The neighborhoods of Brooklyn remain one of the most relevant sources on the East Coast for emerging talent, with no exception being made for director/editor/cinematographer Bryan Russell Smith. The recent School of Visual Arts graduate earned his B.F.A. in Film and has been up to a lot since. A filmmaker since high school, his passion has grown immensely over time and his transition to New York has generated opportunities for plenty of new work. While working production jobs in television he began collaborating with fellow SVA graduate Catey Shaw, who has gained notoriety as an indie pop artist after breaking out with the singles “Brooklyn Girls” & “Human Contact” last summer. Since that point, Bryan has put forth some of his best work in the form of eye-catching music videos that deliver a unique appeal to a growing audience. The success of these videos on YouTube has given Bryan an even stronger platform from which the world can watch. At the age of 23, he is already taking the next big step in his career with the start of a company of his own and seems to have much to look forward to.
When it comes to film, how competitive is Brooklyn, exactly? Are there are a lot of people your age doing what you’re doing?
It’s pretty competitive. So many talented people come to New York to try and do the same thing I’m doing. Though I wouldn’t say there are a lot of people my age in my field taking the same path as me. You see painters, illustrators, musicians and other artists in different mediums working independently with side jobs, not necessarily making money but still in control of their creativity. In film/production or whatever, a lot of people my age are starting out as Production Assistants on big sets and working their way up through the production route because its safer with a consistent paycheck. Not that that’s a bad thing, I’m just taking the approach more similar to those other artistic types I mentioned above. My new mantra is “I’d rather be a big gear in a small machine than a small gear in a big machine”.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten so far about making it in the film industry?
One of my past professors in college, Jeff Goldberg, told me is to create from your own passions and experiences. I used to try and write about shit I knew nothing about and it didn’t feel genuine. Making that switch was important for me.
Do you favor certain genres with your work, or are you open to anything?
I’m open to anything. Right now I’m working on a treatment for a rock/Americana band and it’s different than I’m used to but really exciting. I love doing the pop videos though because I love pop music and it’s fun. I’d really like to get into hip-hop videos as well.
Obviously music videos aren’t your only area of expertise, although you’ve definitely taken off with them. Tell about what else you do, and if you plan to keep making music videos?
I’ve made some short films and other short sketch like stuff in the past that I hope to continue, but I definitely want to keep making music videos. They’re just so high energy and the script is already there in the lyrics and melodies. It’s then my job to interpret the script/song into a video that matches the artist’s vision as well as my own.
Who has become your biggest inspiration, if anyone, since you started working in film?
I really admire Spike Jonze and David Fincher’s work. They both started as music video directors and now they’re two of the most celebrated and current feature film directors. Hopefully one day I can be half as good as them to start making transitions into bigger things.
Given any budget or resources you needed, are there any ideas/projects you’ve always wanted to create if you could?
Haha, SO MANY. Honestly I can’t pin point something specific because I feel like I want to do everything. But if I had any given budget, I’d hire a big crew. Right now I wear so many hats when it comes to my videos; I direct, edit, produce, write, create sets, color correct, buy props, build props, help style, etc. I’ve even made clothes for some of the videos. It’s exhausting. It’d be nice to eventually be able to delegate some of the work so I can focus mostly on directing and producing, but until then I’m happy to do whatever so I can get my vision across.
What are the biggest challenges you come across as a young director?
Getting taken seriously. I started making short films when I was 14 and I went to art school to study this specifically, so I know I’m really serious about it. But it’s convincing others to take me seriously that can be a challenge.
How did your work with Catey Shaw start? Where has it taken you?
Well we first met at a party in Bushwick about 5 years ago. We just like sat in a corner and smoked weed and talked about Arrested Development the whole time and just hit it off. Then I saw she was playing shows so I would go because I love live music and was blown away by how good she was. Eventually she did her video for “Brooklyn Girls” and we scouted the locations together and I helped produce it. After that she was just like, “do you just want to do the next video (Human Contact)” and I was like “DUH”. I’ve learned a lot about the music industry since then and have made a lot of new connections in the Brooklyn music scene because of her and I’m super thankful.
As for you – what comes next? Are you working on anything currently?
Well I just started a production company, Brush Media LLC, so I am in the process of developing and producing some new content for the web. One thing I am working on is creating a series where I can highlight the work of other independent artists trying to make it in their medium and follow their struggle and process. I’m also shooting a music video for an awesome band that I’m a big fan of in the coming weeks with more videos to come later this Fall. But I’m always looking for new people to collaborate with as well as working on my own shit. Being busy 24/7 is my newest goal.