Treat everyone with respect and kindness, even if the environment you’re working in tells you that someone is “above” or “below” you. This is pretty self-explanatory. But I think the more you treat everyone well, the better life is for everybody. We all have the same intrinsic value!
As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Laurel Brady.
Laurel Brady is an award-winning screenwriter, playwright, and emerging director. She has written seven short films. The most recent CHRONIC was supported by the CFC/Netflix Calling Card Accelerator and is an official selection of the BAFTA — Qualifying SuperFest Disability Film Festival, LA Comedy Film Festival, Portland Comedy Film Festival, Finalist for Best Dark Comedy at the Austin Comedy Film Festival, Los Angeles Comedy Film Festival, and Great Canadian Comedy Film Festival. The film will be making its world premiere in January 2024. Laurel’s plays have been featured on stages such as Theatre Passe Muraille, The Arts Project, and various theatres across Ontario. Laurel studied theatre at York University, screenwriting at George Brown College, and sketch writing at Second City Toronto
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?
Thank you for having me! Absolutely. I’ve been writing since before I knew how to spell so you can say writing has been a lifelong passion. I worked in Theatre for a long time as a writer and actor, which I absolutely loved. Then, in 2017, I started taking screenwriting classes and began planting the seeds to move into film and TV. In 2018, I was selected as one of the writers to attend the prestigious Canadian Film Centre’s Writers Lab, which was a significant launching point for my career. I made a bunch of friends and found amazing mentors and collaborators there, that I still work with.
What led me to write my soon-to-be-released award-winning short film CHRONIC, starring Nadine Bhabha, was that in 2019, I sustained a mild traumatic brain injury and whiplash from a work-related injury. It was an incredibly painful, debilitating, and extremely lonely experience. The injury itself is tricky. After a brief attempt at going back to work, my injury was too bad, and I wasn’t allowed to work for six months. It’s taken me years to heal, and even now, I still experience pain and aftereffects from that injury.
I initially wrote the drama-comedy TV pilot version of “Chronic” ten months after my injury which ended up becoming a semi-finalist at LA’s Screencraft’s TV Pilot Competition. I then decided to write the short film version to explore the terrible, misunderstood (and sometimes darkly funny experience) of going through a brain injury and also let it act as proof of concept for the larger project. My brother Brendan Brady was naturally my first choice to team up with as the director and co-producer because a) he’s incredibly talented, and b) he has his own experience with chronic pain, so he understood what I was aiming for in terms of tone and style.
I really wanted the short to touch on the private grief around experiencing a body and mind that has been changed due to injury and illness while also exploring the situational comedy of navigating your new reality. Basically exploring how a situation can be deeply terrible but it’s sort of darkly funny. After my injury, I found many people didn’t necessarily understand what a brain injury feels like or how debilitating it can be, so I wanted to infuse the short with some of the same hyper-extreme versions of loved ones not quite getting it or being thoughtless juxtaposed with the relief of finally connecting with folks who do! And adding moments of humour because that’s how I cope with life.
CHRONIC will be released online on YouTube on January 31st, 2024. It was written by me, directed by my brother Brendan Brady, and co-produced by the two of us. Our father, David Brady, was the E.P. along with “honorary Brady” and E.P. Sonny Goldstein. So, this, indeed, was a family affair. Our hope is that this short-form project will get the chance to be seen by audiences, create some laughter, relatability, and hope, and *fingers crossed* allow us to make the longer-form version of CHRONIC.
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?
There have been a lot of mistakes (ha), but something I didn’t understand at the beginning of my career was that I needed to rest and that it’s not helpful to work non- stop. I definitely had times when I took on too much and wasn’t getting enough sleep, and I remember once a colleague of mine looked at me one day and asked, “Are you okay?” We both burst out laughing because I looked like this haggard shell. I was so dazed and out of it in our meeting and just needed someone to give me a reality check. I will say that it took until after my accident for me to properly learn how to build rest into my life and enjoy it. I’m not perfect at it, but I’m way better.
Another hilarious mistake at the beginning of my career was that I didn’t always nail distinguishing between legitimate opportunities and, how I say this nicely… hot messes. So, many times, I would get super excited about an “opportunity,” and it would turn out to be a scam or a poorly organized, not thought-out dumpster fire that may or may not have been happening in the middle of nowhere. I’m talking about some creepy middle of nowhere. I can’t explain the amount of absurd opportunities I thankfully dodged when I was starting out.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Such a good question! Truthfully, some of the most interesting people I’ve interacted with are sound operators, makeup artists, production coordinators/managers, and assistant directors in film and T.V. I feel like they hear and see everything on set. They’re also interacting with all sorts of people, but since they are more often operating like flies on the walls, they’re able to hear and see the most jaw-dropping moments. Stories that honestly aren’t appropriate to share. Let’s just say if you’re on set, just know that someone is always watching you.
Not to be biased but other writers are incredibly interesting. I love their brains, I love their questions, and I love how so many writers have this deep passion for story that is absolutely infectious.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I’ve always been inspired by people who went against the grain or broke social norms in periods when it wasn’t celebrated. I’m endlessly inspired by female writers such as Mary Louise Alcott, Jane Austen, and George Elliot for becoming writers in a period when women had very little power, financial gain, or praise for it. Obviously, many female writers had to hide behind pen names or marry to survive or live in poverty, but I think they are pretty badass for following their creativity. Similarly, I’m inspired by queer writers such as Oscar Wilde, Virgina Wolf, and Audre Lorde. Something inside each of these folks drove them to write, to express deeply human feelings and stories, and to touch on the taboo, and it makes me so grateful that these folks paved the way for so many to be able to do the same thing.
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?
Part of my personal mandate is writing work that allows audiences to laugh, think about complex issues, and feel big feelings simultaneously. I am passionate about writing diverse, comedic-leaning female-centric that feature hilarious and heartbreaking aspects of life. I’m also passionate about writing stories where leads straddle multiple identities, are flawed, and are funny as hell.
With our new short film, CHRONIC, we’re hoping audiences will be entertained and get to experience the POV of a character living with chronic pain and disability who is funny. So often, stories like this are 100% dramas or trauma stories with zero levity. While showing this experience’s seriousness is important, I wanted to create a film that reflected the light and the dark of a brain injury because that was how I experienced it. I could be crying in pain and frustration one moment and laughing about how absurd and terrible everything was the next. There’s something so universal and vital about using humour as a coping mechanism or release valve. I don’t know where I’d be without my sense of humour, and I think MANY people feel the same way.
We hope audience members living with a disability or chronic pain can chuckle at the dark sense of humor, see themselves reflected in a lead role, and perhaps share the film with loved ones who may not understand their lived experience.
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?
I have two slightly contradictory answers.
When I was starting out, a boss I admired commented to someone, “Laurel wants to be a writer.” Now, at this point, I had already had a couple of plays produced and had a consistent writing practice. At that moment, I realized that if I waited for others to tell me I was a professional, I might be waiting a long time. From that moment on, I thought of myself as a writer, put plans in motion to start freelancing (which was highly nerve- wracking), and committed myself to taking myself seriously as an artist. For me, that meant “picking myself” years and years before anyone in my industry noticed, putting my name forward for gigs and opportunities, and continuously working on my craft so that when I got bigger opportunities, I’d be ready for it. For writing and producing CHRONIC specifically, I felt I had to write this to help me process everything. First, with the TV pilot version and then the short so we could offer people a taste test and see what resonated with audiences. Since I was on bed rest for so long, I had a lot of time to think.
The other, slightly contradictory answer is I don’t think success or manifesting success is ever defined by one moment in our lives, but rather by a series of consistent steps and recommitting yourself even if you keep hearing no, which happens a LOT. A LOT, haha. I have been writing since I was 6 (for fun) and, in some capacity, professionally since I was in my late teens/early 20s. So, for me, it’s more regularly asking myself, “Why am I doing this?” “How can I keep showing up in a way that feels like I’m not burning out or losing myself?” And then have practices so that I can still care for myself when I feel low or burnt out.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Hm. I suppose my answer would be that in October, we were lucky enough to be an official selection for SUPERFEST DISABILITY FILM FESTIVAL, which takes place in San Francisco. It’s one of the longest-running disability film festivals in the world. I got to sit on a panel and hear how so many people identified with the loneliness, isolation, and exasperation with loved ones, which is thematically present in CHRONIC. People really resonated with the film while simultaneously finding it challenging. One audience member said the short was “a horror film wrapped in a comedy,” and they wanted to know what happened next, which was the best compliment in the world. I like that it’s not a simple film, and the characters are flawed, but ultimately, it’s hopeful. Knowing that folks felt seen watching our short and wanted to see more felt so soul-fulfilling, and made us feel like we created something that offered hope and catharsis to people living with pain, illness, and disability.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
1) We would love it if people would check out CHRONIC when we release it online on January 31st, 2023, on YouTube!
2) We’d love it if you could share the film with your friends and loved ones or anyone who might benefit from it. You can follow us at CHRONIC_THEFILM on Instagram and Chronic: The Film on Facebook for updates!
3) Keep supporting independent storytelling, especially when it features stories and leads not always seen on screen! We’re so proud to have made a comedy-drama that features people living with disability!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- You’re allowed to rest. For many years starting out, I rarely took time off or even evenings or weekends, and I burnt out over and over again. It took my accident in 2019 to realize that my body is fragile, and I need to treat it with respect. I’ve also learned that I can be a more loving, present person when I’ve rested or when I’ve built fun into my life.
- You’re allowed to have a life outside of work. So often, when you’re trying to achieve something, the narrative is to work non-stop and sacrifice everything and everyone in your life to get ahead. But I want a big and beautiful life with the people I love. None of this matters if I’m miserable or I don’t have any loved ones to celebrate with because I never took the time to tend to my relationships.
- The seeds you plant take time to bloom. Give them that time. I am still learning this. Over and over again. But I’ve noticed that lately, I feel more comfortable in the ebb and flow of life. I think this is because I’ve lived enough life now to see the patterns. Some months, things are “hitting” like crazy; in other moments, it feels like nothing will ever happen. But once you understand that life moves in cycles, you can hopefully relax a bit more.
- In heightened situations such as networking or presentations, people act out their insecurities. For some, that means boasting; for others, it can mean hiding or downplaying. For others, it could be disengaging completely. Once you realize that we’re all just fumbling around, trying to matter and feel understood, it’s easier to show up to networking events or meetings and have compassion for yourself and others around you. I personally find networking brutal. I’m naturally a shy person who has trained myself to be outgoing. I get a stomach ache before I have to schmooze. But I had an epiphany when I was attending TIFF this year. I looked around the room and saw a hundred or so people trying their best and trying to prove their worth, and I suddenly felt a rush of empathy. From then on, I go to those events with a more open heart and then reward myself with pizza afterwards. HIGHLY RECOMMEND.
- Treat everyone with respect and kindness, even if the environment you’re working in tells you that someone is “above” or “below” you. This is pretty self-explanatory. But I think the more you treat everyone well, the better life is for everybody. We all have the same intrinsic value!
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?
We owe it to ourselves, others and this planet to try to change things for the better. There is a lot of pain, suffering, hatred, and destruction in our world, and while it seems easier to stick one’s head in the sand and ignore it, that won’t help us long-term.
The more we can look out for one another and try to help, whether that be person to person, on a larger social scale, or making efforts on an environmental level, the problems of this world may not be fully fixed but, hopefully, we’ll leave the world a little bit better. What other choice do we have?
Plus, I truly think we need the “fresh blood” of the next generation to bring their brilliance and new ways of thinking to help us. I know that sounds like a big ask, but it’s true.
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. 🙂
I am a huge fan of Elizabeth Day (author and podcaster “How To Fail” and “Best Friend Therapy”). I think how she’s changing the conversation around failure and shame is one of the most inspiring things. I’ve gotten a ton out of her work. I highly recommend giving her podcasts a listen. I’m obsessed.
I also love Kara Lowentheil from the “Unf*ck Your Brain” podcast. She does amazing work to empower women and people socialized as women to show up for themselves, for the world and create meaningful change by looking at how our socialization, thoughts and conditioning keeps us stuck.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my best friends always says to me, “Keep going.” I think there’s something so beautiful and simple about that. Whether you’re going through a hard time, you have a work-related mountain climb or there is a global crisis, there’s just something so simple about the idea of “keep going.” And, also, sometimes, that’s all you can do!
How can our readers follow you online?
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 Laurel Brady 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.