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Frazer Bradshaw, “Everything Strange and New”: Light, Experimentation and Circumstance

Frazer Bradshaw, "Everything Strange and New": Light, Experimentation and Circumstance

EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling dramatic and documentary competition and American Spectrum directors who have films screening at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Wayne has a job, a wife, two kids, and a house. He’s living the American Dream. There’s a fine line, however, between a dream and nightmare, and Wayne finds himself at odds with the life he has and preoccupied by the life he thinks he wants. He floats passively in a swirling sea inhabited by his emotionally unpredictable wife, his out-of-control young children, and his embattled friends, who have demons of their own. As things change for others, Wayne’s life takes emotional turns, which are sometimes subtle and sometimes violent but never enough to shake him off the track he doesn’t remember choosing.

Everything Strange and New
Sundance Film Festival American Spectrum
Director: Frazer Bradshaw
Screenwriter: Frazer Bradshaw
Executive Producers: Stephen Bannatyne, Marcia Carver, Willie Mae Webb
Producers: Laura Techera Francia, A.D. Liano
Cinematographer: Frazer Bradshaw
Editor: Frazer Bradshaw, Jesse Spencer
Music: Dan Plonsey, Kent Sparling
Sound Designer: Kent Sparling
Cast: Jerry McDaniel, Beth Lisick, Luis Saguar, Rigo Chacon Jr.
U.S.A., 2009, 84 min., color

Please introduce yourself…

I’m Frazer Bradshaw, I’m 36 and I grew up in Alabama and lived to tell about it. Now I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and I make my living as a DP, mostly shooting indie films, both narrative and documentary.

What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?

I wasn’t one of those kids who always wanted to make movies. In art school, I started experimenting with light, as a medium. My early cinematic works were slides and experimental music as part of installation work. I got hired as the school’s projectionist and I fell in love with the dancing shadows of projected 16mm, so I figured I’d try making a film, for myself. I got trained on a Bolex, and off I went, making experimental films about texture. At some point, I figured out that character driven narrative was a powerful way to connect with my audience, and narrative elements began to appear in my films.

Did you go to film school?

I attended the San Francisco Art Institute, which has a strong emphasis on experimental filmmaking. The faculty was all 60’s experimental filmmakers. No one talked about technique, and I had to look to the equipment folks for any technical knowledge. I learned almost nothing about how to actually, physically, make a film, but still managed to make 13 16mm shorts, all the way to print, in four years. What I did learn, however, was what I had to say as an artist and how to think conceptually about issues and subjects that are important to me, and that’s proven to be far more valuable to me as a filmmaker than any technical know-how (most of which I picked up quickly and easily on set).

What are your creative outlets?

I play music, casually, and think of sculpture and painting work I’d like to make, but I never seem have time. I also do fine woodworking projects and I dearly love to machine aluminum parts for bicycles and movie cameras.

What prompted the idea for “Everything Strange and New” and how did it evolve?

The subject matter sprang from observing both my own circumstances, and those of my close friends. It became more and more obvious, as I conceived the piece and reflected on the circumstances the story deals with, that being a middle class American is an infinitely more complex experience than it’s given credit for, especially during the current time.

“Everything Strange and New” director Frazer Bradshaw. Image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

The film was shaped by the resources I had available and so I tried to connect with the things I knew and understood and wanted to portray. Ultimately, I was able to expand my palette, but writing around my resources meant, inherently, that I was working with people, places and things that I knew personally and intimately, and that helped make the film richer.

Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film…

Because I make my living as a DP, I think very visually, and my approach to filmmaking is to let images play in my head, write them down and then arrange them into some sort of semi-cohesive narrative structure.

My strongest influences are probably the directors I work for, as a DP. Over the years, I’ve seen radically varying directing styles with radically different types and amounts of effectiveness. I wouldn’t say that I found a “right” or “best” way to approach directing from those observations, but I have found a sense of what the best approach for my filmmaking style.

I find that I like the intimacy of a very small crew, so I tried to keep things as streamlined as possible. Being able, as director, to speak with everyone directly about the work they were doing for the film, fostered an intimacy that I think really shows in the completed piece.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?

Making a good movie is always the hard part. There are going to be a host of logistical challenges around any system as complex as making a film, but those are minor, compared to figuring out what to say and how best to say it.

How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker?

Well, there’s the success you’re supposed to have, which is to return to the investors their money, along with some profit, but if that’s why I was making my film, it would suck and never succeed on any terms. For me, success is about making a film that connects with its audience, moves people and speaks to the complexities of being alive. If people see my film and take something away with them, then I’ll have succeeded. And if I manage that success, then maybe my executive producers will get their money back too.

What are your future projects?

It’s hard to know. I’ve got another script ready to go, but life has taught me that receptivity and responsiveness are the best tools I have in my kit, so I’m open to whatever possibilities or opportunities appear.

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