Bradley Hasse Sings To The Sloths
By Alixandra Rutnik on Mar 12, 2020
YG10 winner and director shoots his first feature-length film
"It's never too late to follow your dreams." Yeah, that sounds a little cliché, but in the case of director and Young Guns 10 winner Bradley Hasse, it's also the truth. After years of shooting commercials and creating shorts about everything from our obsession with our smartphones to a Planet of the Apes dance party, Bradley has finally thrown caution into the wind and created his first feature-length film. "Songs for a Sloth" is a quirky comedy whose message is — yes, "it's never too late to go after your dreams."
As a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the film's post-production winds down, we got Bradley to fill us in with more details about his journey through it all.
Normally you create short films and videos, so what made you try your hand at a longer format project?
When I saw that my grey hair would soon outnumber my other hair, I figured it was time to stop procrastinating and finally go after one of my major life goals– to make feature films. All the commercials, shorts, and music videos I have done were great training for this larger project.
My thought process behind prepping for a traditional 30 second spot and this 90-minute feature was not much different. I like to come prepared to set, have the entire cast and crew be informed on each step we’ll take, and often do tests ahead of time.
I recently did a campaign with Dos Equis where we built a gameshow at a Texas A&M football tailgate party. We were all curious how the sketches of the stage would look in real life; I decided to mock it up with practical props (chalk outline on the ground, cardboard walls, my kid’s desks) and take photos along with some photoshop help (finishing the cardboard walls so that they were the right size, cloning myself as each of the characters, and also enlarging one of these clones so that the height would match our host exactly). I presented it to everyone involved, so that they could see where we were going before we all flew out to the location.
I used this same prepping mentality for “Songs for a Sloth,” but I put all of my efforts towards the arc of the story and the tone of the characters. We did a few table reads that always ended in long discussions and major rewrites. On top of that, we did a “table read” on location with the actors roughly blocked out, reading from the scripts in hand; I filmed one wide shot of each scene with a little point-and-shoot camera. When we finished I had a really crappy test feature film that we could all watch and understand how the pace and arc would feel. This allowed for one last “mulligan” before doing the actual shoot. We learned a ton from this and showed up ready to go.
I love improv, so I’m super flexible to change lines at any point in the process. The actors, cinematographer, and crew members DID plus it up in the moment. I’m always thankful for the process to come alive once we are actually in production.
You're not just directing this, but you're co-writing it with Richard Hollman. With filmmaking being such a collaborative process, how have you assembled your team for this one?
Rich and I met a few years back when I made a short film called Texting Hat that he was featured in, and that started the discussion to one day make a feature together.
I love co-writing because part of the process becomes more physical than when writing alone all the time. In a room together, Rich and I are often mimicking the characters we are writing, pacing while brainstorming, and discussing everything with energy and excitement. You feel like you are playing in an actual scene and you get some performance adrenaline from that; a joke is told and you actually laugh out loud rather than “LOL” quietly to yourself.
We also work remotely and individually write up portions of the screenplay. We have a good thing going in that neither one of us have an ego in this process. We’ll both put up a good fight if we like an idea, or dislike an idea, and we won’t drop it until we’re convinced otherwise and we are really happy with the direction we are taking. Once that happens, you’ll hear one of us simply pause, think for a moment and go, “ok yeah I get it, you’re right,” and then we’re onto the next thing with no bad blood in the process.
"In a room together, Rich and I are often mimicking the characters we are writing, pacing while brainstorming, and discussing everything with energy and excitement."
We wrote this film quite frantically; It was mid-March 2019 and we committed to this micro-budget/DIY idea. We started from scratch on a concept and planned to be finished with a shooting script by July 1. Rich did a lot of the heavy lifting on the writing itself and cranked out a much higher page count than me. We structured the whole thing together; he’d be working on a scene and I’d jump ahead and outline the next few scenes in paragraph form so that when he got there he could rip through another scene– a game of leapfrog.
Making a feature film, all within 11 days in a single location with the goal of hitting an average of eight pages per day, with just a handful of people is crazy. Rich brought in actors that he already knew, which included Brian McCarthy, Ava Eivenson, and Arian Moayed. The chemistry was already there among them which allowed them to hit the ground running. I’ve done a lot of projects with Andy Whitlatch who came on as our cinematographer and Kevin Deming as our gaffer; we already knew how to get through scenes quickly together and still get a high-quality look. Grayson Ross from Pudding Boy Productions came on to produce it and he was the backbone of everything coming together. A few others joined as “all hands on deck” collaborators, wanting the experience of being involved in a feature, and they helped make this all possible. It was a beautiful journey and by far one of the best collaborative experiences I’ve had in my entire career.
My advice to all budding screenwriters is to take the craft seriously. Rich has written a lot of plays and I have written a lot of short films, music video concepts, and campaigns, but we didn’t have any formal training in feature screenwriting. We humbly took a lot of time to study that– read books, studied films, took workshops, sought out advice. We finally got into writing after we felt like we had a better grasp on the topic. I don’t think it was a step that we could have skipped.
"We structured the whole thing together; he’d be working on a scene and I’d jump ahead and outline the next few scenes in paragraph form so that when he got there he could rip through another scene– a game of leapfrog."
One of my mentors, Babak Payami, recommended an exercise where we find films that are a remake of another and learn about the similarities in the plot that way. For example, if you watch a Streetcar Named Desire and then Blue Jasmine, you’ll see that structurally they are basically the exact same film; Blue Jasmine is just a modern take on Streetcar. Then when working on your own project you research the structure of similar films and learn tricks along the way on how to keep things moving along. Mix inspiration together from a few select films (or books, music, paintings, etc.), and you’ll have an original piece on your hands that is built upon a solid base.
So talk to me about this sloth vision. There has to be a reason why you dreamed up the idea of having a dream of a talking sloth… what is it?
I’m a big fan of magical realism, everything from films like Field of Dreams to books by Haruki Murakami. I’ve been given the same advice many times– that you should make the film you want as your first one because you may never get a chance to film another again.
"The film is autobiographical in the sense that both Rich and I felt like we waited too long to go after our dreams of making movies for a living."
Our main character needed a guru to get him through the film, and given the location with surrounding trees, an anthropomorphic animal seemed right. I’ve done a few projects with puppets in the past and I always loved their interaction with the real world, capturing what feels a bit like a cartoon practicality.
The sloth plays into the idea that some of us are slow-moving in life. The film is autobiographical in the sense that both Rich and I felt like we waited too long to go after our dreams of making movies for a living. The main character in the film (played by Rich) goes through a similar situation with a passion for playing music. We hope this film speaks to people who feel like they are leaving something on the table in life and that it inspires them to get out and make something happen on their own.
“Songs for a Sloth” felt both literal and symbolic, so it stuck when it was first mentioned as a potential title. While on the surface the main character is making songs for a sloth for a fundraiser, deep down he’s making these songs for himself. The main character is a slow-moving (when it comes to goals in life) person who just needs to get back on track.
The overarching message of this film is that it's never too late to go after your dreams in life which is a beautiful and inspiring message for everyone to take in and internalize (everyone do this, please). Elaborate on how you make this idea come to life in this film.
We both grappled with the idea that the train left the station to pursue our dreams and now it’s too late. Responsibilities (careers, bills, kids!) have a way of slowing down the more adventurous side to one’s spirit. I won’t repeat my whole director’s statement here, but there’s a lot of autobiographical elements to the film.
I’m good at cranking out shorter personal projects. By the time I feel guilty for “wasting” so much time making something silly, I’m already finished and I can move back into client based work. On a bigger project like this film (which has taken so much more time than anything else I’ve ever done in my life), there’s no release from that emotion and I just have to confront it. It’s ok for me to put so much time into this, because it’s something that I believe in and I want to get out and into the world.
After this film makes it through the post-production phase, what’s the goal?
We’re currently entering “Songs for a Sloth” into film festivals (you can enter before everything is 100% locked), and then we will go towards self-distribution. This film does have an audience out there, we just need to find it. It’s for people who have the philosophy that it is never too late to go after your dreams in life.
"While the themes speak more towards adults, it’s still family-friendly that can be watched with kids in the room. Mine (3 and 7 years old) get a kick out of it. The film is reaching towards being a live-action Pixar film!"
“Songs for a Sloth” is a fast-paced, comedic film, that has good music, absurdity with sloth dreams, and relatability with family rivalries– it’s a fun movie. While the themes speak more towards adults, it’s still family-friendly that can be watched with kids in the room. Mine (3 and 7 years old) get a kick out of it. The film is reaching towards being a live-action Pixar film!
Explain to us the whole Kickstarter angle. Is this the first project you have promoted on Kickstarter?
This is our first time using Kickstarter. We decided to do it to get finishing funds for the project that can go towards post-production, festival entries, PR and marketing, and eventually self-distribution (if we find that it’s best to go that route).
We hired a consultant/guru of sorts, “The Kickstarter Guy” to help us map out a plan for the campaign. Within a few days we were nearly 50% funded for our total goal, and what we’ve come to realize is that it’s not only about raising money, but also it’s about finding your audience in the process. We’ve seen how people are connecting with the theme of the movie and we feel like it’s the first step to market it.
This campaign has meant a lot to us, because we’ve all gotten back in touch with long lost friends in the process. It’s been uplifting to have people that I’ve lost touch with respond with donations, words of encouragement, congratulations on finally making this dream a reality, and sharing our project.
What other projects are on the horizon for you?
“Songs for a Sloth” will be a standalone movie, something I hope people will really enjoy watching, but it’s also a proof of concept for what can be done next with more resources. Rich and I are both outlining a few more features together that we’d need to get some proper funding for; we are also working on our own individual stories. We both want to keep growing as filmmakers.
I’m not quitting my “day job” in the meantime– I’m still directing commercials and branded projects. The more I get into narrative work though, the more I hope opportunities open up in the advertising scene for me where the content has a longer story arc with more in-depth character development.
Young Guns winners and One Club for Creativity Members get featured here on the One Club website and across our social media channels. Have a new project you'd love to share? An upcoming exhibition and you'd like us to help spread the word? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.