You can’t take yourself too seriously. People are going to make mistakes. I’m going to make mistakes. We all are. What are you going to do? Get mad? No, you’ve got to go forward and learn from it. And a lot of times, our mistakes are hilarious. Laugh at them. Laugh at yourself, too.
As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Brattain.
Kim Brattain is an Emmy Award-winning journalist with more than three decades’ experience in filmmaking, executive coaching and PR. For her, a career in journalism and storytelling is “a higher calling and a public service.” She founded Kim Brattain Media in 2008, and her goal is to help people and organizations — particularly nonprofits — tell their stories effectively.
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?
When I was a TV reporter earlier in my career, I would inevitably sit down at my typewriter — this was back in the days before computers — and have paralyzing writer’s block. I’d look at the clock and know I had a deadline — but also knew the storytelling had to be engaging and factually correct. My news director at the time could be terrifying, but he told me something that still makes me smile. His words of wisdom showed me that I was up to the task of producing a compelling story on deadline.
He said, “Kim, this is TV news — not brain surgery.” In other words, inadvertent omissions or misspellings weren’t going to leave anybody horribly damaged for the rest of their lives. It helped put our work into perspective.
The work I do today — film and video production — uses the same standards I learned in journalism school and that I’ve relied on my whole career. Strong storytelling starts with the five W’s. If you answer all those questions — Who? What? When? Where? Why? — you have at least an adequate storyline. From there, you can look at the information you’ve gathered and siphon out the most compelling fact to start with as your journalistic hook. Then, you simply build out your story, allowing the information to flow into the coverage.
Viewers will, we hope, draw the conclusion we want them to walk away with. We hope the story is the nudge they need to buy the product or donate to the nonprofit.
What differentiates a great production company from the others is the art of marrying the visuals with the script. They must be in sync.
It’s counterintuitive, but when you narrow your focus through a camera lens, your universe actually expands. Narrowing your field of vision provides clarity. And if you use that focus well, you can steer emotion, create a compelling visual story, sell a thought, promote a service, inspire someone to buy your gizmo. It’s a powerful, persuasive medium.
At my company, a full-service video production house, we approach each project with a fresh eye and perspective. Our core values — integrity, satisfaction, creativity and respect — guide every interaction with a client and with each other.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I started in television news, there were very few women in the field. And most of the men thought we were lightweights. We weren’t considered deep thinkers or good researchers and writers — even though we had to be all those things.
I think, instead of trying to use my people skills to sway people to my side, I was tougher than I needed to be. I felt I needed to be tough to be taken seriously. I couldn’t just be myself. Instead of asking a man about his baseball card collection, which could’ve led to a friendly and engaging conversation, I often acted aloof. Too serious. I had to prove myself over and over, and I did it be being tougher and less open than I naturally am.
I later realized that this is a team sport and that it takes people being friendly and authentic to make it work.
I worried that someone might misconstrue my actions if I came across as overly friendly. It was a very tough time to be a woman in this business. I know you asked for a funny mistake, and this one wasn’t funny. But it’s the biggest mistake that comes to mind. I wasn’t being my authentic self — and that’s always a mistake.
I’ve had plenty of funny — or unusual — things happen to me during my career — especially during live segments. After the University of North Carolina — my alma mater — won the NCAA championship, I had bottles thrown at me during a live broadcast. It wasn’t funny to me, but it probably looked pretty funny to viewers. Consequently, I don’t like being in crowds anymore.
Because anything can happen on live TV, at my company, we always use two cameras and two microphones. That’s the big lesson I learned. Now, we’re confident that if one battery should die, or one light should go out, we’ve got a back-up. Redundancy is an important concept in our business.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Oh, I’ve been so lucky. There have been so many.
I interviewed David Bowie and George H.W. Bush. I interviewed Bruce Jenner and O.J. Simpson — together. There’s a picture of me with them sitting on a couch. That was before Kaitlyn Jenner. Before the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. They were different people then.
I interviewed Strom Thurmond [the late, long-serving U.S. senator from South Carolina]. I’ve interviewed so many politicians, which I always loved. I love politics.
Whenever I interviewed someone high-profile, I tried to be cool and gracious. But sometimes, I couldn’t help from telling them I was a fan.
Celebrities are humans, too — and they can have bad days, as we all do. If I ever interviewed a VIP who was terse and reluctant to answer, I’d say, “Seems like you might be having a bad day, and I’m sorry. You don’t want to be doing this, do you? Is there anything you want to tell me?”
Journalists have a job to do. We’re supposed to ask questions. Today, I tell my politician clients: Journalists can help you get your message out. We’re both playing this game together, right? You have an opportunity to get your message out through me.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
He’s not a historical figure, but when you ask about who’s inspired me, my dad, Dan Brattain, comes to mind immediately. He has always been my North Star. He’s smart, got a fantastic work ethic, kind, cheerful, honest. He’s funny, too — and a tremendous flirt.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?
Over my years in business, I’ve worked with such amazing nonprofits devoted to causes I care about tremendously.
I’ve worked with Teen Health Connection in Charlotte, North Carolina, for more than a decade. They offer medical and behavioral health services, education, advocacy, and leadership development. Teens can discuss health issues with them that they don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents or regular pediatricians about.
We just won a Gold MUSE Award for our work with them, and we’ve probably won eight or 10 Telly Awards for our work with The Relatives, an organization that provides shelter and support to vulnerable teens. Their goal is to keep young people safe and families together, when possible. It’s a special feeling to know that you can help someone whose life is just getting started.
It’s such a privilege to do our small part to share these stories. It’s something everyone on my team takes a lot of pride in.
At The Relatives, we’ve met teens we just want to take home with us. Often, they have parents who are suffering from addiction, who have been abusive or who abandoned them. You look at their faces and can tell they’ve been sleeping on the street because even that is better than the very bad situation at home they escaped. It’s such a blessing to see that spark of life come back to their faces.
Both these organizations give teens the assurance that they’re worthwhile and that there are people who love and believe in them.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?
Thank you. I do feel I have manifested many of my dreams, but there are still more to chase.
Going into business for myself was very scary. I knew how to tell a compelling story, but there was so much I didn’t know. I should’ve asked for more help.
The impetus for becoming my own boss was part professional and part personal. Professionally, there were stories I wanted to tell that I couldn’t tell on a 30-minute news show. Personally, I wanted better hours so I could be a more engaged mom.
One of my sons — I have two and one daughter — was captain of the soccer team his senior year in high school, and I never got to see him play. The big TV ratings season coincided with soccer season. I regret not being there for a single game. As a result, I make sure my staff has a healthy work/life balance. I think I’m a good boss because I understand the importance of being at family events.
That was one “aha.” Another was that when I first started my business. I didn’t use my name in my company’s name. I called it Phase Two Productions. Then, somebody said to me, “Do you want to be successful? Then, use your name. You’ve built a reputation; use it.”
Still another “aha” moment happened because I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded at work by really great people, as evidenced by all the awards we’ve won. I realized I needed to think more broadly about my role in the company. I need to be more than their boss. I need to be their coach. I owe it to these fabulous people to offer them meaningful work and coaching that helps them be the best they can be.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Oh, there are so many. I can’t pick just one.
I’ll start with Seth, who walked 125 miles over three days — from Fayetteville to Charlotte, North Carolina — to get to safety. At 17, he was fleeing an abusive home after being abandoned by his mother and left with his violent father.
When Seth reached The Relatives, he found comfort in the form of a hot meal and a place to shower and do laundry. He started vocational school. The Relatives helped him find a safe place to live and gave him rental assistance while he was in HVAC training.
Now, Seth volunteers there as a youth advocate.
CeCe’s story is just as remarkable. She was only 12 when her mother dropped her off at 3 a.m. at The Relatives’ crisis center and left her with nothing but the pajamas she was wearing. She didn’t even have shoes on.
This child had been living in chaos and was the victim of abuse and neglect. The staff took her in, made her feel safe and got her to school the next day on time — something her mother was rarely able to do.
I’m proud to tell you that CeCe is now a college graduate. And she supports the organization that once supported her. She’s The Relatives’ runaway prevention specialist. I can’t imagine anyone more empathetic in that role.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
Thinking about Seth and CeCe with The Relatives — and Teen Health Connection — you can support them with a monetary donation or by volunteering your time. But that goes for any nonprofit or cause that speaks to you. I also encourage people to mentor and hire teenagers.
Another simple, but important, thing you can do — and this comes from my work with the Assistance League of Charlotte — is, instead of throwing things away — to repurpose or donate them. I think a lot of American society is very wasteful.
The Assistance League is simply amazing. It’s run entirely by volunteers. And they repurpose and resell. It’s great to see people going to their thrift shop and buying clothing, books, electronics, and baby items. All the money they raise goes to buy school uniforms, feed kids on the weekends — when they can’t get a hot meal at school — and other philanthropic causes.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
First is to try hard to get along with the people you work with. It goes back to what I said earlier about not being friendly enough early in my career when I thought I had to be tough to be taken seriously. I’m a naturally curious and friendly person, and it went against my own values not to be friendly.
The second thing — be a good teammate — is closely related to the first. I think people realize today that no one succeeds alone. It always takes a group effort. I’m glad my kids were part of so many group projects in school. It helped them learn how to be a good team member.
I worked in a silo for a long time. Today, everything we do is a team sport. No one stands alone.
To create a fabulous story, you’ve got to have a great interviewer and a great camera person. You need a good writer. You need somebody to compose music. I should have realized a long time ago that everyone is essential in this endeavor.
Third — and this is part of being a good leader — is finding the nugget that people are really excelling at and helping them build out that skill. Earlier in my career, I was probably too direct. I remember saying things like, “That’s not the way to do it. Let’s start over.” And that’s so disheartening to hear.
I now understand that good leaders encourage rather than criticize.
Fourth, I’d say: You can’t take yourself too seriously. People are going to make mistakes. I’m going to make mistakes. We all are. What are you going to do? Get mad? No, you’ve got to go forward and learn from it. And a lot of times, our mistakes are hilarious. Laugh at them. Laugh at yourself, too.
Lastly — and it may sound trite — pay it forward. We’ve got to treat people the way we want to be treated. Help someone out when you can.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I’d say — and most young people are already aware of this — that we all must do our part to clean up our planet.
I have a drawer at home full of silicone reusable baggies. That’s one thing I’m doing for the environment. My work with the Catawba Lands Conservancy has brought a lot of environmental issues to my attention. We cannot be selfish. We’ve got to look beyond ourselves. All of us working together is going to make this world a better place.
Every time I see someone with a single-use plastic water bottle, I want to go up to them and tell them there’s a better way.
We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Oh, I’d love to make a documentary with Ken Burns. He’s a trailblazer and an extraordinary storyteller. He’s never been afraid to take on any subject — Vietnam, the “Central Park Five.” He can take a subject someone may not be all that interested in — take baseball, for instance — and make them a fan.
Plus, it takes a lot of patience to make a good documentary. It’s so much more than a recitation of facts. It’s the combining of emotions and pictures and facts.
I understand what it takes to make a good documentary, because I co-produced one that’s available on demand at UNC TV [PBS]. “Live from The Double Door” was a wonderful project that led me to dive into the history of a legendary live music venue in Charlotte that closed — not because they were struggling — but to make way for new development.
I’d like to do more like that. And we are. We’re currently working with South Carolina Educational TV [SCETV] on a series called “Southern Sounds,” which will premiere in March 2024. I should add that we’ve won Tellys for our documentaries for the past two years.
I don’t know that there’d be a reason for them to collaborate with me, but my favorite fun filmmakers are the Coen brothers. I’ve probably seen “Fargo” six times and never tire of the characters or their accents. “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” is a classic! The humor and love for their characters elevates their work.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Oh, I like this question. I have several. Mother Teresa said, “Spread love wherever you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” Isn’t that a wonderful thing to strive for?
The Dalai Lama has said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
And John Lennon — a philosopher as well as a songwriter and pop icon — wrote, “All we are saying is, give peace a chance.” That applies on a global scale, as well as on a micro one. It goes back to the importance of trying to get along with people.
How can our readers follow you online?
People can learn more about my company at our website, kimbrattain.com. My team and I blog regularly, and people can read our posts on the site. We have an Instagram account at @kimbrattainmedia and a LinkedIn page (www.linkedin.com/company/kim-brattain-media/). I’d love to hear from folks at any of those places.
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 Filmmaker Kim Brattain 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.