Martha’s Vineyard, MA (December 10, 2021) – CASE STUDY: Somewhere with No Bridges
• Title: Somewhere with No Bridges
• Genre: Documentary
• Writers: Charles Frank and Nico Bovat
• Director: Charles Frank
• Producers: Charles Frank, Andrew Hutcheson and Jeff Melanson
• Cinematographer: Jeff Melanson
Development and Financing
Production on Somewhere with No Bridges officially began in July 2017 and finished in February 2019 and the festival premiered at BENDFilm festival in July 2020. Completely self-financed from profits sourced from Voyager, the production company that director Charles Frank and producer Andrew Hutcheson have ran for 6 years.
Andrew says their production budget was flexible from the beginning as often is the case with documentaries.
“I think we had no idea what it was going to cost to film that when we got started. We started production in 2017, five years have passed and we’re still technically working on it. So we had to continually adjust what was being spent.”
“We started the company as a way to sustainably make the films that we wanted to make. And we’ve been setting aside portions of project budgets and our profit from them to fund the film.“
Developing Somewhere with No Bridges began as director/writer Charles Frank’s attraction to a place that held a special place in his heart.
“I’ve always sort of felt a special type of spiritual feeling there. It’s kind of hard to put into words but a lot of people that go to the island, Martha’s Vineyard, where the film takes place kind of feel this attraction to it.”
Production of the film started with visits to the island with the goal of capturing that intangible spirituality. With a skeleton crew of just two, the filmmakers eschewed conventional filmmaking methods in favor of a loose shooting schedule.
“We had some loose concepts in terms of what we were making such as tourism and how it affects the community. But as we started filming and discovering it in person, stories of my cousin just inevitably came up. We’d go to softball games, then go out fishing with local fishermen and without even planning my cousin’s name came up all the time.“
With only two crew members for the majority of the shoot and a loose shooting schedule, Frank needed to adopt a free-form way of shooting.
Frank said, “I got some really good advice from another filmmaker who lives part-time and Kate Davis is a great documentary filmmaker, and she was like, if I could give you any advice, it’s just, you know, trust a central theme.”
Frank’s cousin, Richie, almost became a mythical figure in the film, akin to a local hero to the island. Over time, it occurred to the team that the film needed to focus on Richie’s legacy.
“It became a film about how we grieve a loss and deal with being a father. It also became a film about the island’s remembrance of Richie.”
Production ended up much more streamlined than first envisioned. Frank and the team would essentially edit the documentary alongside the filming to structure the narrative.
“Our editor was working through the footage and trying to make sense of everything as we went which helped shape our direction as we went through. And then eventually, we were done with filming and we spent a few months just kind of pulling all the pieces together and sharing it with friends.”
Early on, Frank had to conceptualize many themes to focus the narrative on. A few of the themes were, the weather and the four distinct seasons, the ebb and flow of the ocean, the father and son dynamic and bereavement.
“We would show up to places that felt like those themes would be prevalent, so we filmed little tiny, microscopic shellfish at a Hatchery. We saw their life cycle when we filmed the trees and the leaves coming off that. These scenes became valuable once the narrative became clearer.”
While Frank had directed several documentaries before, they were all in short form. Somewhere with No Bridges is his first foray into a feature-length documentary film and it turned out that there were some key differences.
“I think making a short provides a lot of satisfaction in the ability to realize a concept because the shoots can be short. Making a feature is really like a marathon. Completing a feature is a lot about how you manage your satisfaction levels as there will be many peaks and troughs.”
The shooting day of a documentary feature can vary wildly. Unlike shooting narratives, documentaries really can be an all-day affair to capture the fleeting moments that arise.
“We would pick a window of time, and during that window of time our cinematographer and I would go to the island and we’d just live there for that period. We didn’t shoot every day but when we did sometimes it would be a 10 hour day. But sometimes we’d only shoot for three. It all depended on the comfort level of our subjects”.
Andrew Hutcheson (Producer) would initially set up the shooting days remotely while the editor would parse through the hard drives remotely. That left only Charles and Jeff, the cinematographer and composer, on the island as the production crew.
“It was such a unique experience because Jeff was also the composer so he brought a lot of his instruments to the island and was writing music based on just the feeling of what we were filming.”
Frank and his team had a slate of film festivals they planned to attend following the completion of post-production. In addition to the pre-planned screenings, they reached out to many industry professionals requesting attendance in person.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic had other plans.
“All the festivals started to fall like dominoes after SXSW was cancelled. A lot of festivals reduced the number of films that they were going to make available online with a smaller run than I think we would have hoped for. However, we did pick up the Audience Award at our first festival, and that was a big part of putting some wind beneath the wings for the film.”
As Frank’s first strong effort into documentary feature filmmaking, it left him and his team with a host of lessons.
“I think the biggest mistake someone can make is to wait and think too much about the idea to the point where they’re halted and frozen by it. I think it was a beautiful thing to be unsure about. And maybe this applies mostly to the documentary but to be unsure of what I was making and to be okay with that and allow me to just start creating and find it in the process.”
Bunker 15 reached out Somewhere with No Bridges played at BENDfilm festival in Oregon. After building a list of industry contacts they wanted to write about the film, they started to realize getting them to talk was a much harder task than first thought.
“Our odds of reaching quality reviewers were pretty low compared to what we saw from Bunker 15. Daniel and the team managed to generate a lot of buzz about the film. We had the 100% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. That drew a lot of attention for talks with distributors and folks that we wound up going with. Connecting with Bunker 15 certainly was a big watershed moment for us.”
VOYAGER is a production company purpose-built to support filmmakers.
Named after the original NASA program, Voyager is the vessel by which we explore and expand the boundaries of commissioned storytelling. They produce films ranging from broadcast commercials and branded content to original documentaries and narratives.