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Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Director & Producer Peter Jay Brown of ‘The Battle for…

Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Director & Producer Peter Jay Brown of ‘The Battle for Our Planet’ Is Helping To Change Our World

I have always worked for marine conservation and through my filming have become involved in a number of indigenous issues. My access to the media has allowed me a platform to get the word out, and more importantly to act as a catalyst for others. By living my beliefs, others find the possibilities to live theirs. We are not sheep; we can never be afraid to question authority. I try to lead by example: “If I can do it, so can you!”

As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Jay Brown.

Peter Jay Brown is a director, producer, cinematographer and environmentalist/activist who specializes in real-life stories, cultural adventures, LIVE events, and big sexy animals that can eat you! His 40+ years of experience producing shows such as Real People, Entertainment Tonight, films like Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist and Eco-Terrorist: The Battle for Our Planet, and numerous cable programs have given him a unique insight into the storytelling arts both in and out of the studio.

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?

As a skier and photographer in 1976, I was fortunate enough to meet and work the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics for filmmaker Bud Greenspan, and that was my introduction to TV. My next opportunity was as a second unit director for the “Ford Motor Company’s 75th Anniversary Special” on CBS where I worked with Academy Award winners Mike Hoover and Tim Huntley. The “imagination” pieces we did for the special won critical acclaim and launched my career beginning with NBC’s hit show Real People, and later on as a producer on the launch of Entertainment Tonight.

In 1981 I met Paul Watson and together we grew the eco-activist ocean-going group, Sea Shepherd, to what it is today. For 40+ years I participated and ran numerous ocean conservation campaigns, always on the frontlines. My love for the wilderness and concern for future generations have driven my passions. After a number of years, my work followed my passions and I continue to work on films around the world from the Americas to Indonesia, Africa, Australia, Antarctica…you name it, and I’ve been there.

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

There are so many interesting stories and incidents because when you deal with so many cultures and disasters, you either stress out or laugh it off. I laugh it off. One such incident I recall was in China while doing a film on Redwood trees. At a forest reserve, we were treated to a Chinese feast. There were dozens of dishes served and it is always my wish to try everything, no matter how disgusting looking certain foods appear. A scientist sitting next to me asked what I thought a particular dish was? I tested it and thought it tasted like pine needles, but one never knows. I asked our hosts and after a few minutes of Chinese spoken amongst my hosts, and an answer was finally decided. The naturalist hesitated and said, “I think you call them pine needles!” The look of distaste on the face of the American Scientist at first brought angst to our hosts, but after a minute we were all laughing and afraid to ask about the other delicacies presented. There were so many I couldn’t count. In some traditions, people eat just about everything!

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

I have met Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle, the Cousteau family, Doug Tompkins, Bob Hunter, many astronauts, Vice Premiere Deng, Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, Mary MacMakin, Ahmad Shah Massoud, Wii Seeks, Kings, Princesses, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, and cannibals. To me people are fascinating no matter their standing in society. I treat everyone with respect, and I have found most humans are people first and when you get right down to it; in the end, we are all the same.

In 2002 I returned to Kabul, Afghanistan with Mary MacMakin on the public bus from Pakistan. The US was installing Hamid Karzai as President and Mary was returning from exile to her NGO in Kabul. I traveled with her. The bus stopped in Jalalabad for the night. As Mary and I were walking around looking for lodging a black SVU pulled up driven by local khan. It turns out the gentleman graduated from Columbia University and wanted to know what we were doing walking around in such a dangerous place at night. He offered us a ride and invited us to spend the night. In the morning he supplied a car and two drivers to take us into Kabul.

Because of the war situation we encountered roadblocks outside the city. You see, for this event, guns were not allowed into the city. Well, the drivers were sent to get us to the city and protect us on the way. Mary would sign a note that we arrived safely, and the drivers could return. Well, our drivers had promised their boss we would arrive safely, and we had plenty of weapons to ensure that.

After 30 minutes of our guards refusing to give up their weapons, and the roadblock refusing to let us pass, Mary got into the now heated discussions. A compromise was reached; Mary signed a note promising that if we were allowed in with the weapons, that we would not shoot anyone. This is all true.

As unbelievable as it sounds, we proceeded to Kabul armed to the teeth. Mary and I got to town and the drivers returned to Jalalabad. Everyone was happy.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

The people who inspire me really live their beliefs, come hell or high water. Those without fear to do “what is right” no matter the consequences are individuals the earth needs more of.

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?

I have always worked for marine conservation and through my filming have become involved in a number of indigenous issues. My access to the media has allowed me a platform to get the word out, and more importantly to act as a catalyst for others. By living my beliefs, others find the possibilities to live theirs. We are not sheep; we can never be afraid to question authority. I try to lead by example: “If I can do it, so can you!”

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?

I had supportive parents and a strong community that allowed independent thought. I guess the first moment I remember was as a little kid standing up to bullies. Although quite small in stature I never allowed myself or others to be picked on. I stood up no matter the circumstances. I was always the first to step in.

Later at a high school reunion, I asked the class bully why he never just kicked my butt as he did so many others. He said, “you know Peter, you always had that crazy look in your eyes that no matter circumstances I had a feeling you might have to kill me!” So much for passion and determination.

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

I cannot name a particular individual, but participation in any cause makes one a better person. In this age of “me” individuals need to realize that we can not survive alone. Many young people who have worked with me over the years have always benefited whether they find their own cause or embrace mine. It is not the cause; it is the passion one brings to the solutions.

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

Government won’t change, society is changed by individuals and individuals can:

1: Find a passion and work toward solutions.

2: Stay true to your passion and your friends will gravitate to help, and you’ll make new friends along the way.

3: Don’t let the bastards (government, society, bureaucracy) get you down!

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

1. Always do your best no matter the job. I’ve worked at jobs at all levels, but I never stay on the bottom for long as I get up every day ready to do my best. My dad taught me that any job, no matter the importance needs to be done right.

2. Always lead by example. No matter my position, from director or captain to mate or assistant director, I would always lead by example. I’ve been involved in numerous expeditions and learned that I gained respect of the strongest by never giving in. Our motto was, “always pick up the heaviest pack and never linger. Great adventures are for those who start, and more importantly for those who finish.” I start early and always finish no matter what.

3. Do not take orders without considering the consequences. Orders are fine, but each individual will someday have to answer to a higher authority. Choose carefully and stay true to yourself.

4. Admit your mistakes, learn, and move on. We all make errors, but it is only ego that allows us to hold on to those errors. I always have a plan but when good ideas contradict my assumptions, I am quick to change. Wrong answers are never right no matter how hard we wish them to be.

5. Nothing good happens after midnight. I’ve been in jail for issues of conscience and will continue to choose issues important enough to risk everything for a better earth.

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?

I would tell them that there is nothing as important as protecting our environment. Nothing! The time is now for people to make a stand while there is something to save. We, humans, are only a part of the living community on our planet. We can and do affect our environment and must start considering future generations in all our decisions. So, get out there and do something positive, and don’t expect it to be easy. I laughingly tell young people to do what is right, but if you take on society expect to get thumped, get over it because if it were that easy everyone would be doing it. It’s not easy but you get to my age, and you can look back and feel real happiness that no matter what you did the right thing. So do it!

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. 🙂

There is no particular person, but any individual who is on the frontlines willing to risk it all, those are the folks I like to work with. Those are people worth knowing and individuals who will ultimately obtain positive results. I want people who “do” in my life as these days there’s a lot of talk. Talk, talk, talk and no action. We need more action and less talking.

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

“Don’t let the bastards get you down!”

There are always doubters and nay-sayers to any idea. If you believe the critics you’ll do nothing. Take chances as failure is just part of success. I am not afraid of taking the chances one needs to really succeed. As Dr. Norman Vincent Peale (Power of Positive Thinking) told me years ago: “reach for the moon… if you miss you’ll land among the stars! How bad can that be?

How can our readers follow you online?





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

Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Director & Producer Peter Jay Brown of ‘The Battle for… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.