by Rhett Bradbury
I have come to being a filmmaker purely through passion, stubbornness, and a healthy dose of naiveté. At present, I am very much an outsider to the industry. My academic and professional background is in graphic design, but I’m a lifelong film enthusiast, coming to worship the works of Kubrick and Lynch. My ability to discuss films and filmmaking has yet to hit a limit. As a boy, my third parent was television, and, as such, I became deeply influenced by the many strange-but-wonderful shows of the 90’s and the Sci-Fi channel’s (then) “Saturday Anime.” It was during one of these anime blocks that I was first exposed to the intense brilliance of Otomo’s AKIRA at the ripe age of eleven. Life was never the same.
In 2016, I got my hands on an entry-level DSLR. YouTube became my new academic arena, and I fell deep into the rabbit hole of image making – shooting manual and post-processing. I ultimately came across one filmmaking YouTuber who succinctly stated, “If you have a camera that shoots HD, you can make a movie.” The light bulb, a-ha, “I can really do this?” switch was flipped, and hasn’t gone back down since. I grabbed my camera and started figuring out how to make my own movies.
My debut film and short doc, SHINE – the life story of a 76 year old Italian American immigrant and shoe cobbler, in his own words – was selected for 13 film festivals on two continents, as well as winning ‘Best Documentary Short’ at the Astoria NY Film Festival in 2019. The work was directed, photographed and edited by myself with no actual budget, but the creativity and excitement I felt while making it was undeniable. It was at the Yonkers (NY) Film Festival in 2018 where SHINE screened alongside industry veterans Jeremy Dash and Jonah Schwartz’s dystopic sci-fi thriller THE DARK AGE. Afterward, Jeremy and I shared our appreciation for each other’s work – a friendship and creative collaboration was formed. Cut to June of 2022 and Jeremy, Jonah, and myself, along with our lone Production Assistant, Ryan, were scrambling around the woods in upstate New York, busting our humps, exhausted and delirious, watching the sun come up after an intense all-nighter while still needing to get the final shots for the ending of FIREBRAND.
FIREBRAND represents another 100% pure passion project. Self-funded, D.I.Y., flown-by-seat-of-our-pants. We spent three days and one entire night shooting. I asked a lot of everyone involved, but they all invariably delivered. It was a very humbling experience – one that broke me down to my core. I still don’t know exactly how we pulled it off. It shouldn’t have worked. We were earnest in our efforts, though. Hard work smashed head-on in to a lot of luck. In the end, Theo’s emotional and existential crisis became my own. In the end, we have something I’m very proud to present to anyone who will sit and watch it. In that regard, I could not ask for more.
The story for FIREBRAND came about through Rhett and Jeremy's friendship, combined with the unique (some would say weird) influences, and creative sensibility, of Rhett’s. Jeremy loves throwing wrenches around and has built many custom motorcycles in his life. He’s also a tremendous acting talent. At some point it became clear to craft a short film around a hard-riding, gear-head main character. But what should the story be? After a lot of poking around online, Rhett came across an obscure claymation video (c. 1985) by Will Vinton referencing a lesser known story by Mark Twain called THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER (c. 1916) where Satan intervenes in three young boys’ lives – forcing them to work through complex ethical dilemmas. Then everything “clicked” – devise a situation where a main character is having a similar conversation with Satan, as from the source material, and then reverse-engineer the steps that bring the two together.
Greene County, New York felt like the perfect setting to motor around, but also a place that would highlight the vast despair and neglect of the protagonist – mirrored in the vast and hauntingly beautiful nature of the area – as well as allow us to get lost in the woods where we wouldn’t be bothered. Will Vinton’s claymation, coupled with Rhett’s appreciation for Olivier de Sagazan’s work in the documentary SAMSARA came together to create his own “transfiguration” in the portrayal of Satan. This real life claymation, or rather covering someone in layers of dark, caked on clay, seemed manageable to pull off and looked really fantastic.
The shoot itself was extremely bare bones – five people were on the team with four enduring through the final all-nighter. Rhett had prepared for the shoot, off-and-on, for three years. Jonah was crucial in the two weeks leading up to the shoot in securing all of the filming equipment. Jeremy packed up and drove the motorcycle by himself. All-in-all, the shoot was a mad scramble. There were a lot of guerrilla tactics as well as a healthy amount of begging for forgiveness (and one police intervention). Nevertheless, the team was able to pull it off.
FIREBRAND strives to show a grittier side of an area of America renowned for its natural beauty and seemingly idyllic lifestyle. Perhaps a more honest side.
FIREBRAND is a film about one man’s struggle with abuse and mental illness. It’s about men, isolating themselves and their problems from others, rather than seeking help.
FIREBRAND questions our place in the universe and highlights the surreal, nonsensical, and abhorrent nature to all our sufferings.
Three of the five production cast and crew, and four of the nine full cast and crew on FIREBRAND are people of color.
by Jeremy Dash
It's way more fun to ride a slow bike fast than it is to ride a fast bike slow. I'd rather be wide open, rowing through all the gears, and throwing around this little 200cc motor than have to hold back on something much bigger and faster . . . plus this bike has boatloads of character.
It started out as a stock 2008 Yamaha TW200, a bit of an ugly duckling if I do say so myself but I always saw the potential for a badass little bratstyle cafe racer within it. Now, for the most part, the only stock parts left on the bike are the motor and frame and it has a completely new look and feel. The bike was torn down and everything unnecessary was removed including the factory rear shock. It's now running a custom rear strut with rubber bushings in order to achieve the slammed stance that it currently has.
A handful of parts were ordered from Japan for this project as well including the exhaust, seat, and tank which really change up lines of the bike. Slap on some old school carnival ride green metal flake paint, black plasti dipped wheels, tracker bars, and a LED cateye taillight and this TW200 is a completely different animal.
Interestingly enough, I completed updating the bike many years ago, long before FIREBRAND was even a thought. I actually sold it back in 2014, and then went through the effort of re-purchasing in 2022 when I realized it would be the perfect bike for the film. We had always imagined a motorcycle as an integral part of the project – to actually become a character in itself – and this bike fit the bill in every way. It's the perfect machine that could have easily been built in Theo's garage, by his own hands, in order for him to blast through the twisty mountain roads of his world.