Danny Sangra isn’t the first filmmaker to make the jump from commercials to feature-length films, but he makes a pretty good case for the transition. Over the past few years, Sangra has amassed an impressive library of short films in addition to advertisements that are as distinct from one another as they are emblematic of his style.
That style earned him loyal audiences online, particularly with the more discerning Vimeo crowd, the platform that released “Goldbricks In Bloom” through its VOD service. Sangra’s shorts often earn the coveted “Vimeo Staff Pick” distinction, and they partnered with OneFifty to release the film digitally, while Emerging Pictures supported a small national theatrical release.
While not quite the cinderella story of A24’s “Swiss Army Man” directors the Daniels, who also started making music videos and digital content, it’s not bad for a first feature.
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Sangra has directed commercials and short films for high-end fashion brands like Louis Vuitton, Ermenegildo Zegna, and Balenciaga, as well as music videos for musicians such as A$AP Rocky, Florence and the Machine, and Mykki Blanco. Straddling the art, music, and commercial worlds may sound frenetic, but what’s clear from Sangra’s shorts is that his commercial work bears as much of his trademark as his shorts. The same goes for “Goldbricks In Bloom,” his first feature-length effort.
“I didn’t want to make what I thought a first feature should be,” said Sangra. “I didn’t want a country house with two people and slow takes that no one would watch.” Instead, he added, “it’s as if all of my shorts got superglued together. It’s clearly got my signature on it.”
Aside from using many of the same actors as his short films, “Goldbricks In Bloom” shares the irreverent wit, heightened reality, and unexpected dark twists of Sangra’s shorts. Though the film jumps often between multiple storylines and a motley crew of characters, it is undoubtedly a unified whole. The shifting perspective keeps the viewer on alert, but its surprises give the film a comforting consistency.
The first indicator to expect the unexpected comes within the first minute, when the scene pauses and quickly fast forwards. “No director would want people to fast-forward through their work,” said Kat Clements, a longtime friend and collaborator who also produced and starred in the film. “That’s such an amazing move on Danny’s part to be like, ‘I’m gonna fast forward through my film before anybody else can.’ He really sets the tone by doing that. It tells people two things: This isn’t like any other film you’ve seen, and I get you as an audience. That works to suck you in, to want to know more.”
Clements plays Julia, a stylist for commercials at the center of what she calls the “goldbricks story” or “the color story,” referring to the part of the film shot in color that deals with the disaffected creatives, also featuring Zosia Mamet (“Girls”). The black and white part of the film uses narrated voiceover to tell the story of Calvin Stone (Sam Hamill), a New York artist who gets chewed up and spit out by the art world thanks to a conniving young art collector (Jake Hoffman). Calvin’s story unfolds like a contemporary mystery, even though its ending is no surprise.
“I wrote the Calvin story as the cliche fiction story. It’s got the rise and fall, whereas the goldbricks are all stuck,” said Sangra, referring to one of the film’s apt chapter titles: “Stuck Moving Forward.”
“The character of Calvin Stone is so fanciful, he’s what my parents’ generation thought being an artist was. ‘The goldbricks’ are what my generation realizes being an artist is,” said Clements. Though they whine and moan about their jobs, “the goldbricks” are generally successful in tangentially creative fields, even if they’re not doing exactly what they want.
Sangra has wrestled with that question himself. “When I was younger, I supposed I’d be like, ‘commercial stuff is bad,’ but it doesn’t work like that,” he said. “I know I couldn’t have made the film if I hadn’t done commercials.”
In addition to the Vimeo release, “Goldbricks In Bloom” is playing 11 cities so far, with more to come. “I think with a small film like this, you need as many eyes as you can get,” Sangra said. “VOD is great for its immediacy and worldwide access, and the theatrical gives the film legitimacy.”
Sangra insisted his shorts informed his commercial work, and not the other way around. “The only thing it did was show me all the stuff I can’t get because I’m not super wealthy,” he said. “But it also showed me you can have all that and it can still look like garbage.”
“Goldbricks In Bloom” is now playing in select theaters and available for rental on Vimeo.