An Inspiring Journey

Dear Kids of the Gulf Supporters,

I’m writing today to announce where things stand with the project. In short, I failed to deliver on the original vision, and for this I’m deeply sorry. More sorry than I can ever put into words, actually. The support we received means more to me than anything I’ve experienced in my life. It was humbling to be entrusted with the vision for this film, and it pains me that I wasn’t able to bring it across the finish line.

I hope that some good can come of this situation, but I simply cannot hold on any longer with any real hope of completing the film in the foreseeable future. It hurts to admit it, but it’s a necessary step. Despite this admission, I have to say that the journey up to this point has been the most inspiring thing I’ve ever been a part of, and I owe that all to each and every person who contributed and helped develop the project along the way. Thank you all so much for making it possible to have this experience, bumps and all!

I feel compelled to share the full story of how it got to this point, so please let me explain.

4 years ago, I had a series of powerful experiences. The first was coming face to face with myself as a leader while working with a very special horse named Mikey out at Vista Caballo. Up until that point, I had never given myself permission to truly lead, despite countless ‘management’ positions throughout my life. It was in the summer of 2010 that I knew I had something big to offer this world – the same Summer that the horrific BP oil spill wreaked havoc on the Gulf coast.

I took my newly discovered leadership realization and led a documentary expedition along the coast in the immediate aftermath of the spill. From then on, I was hooked. I felt that I was called to share the stories of those who continued to suffer from this tragic event. For the next year, I followed the story and continued to make connections with people who were directly impacted. I just couldn’t let it go.

It was about that time that I was introduced to Devon and Devin, two kids that had a burning desire to make a difference along the coast. I pitched them the idea of making a documentary film that chronicled their journey of discovery and bonding with oil spill victims along the coast. I didn’t have the resources to do it yet, and I certainly didn’t have the professional experience, but I did have a deep-seated desire to make it happen, and thought it was possible.

I asked a couple of people with more experience with film if they wanted to partner on it, and they said yes enthusiastically. Away we went on the voyage of fundraising and soliciting support. It started strong, but we lost momentum during our first fundraiser. It was my responsibility to make it happen, and I simply wasn’t up to the task at the time.

Despite only raising a little over 20% of our goal, we had a chunk of money to get started, and we began the process of production by filming Devon and Devin along with Ian Somerhalder at the first IS Foundation event in Atlanta. We figured it was an opportunity to get them all together in one place, so we invested in a shoot. This was followed by a series of other shoots both in Atlanta and in Athens with experts connected to the oil spill.

The results of this effort can still be seen in our promo reel on, but the truth is that we never gained any steam after that. In hindsight, the mistake was holding out for a bigger investment to get the film done ‘right’ the first time. We kept thinking that we could do it the way we envisioned, but the funding never came.

Ultimately, it was me that was responsible for making it all happen, and I didn’t pull it off. I pinned my hopes on one connection after another, thinking that the missing pieces would eventually be found and we would get our mojo back. I even stood in front of an audience of 1,000 enthusiastic people in the summer of 2012 talking about our work and how incredible the project was. It was a highlight for me, and an experience that I’ll never forget.

People from all around the world believed in this film. We received notes of encouragement from people on 6 continents, and there seemed to be a serious appetite for the story. Why, then, has it never been completed? I’ve asked myself that over and over again for the past 2 years.

I gave all I had to give to the project. I ran out of money, out of momentum, and felt like I had run out of time. I started a new company in 2012 and threw myself into that effort, thinking that I had to stabilize myself financially before going any further with the film. Note: there is a reason that on every single airline flight, they take you through the safety drill, which always includes the bit about ‘put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others.’ I didn’t approach this project that way. My ego got the best of me, and I wanted to help everyone else, despite not having my own world stable.

I was attempting to lead from a position of weakness, which was a foregone disaster. I didn’t ask for help soon enough, and by the time I did, I was in a jam. I never wanted to let anyone down and so I kept the truth about the situation from the incredible supporters who had allowed the project to get off the ground, from my friends, my family, from Devin and Devon, and ultimately from myself. I kept thinking I could make it work. I couldn’t bring myself to say ‘I can’t get it done.’

Well, here’s the unvarnished truth: I can’t get it done. I thought I could, but I cannot. The project needs more experienced leadership and some serious financial backing. This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to admit, and even as I write these words, feelings of shame and guilt are coming over me like waves hitting the shore in a storm.

To everyone who believed in this project, I’m truly sorry I didn’t fully deliver. To those that gave money in our fundraising campaigns, I’m heartbroken and embarrassed that I couldn’t bring the film to fruition. To Adam, the film’s Director and to Devon & Devin, I deeply apologize if I let you down. You all inspired me so much with your dedication, and watching everyone work together on this was a remarkable experience for which I will always be grateful.

Short of a miracle, the project will need to be put on hold indefinitely at the end of July. If that’s the way it goes, we will take the remaining money that was not spent on the original production and donate it to local Gulf coast organizations that are doing the important work of rebuilding coastal communities that continue to suffer, in the name of Kids of the Gulf.

I’m sorry it has come to this, and I hope to have a chance to create something positive out of this experience. Even as I lament not having a finished film, I’m reminded of all the positive things that did come up throughout the project. I know there were a lot of great connections made, and Devon and Devin really dreamed big and put so many good vibes out into the world by wanting to do this at all. At the end of the day, we had a positive impact, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

Hopefully more good can come of this, and I’m open to any ideas on how to turn this into something positive. One thing is clear, though: I could never do that if I didn’t first let all of this go. It is the only way for this wound to heal.

Thank you all so much! Your dedication is truly inspiring. Please keep doing amazing things out in the world. We need your voices now more than ever.

In Humble Gratitude,

Brandon Sutton
Creator & Executive Producer
Kids of the Gulf

Category: From the Film Makers · Tags:

And The Winner Is…

We are delighted to announce the Kids of the Gulf t-shirt design contest winner is Matthew Andrews from Atlanta, Ga. Congratulations Matthew! And thank you for your design and your perspective on the Kids of the Gulf message!

Matthew Andrews Kids of the Gulf T-Shirt

KOTG supporter Ian Somerhalder loves Matthew’s chair design and wanted to share why he feels it speaks the Kids of the Gulf message.

“This really states it perfectly,” Ian said, after choosing the design. “Our youth have a lot of valuable things to say and now, more than ever, we need to listen.”

Truly, in our book you are all winners and we can’t thank you enough for supporting Kids of the Gulf. We had many excellent design entries, but just as importantly, we have so much respect and gratitude to all of you for your dedication to this project. Thank you for participating!

Once the design is made into a limited-edition t-shirt, it will be given as a reward to the backers on our next crowd funding campaign. We hope all of you will continue to follow our story and share our message! It really is about listening to the children and their ideas on how to make a change.

Kids of the Gulf Chats with Matthew Andrews

We recently spoke with Matthew about Kids of the Gulf, his inspiration for the design, and how today’s youth want to make an impact.

KOTG: How did you come up with the idea for your design?

Matthew: I have younger sisters. One day I was talking to my (13-year-old) sister on the phone and she got in trouble and that sparked the idea for me. I was thinking about when I was much younger, how I’d get in trouble and have to go into a time out, in a corner, or in a chair. Then I was thinking about reversing that role and having the adults sit down and think about what they’ve done. First I thought of the simple chair, and then the oil drop to represent the oil spill.

KOTG: How does the design represent the spirit and message of Kids of The Gulf?

Matthew: This design will spark conversations. People will ask, “What is that? What does that mean?” Then they will want to know what KOTG is and more about it.

Everyone might see it differently, but for the kids specifically, their voices need to be heard. They have ideas, they want to do things, and as adults we should let them.

KOTG: Do you think children and youth have better ideas—or even just different perspectives—on how to help the environment than adults do?

Matthew: I think the youth have a very unique voice. They consume a lot of information at a high rate. And sometimes they might have a really fantastic idea. The voice that they have—all different generations of people are more accepting of a child’s idea, like “wow, she’s only eight and she thought of that.” There’s something about children and the younger generation that affects people, that really gets to them.

KOTG: Are the children and youth today more involved because of the Internet and social media?

Matthew: Social media opens the door—it expands their network. Young people have the ability to connect with other people who are also inspired, who share their passion, but are not necessarily living close or in their community.

I notice my (younger) sisters have more awareness of things that are going on. They are very open to everything. They know that what is happening (with the environment) is wrong. Once they get inspired about one of these topics, it consumes them.

KOTG: So, as far as sitting an adult down in a chair and talking to them, what would a kid say?

Matthew: That their decisions—the adults and many generations before ours—have directly affected what is going on. The time to do something about it is now!

**Special thanks goes out to IS Foundation for all of your support! And thanks to Ian Somerhalder for inspiring youth every day, and for taking the time to help with the design contest.

Hurricane Isaac Relief in Plaquemines Parish

Tuesday night, I watched in disbelief as Hurricane Isaac tore through the exact area of the Gulf coast that I first visited in the Summer of 2010. The storm came ashore right over Grand Isle, Louisiana, which is a barrier island South of New Orleans in Jefferson Parish. It was one of the hardest hit areas during the oil spill.

If you haven’t been following this story, Hurricane Isaac, despite its relatively low wind speeds, did considerable damage along the Gulf this past week. The storm was very large and slowed down to a crawl once it came ashore. This meant that in addition to the hurricane force winds, the heavy rains off to the east of the storm didn’t let up for days.

Plaquemines Parish - Hurricane Isaac

photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The region is dotted with very low-lying communities that are prone to flooding, which meant that although Hurricane Isaac was only a category 1 storm with winds of 80mph, the impact from the heavy rains caused flooding that was much more severe than the communities were expecting. Many have said that the damage to their homes and businesses is worse than during the devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

One of my friends who provides assistance in disaster zones sent me some information this morning that I wanted to pass along. Many of our followers have asked how they can help those who have been impacted by the hurricane. Now that the rains have passed and people are beginning to return to their communities, a picture of the damage is just now coming into focus.

Plaquemines Parish was one of the hardest hit areas with widespread flooding, and if you are interested in helping out, please consider sending donations of checks or gift cards (Visa gift cards, AmEx gift cards, WalMart gift cards, etc.) to:

Plaquemines Parish Government
Attn: Benny Puckett
Re: Hurricane Isaac Relief Effort
8056 highway 23, suite 200
Bell Chasse, La. 70037

These donations will go 100% to the residents of Plaqueimes Parish that are most in need after this disaster. For questions or comments donors may have, please call Mr. Puckett directly on his cell phone at: 504-259-9754 or email him at:

Thank you to everyone who is keeping the people of the Gulf coast in your thoughts this week. And a very special thanks to Cameron Beach (aka the Mountain Man) who has been a big supporter of our work along the coast and provided the information above.


We Want You!

Our BIG announcement:
We want YOU to design the next Kids of the Gulf Limited Edition T-shirt!

That’s right, it’s a design contest. And the best part, our good friend Ian Somerhalder will CHOOSE THE WINNING DESIGN!!!

Kids of the Gulf shirtsThe contest winner, whose design will appear on a very limited number of shirts for our supporters, will also receive a shirt autographed by Ian!!!

So have fun, be creative, and help us design a shirt that embodies the SPIRIT of Kids of the Gulf! We will be accepting submissions between August 10 and September 7. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Entering is simple:

  • Draw/design something for the limited edition t-shirt that you feel represents the Kids of the Gulf mission or story
  • Email your entries to
  • All entries must be high resolution (at least 300 dpi) in JPEG format

Our Journey

If you have landed on our site because of the T-shirt Design Contest, wonderful! We are happy to have you here and hope you take a few minutes to learn more about Kids of the Gulf. We have been on this journey for more than a year. Along the way, we have learned so much about the BP oil disaster, how it continues to impact families in the region, and quite honestly, why protecting our oceans and shores is so critical.

If you have been traveling this journey with us for a while, we thank you for being here. With each passing day—as stories of the oil spill seem to fade out of sight from mainstream media—your stories, our stories, become so much clearer. We are amazed at the ongoing support we have to make this film. We are inspired by the children and youth all over the world who want to help and want to follow our story. We thank you for your generosity, your support of the documentary, and your genuine interest in the Gulf region and its families.

One thing that impresses us most about this whole adventure: that we are attracting people from all over the world who are just as passionate about it as we are! And it’s not just about one oil spill—it’s about reducing our dependence on oil and committing to use cleaner energies. It’s about taking care of our earth and her limited resources. And, it’s about giving children a voice and opportunity to make a difference. We feel a great sense of oneness knowing you all are here to support us and our goals of healing the planet.

So now, go be creative!!! Think about what all of this means to you, and how we can best put Kids of the Gulf into a great visual for our Limited Edition T-shirt. We hope you have fun with it!

Special thanks to Ian, Kim, Jess, and everyone at the IS Foundation who have been so supportive of this effort from the beginning. We really appreciate the love!

Kids of the Gulf & the World Domination Summit

Sunday, July 8th, I had the incredible honor and privilege to address 1,000 remarkable people from around the world at a conference called the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon. The conference creator, Chris Guillebeau asked attendees that wanted to share their work from the main stage to submit their stories in advance to be considered. Out of over 300 submissions, the story of Kids of the Gulf was chosen to be featured in an attendee stories forum on the last day of the conference.

World Domination Summit 2012

Chris posed this question to the audience on day one: “How do you live a remarkable life in a conventional world?” Everyone came for their own reasons, but this question captures the essence of why many attendees decided to travel across the world to participate.

It would be hard to overestimate how profound this experience was for me personally, but also how much it shows that the story of this film is indeed uniquely compelling and thought provoking.

I was the first of 13 people to present and I had 5 minutes to share the story that has come to define the past 2 years of my life. An interesting thing happened that I feel compelled to share with you; I walked up to the microphone and began my talk in front of a packed theater of individuals that are thirsty for remarkable stories of people that are creating big shifts in the world. I thought I might take too long and have to shorten my ending at the 5 minute mark. But instead, I had a few moments of pause and reflection shortly after I started. When I began speaking again, my tone shifted and the words poured forth directly from my heart.

Brandon Sutton at World Domination Summit

Below is the talk as I had written it originally. I wanted to share it with our supporters and people that are checking out our film for the first time to give you a very personal glimpse of why I began this journey and why I’ve continued to pursue it for the past 2 years.

“How many people here today were disturbed by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2 years ago? Like you, I was deeply troubled and as the disaster unfolded, I searched for a way to have a positive impact. I believed that there were lessons that we needed to learn regarding the extraction and use of oil and its true impacts on people and the environment around the world, but much of what I saw in the media and in social media channels was finger pointing and BP protests. Missing from the dialogue was how we all play a part in the system that led to the worst environmental disaster in US history.

I wanted to engage deeper, so I threw together a video and blog post asking for donations and organized a small expedition of volunteers to visit the Gulf and document the impact on the people who live in the local communities along the coast. We called it Spirit of the Gulf Coast, and it was a key turning point for me. It showed me that taking direct action on things I believe strongly in can have a big impact on others, while fulfilling my desire to make a difference at the same time.

I was never the same after that experience, and the stories continued to haunt me months later. A year later, I re-visited the same areas we went to before and I was disturbed by what I saw and heard. You see, despite the flashy ad campaigns and relatively sparse media attention, the impacts on the people are still very real, particularly with kids. Families who depend on the seafood industry for survival have seen their incomes plummet while costs continue to rise. Many kids in these households are left to do without the most basic provisions, and some have had to drop out of school to find work to help support their families. These are resilient people, but this disaster has pushed many of them beyond the breaking point.

Not long after I returned from that trip, I was approached by 2 remarkable young change agents, Devon and Devin, ages 8 and 14 and founders of the worldwide Kids Army on Twitter who said they wanted to help make a difference with the oil spill. They’ve connected kids from all over the world to work together to help solve some of society’s biggest challenges. We decided to make a film about the spill’s impacts on kids along the coast, as experienced from the perspective of other kids. It’s called Kids of the Gulf, and it’s become a rallying cry for youth around the world that want to see a more responsible approach to energy use, social justice and environmental protection.

We’ve had people from 52 countries on 6 continents promoting our project and 24 of those countries sent in donations to our crowd funding campaigns on Kids of the Gulf has come to signify a positive movement led by young people who feel strongly that they deserve to have their voices heard. They are not voting age yet, but they’ve found a way to connect through Twitter and share information and opportunities for activism on issues they feel strongly about. When they see something they want to change, they go into immediate action. ‘Wait’ is not in their vocabulary. ‘You can’t do that’ is not something they accept.

2 years ago, I made a choice to take action on something that I felt strongly about. I’d never done anything like this before and had no idea what I was getting myself into. I just knew I had to do something beyond comment on oil spill articles posted on Facebook. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some of the most inspiring young people I’ve ever known, and one of my biggest heroes on animal rights and environmental issues is on speed dial. We’re making a film that will have an impact on people around the world and will help engage a new generation with dialogue on clean & sustainable energy, resource conservation and efficiency initiatives.

It all started with the decision to take action and leap into the unknown. Had I waited to pitch this idea to a film studio or get the buy-in of partners or investors, I may never have done any of this.

My friend Jeff once remarked to me that the Wright Brothers didn’t have a pilot’s license. Well, I don’t have a degree in changing the world, but an opportunity to make a difference was there and I leaned in and went for it.

For those of you who have your own causes or issues you care about, don’t wait for everyone to agree with you. Don’t wait to get the perfect equipment or the endorsement of someone famous. Start. Take action now! You’ll attract others who feel the same way. It worked for me, and it’s resulted in the best work I’ve ever done in my life.

I hope each of you will take that first action, whatever it may be. Here at WDS, we have a remarkable opportunity to come together with other change agents who are doing incredible work in the world. I encourage you to stay in touch with the people you’ve met here and continue to push the limits of possibility in the weeks and months ahead. The world truly does need us all to be at the top of our game.

Thank you all for showing up, and special thanks to Chris and the WDS Action Team for facilitating this incredible experience!”

# # #

Chris Guillebeau at the World Domination Summit

I’ve never felt more supported in my life than I did at the conclusion of Sunday’s program. Chris came onto the stage at the end to bring the formal conference to a close and began telling a story of an anonymous donor that approached him with a significant sum of money because this person saw the power of last year’s inaugural World Domination Summit. The WDS team discussed the best way to use this money for good and they elected to distribute the money back to attendees to use in their own pursuits in making positive changes throughout the world. Each paid attendee would receive $100 as we left the theater.

My jaw dropped. I’ve never felt anything like it. Such appreciation and love. Wow.

I left the theater along with 1,000 other attendees who shared my shock and delight at this magnificent gift and went into the lobby to talk with people. Several people approached me and said they were really moved by my story and wanted to know how to help. One lady even brought her envelope with $100 in it and said she wanted to donate it to Kids of the Gulf.

I knew when I left Atlanta that speaking from the main stage at this conference would be a unique opportunity to share the story of Kids of the Gulf, and it was everything I hoped for and much more.

I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Chris Guilllebeau and the whole Action Team at WDS for creating the opportunity for each of us to share in this remarkable weekend and for having the faith in me and this work to have us featured in front of the entire audience at WDS. I encourage each of you who read this to check out Chris and the work he is doing in the world. He’s one to follow and support, becuase his entire life is about service to others. He’s a model human and global citizen and I’m proud to call him my friend.

Thank you all for believing in this film. We have something really special here, and I’m more encouraged than ever that this story will bring about remarkable change in this conventional world we live in. Onward…


p.s. I’ll think long and heard on how best to use the $200 that was donated yesterday. If you have ideas, please do share. 🙂


Photos courtesy of Armosa Studios