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Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Gary Bredow of START UP Is Helping To Change Our World

I chose this path because I don’t believe that people should spend their life feeling stuck in an unfulfilling career or job. I believe that everyone has a dream, and my goal is to show people that just about anything is possible if you just believe in yourself and you’re willing to do the work.

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

Gary Bredow is the producer and host of the national television program, START UP, an Emmy-nominated docuseries profiling the authentic, human stories of small businesses and entrepreneurs across the US.

Bredow is a passionate and dedicated advocate of American small businesses. Although his focus has always been on writing and film/video production, as an entrepreneur himself, he owns several businesses in the Detroit area. Over the past 9 seasons of Start Up, Gary has conducted in-depth interviews with hundreds of demographically diverse small business owners all across America, acquiring invaluable information about the climate of American small business.

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?

I’ve always been fascinated with production and video since I was very young, but my start in film and production really started around 2003. I directed a documentary called “High Tech Soul” about the creation of Techno Music that was released globally and received critical acclaim. I was able to travel the word because of my art, so from that point on, I was hooked.

After the film had run its course, I leased a studio in downtown Detroit and started a commercial production company. I was shooting hundreds of commercials, web videos and branded content pieces around the Midwest while managing digital media for Clear Channel. Things were going great, my company was on an upward trajectory, and then the bottom fell out in 2008. They say that when the rest of the country gets a scrape or a bruise, Detroit loses a limb. So needless to say, when the housing market crashed, we felt it.

I’ll never forget Inauguration Day in 2008, the day I lost all faith in “traditional employment.” I came into the Clear Channel studios, and there were security guards on the sales floor. There was a mass layoff, close to 75% of the staff. I watched an associate of mine named Alan, who had been with the company for over 20 years, as he was escorted out of the building carrying a single box filled with the contents of his cubicle. I realized at that moment that if I ever wanted any sense of long-term security, it wasn’t going to come from a corporation. I was going to have to build it myself, from the ground up. I wasn’t part of the layoff, but I immediately put in my 2-week notice. Fail or succeed, I was going to do it on my terms.

Budgets started to go away and my production company began to suffer, businesses were closing, people were being evicted, there were no jobs and a new unfamiliar sense of hopelessness was palpable. Where my studio was located in downtown Detroit, cars were constantly getting broken into and crime was on the rise. We were literally fighting to get street lights turned on during that time. I had a newborn daughter and had to fight like hell for each mortgage payment. Without the help of food stamps during that time, I don’t know how my wife and I would’ve made it through. This time in my life taught me a great deal of empathy, and although swallowing my pride wasn’t an easy thing to do, I’m a better person for it.

I had built relationships with local business owners through shooting commercials, and many of these folks that had become friends were suffering. I wanted to find a way to bring small businesses back to my community, to help pull us out of this hole, and that’s where the idea for “Start Up” was born.

I’m not a “business expert” by any means, but I am genuinely curious, and my goal was to get answers to the questions that people needed to know. How do I negotiate a lease? What if my credit is dismal? What if I have no starting capital? How can I leverage my relationships? How can I get a loan? And who better to answer these questions that the people who had been there and done that.

I called my friend and now long-time producing partner, Jenny Feterovich, who owned a small production company a couple of cities north of Detroit. I pitched her the idea, and without hesitation, she was in. A couple of weeks later, we grabbed some gear, went down to a local coffee shop called Astro Coffee in Corktown, Detroit and shot what was essentially our first episode.

Fast forward 10 years and that little idea turned into an Emmy-nominated, national television series with millions of viewers on the #6 rated broadcast network in television, over 117 episodes filmed in 46 states and counting. The show is taught in schools as part of their career curriculum and shown in prisons to help reduce recidivism. It’s truly a dream come true.

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

Something both funny and interesting is how inexperienced and naïve we were in the beginning. Here we were, celebrating our national distribution deal for this new and exciting show, leveling up, ready to become “big-time TV producers,” and then we learned that we had to fundraise the entire production budget. We assumed that the network provided the budget, but unfortunately, that’s just not how it works. Not only did we have to learn how to produce and deliver a season of television; navigating through complex and unfamiliar network requirements and specifications, we also had to learn how to fundraise in an industry we knew very little about. Needless to say, we learned under fire, and here we are 10 years later, going strong.

What was the lesson or takeaway you took out of that story?

Never assume anything, do your homework and be prepared to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gain.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

Whatever it is that you decide to do, make sure you’re passionate about it, and for all the right reasons. That passion will be the only thing that gets you through those tough times and trust me, those times will come.

Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?

When I was a teenage, I met a guy named Rudy Shipiro. He was walking through my tiny little hometown of Carleton, MI and he stood out like a sore thumb with his massive backpack and long beard. I asked if I could buy him a cup of coffee and he accepted. We spoke for several hours, and it turned out he was on his fourth lap around the US on foot. He talked to me about overcoming fear, countless close calls, amazing sunsets, and profound moments he had in silence. He spoke as if he had a guardian angel. And what stood out most to me was his “why.” He explained that his life had become overwhelming and unfulfilling, like he was a hamster on a wheel going around and around. Instead of accepting it, he decided that he was going to set out on foot to explore the world around him until his curiosities were satisfied. The inspiration that I felt from hearing his story over 25 years ago reverberates within me to this day and I made pact with myself to explore the world around me until my own curiosities are satisfied.

How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world?

We receive emails daily, from both viewers and business owners telling us what our show means to them, or what it’s done for their business. There’s no greater feeling in the world, and if our show inspires one person to do something to better themselves or the world around them, that’s success.

Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you’re working on right now?

We’re working tirelessly to make the show better. To tell deeper and more meaningful stories that will resonate with viewers. Our focus/cause is economic development through small businesses. It’s what we’ve been dedicated to for the last decade, and God willing, we can continue to do this as long as our minds and bodies will allow.

Can you share with us a story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?

I chose this path because I don’t believe that people should spend their life feeling stuck in an unfulfilling career or job. I believe that everyone has a dream, and my goal is to show people that just about anything is possible if you just believe in yourself and you’re willing to do the work.

Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

We’ve received countless messages from viewers crediting our show with them finally having the courage to chase their dream and start a business.

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

We would like to build a strong relationship with the Small Business Administration (SBA.) Our show has proven its impact on American small business and economic growth, so we feel like this would be a very natural partnership that could produce significant results. We share the same goal, to support and help grow American small businesses. For companies that provide small businesses with valuable products and services that would like to reach small business owners, both current and aspirational, our show is one of the most efficient and effective ways to do so.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started”

  1. Read

I believe that reading books written by experts in your field is essential for any long-term success. It’s an invaluable way to gain exposure to fresh perspectives and learn new ways of doing things. It’s like completing a CE course every time you finish a new book.

2. Meditate

Meditation has become a crucial and essential part of my daily life. This is where manifestation lives, and if you can’t visualize your goals completely, the universe has no clue what you’re asking for.

3. Fast more

Recently I took up fasting after a friend recommended it, and it’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever done. The level of mental clarity, control, and sense of well-being and accomplishment is nothing short of incredible. Not to mention the health benefits you earn through autophagy. I wish someone told me about this years ago!

4. Sleep more

In the crazy, chaotic, “always on” world we live in, sleep is essential for mental health. I make it a point to get at least 7–9 hours every night.

5. Get offline

The irony of being constantly connected it is that I have never felt a greater degree of disconnection in my life. Stop and look around next time you’re out in public or at a restaurant. Count the number of people that are not staring down at their phone, computer, watch, tablet or whatever latest gadget was just released. Without any real, live human connection, I believe we’re heading toward a society of complete reclusion with only virtual interaction. We all became quite acclimated to this in 2020, so I don’t think my sentiment is entirely unrealistic.

You’re a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

If would be for everyone to collectively disconnect from social media three days a week, every week. I believe that the 24/7 nonstop inundation of news and entertainment media is creating emotional and social issues that will continue to have a very significant negative impact on humanity. Get outside and take a walk as often as possible, connect with the people around you and explore until your curiosities are satisfied.

Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote? And can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

“What a liberation to realize that the ‘voice in my head’ is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that.”

That’s a quote from Eckart Tolle. It’s relevant every time my mind fills with unnecessary worry, stress and anxiety.

We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Eckart Tolle.

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 Gary Bredow of START UP 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.