Brad Lichtenstein is an award winning filmmaker and president of 371 Productions. 371 makes documentaries, technology projects and engagement campaigns that contribute to our common good. You can find their work on PBS and other networks, in movie theaters, on the radio, and online. His film, “As Goes Janesville,” follows the lives of workers laid off from well-paying jobs at the GM plant and explores questions about the future of the American middle class.
Describe your first job and what you remember most about it.
My first job was probably working in the warehouse in my father’s company. It was a family business selling industrial packaging supplies, bubble wrap, boxes and the like. I picked inventory for orders and loaded it onto trucks. What I remember most is the day I tried to unionize the shop then got promoted to the front office. Co-opted!
Tell us about a moment that changed the direction you took in your working life.
Without a doubt it was 1986. I was a senior in high school and worked for the civil rights legend John Lewis’ congressional campaign. I was the “body man” so I traveled day and night with Mr. Lewis on the campaign trail. I heard the civil rights stories firsthand and got to know him. He changed my life, put me on a path to doing work engaged with social justice. Years later I’m still in touch and we are making a film together, in fact.
What do you do on a regular day?
A million things. Each of our producers or staff is focused on one or two projects. I touch them all. I raise some money, offer advice, produce shoots, develop story lines, build relationships with the subjects of our films, network with my industry, give talks or presentations of our films or our work, build partnerships, lay out strategy and vision, cultivate a workplace where people are happy and contributing to the common good. Everyday — I feel like I’m on a merry-go-round.
What does the future of your work look like?
Like the past. Finding projects we care about, finding the money to do them, finding a way for them to have in impact. I continue to expand what we do to technology, different forms of media, new platforms, and to support it with new income streams. I think about the future 24/7, to be honest.
When you think of making a living and making a life, what comes to mind?
My old boss at Southern Regional Council, a non-profit in my home town of Atlanta, told me when he visited me once in NY when I was living there: “make your vocation and avocation one and the same.” Great advice. I think I’ve done it. Basically, if you can make a living doing what you love then you win. And so does the world. That’s what I try to provide for the people who work at 371, that opportunity. We say we are a triple bottom line company: common good, happiness, and sustainability.
This interview with Brad Lichtenstein is part of a series. We hope you’ll keep reading, and learn more about our Working Lives Project: Making a Living and Making a Life in Wisconsin.
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