While on the set of the Tze Chun/Bryan Cranston thriller Cold Comes the Night in 2012, Hurricane Sandy rolled into New York. This led to some downtime on set, and that's when Cranston -- sport that he is -- came up with a short film contest: the best script submitted by a production assistant gets to produce it with Cranston in the lead role. Click through to watch the film that was born from the contest and read our interview with director Brandon Polanco.
I had been writing all night and I literally was like: "I don't even really know what this is, I just birthed this thing out of the night onto this paper, so here you go..."
NFS: Right place at the right time?
Brandon: We went into production on Cold Comes the Night in the last week of October, and that's when we found out that the hurricane was coming our way. It was the 6th day in that week that Bryan proposed the idea of making a short film, because we were going on a long weekend due to the hurricane. I found out that night and wrote 1 page, and then the next day I woke up and I just started writing. So I had about a day to write it, and then the next day I gave it to him. He didn't know whose names were on the scripts, he went and read and came back in an hour and selected it. And then as soon as he selected it we had 3 hours until we started shooting. So it happened one thing after the other in a span of 2 days.
We shot with him for one night for about 4 hours. Then we had to go back to work on Cold Comes the Night, and then we shot with him again. So I had 2 nights that I really got to shoot with him.
NFS: Your background?
Brandon: I went to school and studied theater at Stephen F. Austin State University and got a bachelor's in directing theater. I studied in Europe for a year in London and Madrid. For me it's kinda always been about performance; it's the thing that's nurtured me -- to always want to be an actor. When I was 8 years old I did my first play -- a Titanic play. I was bitten pretty early on by the acting bug and I focused on that for a long time. When I came back from Europe I decided to move to NYC and that's when everything changed in a good way.
Life became about what it means to be an artist and what it means to create, so I started writing. I always wanted to make movies, but I never knew how to make a movie. I was always about plays, but I was bored with theater for a while and thought, "Well, why don't I become a production assistant and make money as I try to figure out film?" So I've just been making short films and working in production in various positions and just submerging myself in that world.
NFS: Were you intimidated at the prospect of directing Cranston? Did you ever get cerebral, over-thinking things or were you totally in the moment?
Brandon: It was all about being in the moment, allowing yourself to be like: "Okay, this is happening. Liftoff." It was a series of moments that all transpired into this one moment. When he took the script I was exhausted, I had been writing all night and I literally was like, "I don't even really know what this is, I just birthed this thing out of the night onto this paper, so here you go..." He comes back in an hour and starts talking about 2 other scripts -- there were 3 scripts given in total. He said one was too simple and the other he didn't wanna do, so he pushed them aside and started talking about my script.
I was like, "Wait, what? Mine?" And then he started asking all these questions that I had to answer since no one else had written it. I had a list of notes from him and felt like I needed to go back into the writing room and keep going at it. But right before I did that, I had this one moment where I went and stood out in the woods -- our hotel was connected to this really amazing forest with trees and colors -- and I sat there on a rock for a good 10-15 minutes and I meditated. I just thought "Okay. I'm just gonna enjoy this for a second." And then I just went in and started writing and started working with him. We got Shane Valcich -- who is like a photography brother -- to DP and we just start gelling ideas. And we were like "Just do things, just make."
"I think it's just staying focused and putting out work and hopefully people will find it relevant."
NFS: Do you think Bryan started the contest because didn't feel challenged with the current production or was it just because of the storm?
Brandon: Bryan is a real artist, a real actor, a real storyteller. He likes to keep creating. I think he was just inspired by the moment. We were in this little filmmaker bubble, we were out in the woods in the Catskills, so there was really nothing to do. He's a special guy and a really talented person, but I think he's also just someone who he wanted to keep creating in the downtime.
NFS: How did the script change over the 2-day period?
Brandon: It was fun. It was re-writing as we went along. Bryan gave me ideas when we first selected the script. We got detailed points about the action, like, "What did the scene in the theater mean?" It was great being able to bounce ideas off of him. There were times when I would have an idea when we were working on Cold Comes the Night and it was like "Oh yeah, we need to get back to work on the movie that we're working on..."
NFS: What's next? How are you taking advantage of this random opportunity and what have you learned from it?
Brandon: A piece of advice that I got from Bryan that I keep is "just keep making" -- I have a short film called Passing By that I'm releasing next month. I have a web series called Pride that I'm releasing. I think it's just staying focused and putting out work and hopefully people will find it relevant. People can get their hands on a camera and tell a story. It's a moment I'll always get to hold onto. The amount of response has been great, so I'm just really grateful.
A big thanks to Brandon for sharing his story. Check out his work at the links below and leave a comment with your thoughts on the film.