Behind the Scenes

5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker

5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker

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Authority Magazine

Persevere & Celebrate! There were many times when I felt like throwing in the towel, especially after months of editing. But I have been trained in martial arts, where I learned that it’s the experience that makes you rich. Finish your film, reward yourself and celebrate!

Asa part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Brian Thomas.

Emmy Nominated & Award-Winning Director Brian Thomas has worked in all fields of the “biz” since moving to NYC in 92'. As a choreographer Brian is best known for his work with Michael Jackson on the CBS 30th Anniversary Special. Now a director & filmmaker of his first feature documentary, “Amy’s Victory Dance” has won many awards internationally at prestigious film festivals around the globe.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

Igrew up in a small town in the Midwest. When I was young, I knew I was gay and didn’t really fit in with the popular kids or the infamous stoners. I was always lost in my own world, dreaming of going to Paradise Island with Lynda Carter to fight crime. But, carrying around a Wonder Woman doll at the age of 8 years old led to a lot of bullying and isolation. That’s when my grandma enrolled me in “Tae Kwon Do”. I finally felt safe there and it was a great place to be my best self. I learned how important discipline, respect, perseverance was and at the end of day having a positive mindset. In my 20s, I fell in love with dance and started training at 21. I moved to New York City at the age of 22 and that’s when I discovered myself and became the person I am today.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

After a successful dance and choreography career, I began making music videos and creative shorts for several years. During this time, I met Amy Jordan, the subject of my first feature documentary. She reached out to me about taking portraits of her for an upcoming event. When we met, I noticed her leg was disfigured and had many serious issues. She shared her story of how she was hit by a 15-ton NYC express bus while crossing 72nd street in 2009. Her story was incredible, but it was her positive attitude, determination and resilience that shined. That day was when I decided I wanted to become a documentary filmmaker because her story needed to be shared.

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

When I was filming Amy for the documentary, I wanted to get footage of her getting ready at home before she departed for the airport. Amy can be a bit snarky and funny, especially in the morning. Not much was happening, but something made me keep the camera rolling. She came around the corner and tripped over her suitcase, falling on top of me while I was filming. I didn’t know what to do — the filmmaker in me wanted to keep filming and get the shot, but the human side of me wanted to make sure she was okay. She sat on the floor with her head down and I couldn’t tell if she was crying or laughing. Thankfully, she was okay and was laughing so hard she was crying. The footage made it into the final cut and it’s one of my favorite scenes.

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

Being Michael Jackson’s choreographer was an incredible experience. I had idolized him as a kid, trying to mimic his moves and the magic he brought to the screen. Michael Jackson was a master storyteller! I witnessed how genuinely great he was. I have countless stories from that time, but I’m saving most of them for my own film, however, I’ll share this one with you now.

We were all rehearsing for the 30th Anniversary special, and it was just Michael Jackson and me working on the number “Beat It”. As we were dancing, I think he could sense I was nervous. He asked me what was wrong, and I told him a little bit about my background and how incredible it was that I was in the room with him, my idol, and I wanted to live up to his expectations. He looked at me and said, “Brian, take a breath and listen closely. You are unbounded immortality; you just have to create it.” Those words have stayed with me to this day, and I still live by them. RIP Michael.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I wholeheartedly concur! Pursuing my passion for filmmaking led me to enroll in the prestigious documentary filmmaking course at School of Visual Arts (SVA) New York City, where my creativity truly soared. My mentor, Fred Rendina, was instrumental in bringing my vision for “Amy’s Victory Dance” to life, providing unwavering support and guidance throughout the grueling editing process. A huge shoutout to Fred for his invaluable contribution!

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

“Success is not to be pursued; it is to be attracted by the person you become” -Jim Rohn

After three decades of wearing various hats in the entertainment world, I found myself raking in the money as an agent yet feeling unfulfilled and utterly miserable. This quote by Jim Rohn resonates with me because it highlights the importance of perspective. For me, true success lies in the ability to create empathy through filmmaking, by giving a voice to the untold stories of people. I am inspired by the creative process, and nothing brings me more satisfaction than using my skills to bring stories to life.

I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

1. Imagine a world where the silver screen reflects the diverse tapestry of our society. Where the richness and depth of life is reflected in the stories we tell, and the characters we portray. This is not just an artistic endeavor, but a social and political imperative. I wish I had a role model on the screen to let me know that gay was ok.

2. As filmmakers, we have the power to change the status quo by amplifying the voices of marginalized groups — people with disabilities, the LGBTQ+ community, women, and people of color. It’s time to break the mold and shake things up. Otherwise, this country could become both totalitarian and a dictatorship, the end of democracy so to speak.

3. Remember when drag shows were confined to dingy basement clubs? Look at how far we’ve come — with shows like Rupaul’s Drag Race now airing on mainstream networks. It’s time to keep pushing boundaries and create a more inclusive world through the art of film.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

With the distribution of “Amy’s Victory Dance” under my belt, I felt more driven than ever to harness the power of filmmaking to create empathy and understanding. I recently shot a short film, “PS Love Robby” which is set to take the festival circuit this year. The film explores the daily struggles of a 59-year-old man who is neurodivergent, and how life changes as we age. Additionally, I am currently putting the final touches on another feature film, “Follow Lead Love” that I directed and shot. This film takes on the pressing social issues we’ve been discussing, and I’m confident that it will make a real impact. Stay tuned!

Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?

I couldn’t be prouder of the team I have built. We’ve had our ups and downs, but when we look back at how far we’ve come, it’s nothing short of a triumph. Being an independent filmmaker is no easy feat, especially without financial support or industry connections. But my passion for storytelling has propelled me forward and I am so grateful to have a team that shares my vision and drive. The SpinKick Pictures team is like my chosen family, and I am filled with love and admiration for each one of them.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. 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. First, Assemble Your Dream Team — No matter what the scope of the project is, it is impossible to do everything successfully on your own. If I had had a producer to help with logistics when I first started my film, I could have accomplished so much more in less time. Bring in a talented and dedicated team who are passionate and bring a range of skills and experiences to the table. This is essential for the success of a film project.
  2. Second, Trust your instincts! As an artist, your “intuition” or “gut feeling” is always right. During the editing process of my film, I sought feedback from sources that did not understand the film industry as a whole with different perspectives, this muddled my vision. Be open to constructive feedback throughout the filmmaking process but trust your instincts, take it into consideration but make sure to stay true to your vision.
  3. Third, Get organized! Contracts, footage, interviews, location releases, and forms must be signed in advance. I shot a scene without processing the appropriate paperwork. My thinking at the time was I knew most of the kids involved. However, months later one parent changed their mind, and it became a nightmare. That mistake led to learning a bigger lesson. Above all, make sure to be organized with all your steps of the filmmaking process.
  4. Fourth, Network, Network, Network. Attend film festivals, workshops, and networking events to connect with other filmmakers and industry professionals. Building relationships and networking with others in the industry can open doors to new opportunities and collaborations. This brought me distribution due to someone in the industry saw the film at a festival in Columbus, Ohio…SCORE!
  5. Lastly, Persevere & Celebrate! There were many times when I felt like throwing in the towel, especially after months of editing. But I have been trained in martial arts, where I learned that it’s the experience that makes you rich. Finish your film, reward yourself and celebrate!

When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?

It’s a delicate balance, but I strive to strike a perfect harmony between being open, empathetic, and listening to others, while also trusting my gut and intuition as the ultimate visionary for my film. As the director, it’s my responsibility to shape the look and feel of the film, but that doesn’t mean I don’t value the input of others. When I first previewed my debut film to a small group of friends, I solicited constructive feedback and was humbled when they pointed out a few scenes that didn’t quite capture Amy’s backstory. I went back to the editing room with renewed focus and recut those scenes. The result was so much stronger, and I’m grateful for the feedback that helped me to improve. It’s all about being open-minded and willing to listen, while also staying true to your artistic vision.

You are a person of great 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. :-)

Imagine a day dedicated to fostering empathy on set. When we step into someone else’s shoes, we gain a greater understanding, appreciation, patience, and gratitude. As a filmmaker, I have worn many hats — from directing to lighting to fetching coffee as a PA. This has taught me the value of every role on set, and how it contributes to creating a positive environment. So, what if we took this idea to the next level and made it an official on-set tradition? For one hour, everyone would switch roles — actors would direct, directors would be Personal Assistants (PAs), producers would act. It could be a wild and fun experience, or a complete disaster. But either way, it would be an opportunity for everyone to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the different roles and responsibilities on set. I can’t wait to explore this idea further and make it a reality!

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

Choosing just one is impossible for me! I must pick three, lol. First, I would love to meet TONY ROBBINS. His teachings on the power of mindset have been transformative for me. I attended his 7-day workshop in Florida in 2017 with my sister, where we walked across hot coals, and it was one of the most impactful experiences of my life. It was after that workshop, that I found my purpose and started SpinKick Pictures.

Second, Michael Moore, a true inspiration for me, being from Michigan and seeing how he uses filmmaking to make a difference in the world. I would be honored to learn from him and pick his brain.

Lastly, I would love to meet the artist, Sade. Her music and essence have enriched my life in immeasurable ways, and I would be humbled to thank her personally and have the chance to dance to the music.”

How can our readers further follow you online?

My artist portfolio is at: www.brianthomasfilms.com

Business site is at: www.spinkickpictures.com

Insta/Tik Tok: @brianthomasfilms

Youtube: @spinkickpictures

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