Sunday, November 6, 2011

One of the VFF11 Films: George Bradshaw on “Public Museum”

By James Latham
Among the several short films we’re screening this year is Public Museum, a comedy about a smug and jaded museum curator who’s been downsized. Dropped from a prestigious big city museum of natural history due to an exhibit he did on lesbian lizards, he finds himself in a “transitional job” at an oddball natural history museum somewhere in small-town middle America. Seeking to revive his career, he must confront an embarrassingly bizarre museum collection, an eccentric staff, and his own pomposity and fear of failure.

George Bradshaw wrote and directed Public Museum, and I wanted to talk with him about the film and some related issues, including his career in marketing and advertising. George has had over fifteen years of experience working as a Creative Director specializing in entertainment, fashion, and sports. Public Museum is his first film.

James Latham:  You’ve screened Public Museum at some other festivals, including Cannes’ Short Film Corner, and are now developing a feature-length version as well as a documentary on the contemporary democratization of art.  But your professional background is in marketing / advertising. What motivated you to go into filmmaking, and how has your background helped or challenged you in that process?

George Bradshaw:  Initially, what motivated me to go into filmmaking was watching Star Wars at a drive-in from the hood of my parents’ car in 1977.  The wish of someday working with / for George Lucas is also why I went to graduate school at Pratt Institute for my MFA in Computer Graphics.  I guess you could say I owe a lot of inspiration to the other “George.”  In the end, I chose a different path as a Creative Director on Park Avenue in the marketing world.  It was a great way to cut my teeth as a “big idea” generator, copywriter and business person, as well as the director of a group of talented creative people…all transferrable skills to filmmaking.

JL:  Is this a career change for you, or are you keeping the day job and adding filmmaking to your professional repertoire?

GB:  I currently divide my time evenly between being a creative director, filmmaker and songwriter.  I have so many creative ideas that I perpetually feel like I am running out of time.  At this moment, specifically, I am doubly focused on the film side because I am very proud of Public Museum and hope to bring joy to people by showing it.

JL:  It’s a little simple to say, but Public Museum sort of mixes aspects of Night at the Museum with Fargo. What inspired you to do this particular film?  Have you or your colleagues on the film worked much in museums, or lived in small-town America?

GB:  Firstly, I am humbled to be in the same sentence as those two terrific films. Thank you. The initial inspiration for Public Museum came from an art installation in Grand Rapids, MI called Michigan: Land of Riches, the great film This is Spinal Tap (obviously) and my own life as a New Yorker who moves to the mid-west.  My brief experience working in an actual museum was an internship at The Cape Ann Historical Association in Gloucester, MA, which is a terrific little museum.  But I did grow up in a family of artists and musicians in a small-town, and then spent many years in the Big Apple, so I have always been surrounded by art and culture.  I can’t tell you how many times I had to sing and/or play my guitar in front my whole family at Christmas!  Fortunately, I had my brother Robert Bradshaw to commiserate with, who has since gone on to become one of the world’s most recognizable living classical composers. He was gracious enough to do the music for Public Museum. Isn’t nepotism great?!

JL:  It can be.  Did you get to film in an actual museum?

GB:  We had the generous support of the Grand Rapids Public Museum, who granted access to their former headquarters – a historic Art-Moderne, WPA-era building – for our location. The building is extraordinary and added to Public Museum’s authenticity. It also became another very interesting character in the piece.

JL:  For the main character in Public Museum, his new job is a personal and professional hell.  But there are in fact advantages to working in small, obscure places. For instance, it can give you freedom to experiment and grow yourself and the organization without all the pressures, bureaucracy, and politics of a big institution. What’s your experience been with the merits of working in small and obscure vs. big and famous?

GB:  That’s a difficult question. There are merits and challenges to both. The philosopher Confucius said, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”  Nice work if you can get it.  Our main character, Spencer Cheese, would probably say that he prefers “big and famous” companies over “small and obscure” ones for the remuneration, growth and networking opportunities – none of which he has in his new job at Public Museum.  I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to work with huge, global clients during my days as an Executive Creative Director in a Park Avenue ad agency. I have been equally fortunate to juxtapose this experience with my newer experience working on short films and documentaries. Both provide fulfillment and enrichment for different reasons.

JL:  You screened the film at the Short Film Corner organized by the Festival de Cannes.  How does your experience there compare to the other festivals you've done?

GB:  It was truly an honor to be a part of Cannes in a small way. The Short Film Corner is a professional area not in competition. Public Museum has also screened at the Grand Rapids Film Festival, and we are very excited to be a part of The Valley Film Festival, too.  It is a privilege to screen at every festival because there are so many talented filmmakers making movies.  The good news is that there are a lot of festivals to choose from and advantages to screening at both small and large.  One might attract bigger names.  The other might be friendlier and more approachable.  I have only attended a few festivals, so I am by no means an expert, but every festival that I have taken part in has been run by a supportive community championing the art of filmmaking. The trick is to make a good movie and get in.

Another notable festival in which I have participated is the Nantucket Film Festival, which was an amazing experience.  My writing partner, Stephen Garvey, and I wrote a script called 9/11 Kevin that was honored with a staged reading in 2005.  We are currently working with Jace Alexander, Tom Cavanagh, Jim Gaffigan and their excellent teams to bring it to the big screen.

JL:  Are you planning to expand Public Museum into a feature?

GB:  I have a feature version idea that I am very excited about.  Hopefully, someone in the movie biz will see the possibilities in Public Museum (the great Paul Feig, are you out there?) and reach out.  But as Rick Page says, “hope is not a strategy,” so I am going to work really, really, really hard, too.

JL:  I worked for several years at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, first as an intern and then a gallery lecturer, and can say that your film does capture some of the oddities of museum culture.  But there are a lot more character types, issues, and situations that you could potentially mine for laughs. Any ideas for doing that?

GB:  I think that Spencer would join a Klezmer band that plays all Beatle covers called The Maccabeatles. Just kidding!  We have created a funny and interesting sandbox with Public Museum and I would welcome the chance to play in it for 90 minutes. There are a million ways to go because the museum world is so unique and ripe for parody. That said, it is also an incredibly relatable world because we have all had to negotiate the political waters of a job we hate at some moment in our careers. This is Spencer’s moment.

JL:  Tell us about the documentary you’re developing on the contemporary democratization of art.  What issues are you addressing?  What’s your POV?

GB:  This is a passion project of mine that will ask the question, “What is the public’s role in art?”  I am sure that if Spencer was asked, he would turn up his nose and snap, “None at all!” Coming from the point-of-view of an artist who wants people to experience and enjoy his work as much as possible, however, I’d have to disagree with him…respectfully, of course.


Public Museum will screen at the Valley Film Festival on Friday, October 11th, at 9:30 p.m., accompanied by the feature We Gotta Get Buscemi. To learn more about Public Museum, see its Facebook page. For more on George Bradshaw, check him out on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

For more on The Valley Film Festival, visit our website or Facebook page.

1 comment:

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.