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.
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.
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In your films and presentations, you talk a lot about topics like hope and possibility, offering uplifting stories that inspire the audience. I know those themes resonate with a lot of people and I have seen many testimonials of people who were moved by your message and your optimism. Do you ever have cynics or skeptics in the audience who sit there with their arms crossed and roll their eyes and don’t seem open to what you’re saying? If so, how do you deal with that?
Yes, I see a lot of that cynicism. But what’s interesting is that deep down, I think all of us want to be believers. All of us want to believe that there is good; that there is light in each one of us and light in the world around us. What I try to do with every single one of my keynotes and my films is to take you on a journey to affirm the truth that you know deep down: that the world is filled with good people and filled with goodness, and that includes you.
While there certainly are people who walk into the room with their arms crossed and their legs crossed and their eyes crossed [laughs] because they want to express that sort of thing, most of the time, by the end, they join me on some level; I’ve won them over. It’s not always true, but it’s rare that those I haven’t won over feel the audacity to come up to me and call me a liar afterwards, although I have had people tell me that I was too passionate in my talks or too intense – which is just a more diplomatic way of saying “not cynical enough.”
What do you think causes people to behave that way?
I see a lot of people on social media and in the world who see darkness and see injustice and feel that their job in the world is to stir up fights about it, to create conflict with others in order to straighten them out and to fight for the righteousness they believe in. I would never say that there’s no value in that or that it’s never appropriate. However, I feel that what’s needed, at least for me – that my mission in the world – is to be someone who expresses possibility and gives people a picture of what could be for themselves and for the world, but also speaks on a level of the truth of who we are.
We’re seeing a lot of superhero movies right now. In fact, this year we’re going to see more superhero movies than we have ever seen in a single year. Every year the critics say it will burn out, but every year it keeps growing. The reason superhero stories matter to us so much right now is that all of us, at an unconscious level, are coming to grips with the idea that, as individuals, we’re very powerful.
Can you explain that in more detail?
For most of history, there was this sense that the average person was not very powerful – that the king was powerful, but you were a peasant. For the vast majority of people who’ve lived throughout time, that has been where they are. The reality is that, over the past couple of centuries, and maybe even with the advent of the internet and the powers it has given us, we are very powerful as individuals.
You hear stories every day of somebody who was a nobody on the traditional scale of success – just a normal person – who was inspired to do something or make a difference. We resonate with those stories because all of us are struggling, as these superheroes do in these stories. We’re realizing that we’re very powerful and we’re trying to figure out what to do about it. That’s the heart of every superhero story you ever see; this acknowledgement that, “I’ve got this power. What am I supposed to do? What am I obligated to do? What is my responsibility?”
We’re not struggling with it on a societal level. We’re struggling with it as individuals living within the society. That’s why I think superhero stories are important and why we’re so drawn to them right now, as opposed to westerns or other types of stories that have been popular in American culture and history, although each one of those represents a different sort of unconscious struggle.
The reason we’re drawn to the superhero stories is that, in the end, they consistently make the heroic choice. Even though we look at ourselves and realize that there are many days when we – as individuals and as societies – don’t make the heroic choice that we were capable of making, these stories are reminders to us that we can make those choices and I believe that, ultimately, we will.
That is the heroic struggle we’re all in: not to punch people in the face with superhero strength and take them to jail, but to actually create a world – to create communities first, because it starts with communities – the ability to create communities in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our towns, that believe everyone is worth saving and that we, as individuals have the power, the ability, and the obligation to help.
You talked about the potential for people to harness the internet or social media to make a difference in the lives of others. I recently watched an interview with Candace Payne, the lady known as Chewbacca Mom, who made a cheerful video of herself in a Chewbacca mask and ended up with more than 200 million views. Now she’s written a book about overcoming obstacles and living a joy-filled life. Your success and her success would seem to indicate that people are yearning to hear positive messages because they see a lot of negative things in the world and feel powerless to change them.
That’s exactly right and that’s the core of my message – to go back to your original question – that people are open to. I’m not trying to deny, with my work or my speeches, that there is not darkness in the world. I’m not that kind of person. In fact, all of my films go into very dark places. They share stories about things that are not good and not right. The hope is not in the idea that there is no darkness. It’s in saying that within the darkness, we have the power to bring light. That’s the transformational thought. That’s the possibility.
The world changes not because of one politician or one leader. All that person does is stir up a yearning in everyone else to bring light into the darkness. That’s all they can do. I define leadership these days as inviting people on a mission to do something extraordinary together. It’s not the job of the leader to sort it all out, figure it all out, and present a fully formed world with perfect policies and perfect direction to the masses. The job of the leader is to invite the people around them on a noble quest to do something good together.
The world changes not because of one big thing that one person does. The world changes because of the tiny things that many people do over the course of days, months, and years. That’s how change happens; lasting change, real change. You could pass one law and say, “We did it! By the signing of this law, we changed everything.” Well, no. Not if the world is not really in support; not if the rest of the community doesn’t want to be part of that and to express that in their own lives.
I think that’s the invitation of all of my work – not to pretend that the darkness isn’t there or to ignore it, but to literally go right into the middle of it and be light; be light with the belief that a little bit of light, even in the darkest spaces, can change everything.
Photo © Brett Culp Films.
Documentary filmmaker Brett Culp inspires an audience during one of his many keynote presentations around the country.
I remember around Christmas time you posted about the movie It’s a Wonderful Life and I think that’s what that film conveys. Here’s this kind of average guy just doing ordinary things in his community that no one would view as heroic. But, when we’re shown what life would have been like without him, we’re able to see the cumulative effect of every little act of kindness or goodness throughout his life that touched those around him.
That’s a beautiful illustration of it. The narrative of 95-98% of that movie is the struggle that all of us have every day, which is this feeling that it’s not enough. His struggle is feeling like the city he’s living in, the job he has, the house he lives in; whatever it is, it’s not enough. ‘This is not adequate for me to feel like a success; for me to feel like my life mattered; for me to feel fulfilled – it has to be more than this.’
Unfortunately, we live in a world where advertising is very happy to tell us, “You’re right. You’re not enough. Your life isn’t enough. But what would make you feel enough is if you were drinking this soda, or driving this car, or wearing these clothes. If you were just wearing these clothes, all the popular people would want to be with you. Drink this beer. Look at the beautiful people that drink this beer.” That’s the unconscious message of all advertising.
What’s unfortunate about that is it’s that sort of mentality that motivates people to invest their lives, their energy and their thoughts into pursuits that will allow them to buy the car – not what will allow them to feel that their life means anything, that their life matters, that it’s important. They’re spending all their energy just trying to figure out how to pay bills, which are higher than they need to be, and so they’ve lost the ability to take those risks that we were talking about in my story. Because, if that risk fails, they could lose their SUV; they could lose whatever it is that they’ve spent money on and are making monthly payments on.
We don’t realize that those are prisons for ourselves. My wife and I made a conscious decision. We both drive cars that were paid for long ago. They’re not great cars; I can’t impress anybody with my car. I did 42 speeches last year all over the country for Fortune 500 companies and they paid well. But we still made the decision to use that money in a way that’s meaningful to us and that we feel adds value to the world in a positive way and allows us to stay on a mission that is a meaningful mission.
If each of us is willing to pursue a meaningful mission in our life, the resources ultimately do emerge that allow us to do it. It’s not always an easy process – often it is filled with pain and unknowns and mystery, and there are a lot of things that we feel we’re not in control of. But the truth is that most of the things we feel we’re in control of in our life are just illusions anyway. We’re all one phone call away from finding out that it all fell apart and that all of the things we thought were in place – with our children, our spouse, our partner, our finances, the career we’ve built – the sense of security that we control all of that is just an illusion.
Since that control is not real anyway, you might as well do something you love and let the universe have your back.
Photo © Brett Culp Films.
(End, Part 3)
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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. His films are featured on Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Brett's forthcoming film, A Voice That Carries, is a documentary film inspiring dads to have a positive impact on their daughters' lives! His goal with A Voice That Carries is to create an uplifting documentary film that encourages fathers to engage with their daughters and equips them to make a positive impact. 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.