Cali Gilbert of Tower 15 Productions: “Do not compare yourself to others and simply be yourself”

My main focus has been supporting women in transition, those who have experienced homelessness or are on the brink of it. After experiencing 12 months of homelessness in San Francisco, I am now passionate about raising awareness and doing my part to shed some light on what I call a “forgotten demographic.”By that I mean, […]

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My main focus has been supporting women in transition, those who have experienced homelessness or are on the brink of it. After experiencing 12 months of homelessness in San Francisco, I am now passionate about raising awareness and doing my part to shed some light on what I call a “forgotten demographic.”By that I mean, those who are educated, creative, have so many gifts to offer, and yet not provided the opportunity to share those gifts with the world. Society tends to stereotype homelessness to those with mental illness, drug addiction, or criminals when the truth is, it could happen to anyone. That is what happened to me. I had three university degrees and years of management experience, yet I was labeled “over-qualified” and could not find work. In 2011 I lost everything, including miscarrying a child and my home. That experience was so traumatic that I vowed to use my voice for good moving forward.


As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Cali Gilbert.

Cali Gilbert is an international bestselling author, award-winning filmmaker, and social entrepreneur. As the creator of the IT’S SIMPLY book series, Cali has published several bestselling books of her own and now coaches other writers through the publishing process. As Founder & CEO of Tower 15 Productions, Cali is passionate about writing and directing social impact films and supporting other creatives through education and collaboration. Cali has a passion for helping women in transition and shares her personal story of transformation as an inspirational speaker. Cali splits her time between Los Angeles and San Diego, California.


Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?

First, I would say I feel as though I have lived about nine lifetimes just this time around as I’ve experienced so much over my five decades. Although I cannot say, I am surprised I landed in my current role. Ever since I was a child, I loved writing and taking photographs. A few years back, I found a story I had written on a piece of loose-leaf paper that my Mother had kept when I was a child. It was about a girl who took her dog to school. I could barely spell at the time, but I was already sharing stories. Writing and photography have always been my passions but were just hobbies. It was not until 2009 when I began to embrace my gifts fully.

At the time, I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and a friend suggested I show off my photographs. I decided to submit to an exhibit that was part of the Sausalito Art Festival. Although my photo was not selected in 2009, I submitted it the following year again and was accepted. During the Opening Night reception, my photograph sold in the first ten minutes. That is where it all began. In 2011 I would publish my first book, It’s Simply Sausalito, An Inspirational Journey, during one of the most challenging times in my life.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

I was playing Director long before the thought of becoming a Film Director crossed my mind. It must have been the early 2000s when along with a group of friends, we decided to reconstruct a music video by one of our favorite singers at the time. I was the one with the clipboard pulling all the pieces together, scouting the locations, getting the actors in place, and offering instruction from scene to scene. We did a great job, and it was hilarious. A fun time had by all for sure.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

When I was a teenager, my best friend was Cal Ripken, Jr., the Major League Baseball Hall of Famer. He has always been very supportive of my work, and it was through him that I became inspired to begin supporting the non-profit sector at a very young age. It led to supporting this sector for most of my career.

As a filmmaker, my most significant moments have come in meeting some of my childhood heroes, or at least being in the same room as them. At the end of 2014, I attended Blithe Spirit’s performance at the Ahmanson Theatre in L.A., which starred Angela Lansbury. I was able to say hello to her as she arrived. As a teenager, I watched Murder She Wrote with my grandmother and envisioned myself living in a quaint seaside community writing books, riding my bicycle around town, and enjoying life. Little did I know at the time that 30 years later, I would manifest precisely that dream.

I also attended the People’s Choice Awards in 2015 and watched as Betty White won for Favorite TV Icon. I just wanted to hug her and let her know how much joy she has brought to my life over the years. To this day, I still laugh watching Golden Girls. Later that year, I had the opportunity to meet Dick Van Dyke at a book signing. He signed my Keep Moving copy, and I showed him my fifth book, It’s Simply Serendipity. The event was being filmed, and it ended up at the documentary, If You’re Not in the Orbit, Eat Breakfast which features unique icons in their nineties still going strong. If that was not enough, in December 2015, I was able to film part of Dick Van Dyke’s 90th birthday celebration, which took place at The Grove in L.A.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Currently, I have a few projects in the works that excite me. I am working on two scripts, a book adaptation of my eighth book, Timing the Tides, and a Christmas movie. I am also working on finalizing the story structure of my first feature-length documentary, Save Me Sausalito, which I am planning to begin shooting later this year. The big project plans to launch my non-profit organization to support creative women in starting their businesses via entrepreneurship, mentoring, and training. My entire career has revolved around helping the non-profit sector, and I knew I would eventually start my own non-profit. Yet, it was not until recently when I received clarity as to the best direction to take and those to serve. There is so much I want to do to provide support for this demographic.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

When I think of those who inspire me most, those who operate non-profits or have a passion for doing socially good work yet remain behind the scenes. I have dear friends who support our homeless community and provide so much-needed value to these individuals but do so without any fanfare. They simply do it because they care.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

My main focus has been supporting women in transition, those who have experienced homelessness or are on the brink of it. After experiencing 12 months of homelessness in San Francisco, I am now passionate about raising awareness and doing my part to shed some light on what I call a “forgotten demographic.”By that I mean, those who are educated, creative, have so many gifts to offer, and yet not provided the opportunity to share those gifts with the world. Society tends to stereotype homelessness to those with mental illness, drug addiction, or criminals when the truth is, it could happen to anyone. That is what happened to me. I had three university degrees and years of management experience, yet I was labeled “over-qualified” and could not find work. In 2011 I lost everything, including miscarrying a child and my home. That experience was so traumatic that I vowed to use my voice for good moving forward.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

That defining moment came in September 2019. After spending five years entrenched in the film industry, learning from the best of the best, and being guided by amazing mentors, I launched my own production company, Tower 15 Productions. I did so to focus on supporting other creatives via education and collaboration in the areas of publishing, photography, and filmmaking. I put together an amazing all-female cast and crew for my first feature-length documentary, Pearl, highlightingsix women who had all experienced homelessness and found success in the Arts. We spent a year trying to raise funds for the film without success, and it was frustrating as I knew we had an important story to share.

By September, I was out of money, and I was having trouble covering rent. I wanted to attend a job fair near where I lived, but I could not get there. I didn’t have a car, nor could I rely on public transportation because I did not have funds to cover the bus fee. At first, I was frustrated as I thought I’m trying to do what I feel I should be doing, yet that’s not working either. Then, I decided to pause, to take a step back and look at things differently. I said to myself, what can I do with what I currently have? That question changed everything.

I realized that I had a phone, skills, talents, and I could interview friends who supported the homeless community. I asked other friends to donate music and I did most of the work myself with zero budget, and within six weeks of coming up with the concept, I had a completed film. INVISIBLE was released at the end of 2019 and it sheds light on the homeless crisis in Los Angeles with a focus on prevention. “The little film that could” as I call it kick-started my career as a filmmaker. Since its release, we have had several highlighting moments beginning with hosting the L.A. Premiere at the famed TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. I also received notice that my accreditation as a filmmaker had been approved by the Cannes Film Festival in France. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, the in-person festival did not happen, but just being recognized as a filmmaker for such a prestigious festival was the most significant win for me. To date, the film has been selected by nine festivals, winning five awards, and has brought awareness and support to the homeless community.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I would love to highlight my friend and colleague, Tisha Janigian. She runs the non-profit SHE IS HOPE LA which supports and educates single mothers by providing them with job training, childcare, and affordable housing. We were able to feature her and her work in the film and link her non-profit via the film’s webpage. I was also invited to share some educational material to her clients through her 12-week curriculum program. She has also been instrumental in supporting me as I now look to create my own non-profit. I feel so grateful to be surrounded by many heart-centered individuals with a passion for service, such as Tisha.

Are there three things that individuals, society, or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Individuals: Help spread the word about the work I am doing to support our homeless neighbors. If you are a female entrepreneur passionate about giving back and paying it forward, please reach out and let’s talk. I would love to collaborate and utilize your gifts and talents for good. I know together we can do fantastic work.

Society: Realize that homelessness does not discriminate. It can happen to ANYONE, even someone who does not look the part. There are so many ways people can end up on the street by no fault of their own. Be compassionate. Check on your neighbors. Business owners — give those who may appear over-qualified for positions you offer a chance at sharing their expertise. In the end, it is a win-win for everyone.

Government: Solo entrepreneurs and small businesses are the heart of society and should be treated fairly and with the same respect as the traditional employee. One of the greatest gifts of the Covid-19 pandemic was offering support in the form of pandemic unemployment insurance to this demographic. I feel this is crucial and should not simply be the case during a major catastrophe.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Do not compare yourself to others and simply be yourself. Each of us is unique with our gifts and talents and it’s so easy to compare ourselves to others, yet it takes away from shining our own light. Staying true to ourselves, our gifts and talents, desires, and dreams can create an amazing life. Growing up, I never felt seen as I was always compared to others. It was not until I decided to take my life into my own hands and be authentically me that my life began to shift for the better.
  2. Live your dream. Living someone else’s plan will never lead to happiness. For a long time, I lived my parents’ dreams. I realized they wanted the best for me, but their vision of my life was not my own. I followed along for years, and although I achieved high status in terms of job titles and multiple university degrees, I wasn’t happy. I realized I wasn’t listening to the calling of my soul, the part of me that simply wanted to create. It wasn’t until I finally decided to pursue what I truly loved that life became this magical journey.
  3. Not everyone will like you or agree with you, and that’s okay. I no longer take things personally because I realize that as long as I’m being true to myself and doing the best I can, what others think or believe doesn’t matter. I’ve learned when someone disagrees with you or mistreats you, it really has nothing to do with you. It’s their self-image that is directing their actions. I create so that I can share my gifts. Those who appreciate what I share are meant to, and those who don’t, same thing, and that’s perfectly fine. Creating to me, is like breathing. It’s something I must do because I love it so much, and that’s all that matters in my book.
  4. Self-care is crucial. If you aren’t operating at 100%, you are no good to anyone else. This is huge and something I make sure I implement into my life. I’m not afraid to put in the work to succeed in my craft and to support others along the way. Yet I also realize there are times when I need to take a break and recharge the batteries. I’ve created a daily routine where I include meditation, exercise, being out in nature, and quiet time to stay focused and pursue my dreams.
  5. Gratitude is everything. When you appreciate what you have, you allow for more to come. This is the one that is probably more important than all the rest. When I lost everything in 2011, I had the opportunity to take a close look at my life and determine what truly mattered. For me at the time, the two most important things were to have a roof over my head and food in my belly. Everything else was a luxury. Since then I had added a gratitude session to my daily life, beginning and ending each day counting my blessings, especially those we may take for granted like life itself.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Each of us has been blessed with gifts and talents that make us unique, yet we’re also beautifully connected. We are all human, doing the best we can with what we know and what we believe. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that it is indeed a crime to be given these beautiful gifts and talents, waste them, and not share them with the world. To me, it feels like my soul is dying a slow death when I’m not able to do what I genuinely love.

I would share with young people that being of service is also a gift, not just to those we serve but also to ourselves. It’s our opportunity to be authentic, to share our gifts and talents, to support others, to make a difference, to leave a legacy. It’s our opportunity to leave this world better than when we first arrived. It doesn’t take much to make a difference. When I was homeless, I was one of the lucky ones able to find a place to rest my head on most nights, but others aren’t so lucky. When I had enough to eat, I would buy food with my food stamps and feed those on the streets. If I didn’t have any money, I would offer a smile or even a hug to those experiencing homelessness. You can’t imagine the impact you can make with one simple gesture. Simply being you is a gift in itself.

We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Oprah Winfrey and Sara Blakely.

I have admired Oprah for quite some time, but mostly because she continues to pursue her dreams and follow her passions regardless of circumstance. I love her authenticity and how she simply inspires by being herself. In 2015, I had the opportunity to attend her Super Soul Sessions at UCLA, which was incredible. We were seated in the same row while other influences spoke on stage. I remember sitting there soaking in all the beautiful messages and envisioning myself seated across from her during one of her Super Soul Sunday episodes, sharing my story of transformation and how I plan to give back. I still believe that will happen one day. After experiencing homelessness myself, I truly believe that one way to end homelessness, at least for my focused demographic, is to support women in starting their businesses and allowing them to share their gifts with the world. Oprah exemplifies how using your voice and skills for good can profoundly impact others’ lives and society. I believe together we could do amazing things.

I began following Sara Blakely’s work about five years ago and love following her social media posts. She also comes across as very authentic with a passion for service and supporting others, especially women and new entrepreneurs. I would love to learn from her and have her share what she has learned throughout this entrepreneurship journey with those I’m hoping to support.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite quotes is one I wrote for my first book, It’s Simply Sausalito: An Inspirational Journey, back in 2011. It has become like a mantra for my life since. I am all about taking inspired action towards fulfilling my dreams. “Dreamers paint a pretty picture. Those who take action create a masterpiece.”

How can our readers follow you online?

Personal Website — www.CaliGilbert.com

Company Website — www.Tower15Productions.com

LinkedIn — www.linkedin.com/in/caligilbert

Twitter — @thecaligilbert

Instagram — @tower15productions

This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!


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