A few years ago, Garrett Bradley began taking Greyhound bus trips from her home in New York down to New Orleans.
“I sort of was drawn here for some reason that I don’t think at the time I was really fully cognizant of,” said Bradley. “There was no kind of concrete reason.”
On these cross-country trips, Bradley would talk to her fellow passengers, asking them about “what it is they wanted in life and where they were going and how they planned on getting what they wanted.”
She ended up with long transcripts of these conversations and an idea for a movie that she took with her to film school at UCLA. But after two years in California, she began to feel that odd gravitational pull coming from New Orleans once again. So she left. “I just put a bunch of stuff in my car and drove across the country and actually lived up in Lafayette for about two months,” she said, “and then moved down to New Orleans and met people really quickly, just like people do when they come down here.”
She turned those Greyhound transcripts into a screenplay, and then set out to tap into the vaunted New Orleans film scene she’d heard so much about to get her movie made.
“It was something that I had been told, that film was something that was happening here," she said. "There was an industry for it and therefore a level of support for independent filmmakers, that was my understanding.”
But that’s not exactly what she found.
“When I got here I didn’t feel that that was so true. There wasn’t any casting director really who I thought was particularly interested in what I was doing. They were shooting really big films and that was cool, but they were like, ‘Sorry, I don’t know what this is you’re doing but we’re not going to get into it.’”
So Bradley took matters into her own hands. Her film has three main characters based on three distinct archetypes that kept showing up on her Greyhound trips: a single mother trying to do something bigger with her life; a young black man with a criminal record trying to gain legal employment; and a wealthy, college educated kid who doesn’t know what to do with himself.
“I went to Craigslist, and I said, ‘Are you one of these three people?’ I’d put flyers up in front of federal buildings or across the street from federal buildings. I went to women’s clinics, I went by college campuses, and then I sat at Hey Café pretty much every day from like 9 to 6 p.m. for several months, and met almost hundreds of people who fit this demographic.”
She eventually found her three actors, only one of which had any prior acting experience. She assembled a seven-person crew, raised a few thousand dollars through Kickstarter, and spent 16 days shooting her film. After that, she spent about two and a half years in her bedroom editing her film, Below Dreams.
The movie premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Fest in New York and follows three people living in New Orleans trying to get their lives on track, but who run up against some harsh realities.
"It’s about wanting something that’s really close but that you can’t quite get."
The film is shot verité documentary style, and Bradley says some people mistake it for a documentary. That blurring of the lines is just fine with her.
"It’s a narrative but it’s dealing with real issues, and so as a filmmaker it was about picking three people who I thought could speak to a large demographic but then also experimenting with a new way of engaging with film, a new way of engaging with narrative that’s neither this nor that, that can’t be pinned down in the same kind of way."
So if that means some viewers might be put off by such a long shot, well, so be it, says Bradley.
"That’s also the nature of filmmaking, or making art is sort of like this game, this play, you create things and people can engage with it in different kinds of ways — and they may dislike or they may like it, but there’s a feeling that elicited and that’s kind of the whole point."