Katherine Brooks is a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment industry. Chances are, if you haven’t heard her name, you’ve still heard of her projects. Her television credits alone sport several Emmy award winning shows that every teen and twenty-something loved to watch in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The Osbournes, Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, Meet the Barkers, The Simple Life, and of course, The Real World. Shortly after her successful stint in reality television, Brooks moved on to short and feature films, with projects touting cast members such as Erin Kelly (LA Cafe Plays, Ruskin Theatre Group), Taryn Manning (8 Mile, Orange is the New Black), Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under, American Horror Story), and Elizabeth Shue (Blunt Talk, CSI). Brooks’ work has been the recipient of several awards, including an Audience Award at Outfest and Best Feature Film at the Melbourne Film Festival. Brooks’ feature film credits include Loving Annabelle, Waking Madison, and Lost In Time, which is currently in post production and should be available to audiences this fall.
There is no denying Katherine Brooks is good at what she does. The Laughing Lesbian had the opportunity to chat with Brooks and gain some insight on why she is so breathtakingly good at what she does, and how she went from brand new experimental film maker to Emmy award winning president of a production company. We are truly honored to have been able to speak with Brooks, to learn about her opinions on fair representation in creative media for LGBTQ audiences, gender parity in the entertainment industry, for blowing the top off of stigmas surrounding mental health, and for how to get started on your own creative path and see yourself succeed.
KB: For me, projects are very much like children. They’re all so different, but you love them equally. I would say this new film is special because of how long I have been working on it. 13 years.
TLL: As artists, we cannot help but leave behind bits and pieces of ourselves in our projects-but your documentary Face 2 Face was quite literally about you and the in person connections you could make via social media and a little creative routing across the country. Was the process for shooting a work of film so personal any different from your other projects, like Loving Annabel and Waking Madison?
KB: Oh, totally different. Face 2 Face was like giving birth for 4 months and having it caught on camera. Gross. That seems a little gross, but you know what I mean. It’s so damn vulnerable and personal – but I felt it was something I needed to share with others.
KB: Oh, for sure. It was a great experience and has given me so many tools to help in my story telling.
KB: You don’t know what to expect with reality (if it’s unscripted) which is what makes documentaries/reality so amazing. When you are working with a script, you are manipulating emotions to get to where you need to go to make the structure of a story work. It’s like sculpting. With a movie, I can use my hands and mold what I want to see – with reality, I kind of have to watch it mold before my eyes and capture and edit it in a way that connects me to what I am seeing unfold before my eyes.
TLL: You’re the president of Big Easy Pictures, based in New Orleans. In Hollywood, women are starting their own production companies in order to fill the void of women in executive artistic positions and to foster gender parity. Do you think it’s working? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in run Big Easy Pictures?
KB: I do think it’s working. Women like Reese Witherspoon are producing great films so they can play characters they otherwise would be over looked. Women are powerful and we are changing things! I think I have been challenged with raising capitol for films because I still think there is a stereotype that goes with men having the ability to handle money better than women, which is so not true. But, I’ve taken the route of crowdfunding because I like it so much better. You don’t have someone telling you how to do your art because they have money – and your fans and supporters get to be a part of making a project happen. So, I guess, every obstacle I have faced, I find a way to move around it and never turn back.
KB: I believe it’s important to give. It’s everything. Especially working with the next generation because we need their voices and stories on screen so that we can continue to evolve. I just always try and hope to influence kids to capture things that inspire and give hope.
KB: I always offer intern positions on every project I do. I started as an intern and I think it’s a great way to get your foot in the door. I didn’t go to film school because I wanted to get right to work. hands on is a great way to start.
TLL: You’ve been incredibly open in your writing about your bipolar disorder, starting out as a film maker while being homeless, and now you’ve got this incredible career, an Emmy, and your own production company, as well as two homes in Louisiana and LA. What drove you to make that first documentary about life on the streets, and what drove you to keep going artistically through the struggle of finding a home, and finding peace, and learning how to manage your mental illness? What advice can you give for others who see their mental illness as a battle?
KB: Well, unfortunately, we discovered a year ago that I was misdiagnosed with Bipolar when I was actually suffering from severe PTSD. That’s been intense. The medication they were giving me, because I wasn’t Bipolar was making me worse. It taught me a lot and I will now fight the fight that you can’t diagnosis someone in 20 minutes. You need to have a thorough history of their life. I’ve now been medication free for a year. And have no symptoms because I have been able to address the event that caused the PTSD. Mental illness is hard, but there is hope. You need to be with a Doctor you trust, but you ALSO have to have a second opinion. I spent 6 months with a Doctor before he finally diagnosed that I wasn’t Bipolar and it was the events in 2004 that caused my symptoms. And it’s vital we educate ourselves on this medication we so quickly take. Because I was misdiagnosed, I know a lot about medication because over 16 months they tried me on 19 different medications. I now have seizures because of it, so we have to be careful. I’m blessed to have changed my diet, I spend less time on technology and more time in the sun and in nature. I have been able to heal myself and ultimately with the right Doctor and connecting with our own power to heal ourselves, it can be done! There is hope. You just can NEVER give up. Ever.
TLL: Let’s talk about new projects. Right now you’re in post production for Lost in Time.
KB: It’s been amazing. The initial money to get the film shot was raised on Kickstarter and my savings. A little over $200,000. Once we got into post production, I then started a go fund me page which is to get the rest of the movie finished and out to the public by September. It is great to make movies with this way. I call it MADE BY FANS FOR THE FANS.
KB: It’s important because we are in a society of distraction and a lot of us are having a hard time connecting. At least, I have struggled with this. Portraying real complex life situations and showing a result of hope I believe is necessary with how our world is right now. So much devastation, yet if we just turn our eyes a little to the left, we could see all the beauty. I’m trying to turn to the left.
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