Back in October of 2009, I set out to make a film that would push my talents as both a storyteller and a filmmaker. I wanted to create a film that would challenge myself and my audience, meshing both classical and experimental storytelling techniques from music, books, & films that have inspired me in one way or another. I wanted to make a film that didn’t do any spoon-feeding, where my audience would leave with questions as well as answers. It was a long a difficult road to get to this point and there were days where I felt that I was in way over my head but eight months later, I can proudly say I’ve finally completed my film “The Bridge” and it was an experience I would never forget.
The story of The Bridge was a story a cousin had told me when I was eight years old. It was a ghost story about two siblings on a bridge. I remember it haunting me for weeks and causing many sleepless nights under my sheets. Obviously, it had a lasting influence in my life. It had always been one of those stories that I wanted to adapt into a short film so when the opportunity finally came one day, I decided to pull to trigger.
When I was in film school, I would constantly fantasize about making some sort of epic period piece, especially one that took place during WW2. So when I decided I was going to make The Bridge, I instantly followed it up with “hell, why not make it into a WW2 movie”? I could have easily made this film as a contemporary piece but where would the fun be in that? I never do things because it’s easy; I do it because it’s hard. I love a challenge. I figured I could keep the same characters, themes, motifs, style, and wrap it around a WW2 setting. So I did.
So it began. After a quick outline, I started writing the screenplay and, being a one-man crew at the time, I also started doing work on costumes and props. I lived and breathed WW2 24/7. I watched every WW2 movie and documentary I could get my hands on. I even got my hands some real WW2 letters to get a grasp on the era’s language. I felt like a student again and I loved it. I scoured eBay for every WW2 field gear I could afford to buy and the stuff I couldn’t get, I had them custom made cheaply in China. I wanted it to be detailed and authentic as possible while keeping my almost non-existing budget down. I remember coming home one day and having almost a couple dozen eBay packages on front door. It looked like the front door of the post office.
The casting of The Bridge was actually one of the smoothest aspects of the entire process. I first went to my good friend Amy and asked her if she would like to help me produce the film. Having worked with each other before, I didn’t really have to ask twice. She was happy to be my first recruit.
For the leading role, I asked my good friend Pablo Soriano to take the part. Having worked with him before, we have a good understanding of each other. He is just a naturally gifted actor and he makes my job as a director so much easier. Plus, his puppy dog eyes make him a perfect protagonist.
For the leading female role, I went looking for a girl who had beautiful, almost hypnotic eyes. That’s when I spotted Leah in one my good friend’s music video. I called up Carlos and basically told him, “I need to have that girl for movie”. A few days later, she was on board.
I owe the discovery of Mike, the character who plays James Connolly, to my producer Amy. She had read the script and recommended him. I remember her telling me “Mike IS James”. Words that any director would love to hear and as usual, Amy was right.
So a couple months later, the script was complete, the costumes and props were ready, and the cast was cast. We were ready to shoot!
With our extremely limited budget, I knew right from day one that we were going to shoot “The Bridge” on DSLRs, specifically the Canon 7D and 5D Mark II. With this in mind, I knew (as also the DP of the film), I was going to push these cameras to its limits. I wasn’t going to let my equipment limit my vision of the film. I knew at the very beginning that I may or may not have a crappy movie in the end but hell, it’s gonna look damn good! We all know about the camera’s limitations but I wasn’t going to bitch and moan about it, I was going to work around it. I took it as a personal challenge to make these cameras work and I did.
About 75% of the film was shot with the 7D and the rest with the 5DM2. The main reason I shot with the 7D more was the 24p firmware update wasn’t available for the 5DM2 during the bulk of the shooting. I prefer the 5DM2’s full frame sensor the 7D cropped sensor.
Production, like any other shoot, had its ups and downs. Ours was mainly San Francisco’s unpredictable weather. You can blink and the bay area can go from miserable foggy weather (which is what I wanted for the film) to perfect summer beach party weather.
Also, being a guerilla production also has its own set of problems. I remember an actor and I almost getting arrested at a national park because a tourist reported seeing “some soldier carrying a rifle”. We got patted down and escorted off the premises. Before the ranger let us go, she handed me a business card for film permits. I thought that was hilarious.
There wasn’t really a “post-production” for The Bridge. I did post simultaneously during production. I would shoot on a weekend and then do visual effects or picture and sound editing on the weekdays. It was a very indie film workflow. The upside was I always had very polished dailies to show my cast and that kept them motivated to give me their best.
I spent my first two years out of film school as a CG artist. Being able to do my own 3d animation, modeling, surfacing, lighting, and rendering definitely upped the production value of my film. CG artists aren’t cheap and I calculated that if I had paid someone else to do my visual effects, it would have been double the entire budget of the film.
I hate ADR and foleying but if you don’t have a budget, you have to do it yourself. We had two whole scenes where sound was completely unusable (the tunnel scenes) so we had to redo it from scratch. I remember ADR sessions inside automobiles and 2 A.M. foley when my neighborhood is quiet and I don’t have to deal with traffic and barking dogs.
I discovered my composer Justin browsing through some filmmaking forums. He is such a talented musician. He added so much emotion to my film. Being a super control-freak, it’s very difficult for me to hand off any aspect of my film to someone else unless I have 100 percent confidence in that person. Justin is one of those people. In fact, Justin was the only other person who had a hand in post aside from me.
It was tough being a “one man studio” for this film. I acted as DP and director on Sunday, editor on Monday, sound editor on Tuesday, visual effects artist on Wednesday and Thursday, and compositor on Friday. I got some rest on Saturday (while my two computer farm renders). But in the end, when it all comes together… nothing feels more rewarding than seeing the art you’ve created. I can safely say that I created something I’m very proud of.
So here it is. 8 months work compressed into a 30-minute narrative short. The film I set out to create back in October of 2009. I would like to thank everyone who was a part of it. I couldn’t have done it without you. To my viewers, I hope this film challenges you like it challenged me. Enjoy.
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