In the Spotlight: Harold L. Brown
Updated: Oct 9, 2018
When I think of Harold the first word that comes to mind is altruistic. This is a man who cares deeply about others. So much so that it has driven him to create a grant to help young filmmakers pursue their goals. And he’s succeeding!
The nobility Harold carries with him is inspiring. You see, he looks at life as a way to gain knowledge and pass it on, not as a way to gain status over others. If knights in shining armor still existed then his would be blinding. I am honored to present this man to you.
This is Harold L. Brown…
I believe story is life well told and a way to explore the human condition. It has always been a part of who I am —it is in my blood. In my teens, I told story through music when I was in a rock band. Later, I told story through award-winning poetry and used it as a way of communicating when I worked as a chief business strategist.
I am very proud to be the co-sponsor of the Hank Garrett Young Storytellers Award at the Action on Film International Film Festival, along with my beautiful wife Jane and the great Hank Garrett, known for “Three Days of the Condor, Death Wish and so much more” and is the sponsor of the NOVA Award for 1st Time Storytellers.
In 2017, I was lucky enough to be listed as one of “The Top 50 Indie Writers in the World.” In the past dozen years, my writing has been recognized at more than fifty film festival, screenwriting and novel events across the globe. I’ve even garnered more than 80 awards and nominations and includes novels and feature-length screenplays, teleplays, web series and miniseries from all forms of genre
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
Storytelling/writing/music have been my life-long journey of exploration and learning about humanity at its very core and about myself. Being a storyteller is a gift and some might say a curse, as there is never a day that goes by that I do not find myself wanting to, needing to learn, feed and tell stories.
Screenplays are just a way of telling a story, with unique conventions, as are novels. I learned that screenplays are blueprints for performers to tell the story to an audience, while novels are intended for the audience.
In my quest to understand various storytelling formats, I worked as an extra or actor in more than fifteen Canadian, U.S. and international co-productions, including feature films and made-for–television movies and series; along with television and radio commercials and industrial films.
Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
Storytelling is in my blood and has been a part of who I am, all my life. In 2000 I became more serious about film and television, studying acting, auditioning for roles and getting a few. Being on sets was a real adrenalin rush. All the planning and activity to get the perfect shot in a scene. By 2004 I began contemplating my exit from a career in public service to become a fulltime storyteller. In 2007 I quit my day job to pursue storytelling on a fulltime basis. Between 2000 and 2007 the managers I worked for supported and encouraged me in my film and television endeavors, accommodating my requests to attend acting and screenwriting courses and to work on film and television sets.
During that time I was fortunate to meet a few people in the business who offered encouragement and advice. In 2000, Norman Jewison, a Canadian film director, told me, “Harold, just keep writing.”
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
I grew up in a small village, yes village, in southern Alberta, Canada, population, less than six hundred people. We did have a movie theatre, that ran movies on the weekend, that were made by people in a far off place called Hollywood. So my first influencers and believers were my family.
My mother (pre 1960). From the time I was three or four I’d make up songs and stories and my mother patiently listened. Now, some of my stories, were tall stories, delivered as a means to avoid less than desirable consequences and mom would call me on it, than her serious lecture would turn to a smile and she’d say, you’re just like your grandfather. She was instrumental in getting me my first plastic guitar after she got tired of hearing me strumming an abacus as I sang my latest song creations. At the time black and white tv’s, with one channel, had just arrived in my home village.
My grandfather (1960-70). I spent lots of time with my grandfather. He had immigrated to Canada from Norway in the early nineteen hundreds. As a kid, I’d watch my grandfather whittle away on pieces of wood with his knife creating things like replicas of triple-mast sailing vessels he’d been on and my first wooden cross-bow. He even put those ships inside of glass bottles, something that always amazed me. He’d puff away on his pipe and I’d rapid fire questions at him. Clouds of smoke would rise from his pipe as he thought about them, then he’d take the pipe out of his mouth, and say—that’s a good question. What do you think? In the extended family, he was known as “The Storyteller.” Thus began, unknowingly, my journey as a storyteller. What do you think turned into what if? He taught me to use my imagination. He’d take me for long walks down the rail road tracks. Later, we’d walk those same tracks in hunting season, and we seemed to translocate into a mystical world of our own. He passed away at age 82, barely a year after I moved two thousand miles away to pursue a career with the Federal Government. For the next thirty years storytelling took a backseat as a career of public service took over. Meanwhile, the desire to tell stories kept calling me.
Q: What was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
Until I was well into my forties, I never dreamed I could be a screenwriter. That was the purview of Hollywood gurus. I was good in the world of non-fiction, writing technical publications and briefs. But, I was on quest to understand various fiction storytelling formats, so I attended acting classes and worked as an extra or actor on more than fifteen Canadian, U.S. and international co-productions, commercials, industrial films, made-for–television movies and series, and feature films.
This is where I really gained an appreciation for what screenplays and teleplays were about. From there I wrote my first feature script. It took me a year. I submitted it to the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting and garnered a top 10% placement. That is when I thought I might have something to say that was of interest to others in the film and television world. I subsequently joined a screenwriters group and began taking formal screenwriting classes, including Robert McKee’s Story, Comedy and Thriller screenwriting seminars, and began writing my second feature, an interracial drama set on the oils sands of Alberta, and have continued writing ever since.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
As a writer I want to tell stories that entertain, but are also cerebral, tug at a person’s heartstrings and truly shake them to their very core. For me, it is not so much about what I have to say on a subject—it’s what it causes the reader/actor/audience to feel deep down inside. If a story evokes a strong response, if a character pulls the reader/actor/audience in, if it causes a them to pause and reflect on life, and perhaps talk about their emotional experience, that is the greatest reward I could ever receive—I will have succeeded as a writer.
When one of my screenplays or teleplays garners wide recognition, I am extremely happy, especially for those stories situated in Canada. It tells me that the stories I am creating have universal appeal. In the screenwriter’s world, to see my work performed on the big screen, little screen or streaming over the Internet is the ultimate benchmark for success.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life:
Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl?
I am a 24/7 owl. I rise at 5 or 6 each morning, and usually don’t get to bed until after 11 PM, and often lie away thinking and reflecting on things like—Would the world be a better place without the Internet, cell phones and social media? Why as human beings, are we so focused on the differences between races?
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
Put a pot of strong dark roast coffee on.
Do you have a morning routine or ritual?
I make a light breakfast and my wife and I spend a bit of time over coffee and breakfast before she heads off to work (before 7 AM) and then I dive into the newspaper and watch the news. I am a newshound who watches world events through the filter of the human condition. Then it’s time to I check my emails and answer the high priority items and begin work on my current story project—a novel, a feature screenplay, a TV pilot or bible, etc. I might write or do research.
What do you in the midafternoon?
I back onto a park/golf course, filled with wildlife and birds and I usually go for a 30-60 minute walk, with my camera in tow, after lunch to refresh my brain cells. Then, I continue with the planned daily projects and around 4:30 PM take a break to start dinner for my wife and I.
Do you have a pre-bed ritual?
I take stock of what I planned to accomplish that day, what I did accomplish and what I want to work on the next day. It’s just a habit I picked up as part of my management, planning and strategy experience.
How do you define a successful day?
If I am still above ground it’s a good day. LOL. If I can check things off my daily work plan as accomplished that is a successful day. If I am able to help a colleague with a problem, that is a great day. If I can make my wife smile or laugh, that is a perfect day.
In terms of writing, when I first started writing, the results-driven part of me wanted to know how long it would take to write a screenplay or a novel. I would ask other writers how long it took them, trying to apply it to my creative endeavors to succeed. I have written stories in as little as two-three months, and on the other end of the spectrum have taken up to two years. I have learned, that for me, the creative process takes as long as it takes to complete a story.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
In my lifetime I have developed a toolkit of skills, including: observation, a detailed orientation to work, acceptance and dealing with rejection, professionalism, perseverance, dedication, an inquiring mind, how to do and use research, mastery of the English language, grammar, punctuation, spelling (something that is never ending) which I use on a daily basis.
Among the many lessons I have learned as a writer is the need to develop a thick skin and courage to stick to your guns. Honest feedback, brutally honest feedback is better, is the only way to improve a story and get better as a writer. That being said, only the writer intimately knows the story they are trying to tell. In the early stages of my writing journey I found myself trying to assimilate all the notes and feedback I received into the story I was trying to tell. In the end, I lost focus and I lost the story I was trying to tell. What I subsequently realized is that for me feedback helps me as a writer to ensure I have a well-grounded understanding of my story, and it can help me refine my story—which is the truth I am trying to tell.
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
The next project always seems to present the greatest challenge. Facing the blank page, deciding what story I want to explore and tell.
With each story I write, my process continues to evolve. Usually I have a germ of an idea that bounces around in my head for a period of time. If it continues to resonate with me I start jotting down thoughts about what the story might be. If it still is resonating perhaps a few months or even years later, I start to flesh out the idea and begin more serious research. The writing process for me is also a learning process about myself and the world around me. Writing a story always provides some real surprises and new insights which add layers to the story.
Q: What’s been the greatest reward in the choices you've made?
Life is a mix of the things that happen and the choices made. I have experienced love and hurt, life and death, and so much more. I have been blessed with a full life that I have lived so far. It’s a life that is rich with stories yet to be told.