BRYAN HOPKINS began shooting the feature documentary DIRTY ENERGY within a couple of years after graduating from Motion Picture Institute. The film delved into the impact the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster had on gulf coast fisherman. The film went on to screen at notable film festivals such at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, Cleveland International Film Festival and others, while winning a number of awards in 2012 and 2013. Bryan with his wife and new son relocated to Taiwan shortly after to pursue international filmmaking opportunities. Recently Bryan was approached by a colleague to shoot a promotional film for a school in Kenya, Africa called SUNRISE OF AFRICA SCHOOL. Bryan quickly found himself on a plane with camera and gear in tow to produce his next work.
1. How did the project come to be?
“Dirty Energy did really well as far as awards was concerned. We even got TV distribution by one of the largest documentary companies in existence (Cinema Libre Studio). I choose to take the time to retool, work on some other things, took a long view of how I would proceed. I relocated to Taiwan, and was writing here, when I got contacted by someone who worked on Dirty Energy whose grandmother had a private nonprofit. She reached out to me, wanted to see what we could do. It was an opportunity to kind of flex those muscles; an opportunity to make a small contribution to the world in a positive way. You can't really be a filmmaker if you're not making films.”
2. What were your locations like?
“I was flying into a country I'd never been before. I was going to be filming in conditions I had no prior knowledge of. My anxiety and my mind was really running rampant with all the potentials, so what I did was really try to focus on keeping light with gear that I could carry with me. I never knew what I was going to be up against. It was always something different, being a safari and being on a bus that's rocking back and forth, and trying to shoot on long lenses, and having issues with auto stabilizers. These were all location issues we didn't expect that we would face. Created a lot of challenges when we got in the editing room.”
3. What was your visual approach to the film? What kind of story were you trying to tell and did you achieve what he set out to do?
“The approach to the film was just to be deep, to be personal, and to try my best to really listen to what they had to say. And then just try to dig, and take things to wherever they were trying to go. That was the story I was trying to tell. In some ways I succeeded, and some ways not as much. I probably could have used more help, but unfortunately the budget was so low on the project it was difficult to do.”
4. What changes did he have to make if any?
“We had an original story that I had worked up when I was going there. An original plan of attack. Starting from day one, the whole thing got blown out of the water. It was disastrous for the first couple of days. I was sick to my stomach, because I really hadn't got a capstone interview, one that I could use as a through line. You need a conceptual through line that ties it together. If you don't have that interview that's a real problem. Originally, the plan was to follow four kids and to go through their lives and to show them all the way through. The problem is on the very first day when I came to do interviews with the kids, the kids had their father standing over them, and they had these kind of prepared recited talking points. The one girl, she had a mental breakdown and was completely and totally crying because she was so nervous. But you just keep filming and you hope that you when you get to the editing room you can tie it together.”
5. How long was the shoot?
“Fourteen days, with one day of recovery on both sides. We spent four days in a camp, a game preserve surrounded by zebras and giraffes, non-predatory animals. That was just amazing.”
6. What do you hope the outcome of the film will be?
“It was an honor to do this project and I would say anybody who gets an opportunity to do something like this should jump on it. Roughly for the cost of sixty dollars you can educate a young boy or girl, and they can avoid going through things like female genital mutilation or male circumcision, which they do at 8 or 9 years old. You don't have to go a far distant place to tell a story you can do it right in your own back yard. Basically if you're a storyteller, everyone's a story. You just have to figure out what is the angle- and that's it really."
"Every project has its challenges and I tend to be hard on myself because I want everything to be perfect, but given that I am working as an independent, I'm really happy with the final result. I know plenty of people who beat themselves up so much that they never put out anything or that their content is so limited. Be honest, be sincere, step back and create the best thing you can and next time raise the bar. It's really all you can do."