The CareerExplorer Discord Community had the opportunity to speak to Kristin Brey, a digital producer and filmmaker, in a live, fireside Q&A.
Kristin is a content creator, digital producer, and filmmaker focused on social and political issues. Prior to picking up a camera, she worked in sales management at tech startups.
She got her start in Hollywood at 16 years of age when she moved from Wisconsin to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career in film and television.
The CareerExplorer Discord Community had the opportunity to ask Kristin about her current and past careers, why she left tech, and the silver lining she has found in doing what she loves.
The transcript below has been modified and abridged from the original conversation.
Career History and Transitions
You pursued an acting career in Hollywood at 16 years old. What was that experience like? Do you still find opportunities to get in front of the camera now?
It was a long time ago and I was really young. I enjoyed acting at first because I felt like I was pursuing my ‘dream.’ But then reality set in. The only time I had the opportunity to act was in acting class, or when I went on auditions, so I was never really performing. I also felt that I had very little control over the success of my career as an actor. And yes, I do get in front of the camera nowadays as I have a part in almost all of the videos I make.
How did you transition into the tech industry?
I applied for a rotational program at a Salesforce consulting company called Bluewolf — a program meant for recent graduates. After 18 months there, I started to get contacted by recruiters.
Did you dislike working in tech fairly soon after starting or was it an eventual realization?
It was an eventual realization. I am a naturally ambitious and competitive person, so if that was going to be my job, I was going to be good at it. I was excited about the idea of being part of a growing company. However, we had to lay off 10% of our company, including four people on my team, and that’s when I started to gain some perspective.
What has been the biggest hurdle you have faced so far?
The last couple of years have been hard. I left tech because I knew I didn’t want to be there and it wasn’t fulfilling, but I didn’t have a master plan of what was next. Since 2017, it’s been a lot of trying things on, trying things out, feeling lost, and feeling like this is really hard to do in your thirties. Especially when a lot of your peers are hitting their stride in their careers.
When you say you’ve been trying many things out since 2017, was that through personal projects or different jobs?
When I first left my job, I was all over the place! I had thoughts of starting an activist t-shirt company and also tried to start a social media branding agency with my boyfriend. I attended a three-day anti-racism seminar and started volunteering with the Women’s March. I also started doing improv/sketch/standup.
What advice would you give to someone that is not happy with their career direction, especially if they’ve devoted a considerable amount of time and money already?
I think you have to weigh out what your priorities are. There are people who live to work, and people who work to live. Following something you are passionate about and that fulfills you is not always the most financially stable choice. So, if financial security is more important to you than being fulfilled, I would say that you should think twice before throwing it all away.
The time you put in shouldn’t be a factor. People change careers all the time these days. And everything you learn in one career you’ll use in your next one. I use the management skills I learned in tech all the time in my present career.
Politics and Filmmaking
Have you always been interested in politics, or is it something you developed interest in over time?
Yes and no. I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, which is a very liberal city. I was politically active as a teenager, as well as in college. During the ‘tech years’, I had very strong opinions about politics, but I wasn’t involved in helping to make anything better. November 2016 changed all of that for me.
Has the recent political climate and turmoil in the United States impacted your ability to stay calm and thoughtful in regards to your work?
One thing that has helped me since March is my hyperfocus on state politics in Wisconsin. Prior to that time, I was very focused on national politics. However, immersing yourself in national politics can become overwhelming and can make you feel like everything is doomed. Shifting my attention to be more local has helped me feel that I can help make tangible change on a smaller scale.
What silver linings have you experienced?
My personal silver linings have been producing As Goes Wisconsin — a series of videos aimed at empowering Wisonsinites to embrace how much their vote matters — and realizing that I actually wanted to move back to my home state. I think it’s easy to believe that you have to be in a major city, or ‘where the action is’, but coming home has shown me how much opportunity there is if you go to places where there is more oxygen — meaning making something for an underserved market, rather than feeling that you have to be competing at the top level in a big city.
How do you publish your content? Do you just put it up and hope for the best?
I self-publish on my social media channels as of right now. One of the movies I produced made it into a handful of festivals, which is a great route. But you need to have the time to submit, as well as the budget for the application fees.
Funding and Contacts
How do you go about funding your projects?
As Goes Wisconsin is the first project I have gotten outside help with. Previously, it was all out of pocket. The funding I received for this one is more to support the ‘get out the vote’ (aimed at increasing the voter turnout in elections) side of the project. It is more in support of the election rather than funding the content because it has potential to be monetized.
The industry you are in is dependent on having good contacts. Did you reach out to people and conduct informational interviews?
When I arrived back in LA last summer, I tried to tap back into the contacts I once had from when I was a teenager, which I had marginal success with. I also tried networking and cold emailing. Again, with marginal success.
However, I was a member at The Wing, a women’s coworking space. I went through their entire directory, and reached out to anyone who had a job that sounded like what I wanted to do.
Advice and Reflection
Any tips for those wanting to get into filmmaking?
This is cliché advice, but you just have to start making and producing things. You have to start somewhere, and it’s definitely only something you learn to do by doing.
Would you recommend pursuing a degree in filmmaking, or learning as you go?
This is coming from someone who doesn’t have a degree in filmmaking, but I would personally recommend learning as you go. There are many free or low cost resources available out there. However, if you can afford a degree, the positive is that you will have a network of people that you can reach out to.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
That I am constantly learning new things. I also love it when someone tells me how helpful something I made was to them.
In what ways have you found meaning in your work?
It took me a while to find meaning in my work. When I worked in tech, I found meaning in managing people. I genuinely cared about the people on my team, and wanted them to do well and figure out their own careers. But beyond that, selling software definitely didn’t feed my soul.
Doing what I’m doing now is less financially fruitful. However, I think that I have finally found the combination of work that can make a difference, and work that I also LOVE doing. I love the entire process of making a video, from ideation, to writing, to filming, performing, and editing. I think it’s important to find work you actually like doing, not work you think sounds good.
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