We had an awesome opportunity to interview filmmaker Nathan Brimmer about his film Broken Sidewalk and his production company Sanford Street Productions. Check out the interview below.
Congrats on your new short Broken Sidewalk. It’s produced by your company Sanford Street Productions. Tell us what inspired the series.
Thank you! The inspiration for Broken Sidewalk grew out of the experience my writing partners and I had moving back to our rural hometown to care for ailing family members. Living there, we were dispirited but also inspired by what we noticed around us: the infrastructural decay, economic destitution, and community deterioration of our childhood home. This was a place where, as kids, we saw the future. To return and find it dead-ended and depressed . . . We really wanted to write a story that would capture the comedy and the tragedy of that.
What sets it apart from other series?
The pilot presents itself as a farcical redneck telenovela, a group of misfits making terrible, emotional decisions and overreacting to ridiculous situations. But what appears on its face as an absurd, highly farcical romp will gradually transform into a brutal, still darkly comic, tale about socioeconomic desperation and the consequences and realities of remaining in a dying town.
The series is described as a “dark comedy anthology series that outlines the slow decay of the American Dream.” Tell us more.
Once Upon A Time, the Industrialists consulted their maps, looking for places with a specific set of magic criteria: proximity to pristine, running water; clean air; and the open space of domesticated farmland to build their mills, plants, and factories – and a populous of hard-working farm labor to staff them.
After the Industrialists moved on, the Capitalists got out their maps: in search for foreign towns flush with low-skill workers who didn’t demand high wages, better working conditions, or health benefits for their families. They left in their wake a seasonal, tourist trap economy, poisoned water, overdeveloped land, and polluted air.
Finally, the Financiers brought out their maps, seeking foreign interests to buy up these towns, selling off economic death traps, with their toxic water, scarred land, and unbreathable air to the lowest bidder.
Broken Sidewalk is set in the aftermath of this ruin, the sort of town that exists by the thousands all across this country: a place no one is looking for anymore, abandoned, flown-over, forgotten, where the residents are hustlers, cheats, some once-decent, all exhausted, and all in agreement on one basic fact: The American Dream was a hundred year Ponzi-scheme.
Is it a challenge to produce an anthology series?
We wanted the freedom to build a series that within a specific space and time, like a miniseries, but with longevity, flexibility, and the ability to recast our highly talented actors in different parts each season. (We were and are very inspired by the format and storytelling of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s ‘American Horror Story’.) The challenge is convincing television executives that a dark, rich storyline exists beyond the comedic premise of the pilot, full of surprising truths and a poignant understanding about the frustrations of the modern American Dream.
How has the production exceeded your expectations?
Once Aaron McPherson signed on to direct, the entire production exceeded expectations. He brought in an absolutely incredible cast including his wife, Challen Cates. The opportunity to work with Matt Page and Alex Knight from YouTube’s ‘EnterTheDojoShow’ was also unbelievable – we were huge fans. Enter the Dojo was actually the series that inspired us to even begin making short films, and, ultimately, shooting this pilot. And that Aaron heroically got our childhood icon, Dolph Lundgren, to play the role of Herb, the town’s Jack‐of‐all-illicit-trades… we’ve seen the film a thousand times, and still can’t quite believe it.
Tell us about what a typical day on the set is like.
There was no real typical day, especially on a shoot this brief, but even bad day on a film set is better than a good day in almost any other profession. Night shoots can be brutal, but we were fortunate enough to have a cast and crew that really loved the script as much as we did. Five of our six shooting days were in Albuquerque, and four of those five were in a working diner we secured for a fairly modest fee. Since the diner was open from 7a-3p daily, we ran a 4p-4a schedule. I was thankful for our production designer Kendra Tuthill, who did a great job re-establishing continuity going into each night shoot. While I was in the trailer preparing sides or doing other paperwork that made me wish I had hired a production office coordinator, I felt pretty comfortable that the team we assembled had everything under control as we prepared for the first shot of the evening.
The first night of filming, the kitchen flooded. We had turned off the ice machine to avoid dealing with the noise in post and thought we’d created a defrosting catastrophe that would end up flooding the restaurant. Adam and I spent an hour frantically scooping filthy water from a hole in the floor with a plastic soda cup.
Turns out, not only did we not cause the problem, the flooding was so common that the restaurant had a daily maintenance plan to handle it. The cafe owner told us all this the next morning after he’d spent the night watching the Benny Hill-esque escapade on closed-circuit TV from the comfort of his home.
We built the bathroom on a sound stage at I-25 Studio, which was another great experience, and not only because it rained like hell the day we filmed there. I couldn’t imagine trying to do those scenes inside the bathroom at the diner – the size alone would have made it nearly impossible. The soundstage filming went so well we were actually able to move locations and knock out a few scenes back at the diner. With about 10 cast and crew members having flown out from LA, there wouldn’t be any opportunities for pickup shots beyond our five planned days in New Mexico.
Our director Aaron McPherson, DP Joe Colangelo, and 1st AD Ardy Carlson were thorough in their preparation before getting into the evening’s shoot, which allowed Ardy to keep a tight schedule – something that always helps maximize bang for your buck. The biggest task that Adam, Katie, and I had as producers were to handle the unexpected, and help our talented cast and crew stay focused. The most typical part of my day was throwing on really large headphones at 7a when I got back to the hotel – to watch the dailies, and drown out my roommate’s snores.
What is going to surprise people about the series?
The biggest surprise will probably be the depth of each character’s storyline. Subsequent episodes will test their mettle and expose who they are as human beings. Observations originally presented as harmlessly humorous will play out with serious, often devastating, repercussions.
Without giving anything away, what’s your favorite episode and why?
Episode Two, where we explore the complex life of small-town arms dealer, Herb (Dolph Lundgren). In the second episode, Herb kidnaps Ginger (Challen Cates) after discovering her lover, Tortilla (Jacob Young), has stolen Herb’s inheritance. Meanwhile, the cafe crew escapes into the desert to tend their wounds, search for a baby, and solve a crime.
When looking back on the production, what resonated with you the most and why?
Professionalism. From day one, Aaron brought confidence to the production that motivates the cast and crew and allowed the writing team to focus on telling the best story possible. This extended to the set and our all-night shoots. Aaron was always diligent, calm, and generous with the cast. The actors consistently brought high-caliber performances, and the crew labored non-stop to provide everything the production needed to be successful.
In your opinion, what scene in the series is going to blow people away and why?
The final, climactic scene of the pilot episode is my favorite part of the story. The twist of the reveal is bizarre, unexpected, and spectacularly funny while serving as a series catalyst, the moment that drives Pepper (Teri Reeves) to make a life-altering decision that will have dramatic repercussions and cause a ripple of detrimental consequences.
What did you enjoy most about the production?
Spending every day working on your own creation, and the opportunity to invest your time and energy making a high-level craft with artists you respect is incredibly motivating. Watching your ideas become a reality via the hard work and incredible effort of a truly talented, professional group of people is humbling, inspiring, sometimes nerve-wracking, but honestly a lot of fun.
Do you have anything else you would like to share about Broken Sidewalk?
Broken Sidewalk is the self-financed pilot for an unusual anthology series. It’s an unusual piece of dark comedy that’s both absurd and strangely real. It has dynamic, chaotic characters, tight pacing, and bizarre twists with a real, hard, sour heart of truth. A very relatable, everyday nightmare.
Do you have anything else you would like to share about your career?
I’m just really grateful for connecting with other great storytellers like Adam Luaces and Katie Neuner. Being on the set of Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West introduced me to Aaron McPherson and Brett Rickaby, two incredibly talented actors and acting coaches. When I moved to CA, I immediately took their acting classes. Watching their passion and dedication to honing the craft with fellow actors was just something I knew I wanted to be around. Seeing Teri Reeves completely transform a film like Tentacle 8 in just a few moments on screen, Matt Page in absolutely anything he has ever done… getting to choose who you go to work with each day is a blessing. And all of these people did it for the passion of storytelling. It certainly wasn’t for money of an experimental short film. I’m confident and excited that maintaining this approach to future projects will translate into more meaningful and fulfilling opportunities.
Thank you for chatting with us about Broken Sidewalk. I hope we can catch up in the future for another interview.
Thanks so much for sharing Broken Sidewalk with your readers!
Come check out the FirstGlance Film Fest Best Online Short Winner at the FirstGlance Film Festival on Friday, March 15th, 2019 at 5:30 –8:00 PM at the Laemmle Theater NOHO on Lankershim.
Stay up to date with Sanford Street’s Nathan Brimmer and Broken Sidewalk on social media:
Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/NathanRBrimmer
Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/nathanbrimmer
Instagram – http://www.instagram.com/nathanbrimmer
Featured Image Credit: The Sanford Street Writing Team: Katie Neuner, Adam Luaces, & Nathan Brimmer.
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