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BREATHE: An Interview with Brendan Lee

Please introduce yourself and tell us about your education and your interest in cinema.

My name is Brendan Lee. I am born and raised in New York City where I currently reside with my wife and daughter. After 11 years working as a Firefighter with the FDNY I went back to school to study Film. My experience as a film student at Hunter College only fueled my lifelong passion for cinema that has now led me to become a Writer/Director. When not helping my wife raise our beautiful 5 year old daughter, I spend my time writing and making movies using the “greatest backlot in the world”…the streets of New York City.

Seeing and reading what works aroused your interest in this medium, and as a result, what works do you owe your education in cinema to?

I was heavily influenced by the explosion of independent cinema in the 1990’s. My favorite works from that period include “The Brothers McMullen” by Ed Burns, Wes Anderson’s “Bottle Rocket”, and Richard Linlater’s “Before Sunrise”. There are, however, too many films that have influenced me to name here. From French New Wave classics like “The Lovers” to Hollywood Film Noir like “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “Laura”, I truly love all genres and style of cinema.

Tell us about your first project. What difficulties did you have in the beginning?

My first project was a semiautobiographical film that I made with a very small crew. I think the most difficult part about it was taking on too much responsibilty being the Writer, Director, and Actor. Film is a collaborative art, no question, and the more people to work with on set, the better the process and the better the picture.

Is it more important to have a budget, or to have the mind to find salvation solutions in critical situations?

I believe that a small budget or no budget at all can be a blessing in the sense that it can fuel creativity. On my first film, I didn not have the budget for locations, sets, cast and yet a few script changes and being resourceful with my surroundings made for a much better production. I believe it was Robert Rodriquez that said he wrote his classic film, “El Mariachi” by looking around his house and crafting the whole story from a guitar case, a turtle, and a motorcyle. That is the ultimate inspiration for any filmmaker.

Do you think film festivals help filmmakers?

I think film festivals are still the best experience for filmmakers. Especially in person! The few that I’ve been able to attend while having a film in the festival were magical because I got to meet so many other like minded filmmakers and learn about their stories and creative process. Likewise, online festivals are equally important because the world has shifted to streaming and mobile devices and these festivals are a great tool to catch the audience in this new viewing environment.

Tell us about film production companies. Can one, as an inquisitive filmmaker, count on production companies?

I think that at this moment anyone can be their own production company. Every filmmaker has the power to write, shoot, edit, and promote their own film in the palm of your hand. True independence is not relying on anyone to tell you how or when to tell your story.

How much of the future of cinema do you think is in the hands of powerful companies like Netflix?

Unfortunately, I think Netflix controls the future of cinema as well as other streaming powerhouses. They have taken advantage of monitoring viewing habits and coupled that with their own filmmaking structure that feels comforting and familiar to the targeted audience. I mean, doesn’t every Netflix documentary look and feel the same, regardless of the topic?

Is cinema, as some say, dead, and should we expect television and Internet broadcasts to be gaining more and more power?

I don’t want o believe that cinema is dead although it makes me sad to be pondering this question. I still enjoy sitting in a dark movie theater for 2 hours. Sadly, sometimes I feel as though I have the theater all to myself, which I suppose is more comfortable, but that is not the idea. I make films with the hope that someday they will be shown on a big screen in a dark theater. As long as that possibility exists then cinema is not dead.

What skills do you think a filmmaker needs to have? Is it necessary for the filmmaker to personally understand many specialized subfields?

I think a filmmaker needs to be experienced in many skills. Writing is essential for me as a filmmaker and a skilled writer is usaully a well read person so in that sense I would say a filmmaker, and all human beings for that matter, should read whatever they can get their hands on.

Tell us about your next project, please.

My next project is going to be my first Feature! It is called THE CLADDAGH and it is another semiautobiographical story about my own journey as an artist and how I met and fell in love with my wife. It is a story about a young Irish-American writer who falls in love with a Colombian photographer on vacation in New York while at the same time he is trying to save his family’s Irish Pub from being sold to powerful real estate developers. I guess I believe mostly in “write what you know” and that the best films and stories for that matter don’t come from comic books or pulp novels, but from the heart. This film is going to be my most ambitious project to date, yet I still plan on keeping the independent spirit that has always inspired me. Production will take place this June in New York City. The story is set in the New York City borough of Queens, my hometown and one of the most diverse locations in the entire world. For more information on the film you can visit my website.


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