Greenpoint local Ron Brodie is a freelance independent filmmaker and creative consultant who has lived in the neighborhood for the last five years and used these streets as a backdrop in scenes in his recently released short film, JUMPMAN. A few blocks from that filming location, at Franklin Street’s Moonlight Mile (200 Franklin St), we chatted about filming on 35mm, why Greenpoint feels like a creative utopia and the project that started as a nod to the 35th anniversary of the Air Jordan sneaker and ultimately became about where following any dream can take you.
Greenpointers: Where did the idea for this project first come from?
Ron Brodie: My Director of Photography John Schmidt had come to me with this idea of paying homage to the Jordan sneaker turning 35. His idea was to shoot a 30-second spec commercial and he wanted to shoot on 35mm. 35 years and 35mm, it makes sense, right? I have a commercial background so I think he trusted me with this endeavor and thought we’d make a good, collaborative team. I came back to him and said, ‘We have an opportunity, why don’t we make a short film out of this?’. So the elements inspired by Jordan are still present, but the place I suggested we bring it to was a retrospective look at ourselves and maybe even our generation. Whereas a lot of kids dreamed about becoming Michael Jordan and being excellent, world-class basketball players, we’re still passionate about becoming amazing filmmakers. Whether we could be Jordan, or David Fincher or Steven Spielberg that is a little bit of a gamble and we’ll see where we land, but at least we have a dream and a passion.
GP:When did you shoot the film?
RB: We shot the film in September 2015. We then did some pick up shots in the studio in November that year and then we re-wrote the script in 2016. We had a lot more footage that we’d fallen in love with. The structure of our film makes it a little bit different. It has a unique twist, it’s a little bit experimental and it doesn’t necessarily follow all the norms of beginning, middle and end. It has an open ending that lets you decide where it goes from there. I also think that this film has a commercial feel as well as a narrative because it’s somewhere between a trailer and a commercial. I’d shot on 16mm before, but I’d never shot on 35mm and neither had John and that’s what sparked him to come to me to ask if I’d write something that we could do on 35mm that would pay homage to a big subject. The response has been great and it’s provided some great opportunities to collaborate and work with other people.
GP: Can you talk about the locations you used and what the Greenpoint location added to the story?
RB: We filmed all over the place. We were all over Brooklyn and all over Queens. We shot in Prospect Park, Queensbridge in the projects and Williamsburg. I think that some of the best scenes though were filmed in Greenpoint right up here on Franklin and Dupont. It’s a triangular park and they have a couple of basketball courts and this beautiful view of the skyline of the city looking north. There’s a scene where the lead actor Curtis is carrying a boombox and meeting his friends and there’s this amazing hole in the fence. It leads us to this scene where we have the World Trade Center in the background which we put in to give it this nostalgic, throwback, period feel. Without that scene in Greenpoint, and without that discovery of the hole in the fence, I don’t think the film would have had the same feeling of these kids with this access that was paramount. That one scene was so clutch for setting up this 1990s period, because if you look up and down in Williamsburg, everything’s built out now and it looks like Manhattan or the West Village, but having these kids go through that hole in the fence was almost like a portal to another era. I think Greenpoint was synonymous with helping us achieve that period nature.
GP: How did you cast the film?
RB: Daequan Morrison is a young actor who was a really great lead and he had appeared on shows like The Get Down. We did open casting and we saw a lot of kids. Daequan really embodied this self-reflective young individual. Both John and I thought he looked good, as well as having some basketball chops. When you’re dealing with sports and actors, you can either get a star athlete or a really great actor and I think we got a marriage of the two. Also, I’ve got to highlight Kwabena Brenya because he started out as an associate producer on the film who found us some basketball talent and taught us how to shoot basketball players, but ended up serving as the older voiceover in the film. He has the distinctive voice and he brought a lot to the retrospective vibe of the film.
GP: The film has an original hip hop score. Who did you work with on the soundtrack?
RB: People have really responded to the soundtrack. The music was done by my older brother who goes by DJ Winterman. He’s older than me by 8 years so he came up in the 90s and I knew he’d have the perfect music for this. All of my siblings went to Howard University in D.C. and my older brother, he came up in an era when Puff Daddy went to Howard. He was going to school there when my sister was there, but dropped out right before my brother was there. I knew my brother would have the sound that would give us another layer of authenticity, along with filming on 35mm and the wardrobe by our amazing stylist, Tara Denman.
GP: Family and community seem to play a big role in what you do and how you work?
RB: I was born in the States and I’m the youngest of four. All of my siblings were born in the States, but my parents were immigrants from Jamaica and that’s where my passion and dreams come from because my Dad decided to come here in the 70s and he started a life for us. My wife, Sohee Sohn did the compositing of the World Trade Center which really made the period striking. She always does this subtle-touch VFX. We found a picture of the World Trade Center that really fit with our framing. It was a big team effort. Our editor Caitlin Carr really buttoned it up and made it into a holistic, finished piece and Daniel Silverman who did the color really married one image to the next and in this case, we decided we wanted film to feel like film and video to feel like video and he gave us a color treatment that helped us to sell that vibe.
GP: What does living in Greenpoint add to your creative life?
RB: My twin brother Don Brodie is a photographer and he lives around the corner on Greenpoint and Franklin. We try to collaborate as much as possible. I’ve been living in Greenpoint going on 6 years now. I think it’s the best neighborhood in New York. When I first came up to Greenpoint I thought it was so far, but now that I’ve lived here for five years, I feel like it’s a little slice of paradise. People are still real in Greenpoint. I have a neighbor who is a musician and in passing we always see each other and we recognize that we’re creative individuals who are always on the move. Today I was late because I offered to help him edit a film that he had shot on Super 8 for some music that he’d done. There are so many creative individuals in this neighborhood who are real and you just meet those people at Moonlight Mile or Oak & Iron or Pencil Factory. Greenpoint feels like one of the last neighborhoods where people are really passionate about what they’re creating and doing.
GP: Can you talk about the dedication you included on the film?
RB: After the film was finished, I decided to dedicate the film to another filmmaker, Alex G who was alive at the time of shooting the film. After the film was complete, taking into account where I thought the true story was in terms of that passion and that drive to see how far a dream can take you, it reminded me of my friend Alex, who passed away tragically in the Ghost Ship Fire in Oakland, California. He grew up in Brooklyn and he’d moved to Oakland to pursue his career as a director and he was rising exponentially.
GP: What’s next for Jumpman?
RB: We just released the film in September and if you’d asked John or our producer Tessa Travis or myself then we would have said we were done with the film, but a lot of people have said to us that it’s cool and it feels like a trailer. We have a great actor and there is a style to the film editorially and visually. Is there a longer story to be told? A lot of people have asked that. I’m interested in expanding the story, but there is also a lot of beauty in it being short and sweet. It is a story where maybe kids today might not know Michael Jordan or they may ask why a kid would be obsessed with a sneaker, so maybe people need to see this story again and be reminded of dedication and following a dream.
GP: What do you hope viewers take away from spending a few minutes with these characters?
RB: I hope people are reminded of a feeling that a collective population once had. Not even that it’s Jordan, but that an individual can become larger than life and inspire everyone that comes after. It’s a dare to dream, as clichéd as that sounds.