Bridget Smith: “Whatever makes you different or weird, that’s your strength”

New Directors — learn to edit! You don’t have to become a pro but trust me it will make you a better director. Editing films helped me tremendously behind the camera. I now know the value of insert shots, getting the right coverage, transition shots, knowing when you have it, knowing when you don’t, and most importantly […]

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New Directors — learn to edit! You don’t have to become a pro but trust me it will make you a better director. Editing films helped me tremendously behind the camera. I now know the value of insert shots, getting the right coverage, transition shots, knowing when you have it, knowing when you don’t, and most importantly knowing you don’t need 15 takes of the wide shot. That’s an important one to remember and your editor will thank you.

As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Bridget Smith.

Bridget Smith of Philly Born Films is a Director and Editor who creates a nurturing atmosphere for her actors to foster some amazing performances. In SNO BABIES, her first full feature film, she emerges from her native Philadelphia with an important mission and message — to save lives through the de-stigmatization of addiction and put focus on the benefits of recovery. Her work has been garnering positive reviews from press and families who watch SNO BABIES and is sure to inspire those trying to break into the film business.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in South Philadelphia, in a very tough, tight knit neighborhood, Rocky Balboa territory so to speak. I was the youngest of three, and probably the loudest, which if you knew my family, is really saying something. I attended 13 years of Catholic school, but grade school was the most difficult for me. I was pretty outspoken, even as young as five, and loved challenging ideas, rules, and people. I might have single handedly been responsible for a few nuns going into early retirement. Let’s just say they didn’t appreciate my sense of humor.

I was always a performer and a storyteller, even at a young age. I would recruit neighborhood kids, put on shows for family, friends and anyone who made the mistake of stepping foot into our home. I gave them no choice but to sit there and watch the masterpiece that I had created. It usually involved a little song and dance number accompanied by some improvisational scene work.

As I grew older, my passion for theater and film grew stronger. As a teenager my friends would come to my house and beg me to go out with them. Their interest was cute boys and mine was catching the latest indie flick at the Ritz with my parents. It was at that time when movies started resonating with me in a whole new way. Movies like Moonstruck, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and American Beauty affected me and left me yearning to create and tell my own stories.

It wasn’t until I was a freshman in college at Temple University that I took my first acting class, and auditioned for my first play. It was John Patrick Shanley’s “Italian American Reconciliation”. Auditioning for a play at Temple was as intense as auditioning for a Broadway production. Ton’s of competition, very cut throat, and only a handful of roles. Oddly enough, I was cast as one of the two women in the show, Janice, the tough, yet vulnerable female lead. This would be my introduction to “type casting”. If there was a “Janice” type role out there being cast, they would come find me. Needless to say that was it, I was hooked. I made a decision to pursue acting and there was no turning back.

I do remember struggling to find material that resonated with me. A lot of the plays and film scripts at that time had strong male roles, but I didn’t always identify with the female characters. They were very limiting, stereotypical and quite frankly not fun. I would have given anything for a role in Glen Gary Glen Ross by David Mamet. The dialogue was witty and fast paced, and I loved the colorful characters. Unfortunately, they were all men. That’s when it first hit me that this was a man’s world and I would have to fight for my voice to be heard.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Like I said, I was always a storyteller. At first, I did it through acting, and part of me still loves the performance aspect of it. While I was in the midst of the whole struggling actor thing, a friend begged me to try stand up comedy with her, something I had very little interest in doing. I gave it shot, and ended up doing the comedy circuit for years before landing a featured spot on Comedy Central’s long running series Premium Blend. That sparked my interest in writing. I produced several one-act festivals while living in NYC. It was so expensive to get the rights to one act plays, that I decided to make it an evening of “original” one acts. I started writing my own plays and opened it up to new playwrights. It was at this festival that I gave directing a shot, something I was secretly interested in doing. Needless to say, I loved it. I went on to direct several theater productions in NYC before meeting Mike Walsh. He was a screenwriter, and years earlier a pretty sought after one. Unfortunately, right when he was making his move to Hollywood with his family, his mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. He had to make a choice, and he chose family. He stayed in Philly and put his dreams on hold.

Mike and I hit it off immediately. We were both Philly born and had a lot in common, but it was our love of story telling that really connected us. Mike had a script that he wanted me to read, called Sno Babies. I remember the day he sent it to me. I actually had somewhere to be that day, but I was so curious that I wanted to at least start reading it. The problem was, I couldn’t stop. I ended up cancelling my appointment and finishing the script. I was an emotional wreck, and completely taken by this incredible story, and the journey it took me on. I called Mike immediately to tell him how blown away I was with his script. It was then that he said, “I’d love for you to direct it.” I was speechless, and so incredibly honored that he trusted me to direct his very powerful story. We went ON to form our own production company, Philly Born Films, where we vowed to always stay true to telling powerful stories, with a message.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Casting Sno Babies was an intense process. At first, we were going to go with a name talent. Problem is, their agents won’t let them read for you, offer only. It’s a big risk to take when casting a film with a role as demanding as the lead role of Kristen in Sno Babies. Nevertheless, we were negotiating with a so called name. Along came Katie Kelly who was auditioning for the supporting role of Hannah, the best friend. I was so blown away by her that I couldn’t get her off my mind. My gut was telling me she was our Kristen. I showed her audition tape, along with about 20 others, to my partner, Mike. Without me saying a word, he wrote “Kristen” next to her name. I knew at that moment she was our lead. We offered Katie the role, and aside from her family, we asked her to keep it quiet until casting was complete.

Once Kristen was in place, I had to sort through thousands of audition tapes to find the supporting role of Hannah. A wonderful young actress had submitted named Paola Andino. I just fell in love with her. We Face Timed and it couldn’t have gone any better. I was ready to pull the trigger. It was of the utmost importance to me that Katie connect with Paola. The relationship of Kristen and Hannah in Sno Babies would carry the film and I needed their chemistry to be spot on. I reached out to Katie that day to tell her that I found our Hannah. I explained to her how crucial the relationship of the two girls would be and I needed them to get to know each other. She asked who the actress was, and I told her Paola Andino. She went silent for a bit, and then said, “Are you freaking kidding me?” My stomach dropped. I thought, oh God, please don’t let her have an issue with this actress. The acting world is a small one, maybe they had a bad encounter somewhere down the line. Or maybe she simply doesn’t like her as an actress, who knows? I said, “What’s wrong?” She blurted out, “Paola’s my best friend.” I was stunned! Needless to say, their chemistry and performance in Sno Babies is as authentic as it gets. It was a casting dream come true in more ways than one.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ve made so many mistakes that I don’t know where to begin. The first time I was on a film set the camera assistant asked me if I liked “Video Village”. I thought he was making small talk with me so I said, “I haven’t been there, where is it?” He said, “Around the corner.” I said, “Oh…is it like the old Blockbuster video stores or…?” There was an awkward silence, which unfortunately I’m very familiar with in my life, then he said in a very perplexed manner, “It’s where your monitor is…the Directors monitor” I said, “Oh…that video village. No. I haven’t been there. I’m sure it’s great. I’ll go now.” Did I learn anything? Yes. I now know what video village is. I guess learning the lingo on a film set before you land there is important. Don’t even get me started on “sticks and steady”.

Other than that, I guess I can’t stress enough the importance of being prepared and making sure the script is as tight as it can be before you start filming. I jumped onto a project once where the script just wasn’t ready. As a result, we’re still struggling to get the movie right even after several reshoots. It sounds like common sense, but I can’t tell you how many times indie filmmakers rush into filming. They’re excited, I get it. But that was a lesson I learned the hard way and now I won’t go into another film unless I have time to work with the screenwriter on getting the script right. Even then, you may find holes that you need to fill or problems along the way, but you have to put in the time to get it right from the start.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Well I’ve been very fortunate in my life. I’ve had an unbelievable support system along the way. My family and closest friends have always been in my corner. When I was in my late twenties I was considering walking away from it all and going back to get my graduate degree in education. I told my mother, thinking she’d be thrilled and extremely relieved, but she looked at me and said, “That’s it? You’re giving up? I can’t believe my daughters a loser.” It was hysterical and impactful. Truth is, my mother has always been my biggest fan. I thought well, if she thinks I should keep going, I’m gonna keep going.

Someone who’s had a huge influence on me and my career is my Philly Born partner, Mike Walsh. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. There are times in life that you doubt yourself, and your ability to do something. At those times, you need someone who believes in you more than you believe in yourself. For me, that person is Mike. He never let’s me get away with thinking I can’t do something. It’s because of him that I’ve had the opportunity to direct my first film. It’s because of him that I constantly take on new challenges, even when they scare the hell out of me. He’s my mentor. Not just with my career, but in life.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

There is no doubt that fear of failure can be paralyzing. In fact, it’s the biggest hurdle that I had to battle along the way, and still battle. The truth is, you might as well go for it, and risk failing, because doing nothing at all is the bigger failure. Like my mom said, don’t be a loser. She knew what she was talking about!

The best piece of advice I can give is to find a way to do what you love, and keep getting better at it. I worked for years and never make a dime. I kept discovering more about myself and expanding my abilities. Find a group of loyal, supportive, positive people to surround yourself with in both work and life. At Philly Born Films, we work with a lot of the same actors and crew because we trust them, and we like them. There are so many artists out there with the same passion and desire to create, and they are crazy talented. Build a team, and go for it.

I’m fortunate to live in a city that has a great champion of film, Sharon Pinkenson, the Executive Director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office. Sharon is almost single handedly responsible for putting Philadelphia on the map in the world of film.

She’s just as passionate and supportive of indie filmmakers, like me, and the movies we make in Philly, as she is about the obvious blockbusters made here by incredible directors like M. Night Shyamalan (“Sixth Sense,” “Glass” etc), Ryan Coogler “Creed”, and David O. Russell “Silver Linings Playbook.”

What drives you to get up everyday and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?

The drive that keeps me going is a true passion, borderline obsession, with constantly creating and working. I live for it and quite frankly always have. I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s truly my happy place. It’s what makes me jump out of bed every morning.

As far as change in the industry, I would love the studio’s and networks to start taking more risks with new female filmmakers. They seem less hesitant to give new male directors opportunities. On that note, I would love studios and networks to open up and take chances on projects and people in general. In the meantime, I’ll continue to create and get my voice out there. You just have to keep going and never stop working.

You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?

Thank you for that compliment. To be honest, after Sno Babies, which was pretty dark, I was ready to do a happy film. My next feature is a Family film, a Christmas love story between a boy and a girl. I’m really excited about this one actually. It’s about time the children in my life are able to watch one of my movies. After that, I’m going to dive into the world of action/thriller which I’m pumped about. It comes with a whole new set of challenges but I’m so ready to take that on. I have a number of scripts in front me from a courtroom neo noir film to an off the wall comedy. I plan on doing all of them in the next few years.

I have a lot of storytelling in me and I have to get it out of my system. As a former female comedienne, I have a pretty strong voice that may surface again one day in a movie or TV series. It’s definitely simmering in me so I may have to do something about it. That being said, I do have a couple of great pilot scripts and series bibles ready to go as well. I don’t want to limit myself. So many genre’s appeal to me and I excited to explore them all.

We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?

I touched on this earlier when I spoke about the lack of women filmmakers, but it’s not just women that we’re lacking. We live in a very diverse world, yet the industry doesn’t seem to reflect that, and that’s what young people need to see, diversity. We’re all different, that’s what makes the world go around, and yet we are all so similar in so many ways. I think it’s crucial for young people to see themselves represented in TV and film, because when you don’t, it’s as if you don’t matter, like you have no voice, and that’s a horrible feeling. Future generations need to believe their voice matters.

I think Hollywood talks a great deal about inclusion and diversity, and they mean well, but unfortunately I still see more exclusion then inclusion to be honest. I, along with many others, would love to see that change. There is sexism, ageism, racism…they even seem to discriminate against religious themes in movies which confuses me because when they win Oscars most of them thank God.

I do think we’ve made strides in front of the camera, clearly we still have a long way to go. However, it’s behind the camera where my concern lies. It’s easy to hide what’s going on there! I’m confident that those calling the shots and green lighting projects, and people, are predominantly white males. That’s the battle that we face. It’s the same with politics, and God knows I’m over that one! In order for true change to take place, we need diversity at the top, plain and simple.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. New Directors — learn to edit! You don’t have to become a pro but trust me it will make you a better director. Editing films helped me tremendously behind the camera. I now know the value of insert shots, getting the right coverage, transition shots, knowing when you have it, knowing when you don’t, and most importantly knowing you don’t need 15 takes of the wide shot. That’s an important one to remember and your editor will thank you.
  2. Directing is 90% casting — Audition as many actors/actresses as you can and do your best to get it right. Don’t settle, or cast cousin Betty in a supporting role (unless she’s a killer actress). People can forgive a lot of things, but bad acting isn’t one of them. There’s nothing worse than editing your film and having to hide a bad performance. Also, work with actors that you enjoy working with, and are great to have on set. That matters a lot! Our sets are like family, and that’s how I like it.
  3. It’s a collaborative art form, one person does not a movie make. Utilize all of those wonderful, talented, creative people that surround you. Come with a solid plan and vision, but be flexible and open enough to go with better idea or suggestion if it arises, and it usually does.
  4. As much as I hate to say it, social media matters. Indie filmmakers who don’t have big studios behind them marketing their films have got to become masters of social media, and so do actors/actresses. Isn’t it awful? It can be a full time job but it’s a necessary. It takes forever and a day so start now. Even when it comes to casting, I hate to say it but if it’s between two great actors, and one has a huge social media following, we’re more likely to go for that one. It’s a tough reality but if you think about it from the perspective of a filmmaker, and marketing, it makes total sense.
  5. Toughen up that skin, brace yourself for rejection, and learn to look away when the trolls and critics come at you. Unfortunately, they’re out there and they’re not going away.

Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.

I love going on long walks, and listening to my music. I do that daily. I bought a bike during the covid lock down, that was a feat in and of itself. Bikes were scarce! But I love riding my bike as well. I wish I had other routines or practices that I subscribed to, but I’m kind of all over the place with that stuff. I try to eat healthy, emphasis on the word “try”. I tend to put more focus on mental health and making sure I surround myself with positive people. I try not to listen to the news till the very end of the day, if at all, since it’s usually all gloom and doom and only seems to aggravate me. I wake up with a smile, and I make sure I have a positive goal for the day. Like I said earlier, I never stop creating, even if I’m between projects. It’s truly my happy place.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I think it was Meryl Streep who said, “Whatever makes you different or weird, that’s your strength.” I love that! Sometimes we hide things about ourselves for fear of not being accepted, or loved, and quite often they are the most interesting parts of us. They are the parts that make us who we are, and make us unique. If you can find a way to utilize and celebrate those parts I think we all may be on to something.

You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I’m not sure about one movement, but as a filmmaker I have the ability to use my voice to shed light on many subject matters that need attention, or tell a story that needs to told. There is no greater feeling than directing a movie with a strong message. I’m having that experience with the release of my current film Sno Babies. I’m flooded with emails from parents, and families, who lost loved ones to addiction. They are blown away by the film, its accuracy, and they write to thank me for telling their story and raising awareness on such an important issue. Our goal with this film, from the start, was to save lives. I am confident that we will do just that. The studio that acquired the film, Better Noise, is donating its share of the profits to the Global Recovery Initiative, and in the UK, profits are going to the The Amy Winehouse Foundation. Our reach with this film has grown significantly. The soundtrack royalties are also going to these amazing causes with Better Noise matching the contribution. I can’t be more proud of our film, it’s message and all the good that it’s going to bring to the world. If every movie I do moving forward helps make the world a better place in some way, even if its simply to spread a little sunshine, I’ll be one happy filmmaker.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

It can be lunch, a cup of coffee, a glass of wine…but I would love to sit down with Kathryn Bigelow. Who wouldn’t, to be honest? She’s a powerhouse and someone who I truly admire. Yes, she was the first woman to win an Academy Award for best director, yes it was historic, but she also won it for The Hurt Locker, an action war thriller. Come on! I remember thinking here we go…the industry is going to see some change now. Unfortunately, a female director hasn’t won since, but something changed for me and that’s what matters. The possibilities and the dream just got bigger. She is without a doubt one of the most influential filmmakers of my time. Having the chance to sit with her, and benefit from her wisdom would be a dream come true.

I’d also love to sit and chat with Eva Mendes. She just seems like a cool, down to earth lady. She’s the only industry “name” that I follow on social media. I love what she puts out into the world. She’s a great actress and when she’s ready to come back, I’m determined to work with her. If you can schedule a lunch for us, I think I can pitch my next film to her. It’s the happy Christmas one so her little girls can watch which is a plus right? I’m more than willing to throw a cameo at Ryan too. He definitely can use some work.

Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?

I am! I love engaging with people on social media, and enjoy lively discussions, as long as we keep it civil. It’s really the only way to make a difference and move forward. If you have something to say, find a positive way to say it, or people stop listening. It’s something I have to constantly remind myself of. Please come and find me and say hello. Instagram: @PhillyBornProductions,

Twitter: @PhillyBornFilms, Facebook: @PhillyBornFilms

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