Today we’d like to introduce you to Trae Briers.
Hi Trae, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
My journey started at the age of 20. I was a kid who decided to take some time off from being a full-time college student studying Economics at UCSB and move to Hollywood to see the movie business up close and personal. I studied theatre for a year and modeled part-time, seeing what this business was all about. I then landed a job as a Studio Paige at Paramount Studios, and it was there I realized what I wanted to be: a Filmmaker. I was able to see the movie business at every level of the industry, from the corporate side, the planning side, the talent side and the everyday journeyman side. My time there I realized that if you can’t do this business with your own two hands, then you won’t survive. I knew right away that I wanted to be an “Owner” and not a “Worker”. So, after a year of working on the lot, I moved back home to Oxnard, CA and enrolled at the local junior college, where I was able to learn how be hands-on with every aspect of filmmaking.
I worked as a Stage Manager, Master Control Operator, Editor, Camera Operations, Stage Lighting: you name it, I did it. After spending two years in the Television Production program, I reenrolled back to UCSB, changing my major to Film Studies, and emersed myself into learning the history of filmmaking and the theory behind filmmaking while also enhancing my production skills. During my last semester there, I did an independent study with my professor on “How to make a movie for $100K”. I had written my first script and wanted to learn all the necessary requirements to make my own movie. I researched every aspect of the expenses required to make a movie: permits, insurance, crew budgets, etc. And while doing the research, I realized the true cost of making a movie and what it takes to complete it. So, after I graduated with an Associate’s Degree in Television Production and a Bachelor’s Degree in Film Studies, I knew I was ready to pursue my dreams.
After graduation, I landed a Production Assistant job on a major network television show and was able to get first-hand experience on how the big production machine operates. After working on a couple of major shows, I decided it was time to make my own film. I did the old school “work the room approach” and went to family and friends and applied my research I did in film school and raised the funds within 6 months. Their belief in my script and my passion to be a filmmaker gave me the jolt I needed to make my first feature film titled “In Your Eyes”, a Romeo and Juliet-themed movie based on a young Black boy who falls in love with a young Mexican girl, despite her father’s wishes. With the help of my close friends and supporters, we filmed the entire feature within 20 days in Oxnard. I also brought along my close colleague Alessandro Gentile who I met during film school and who has been my Director of Photography for every project I have done and will ever do.
During production, we were notified by Santa Barbara Film Festival they wanted to screen my film as a special presentation. There was no way I could pass up that opportunity to screen my very first film in front of a live audience, so I accepted the offer. Only issue was I had originally planned to spend three months working on the post-production, but because of the opportunity, I had to complete the post-production in three weeks. With hard work and dedication, we were able to pull it off, and we screened the film to a sold-out audience. I literally watched the first cut of my movie with a packed house. The reception was tremendous. Our movie was the talk of the town. The festival received so much press for our film that they gave us a second screening later in the week, which also was a sold-out screening.
I eventually received a national DVD distribution deal for “In Your Eyes”. The greatest feeling was seeing my movie on the shelves at Blockbuster. It was also a cool feeling to hear about my movie being a hot “bootleg” DVD across the country too. But what I realized is I still didn’t understand the “business”. By not knowing how distribution truly works, we didn’t make the money we had hoped for with selling our rights to the movie. This let me know I still had lots to learn. I still needed to understand what acquisitions really mean. I needed to understand how accounting really works. I didn’t understand how budget financing works. The only thing I knew was how to tell a story. So, I took a step back and realized I needed to go back to school and learn business. I decided to enroll in the MBA program at University of Phoenix and focused on understanding finance and budgeting.
After completing my MBA, I partnered with my close friend Rubin Bryant and we focused on enhancing our production skills and business skills that would help us create quality projects. We strategically crafted a plan to self-finance our next film where we would minimize the financial risk and increase our brand awareness by choosing a film that will create thought and showcase my writing and directing skills. We chose to produce “TRADE” a movie based on Rubin’s transgender sister, who has lived a compelling life and the timing to tell her story was perfect. We partnered with an attorney friend of ours, Angel Quintero, and financed the project together. With the proper planning and marketing, the film was selected to stream on 18 different platforms, has streamed over 10 million hours and was the winner of 8 Best Film selections for a variety of film festivals. After the success of that project, we knew we were ready to take the next step and do a major financed motion picture.
We are currently in pre-production for our next film, “CUATE”, a movie about a young Black boxer who is trained by a seasoned Mexican boxing trainer, who only speaks to him in Spanish. The story is based out of the legendary La Colonia Boxing Gym in Oxnard, CA. We partnered with 2 of the biggest boxing organizations in the boxing business: Mauricio Suliman, the President of the WBC Boxing Commission and Tom Loeffler, President of 360 Promotions. We strategically brought them on as Producers to ensure the quality and accuracy of the boxing prowess is true and bring a positive alliance with the production. We also added Manuel Herrera as a Producer, he is a key person who is well respected with the City of Oxnard through his activism and philanthropy, and his role is to ensure we have their support for bringing a positive story that will represent the city well.
Through my experiences over the years, I have come to learn your team members is the key to your success, and it’s important to work with people who possess the same or more knowledge than yourself. It’s very important to maintain solid relationships and a positive outlook with those you work with and ensure your integrity is always positive.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
The road to success is never smooth. If there are no bumps in the road, then you are on the wrong road. I experienced challenges that could have easily shifted my path. But I never let them bother me or get in the way.
The number one challenge for me is to ensure I maintain a secure corporate job so I can provide for my family while I maintain my filmmaking career. Wanting to be an “Owner” means I don’t work on projects that I don’t control, so I don’t earn a living working in the “industry”. I make a living outside the industry, which isn’t always stable. I ensured I received an education, that way I would always be able to make a good living working in the corporate world. My finance skills and MBA education allow me to get a job that pays well. But, because it’s the corporate world, you’re never safe from restructuring and layoffs. And I’ve experienced that a few times. The struggle to balance the corporate world and the artist world is a forever challenge. It’s tough having to sit in a cubicle all day when your true passion and skill set is more aligned with producing projects. But I was able to utilize my time in the corporate world by enhancing my skills with project management and budget planning. This has made my transition to full-time filmmaker that much easier because I am able to prepare my projects with strong due diligence with budgeting, project management and day-to-day operations. My experience working for Fortune 100 companies allows me to do the job of three people I would normally have to hire other people to do.
I have been able to juggle the family life, corporate life, and filmmaker life as best I can. I am a father of 5, so I don’t have the luxury of not earning an income. And making films, the financial risk is always considered a loss before there is a gain. And the gain might not come for a while, if ever. My wife Doris is my backbone and the person who makes sure I never give up. She holds me accountable to this family and to my career choice. She has maintained being the stay-at-home mom while also pursuing her education at the same time, earning her MBA as well. And she has done a tremendous job. All of our kids are Honor Roll students, and she herself has been a Honor Roll student throughout her education pursuit. We both understood the challenges we faced when we got together, so we never lost focus of our true goal and we encourage each other to do better and stay on course.
If I had to sum up my entire experiences and career up to this point where struggle is part of my reality, it’s a motto I adapted long ago: Consistent Persistence. I believe you need to stay focused on one task. Don’t jump from idea to idea. Stay consistent with the one thing you want to do, and work on it every day. Don’t focus on the immediate outcomes. Be diligent in your pursuit, but also be realistic. It’s not going to happen overnight. Your first try at something isn’t going to yield financial success. The desire to continue needs to be the focus. Be consistent. Be persistent. If you focus on that, everything will all fall in place.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I am what you call an “old school filmmaker”. I pride myself in taking my time preparing my productions. I like to have a full plan prepared before I even take a step to spend one dollar. The more preparation I have done, the better off the production will be. I specialize in Project Management. I breakdown every aspect of the script to ensure we maximize the project for every dollar that needs to be spent.
What sets me apart is my analytical skills that work well with my artistic skills. I pride myself on being a descent writer. I can write a script that will match the desired production plan. Once the script is written, I then break down the script with a production plan. By doing this, I have a true idea of what the budget will be. Once I know this, I then can create a financial plan that will align with ensuring every cost can be managed to complete the film. And before I venture out and try to raise funds, I look to see how much of the funs do I already have myself. I am a firm believer that if I don’t have at least 10% of the desired budget in cash, then the reality is the movie will never get made. I’ve made sure I wrote scripts that I knew I could control and could be able to help finance. The reality is, you can’t present an idea to someone as an independent filmmaker and think they will finance the entire project for you just because they like your idea. This is a business like any other business, and the first question any smart investor will ask is “How much money are you investing”. And if you plan to jump to the next level of major funding and finance, then you will need to provide a history of producing projects that were completed and profitable. Nobody is just going to hand you a check and say “Good luck”.
The one thing I am most proud of is my ability to build relationships and maintain them. I am a firm believer that you are as only as good as though you surround yourself with. And I take pride in building with people who add to my skill set. I have Rubin Bryant, who I have known for 40 years. We are so much alike that our business partnership is symmetrical that at any given time he can step in and do what I do, and I can step in and do what he does. Our core foundation of who we are as men create a solid partnership and friendship. I am blessed to have Alessandro Gentile as a colleague. We started this dream of being filmmakers together when we met at UCSB. With me directing and him doing the cinematography, are chemistry together is so aligned that we both know what we are thinking and how we can execute it. He is the best filmmaker I know. And the one person who I truly believe has shaped me into the man I am is my wife Doris. She is more than a partner with me. She is my muse. She challenges me to be better. Not just as a filmmaker but as a man. It’s good that I have a spouse who sees more in me than I do myself, and I do my best to not take that for granted. The team you build is very important to your success. And if I have to say what sets me apart from others is that I have one hell of a team. I have a team that I know truly loves me as a person, not for what I can do for them.
What do you like and dislike about the city?
The best thing I love about our city of Oxnard is the beaches. Our city is surrounded by 7 beautiful beaches where your eyes can view the Channel Islands National Park and gaze deep out into the Pacific Ocean as far you can see, but also helps you dream. It is said that water in dreams is associated with creativity, emotional well-being, renewal, purity, and new endeavors. This is what our city and its beaches provide for anyone with a dream. It provides you the ability to dream big as far as the ocean goes.
The least thing I like about our city is that Hollywood will not consider it to be part of the local 30-mile zone. And that is something that I plan to spend my career fighting for. Oxnard, CA is only 20 miles outside the studio zone, and if they would consider changing the zone to 50 miles, our city will be included. And at some point, it should be. Oxnard has everything Hollywood needs to produce movies. We have the land, we have the beaches, we have the housing, and we have the support. I am sure majority of the union workers live closer to Ventura County now than before when the zoning was created. And I feel it’s time we change the zone. It’s a topic I will continue to raise, and I hope others will join with me as well.
- Website: www.ffamgroup.com
- Instagram: SMAKKD
- Facebook: Trae Briers
- Twitter: @TraeBriers