Austin Comedy Short Film Festival
Fall 2017 Official Selection
Damn Bro!, Directed by Travis Frick
The comedy short film directed by Travis Frick, Damn Bro!, is an official selection of the Austin Comedy Short Film Festival Fall 2017. Justin Hurtt-Dunkley was named the winner of the "Best Supporting Actor" Award. This eight minute (8:03) short film was warmly accepted by the Austin Comedy Short Film Festival audience. There were more serious tones and issues to the film, but with good light hearted moments that the crowd appreciated. Excellent acting performances by Moses Ntekereze and Justin Hurtt-Dunkley took this high school dramedy to another level.
Damn Bro!: Film Synopsis
A Haitian-American, high school student is bullied by a star basketball player into doing his homework and digs in, doing the hard work for both of them, yet learns that helping someone, even when you break the rules, has its own rewards.
Travis Frick: Director's Biography
Travis grew up in Kansas City in the 80s and 90s, where he got his start editing news stories for the ABC affiliate. He has also edited Born in the USA: Muslim Americans, a documentary about Muslim Americans who faced discrimination in the wake of 9/11. For seven years he taught public, high school English in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Travis received his MFA from the University of Southern California, School of Cinematic Arts
Travis Frick: Director's Statement
Eight years ago I was learning how to become an English teacher in Brownsville, Brooklyn. In my freshman class, most boys were reading at least three grades below grade level and almost all had made it to high school without finishing a single book. What happened in boys’ education prior to high school was a mystery to me. But through hard work, many of these boys would read their first book in my class. However, most of them would shoot for the lowest possible passing grade, a sixty-five.
Travis Frick: Director's Statement Continued
Last year a former student of mine Paul Agenor reached out to me through social media and told me he was bullied by a basketball star into doing his schoolwork during my class. He told me how they managed to beat the state tests. In his experience, testing, rather than a measure of what a student actually knows or could perform, was a hurdle to graduation that was easily jumped over. As a teacher I had struggled with test prep and resented the fact that the NYC DOE heavily bought into this mis-measurement of its students, rather than addressing the real needs and concerns of its students.
With my own memories of teaching, I collaborated with Paul in telling his story. Paul was insistent that we take a light, comedic tone because he didn’t blame the bully for what he did but rather blamed the system for advancing the bully through school without developing his skills or addressing his needs. In the end he was happy to earn the bully a scholarship—this film explores how some members of our community need help to gain access to a higher education and how deeply intertwined money is in both gaining access and barring students from college.
Damn Bro!: The Story Behind the Story
We caught up with the director Travis Frick, for a behind-the-scenes look at the production of this comedy film.
- Why did you think that your film was a good fit for the Austin Comedy Short Film Festival? "Damn Bro! is a high school comedy and we are thrilled to play in Austin, particularly at a festival featuring comedy shorts."
- What inspired you and your team to make this film and how did you come up with the title? "The two writers are a former high school student and his English teacher. When we reconnected years later we found that our experiences of the same events in our high school were incredibly different. While the teacher was learning how to prepare kids for the state test, the student was being bullied by another student to take the test for him--all in the same classroom. Together, we wrote a story about the challenges of getting an education in a high school in NYC. The title expresses the absurdity of the main character's situation."
- What made the actors interested in being a part of your film? "Early on, we were encouraged by several readings with both professional writers and actors. Through their critiques and the guidance of a writers' workshop, we sharpened the writing. The actors, Justin Hurtt-Dunkley and Moses Ntekereze were drawn to the story."
- How were you able to get the locations for your film? "Shooting in an actual school was a top priority for the production. Because the New York City Department of Ed vets every screenplay and many of the schools that we approached did not want to risk an association with a short film, we approached the building where the director had once taught. Through several months of negotiations we were finally able to convince the building's administrators to grant us permission to shoot there over two weekends."
- Can you talk about your sources of funding and favors that you received to complete this film? "Because the director has worked primarily as a high school teacher for the last dozen years, the short was paid with his earnings. Every decision was made in terms of how much it would cost and what value an option would bring to the production. To keep costs down, we employed real teachers in the many of the teacher roles and real students in the background roles. We also had a bare bones crew, with many wearing several hats. For example, our production designer Lizzy Beth Elkins also created the costumes."
- Has creating this short film helped the careers of the people involved in any way? "We are still early in its festival run, so we hope so!"
- What were some of the challenges that you encountered while making this film? "Every crew member was given a note between the first and second weekend of filming. We asked for looser performances from several of the cast and we wanted the camera to be intuitive, like a character stepping into a scene and sometimes getting a closer look. We reshot at least one shot from every scene in order to layer the story with this new style and create the feeling of the camera actually being a character in the story. The camera crew experimented with a handheld fluid camera (using a rig) and a moving, selective focus. Like eyes picking and choosing where to look, the camera's focus moves by selecting various points of interest within the scene."
- In what city and state was this film shot on location? If outside the US, what city and country? If multiple places, please list them. "New York City, New York"
- Can you tell us about a time when something really funny happened on set, that didn't get caught on camera? "An actor punked us by taking his sweatshirt off at different points during during a scene, but never at the same point. Knowing that we didn't have a continuity person, he said it would be fun cutting that scene together! We had to zoom into shots, reframing in post, in order to avoid the jumps between his sweatshirt being on or off. Or not cutting at all! When we asked him why in the fifteen different angles and takes he never repeated the same action at the same time, he said because he's Artist he was trying to take his jacket off in a different way each time! Kids!"
- Can you list any awards, nominations or official selections for this film? "Official selections at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival, Boston International Kids Film Festival, and Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival."