— my greatest and favorite trait is integrity. To me, that means finding your truth in every project, finding your truth in every acting role, finding your truth in every opportunity, and being able to get through the challenges
For my series on strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brooke Lewis Bellas.
Brooke Lewis Bellas is one hardworking, tenacious award-winning actress and producer, with a philanthropic heart and a fearless spirit! She got her first little/big “break” in the Off-Broadway Actors’ Equity Association Comedy “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding”. After making her living acting in Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York, she headed West to Hollywood, where she launched her production company, Philly Chick Pictures, to create more opportunities for herself in front of the camera.
Thank you so much for joining us again, Brooke! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always been a leader of sorts and have had a keen sense of managing personalities. After making a living acting in New York City right out of college, I did not even realize I had, in some ways, been producing when I would be brought onto a project as an actress. Although I love acting more than anything, I had been inspired to produce when I moved to Hollywood from New York City and created my production company, Philly Chick Pictures, in order to create more roles for myself as an actress. I was not born into a family from the entertainment industry in Hollywood and there was no nepotism in my world so, I felt compelled to create/build something for myself. I took producing courses and workshops, then dove in and took the producing route to be able to do what I love the most, and that is to act.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting to produce projects? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I worked for FREE far too long! Look, I am the Queen of preaching about “paying your dues”, “earning your stripes”, studying and having “hands-on” experience, yet, I learned the hard way that we have to KNOW OUR VALUE (especially as women!) and understand the difference between working on something as a hobby versus a profession. When I first started producing many years ago, I was so excited and felt so proud and productive to be a strong, empowered female film producer amongst men, that I worked on a feature film project for YEARS for FREE and went above and beyond and gave of my time, energy, raising financing far too much and for too long, without asking for proper pay, credits, contracts and ownership of various projects. It only took me one epic fail experience to realize how easily one can get taken advantage of in business (especially women!) to learn that I do bring value… I have worth… I am a professional and I deserve to get paid. Years later, I still have to remind myself with each project that… “We teach people how to treat and respect us.” And, “You get what you pay for!”
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started producing? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I think one of the most interesting parts of producing for me has been becoming a successful producer in the independent film world, which involves a whole other level of crazy experiences! When you do not have big budgets to deal with, you have to get creative in other ways. So, one great spoiler alert that I would love to share was my experience of being one of the producers on a film titled Sinatra Club, that I was fortunate to get to act in, opposite Danny Nucci from Titanic, Jason Gedrick from Iron Eagle, Ellen Hollman from Spartacus, Michael Nouri from Flashdance, and the list goes on and on, with an incredible cast of talent we assembled. And, what was so cool was I found the script in 2004, we filmed in 2009, and it was distributed in 2011, so it was a very long and challenging development period for an indie project, but one of the most wild memories I have was the fact that the story is based on a true story about the night John Gotti became John Gotti, so for all of the mobster history and movie buffs who are reading this now, I was so fortunate to be a part of history in the making with this film. This film is based on Sal ‘Ubatz’ Polisi who went into the witness protection program for releasing information on John Gotti and his crew, and when he came out of the witness protection he wrote the story of his life in the mafia. It was so wild to work on a project for so many years where we would literally meet at 10 o’clock… 11 o’clock… 12 o’clock at night in privacy and secrecy at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City, California, in hotel suites and we would hold our production meetings there LOL! So, what an incredible experience, and the lesson that I take from that is to be able to stay inspired, to be able to stay committed to a project of this magnitude that was based on a true story and took seven years for all of us to bring to fruition as a team. You MUST love the project, you MUST love the people you’re working with, you MUST love the process, otherwise I have to say (and I probably already am), I’d be crazy, because it’s something that really took years and years to make, and that’s the lesson… to find product and projects that fill your heart and soul, and that excite you for many years!
What do you think makes you stand out as an actress and producer? Can you share a story?
Honestly and humbly, I think the thing that makes me stand out the most, as both an actress and a producer, is my integrity. I know exactly who I am as an actress and producer, and I know my station in my industry. I know which acting roles I gravitate toward, and which are not right for me. The next qualities would be my passion, my commitment, and my hard work ethic. I don’t think I would have even a small amount of success that I, thankfully, have, had I not had these qualities innately. I choose to commit to both acting and producing projects that inspire me creatively, that excite me businesswise, that somehow, some way hold a deeper meaning and message, and that when brought to fruition, can somehow make me feel proud, and that I can share this work with the world to help others be inspired, excited, entertained, and find laughter or joy in some way. Again, my greatest and favorite trait is integrity, and to me, that means finding your truth in every project, finding your truth in every acting role, finding your truth in every opportunity, and being able to get through the challenges. And, be fulfilled.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I would be an absolute hypocrite if I told your readers that I did not experience chronic “burn out” myself! That being said, my best tips to recommend to those in my industry would be… To make sure you have support systems in place at all times… whether that be a life coach… whether that be a therapist… whether that be family and friends… you must have support systems in place. What I strive to do is to find more balance, and this is something I am chronically challenged with. I want to find more time for fun… I want to find more time for joy… I want to find more time to spend with my husband, my family, my friends, because without the people in my life, whom I love, and without my support system, I truly have nothing! There needs to be a work/life balance, which I have yet to achieve successfully. I have been, and I am, a workaholic. There are days where I am producing or studying for a TV audition for 12 to 18 hours each day. There are times when I miss out on social situations, because I am working and bringing projects to fruition, and my best advice is that we can hold each other accountable… for us to find balance in our personal and professional lives. I also feel an absolute responsibility to my fans, to work on social media each day, and to make sure that I am connected digitally (virtually these days), but at the same time, the tips would be to make sure you take time (especially women!) to DO YOU, as well!
None of us is able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I would never have been able to achieve the success that I’ve had along the way, without a very supportive family and friends. They have kept me in check, they have kept me grounded and real and honest in my life and my career. And, I would have to say that the women who have inspired me the most as actresses, producers and writers in the Hollywood industry… who paved the way for women like me… my all-time obsessions, icons and idols are Elizabeth Taylor and Mae West. These women have inspired me so, and have been such powerhouse women for me to look up to, who fought their way through the Hollywood “Boys Club” at a time, and in an era, when women were not welcomed in the way we are today, and I, myself, still feel challenged in this fashion, even in 2020. Mae West was one of the very first female screenwriters to sell a screenplay in Hollywood, and she was a fighter and feisty! Then, you have Elizabeth Taylor who went through so many trials and tribulations throughout her career, throughout her love life, throughout her personal life, yet never quit and forged ahead at a time when women were not welcomed into this industry, behind the camera, so I feel very blessed that I am living in an era where women are more welcomed to the club, and women can forge ahead in a way where we are starting to be met with more equality, higher pay scales and more credibility and credentials, and I want to continue to see women achieve more and more in the film and television industry.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Again, I am such a supporter of giving back in whatever way, shape or form we can, and in giving back in both little and large ways. I am so grateful to have whatever little “celebrity” status, recognition, or fame I have that can help make a difference. I feel blessed, and I feel responsible to bring goodness to the world. I feel responsible to bring goodness to the world through my artistic endeavors and through my work. I am a believer in being a philanthropist and I typically work with numerous charities at a time… I am a celebrity ambassador for the Breaking the Chains Foundation that cultivates healing through art for those who have experienced eating disorders, self-esteem issues, and body image issues… I am active in charity work with the Los Angeles Mission on Skid Row and helping to feed the homeless… I have been active in several Breast Cancer charities and events, as I have lost people whom I loved to breast cancer over the years… I have also been active in quite a few charities and philanthropies to support AIDS research… I authored and have donated my book to support teen girls titled Ms. Vampy’s Teen Tawk: There’s A Lotta Power In Ya Choices… And, in giving back to the world, I find that it brings so much fulfillment and gratitude to my own heart.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
I sure do! My quote is “Be You… And Be Fearless!” I even went so far as to launch a life coaching and relationship coaching business with the name Be You And Be Fearless Life Coach, because it has such relevant meaning to me in my life. I have had many challenges, I have endured many struggles since childhood, and, somehow, I always found the strength to be ME, be myself, be fearless, and forge ahead in the face of adversity and insecurity. So, for me, it is so important, especially in Hollywood, especially in the industry that I’m in, to accept who I am, flaws and all, to embrace being “perfectly imperfect”, and to be fearless in moving forward, in every choice, in every day. And, I have to share a few of my fun quotes, that I remind myself of all the time when I am scared or don’t have the courage to forge ahead, from the incredible Mae West… I’m actually looking at some of her framed vintage quotes on my wall… One of my favorite quotes is… “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” Another favorite of Mae West is… “It is better to be looked over than overlooked.” And, I share them with feminine enthusiasm.
What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in Producing and creating content?” Please share a story or example for each.
My Top 5:
1) An Acting Role that I can sink my teeth into as an actress, a role in a project that has deeper meaning for me, a role that will take me to the levels that I want to go to, that I aspire to go to, one day in my career.
2) I need a team! I need an army! There is no way that I could bring a project to fruition all alone. No one person has all the skills needed to pull off a professional project.
3) I need/choose to surround myself with a team that has different strengths outside of my own. I surround myself with incredible writers, as that is not a skill that I have patience for. I surround myself with investors who can bring bigger financing than I can to a project. I surround myself with skilled directors who know the technical components of a project that I may not understand. I surround myself with people who sometimes know more, so I can learn.
4) Content that inspires me, excites me, and compels me to fight and to work super hard to bring it to fruition. Again, Sinatra Club took us seven years to produce. iMurders was in production for four years before STARZ and Anchor Bay distributed it. I MUST love it!
5) A project that has a sound business plan. The content has to have an audience. There is no reason to create content that we will not secure a distribution deal for, or will not have an outlet or medium for release to be seen by the public, otherwise it’s a waste of time and money. Again, it becomes a hobby.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I am honored that you would describe me as a person of great influence, as often I feel like I am person with not enough influence to make a difference. I struggle with the lack of balance, equality, and “fairness” in the world. You will hear me reference “the haves and have-nots” and there is so much that my heart longs to do on a daily basis to even the playing field for both myself and others. I wish I could start a movement that would create a stringent “giving back” system (like taxes) that would move just a bit from the “Haves” over to the “Have-nots” in the form of everything from essentials like food, housing, clothing, health care and education to things like legal representation, power, status and fame. I have always been a huge proponent of “fighting for the underdog”!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Facebook Fan Page: @BrookeLewisLA