Flint is bouncing back from the water crisis
10th January 2020 by Will Stewart
MadeGood – Please give me some background on yourself as a filmmaker, and how you got into making films.
Bradley Tangonan – My aunt gave me a Hi-8 when I was in middle school and I made my first video with it — an impromptu music video for a Weezer song that my best friend and I shot in my house. I later did a high school media program but lost touch with filmmaking during college because the school I attended didnʻt have a film major. After a stint as a cancer drug biologist, I taught myself digital filmmaking and tried to learn as much about narrative film as possible. Thanks to a chance meeting with someone I bought a camera from, I got a job doing corporate video and from there, became a freelancer and indie short filmmaker.
MadeGood – What was the genesis for Forged in Flint?
Bradley Tangonan – The Head of Square’s Creative Studio, Justin Lomax, invited me to direct “Forged in Flint” as an installment of the For Every Dream film series, which was created by Square and a production company called Even/Odd. The series consists of real-life stories of people whose entrepreneurship creates social and cultural impact in their communities.
MadeGood – Is this a typical example of your work?
Bradley Tangonan – “Forged in Flint” is typical of my work in one main respect: Most of the stories I work on can only be told with specific people in a specific place. I think the most powerful work is location and community-based, so I’ve shot films everywhere from my home island of Oʻahu in Hawaiʻi to Flint, Michigan to places abroad, such as Grasse in the South of France.
MadeGood – How was the process of deciding who was to be interviewed?
Bradley Tangonan – Erin Archuleta, the Director of Community Affairs at Square, happens to be from the Flint area and she spearheaded the effort to identify potential subjects for the project. Joel Rash, a Flint entrepreneur and long-time local community leader, also connected us with locals. The creative team at Square then did research to narrow down the list and we, as a group, pre-interviewed the remaining subjects.
We had many meaningful and insightful conversations with the people we interviewed and wish we could have included every voice; however, we also felt that too many separate threads would be hard to follow and might make it difficult to convey a cohesive story. Once we felt that we understood the central themes among the storytellers, we included all of the subjects whose individual stories formed the basis of the overarching idea.
MadeGood – The emphasis in Forged in Flint is on the impact small businesses have to a city’s culture and, specifically, the people that make up that culture, what do you think that impact is?
Bradley Tangonan – The people we spoke to all expressed gratitude for the outpouring of goodwill and financial and material assistance from the outside world. At the same time, most people recognized that the people of Flint are the ones who will remain once the dust has settled on the new cycle; as such, the people we interviewed, by and large, feel that the future of Flint hinges on their ability to strengthen the economic engine of the city. The community ties are important because creating jobs and living wages is a means toward an end, which is thriving together in the long run, socially, culturally, and otherwise.
MadeGood – There’s quite an extensive credit list on this film, especially for a short. Do you always work with a big crew? Please tell me a bit about the working relationship with the other people involved.
Bradley Tangonan – Every project is different and the crew size and makeup depends on the nature of the shoot. Our crew was lean compared to larger productions; but the way we operated was typical of most sets where different production departments work together. For example, lighting the concert scene at the end of the piece took a significant amount of rigging, since it was a large space. Luckily for us, the local Detroit-based crew were very experienced and efficient. They were able to help pull off what would normally have taken a much larger crew.
MadeGood – A lot of the people in the film are really inspirational, the motivation and energy they have. Did you find that being around them inspired your own filmmaking creativity in any way?ʻ
Bradley Tangonan – Flint has a special energy that comes from communal bonds. Spending time with the community and its business leaders, I saw firsthand the importance of the kind of relationships they foster. It inspired me to better connect with my own community, as well as seek out ways for me to reconnect with groups back home in Hawaiʻi.
MadeGood – What are you working on next?
Bradley Tangonan – I have a music video coming out that I shot in Vietnam with longtime collaborator Jeremy Snell, the cinematographer on “Forged in Flint.” I also have a short film set in Hawaiʻi that should be shooting in the first half of 2020. Hopefully, Iʻll be able to share those soon.