Nicholas Bruckman is the founder and CEO of People’s Television, a New York-based creative studio that aims to enact change on a national scale. Their award-winning campaigns and advertising work have contributed to flipping the Senate, furthering the discussion on climate change, and bringing Black Lives Matter to homes everywhere with their first ever national broadcast advertisement. Nicholas is also the director of “Not Going Quietly’ which is a new documentary about disability rights activist Ady Barkan. The film received three IDA nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Writing as well as a nomination for the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards. Moreover, it won the Audience Award and Special Jury prize at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival. The film started streaming on Hulu in May 2022.
Nicholas recently discussed his career and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in television and how did you break into the industry?
Nicholas Bruckman (NB): I’ve been making films since I was a little kid with my VHS camcorder and a double VHS stack that I used to edit. I wanted to make music videos growing up and I admired Spike Jonze and Chris Cunningham, but I became more politically aware starting around my late teens during the War on Terror. Being a New York City native I was a firsthand witness to those events and our subsequent invasions, which got me very involved in the anti-war movement. I decided that I want to dedicate my filmmaking craft to documentaries that touched on social topics and divisions in our society, a way of honing my creativity while making a contribution.
MM: How did you establish your company and why did you select that name?
NB: When I was in college I ran the school’s television network, Purchase College Television (PTV!) and I’d borrow our equipment to make my films, some of which I brought down to Bolivia to make my first documentary. Many years later, the name People’s Television (also PTV!) was borrowed from my old college TV network where I would always put radical films and programming on. I formed the company in 2010 and the name was not only a reference to my alma mater’s TV network but also an homage to the political cinema from revolutionary movements around the world. Of course, it’s also not supposed to take itself so seriously either – we’re not a revolutionary movement but a company operating within American capitalism and serving some of the biggest corporations in the world, yet we maintain some of that spirit of resistance and engagement with the issues this country and planet face.
MM: Why do you focus so much on current events and social issues?
NB: Through our filmmaking and work telling stories for brands, we’ve observed that our clients are increasingly interested in engaging with real-world current topics through their marketing. Corporations, nonprofits, social movements, government organizations are using social media and video storytelling as a means to reflect their values and positioning in the world. That’s something we’re really excited to help them with when it aligns with our own values as a company.
MM: How did you come up with the idea to base a documentary around the life of Ady Barkan? Why was this person so compelling to you?
NB: I met Ady in 2018 right after he had confronted Senator Jeff Flake on an airplane about the impact of the GOP tax plan. I got a call from Liz Jaff, Ady’s partner-in-crime, who wanted us to make a short launch film for the Be a Hero campaign. Within the first few moments of meeting Ady, I realized he was the most hilarious, self-deprecating person who took something incredibly difficult that happened to him and turned it into a weapon for justice. I come from an activist background myself, and I strongly believe the US needs a universal healthcare single-payer program – I knew the film would try to advance some of those causes. And yet, I also wanted it to transcend politics and explore that core theme of how to turn something tragic into a cause for hope.
MM: How much research went into the film and how long did it take to film?
NB: We didn’t have a lot of time for research on Not Going Quietly because when I met Ady Barkan he already has ALS, which is a disease that would take away his voice and ability to walk. I asked him on the first day I met him if he would be open to making a film together and he was crazy or egotistical enough to agree (in his words!), but unlike other projects where you might have the luxury of getting to know your characters and subjects, we had to dive in right away because we had to capture everything Ady had to say while he still had a voice to say it with. Of course, I didn’t imagine at the time that after losing his voice Ady would gain a new one through the use of his eye gaze technology. Ultimately, his new technologically assisted voice would become even louder and more powerful than the one he had before.
MM: What was your favorite part of the movie and why?
NB: My favorite scene to direct is the one where Ady is getting stoned with his comrades at night in the RV. The scene has all of the film’s main characters celebrating the last night of the “Be a Hero” tour. You get to see all of them as their true selves, and it’s a great demonstration of the communal spirit of activism. It’s a moment where Ady is achieving something so heroic and experiencing something so tragic, and yet being too high to eat a smore – it’s hilarious and poignant. We were always shooting, always present with the camera, and acting as naturally as possible in that circumstance. So often we were both part of the scene and part of the story while also separated from it. I think that’s what gives this scene the level of intimacy that it possesses.
MM: What did it feel like to get the movie accepted on Hulu?
NB: Super gratifying that the film is being released by Hulu. We already had an incredible ride with the movie at festivals like SXSW, in theaters through Greenwich Entertainment, around the world on Vice News Media, and on TV through PBS POV, but this is one of the most exciting parts of the journey. We know Hulu’s reach is incredibly wide and it was always a dream to get Ady’s story and voice onto a platform this large, so it could reach and impact as many people as possible.
MM: What other subjects might you cover in future documentaries?
NB: At People’s Television, we’re currently developing a number of projects, some that I’m directing and some that we’re producing – all of which engage at the intersection of politics and culture, human stories of adversity and triumph, and hopefully some laughter. I’m very interested in the intersection of technology and society and the ways that people are using emerging technologies to change the world – something we’re exploring in our upcoming productions.
MM: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
NB: With Not Going Quietly, the best moment was our world premiere in LA where Ady got a long-standing ovation and was recognized for the work he’s done and the joy that his story has brought to so many people. For me, the best thing is working with my team every day at People’s TV – we are now over twenty filmmakers: producers, writers, editors – all with a passion and belief that storytelling can make the world a more just place. I’m very lucky to be able to do that every day.
MM: How do you imagine People’s Television might expand and evolve over the next ten years?
NB: I’m really interested in expanding our branded work in television/streaming, as well as exploring new mediums in emerging technologies like augmented reality, and 360/VR storytelling. We’re also producing our own podcast and creating audio shows for clients. We’re also interested as the world becomes more remote in expanding our reach and footprint outside of NY, DC, and LA where we are currently focused, and serving more international brands that are trying to make the world more connected.
MM: What is coming up next for you, and the company, and is there anything else that you would like to discuss?
NB: Since the success of Not Going Quietly, our original content team has been expanding and we have several longform feature films in production that I’m extremely excited to announce soon. We just brought on our new Head of Production, Nicole Cosgrove, and she’s an incredible storyteller bringing a lot of value to our executive team alongside Creative Director, Ryder Haske, and Director of Operations, Breanne Hiser. I’d love for people to follow along on the journey by following our People’s TV social channels. We’ll be announcing some of our new films there very soon.
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To learn more, visit: www.peoples.tv