Photo © Brett Culp Films.
Brett Culp is an award-winning documentary filmmaker who has parlayed his gift for storytelling into a global initiative to inspire hope, heroism, and what he terms “everyday leadership.” Through films, public speaking engagements, and The Rising Heroes Project – the nonprofit organization he co-founded – Brett uplifts audiences with unwavering optimism and a message of personal empowerment. His work is on Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other top digital platforms, and he has been featured in USA Today, Entertainment Tonight, WIRED, The LA Times, The Hollywood Reporter, Lifetime, WEtv, and many more.
Photo © Brett Culp Films.
In his uplifting keynote presentations, documentary filmmaker Brett Culp delivers a positive vision for developing a culture that unlocks the heroic spirit in everyone.
It seems like you are now equal parts documentary filmmaker and public speaker. How did your work as a filmmaker lead to you traveling around the country sharing inspirational messages?
That’s a great question. After the success of Legends of the Knight, I had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted to do next. I wanted to do a film that was Superman-related and that was related to young people. Look to the Sky became a film not about people influenced by Superman, but about young people who, through their lives, had demonstrated the iconic spirit of Superman – this classic superhero character.
I knew that’s what I wanted to do, so I went out in search of ten kids from all over the country, from diverse backgrounds and diverse experiences, who had demonstrated in some way the spirit of this character; to show that Superman really was real, that he’s more than a fictitious character. The idea of this character is rooted in what’s the best of us as human beings and who we can be.
Because of the success of Legends of the Knight and all that we had done, I thought that getting funding, media coverage and momentum was going to be simple; that we would be able to ride the success of Legends of the Knight, because everyone would be excited to see our next project, and it would blow up in the same way and maybe we’d even raise more money in crowdfunding. The reality is, it didn’t go that way.
I was actually so mentally and emotionally caught in a space where I was so confident it was going to work the same way, if not better, that I invested all of my emotional energy for 18 months into this confidence. It went beyond confidence; it was like a ‘knowing’ that it was already done – that we’d already raised the money, it was already going to happen. I dove in with a reckless emotional abandon to this project, knowing it was going to work the way I thought it was.
And then, it didn’t.
What actually did happen?
When we launched the trailer and a crowdfunding campaign to finish the film, after I’d already been working on it in earnest for nine months – and we’d been using the revenues we made from Legends of the Knight to get to that point – the crowdfunding really kind of flopped. We hardly got any media coverage, the trailer didn’t go viral, and the crowdfunding didn’t go wild. People ask me, “Why do you think that happened?” and, after three years, my answer still is that I don’t know; in the same way that I couldn’t tell you why things go viral or how to produce a viral video. No one knows.
Look to the Sky just didn’t catch on the same way and I was not ready for that. It was like a punch in the gut. I had this feeling like, “God, you told me to do this thing. I can see that it’s making a difference and helping people and inspiring people. Why did this not work? Why was it not sustainable?”
I know I’m not alone as an entrepreneur in the space of not just trying to make money, but trying to do good in the world. There are so many people who try to launch campaigns and missions to do things and do good, and maybe they work for a while or maybe they never work, and they’re left sitting there going, “Well, what does this mean? Does this mean I wasn’t good enough or smart enough? Does it mean I didn’t handle this right or that people don’t like me?” You take it very personally for a while; maybe forever.
You were clearly very discouraged at that low point in your journey. What happened to turn things around?
In the middle of all that, here I was working on this film that, at its core, is about hope. I was really emotionally off course and the last thing I felt I could do was work on a documentary film about hope.
I had to take a break from the film until I figured out what we were going to do next and, in the midst of that break, I got invited to do a few speaking engagements. I didn’t get paid for them; I just did them. In one of those rooms, there was a person who was connected to the professional speaking world. He saw me speak, made a few phone calls, and within six months I was on the list of some of the top professional speaker bureaus in the world.
They started inviting me to speak all of over the country. What I didn’t understand is that there’s this entire world of conferences for everything you can possibly imagine, from engineers to nurses to dentists to police chiefs; every occupation you can imagine has multiple conferences all over the world every day. They hire professional speakers to come in and present an opening or a closing keynote that will inspire them.
I started doing that two and a half years ago and that essentially became the way I fund the films. [Revenue from] the speaking engagements covers my life and some of the film expenses, and I’m free now to do the films without any additional funding to make that happen.
I’m reminded of the saying, “Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.”
It’s not the way I planned it or strategized it. My best plan didn’t work. I love the documentary work, but a lot of days I love the speaking more. There’s more joy in that for me than doing the documentary films. We have the revenue now that I’m able to bring in people to help me. On the newest film we’re working on, my wife is a producer and I have another producer, another shooter, another editor, so these processes are not waiting on me.
On the first two films I did, the first credit at the end of the movie says, “Director, producer, cinematographer, editor – Brett Culp.” The new movie won’t say it that way. I’ll be the director, producer and cinematographer, but there will also be another cinematographer, two more producers, an editor; it won’t be so much in the dirt for me.
The reality is that, from a time that was really discouraging and one of the lowest times in my professional career, something good and unexpected happened, which was beautiful to experience.
Photo © Brett Culp Films.
Documentary filmmaker Brett Culp inspires an audience during one of his many keynote presentations around the country.
(End, Part 2)
Brett Culp's work has inspired audiences around the world. He has been the personal cinematographer for Hollywood stars, music icons, beloved authors, hall of fame athletes, and royal families. With his uplifting documentary film Legends of the Knight, Brett pioneered a ground-breaking approach to community building and relationship-driven engagement. For Brett, his experience with Legends of the Knight re-framed leadership for him as an art form that invites people to connect with a noble vision and make a difference together. His film projects are collaborative efforts, pulling diverse groups of people into dialogue and ultimately leading to stronger communities and greater impact. Brett has developed an expertise for creating 'mini-movements' that inspire the heroic spirit in everyone. His work as a filmmaker empowers people to find their own path to leadership. Brett is co-founder of The Rising Heroes Project, a 501c3 that supports charitable organizations. Visit his website www.BrettCulp.com and Facebook page.
Legends of the Knight is a documentary film that tells the true stories of individuals who were inspired to become real-life heroes because of their childhood love of Batman. The film expresses the power all of us have to be heroic and has inspired viewers of all ages to embrace their inner superhero. The film has screened in cities, with proceeds benefiting charities and the families they serve. Each screening has become an evening of inspiration and heroic possibilities for families - with superhero costumes & capes - while raising awareness and funds for charity. Over 60 charities have benefited, including Ronald McDonald House, Make-A-Wish, St Jude's, Boys & Girls Club, MDA, Special Olympics, children's hospitals, and more. If you are interested in learning more about Legends of the Knight, click here.
Look to the Sky is a documentary film that explores the uplifting true stories of 10 young people who have demonstrated the spirit of Superman. Weaving together their stories, Look to the Sky is a touching journey into what is possible for the world and for our own lives. This feature-length documentary from filmmaker Brett Culp explores the power of hope and the importance of positive ideas while encouraging viewers to find the superhero within themselves. The film is screened around the world, with proceeds benefiting charitable efforts.
Learn more about the film at: www.RisingHero.org.
The journey to make this film was so inspiring for Brett as a filmmaker that at the end of the process he found there was so much more to say. So he poured all of those things into this companion book for Look to the Sky. This first book by Brett is an encouraging and insightful adventure behind the concepts and stories in the film. Watch the documentary film Look to the Sky, and then read the companion book to get a behind-the-scenes look at the filmmaking journey with these real-life heroes. Discover the power and depth of their stories, and uncover a renewed sense of possibility for yourself and the world around you. To learn more about the companion book for Look to the Sky, click here.
About Brett Culp: A filmmaker, keynote speaker, social entrepreneur, Brett is co-founder of the not-for-profit, The Rising Heroes Project, which produces films and other creative projects that inspire viewers to overcome personal adversity and engage with the world in a positive way. Brett believes that uplifting, real-life stories with messages of hope, courage, and commitment have the power to create lasting change. He is known for the films Legends of the Knight and Look to the Sky, both of which explore the power of heroic stories and heroic individuals to inspire us to believe in a better tomorrow. Brett's forthcoming film, A Voice That Carries, is a documentary film inspiring dads to have a positive impact on their daughters' lives! As a keynote speaker, Brett is passionate and energetic. He encourages audiences to find the superhero within and their own path to "everyday leadership." His insights on connecting individuals to an organization's mission and goals resonate, help us realize our greatest personal and business potential, and renew our collective sense of hope for the future and belief that our efforts can make an impact.