“Only if you stop seeking the establishment’s approval to live your passion, will you thrive in this industry”

With Kristopher Hulbert of Gratwick Productions

Misty Schwartz
Jan 21 · 14 min read

I feel ‘burnt out’ sometimes, but if that lasts more than a day or a few, then it’s probably a pretty strong indicator this path is not for you. My advice would be to stop seeking the establishment’s approval to live your passion. Stop seeking permission to be a professional artist; it makes you vulnerable and easily manipulated consciously and subconsciously. This is the power dynamic the talentless people who control the access have relied on since the inception of the entertainment industry over 100 years ago. We are in a new era of technology and social awareness where you can control your own destiny. You can build your own infrastructure to be the machine that supports your work. If you don’t believe you can do it on your own, find others who need the same thing you do and build that machine together. If every brand of content built their own sandbox to play in and then picked and chose who to collaborate with based on more factors than just how much money will be made, we could all be responsible for our own success and safety.


I had the pleasure of interviewing KRIS HULBERT, founder of Gratwick Productions. Kris is an entrepreneur, writer, and award-winning filmmaker who was born with the gift of storytelling. His first film “The Perfect House” won several awards and made history as the first film to ever premiere on Facebook. The Summer before it was released, Kris led a grassroots cross-country tour to market and promote the film. Those experiences inspired Hulbert to form Gratwick Productions, a transparent, audience-owned studio to provide the modern artist with ethical marketing, finance, and distribution.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Storytelling and entrepreneurship found me. I grew up in Western New York where a career in Hollywood was the farthest thing from a real life option. I drifted through my twenties as a bill collector arguing with America, but still creating and telling stories everyday, just on the phone. I was full of unbridled ambition and a passion to achieve greatness, but I lacked any kind of influence or mentor who could direct that energy in a productive way.

At 28, I slammed the phone down after yet another pointless argument and could not make another call. Two months later I was living on my buddy’s couch in Hollywood. Shortly after that, I got a temp job at Warner Brothers scanning invoices all day. Over my lunch hour I would wander around the backlot, and for the first time was exposed to all the careers and opportunities behind the camera. The light finally went off when I saw a production in action for the first time. I spent the next several months writing scripts and waited for my opportunity to come. It finally did when the economy collapsed from the mortgage bubble in 2008–09. At that same time, Warner Brothers decided to ship our entire department overseas and gave us extended unemployment benefits. I used that time to start making stuff in the streets of LA and in doing so I found my purpose in life.

Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

This is a difficult question to answer, not because we haven’t shown grit along the way, but because it has taken nonstop grit, determination, perseverance and limitless sacrifices every single day since I found my path. It is hard to differentiate one sacrifice or moment of grit from another. However, what I am most proud of is how we stood up to the Hollywood establishment when they attempted to poach our first film ‘The Perfect House’.

We were offered several predatory distribution deals from well known distributors who berated me into understanding “how the industry worked”, meaning I needed to “pay my dues” by giving the industry my film for free and selling out my friends and family who invested in me. I flat out refused to give up all chances of returning investments, and made a deal with a new application launching on Facebook that would offer VOD movies to watch on Facebook. We made a deal to be the first movie to premiere on Facebook on 10/1/2011. We gave up the lease on our house and sold all our belongings of value to raise about $3,000. We bought a 1972 RV that had been sitting for 20 years, then live-streamed a graffiti artist painting the RV like the movie poster. On August 28th, 2011 we set out with our last $900 and a movie projector lent from a fan. The goal was to follow the U.S. South border and then up the East Coast in time for the launch party on September 30th in Buffalo, NY. We stopped for a few days in each major city, promoted the movie by walking the most popular streets with flyers and hosted free pop-up screenings. We screened in theaters, bars, basements, strip clubs, and even on hilltops and backyards all across the country and collected donations for gas money after each show. We expected to breakdown or run out of gas at some point along the way and stay there until the movie released. Luck, compassion, and generosity carried us all the way to Buffalo in a remarkable journey that was documented with cell phones and turned into a documentary on Youtube.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

First and foremost, I am from Buffalo. For better or worse, you don’t learn how to quit or give up when you grow up in Buffalo, especially as a teenager watching the most talented team ever assembled (in my Buffalonian opinion) lose 4 straight Super Bowls. Second, I consciously eliminated or sabotaged any potential safety nets. I made sure there were no fall back options or easy off-ramps. Eventually the sacrifices and collateral damage were so high that there was no turning back, otherwise all the sacrifices made by me and so many other people that believed in me would have been for nothing. If I learned anything from watching the 90’s Bills, it was that it doesn’t matter how much it hurts or hard you get knocked down, you get back up and keep coming.

So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?

The collective experiences, even the worst setbacks and betrayals, taught me something. The advancement of technology, the introduction of the Jobs Act (Reg CF exemption) and the change in the culture of Hollywood have all contributed to opening our window of opportunity. The impact of meeting and talking to people one on one when we went around the country inspired every aspect of our audience-owned studio and the new model for a more accountable Hollywood. Every day on that trip I met someone who told us ‘I’m not a big horror movie fan, but I love what you guys are trying to build, so here’s a twenty for gas to keep the fight going for a few more miles.” I know the average person wants to see a more diverse, ethical, transparent and accountable entertainment industry; the puzzle has always been about how we can cut through the noise and controlled media to connect our message with enough people to reach a tipping point.

So, how are things going today? :-)

Things are still very much bi-polar. We live on the razor’s edge between realizing everything we’ve worked toward by establishing a true audience-owned studio that is built to serve the modern artist, and being a crazy person living under a bridge scratching our stories into the concrete abutment. We are preparing to launch our Regulation CF public offering where anyone can invest in Gratwick and hold influence over which projects get funded, who is cast, and which charities each project will support. The investors will also have real time access to the entire creative process through live-streamed auditions, meetings, and on productions sets.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we christened our ‘TPHmobile’ before heading out on the tour, my first swing of the champagne bottle on the bumper bounced off and did not shatter. The lesson learned — swing harder! It’s not really a monumental mistake, but it was funny and served as a microcosm for everything we’ve been through.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What I believe makes my company stand out is my commitment to be the embodiment of the audience, or in our case our investor’s desire to see a more ethical and accountable Hollywood model. It’s not just a marketing slogan or something a publicist told me to say. Serving the greater good, taking the risks no one else will take, and sacrificing everything so someone else has an opportunity without having to make the same sacrifices is the fabric of my DNA.

The story or example that sticks out the most is Thanksgiving 2016. We typically hold a Misfits Thanksgiving for any friends who stay in the city instead of heading home for the holiday. That year a junior agent from one of the top 3 talent agencies in the industry had been flirting with me for several months. He was buying me video games, filling my head with all sorts of pie in the sky expectations, and a bunch of other ass kissing stuff I didn’t need. He came over that Thanksgiving a bit drunk from the ‘agency party’. He shot his mouth off about how he could get anything I ever wanted to make funded, but he didn’t think I was willing to do what it would take so he was hesitant to introduce me to the ‘King Makers’ of Hollywood. He said that the ONLY way to operate at the highest levels of Hollywood was to either be complicit or willing to turn the other cheek as he or someone like him fed my talent to the investors. He even went so far as to provide an example of how easy it is to manipulate an unwilling actress while in production by threatening that the funding would pull out if they didn’t get what they wanted and holding the loss of everyone else’s jobs over her head. For several hours, in front of all my guests, I argued that our talent, IP, and work ethic would return enough profits that we would not need to play those dirty games. He insisted that it was the only way you could reach the highest levels of the industry. I’m not sure if I believed everything he said, but it didn’t matter if he could get everything funded or not. from day one until my last seconds pursuing this life, I will never compromise my integrity or the safety of anyone within my sphere of influence. Some things are just more important than success, and looking myself in the mirror every morning is one of them.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I feel ‘burnt out’ sometimes, but if that lasts more than a day or a few, then it’s probably a pretty strong indicator this path is not for you. My advice would be to stop seeking the establishment’s approval to live your passion. Stop seeking permission to be a professional artist; it makes you vulnerable and easily manipulated consciously and subconsciously. This is the power dynamic the talentless people who control the access have relied on since the inception of the entertainment industry over 100 years ago. We are in a new era of technology and social awareness where you can control your own destiny. You can build your own infrastructure to be the machine that supports your work. If you don’t believe you can do it on your own, find others who need the same thing you do and build that machine together. If every brand of content built their own sandbox to play in and then picked and chose who to collaborate with based on more factors than just how much money will be made, we could all be responsible for our own success and safety.

None of us are 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?

Absolutely. There are many names that deserved to be listed her, but none more than my partner Andrea Vahl. She gave me the confidence to believe I could be great. We met in early 2008 through a Craigslist casting call for our little, hokey gorilla shoot on the streets of LA. At that time, we were just trying to learn and have fun. I knew nothing about filmmaking, but the moment she agreed to be a part of what we were doing everything changed. I didn’t want to waste her time or look like a fool in front of her, so everything was cranked up a notch. From that moment forward, I never stopped pushing myself to limits I had previously thought were unimaginable. I have sacrificed everything of value and comfort to me in this world because as long as she was by my side I still had the one thing that mattered most to me. She has sacrificed, struggled and cried along with me every step of the way. The things she has given up and done without to remain loyal to me and our goal are not lost on me for a second.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Our company mandates that every artist or project we collaborate with must give a percentage of their revenue back to a charity chosen by the artist or the audience. If we help provide higher profit margins to a project through increased efficiency and reduced corruption, then there is no reason the artist can not donate a small percentage and still come out farther ahead than they would by using the traditional model of control, collusion, shady accounting, and exclusion.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

I am not sure if one can develop grit or if it’s something that naturally becomes a part of you, like any other survival instinct. Here are the 5 things I wish I knew before starting down this road:

The cost of not preparing for success: When we set out to make The Perfect House, I was a naive fool. I believed as long as we made something good, someone from the industry would come along and show us how to profit from it. So we put every dollar we could on screen. The result was a film no one could believe came from an inexperienced first timer. That was exactly how and where the trouble began. We didn’t prepare to be tossed in the shark tank and we couldn’t to protect the immense opportunity we had created. We couldn’t even afford an entertainment attorney since we had spent the last of the budget in post production, so we had to ‘trust’ people. I quickly learned of the dark side of the industry by trusting the wrong people, especially those who were considered professionals. Always save funds for legal!

The cost of trying to save money: Working with limited or no resources lead to a lot of ingenuity and great relationships. In addition to precious resources, many months and years of our careers were wasted by trying to solve problems in the most cost effective ways possible. That cost us far more than if we had spent more from the start to hire proven and reputable professionals. Spend more for quality!

The cost of giving someone an opportunity: Even now, when given the opportunity, I prefer to give opportunities to unproven elements because I see my younger self in them. How can I expect an opportunity if I am not willing to give one? That optimistic desire comes with a tremendous risk. The odds are that almost all, if not all, of these total unknowns are unproven for a reason — they aren’t trained and haven’t had even the limited experience that they claim. You can not get back the time or resources committed to a dead end. A lot of people like to talk about the work, but most don’t actually know what the job entails. Ask for references and actually check on the references with a phone call or email. Verify resumes/ credentials through LinkedIn, IMDB, and project’s social media accounts. If someone doesn’t want to give you references, say thanks and walk away. Your time and money can not be wasted.

The emotional toll of believing in someone more than they believe in themselves: Over the past decade, I have given opportunities that no one else would to so many people I loved, thought were my partners, friends and brothers for the rest of my life, who have come and gone. Sadly, they either grew to resent me over time because they saw me as a constant reminder of what separated them from the real deal, or they grew so inspired by what we accomplished together that they convinced themselves, “If Kris can do it then I can certainly do it better than him” while ignoring exactly what the magic was at Gratwick in the first place. The magic wasn’t about ‘Kris’, I’m simply the guardian of the vision, it was the collaboration and camaraderie we shared, the magic was in the ‘WE’. Not coincidentally, I am still waiting for just one person who thought they could do something bigger and better without us to even start a project on their own.

The return trips through Hell: I knew up front that I would have to go through hell for this lifestyle. What I wasn’t prepared for was the return trips. The repetition of false positives and mini celebrations when we naively believed we would at least achieve stability going forward can only be compared with the movie Groundhog Day. For 10 years, we lived in uncertainty of how the next month’s rent would be paid or whether or not tomorrow would bring total ruin or euphoria. Living life on our own terms and still pursuing the vision is still rewarding in its own right, even if not instantly profitable.

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. :-)

Exactly what we are building right now: Cleaning up the entertainment industry by delivering the power back into the hands of the rightful owners who should have held it from day 1, the creators. However, the movement I would most want to bring forward after that would be the Venus Project. Their goal is to build fully automated, self-sufficient cities using technologies that already exist today. I would use any immense fortune I earned to bring one to life, simply because I would love to live in such a place.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Gratwick is a pretty awesome keyword and you can find us pretty much everywhere by searching that word. Our twitter is @GratwickProdInc and IG is GratwickProductions. If you want to make sure you’re engaging directly with me, @GratwickFilms is my personal Twitter account. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share our story and our vision.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Misty Schwartz

Written by

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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