Katherine Brooks is a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment industry. Chances are, if you haven’t heard her name, you’ve stillAi??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,Ai??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 onAi??whyAi??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.
TLL: Your projects have been so varied in genre, but they all seem to have a common theme of dealing with the unpredictability of life and the situations we can find ourselves in as humans. Is there a particular project youai??i??ve worked on that spoke to you more deeply than the others?Ai??
KB: For me, projects are very much like children. Theyai??i??re all so different, but you love them equally. Ai??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. Itai??i??s so damn vulnerable and personal – but I felt it was something I needed to share with others.
TLL: You made a name for yourself in the reality television world, back when it was still a budding enterprise. Do you think you work in reality television and trying to capture those ‘real life moments’ on film has contributed to your other artistic work ?
KB: Oh, for sure. It was a great experience and has given me so many tools to help in my story telling.
TLL: What are some of the key differences between capturing reality television moments, as it were, and working on a fully fleshed out screen play with a climax and a resolution youai??i??ve got to get to?
KB: You donai??i??t know what to expect with reality (if itai??i??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. Itai??i??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 youai??i??ve faced in run Big Easy Pictures?
KB: I do think itai??i??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, Iai??i??ve taken the route of crowdfunding because I like it so much better. You donai??i??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.
TLL: Outside of directing films, you strive to make a difference in the film making community. Can you speak about your experiences with the teen film making project through Samsung, as well as your POWER UP award? Do you try to work specifically with young people who want to create representation for the LGBTQ community in film?Ai??
KB: I believe itai??i??s important to give. Itai??i??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.
TLL: Are there any initiatives within Big Easy Pictures for young film makers to get started or earn an education in film making through work experience?
KB: I always offer intern positions on every project I do. I started as an intern and I think itai??i??s a great way to get your foot in the door. I didnai??i??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. Thatai??i??s been intense. The medication they were giving me, because I wasnai??i??t Bipolar was making me worse. It taught me a lot and I will now fight the fight that you canai??i??t diagnosis someone in 20 minutes. You need to have a thorough history of their life. Iai??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 wasnai??i??t Bipolar and it was the events in 2004 that caused my symptoms. And itai??i??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. Iai??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.Ai??
Can you tell us a little bit about how youai??i??ve funded this film, and why it was important to you to do it the way you did?
KB: Itai??i??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.
TLL: Your films tug at the heart strings-or, at least, my heart strings. You push boundaries and then pull back, creating a breathtakingly accurate view of the situations we sometimes find ourselves in, going around and around with self denial and fulfillment. Annabel with the teacher she could not help but love and need in Loving Annabel, a therapist/patient boundary system in Lost in Time. You could choose to tell easy love stories, or idealized views of perfect LGBTQ families, like a gay leave it to Beaver. Instead, you come up with these incredibly intricate, deliberately balanced relationships that deal with love, acceptance, shame, and the frailty of the human condition. Can you speak a little bit about the raw humanity you capture in your films and why thatai??i??s important to you?
KB: Itai??i??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. Iai??i??m trying to turn to the left.
Friends and fans can learn more about Katherine Brooks and her projects by visiting her website and following her on Twitter. You can also visit the official website for Big Easy Pictures, Brooks’ production company based in New Orleans.
If you are interested in seeing her newest feature film, Lost in Time, stop by the Go Fund me page and watch the beautiful trailer and rough cut scenes Brooks has put together!