to this day, and I would recommend anyone who wants to understand this quote more fully go watch it.

How can our readers follow you online?

Instagram: @brianlawes

Website: www.brianlawes.co

This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!

Thank you! It was such a pleasure to speak to you all. Thanks for all you’re doing to promote goodness in the world.

Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Brian Lawes Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.