On paper, Mythic Bridge seems like a soft-hearted Hollywood drama, the type that will make you do one of those snorting laugh-cries. Through the use of hands-on, narrative filmmaking education, the organization aims to improve the lives of disadvantage youths in New York City. See? The feature film is practically writing itself. Now all you need is someone to star in it…maybe Susan Sarandon? (Pssst…she's on the Advisory Board).
Mythic Bridge uses art to give kids (actually, anyone between the age of 13 and 21) dealing with financial, emotional, physical, and/or situational hardships a healthy and impactful way to channel their daily stressors. The organization wants them to connect with the power storytelling and filmmaking holds, encouraging them to tell their own story and in the process, discover themselves. A complete three-month program cycle features four different "classes": Intro to Filmmaking, Professional/Student Film Projects, The Film Intensive, and Mobile Film Experience. Through working together, because filmmaking is very much a collaborative effort, kids build necessary skills and work habits to carry on with them long after they leave Mythic Bridge (which is free of charge) to enter their community.
Remember when we mentioned Susan Sarandon? Well, she recently joined the organization as a member of their Advisory Board, saying, "For me, one of the best parts of film making is getting to collaborate with many different minds. Mythic Bridge is a vessel that allows youth that would not otherwise have the opportunity to come together and do just that. Not only will these participants get the chance to work with experienced filmmakers, but they also learn the importance of storytelling, which is what filmmaking is all about. The tools that these teens learn through Mythic Bridge workshops are not only invaluable in the industry, but also instill a sense of meaning and purpose into many of these teen’s lives. I’m proud to be associated with such a great cause.”
Founded in 2011 by two NYC filmmakers, Mythic Bridge has a pretty interesting back-story. According to the organization, Gage Cass Woodle and Donald J. Klein met on their very first day at acting conservatory in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. "Their creative collaboration and shared vision was forged in the dark days that followed the 9/11 attacks when they found themselves—unexpectedly—experiencing something special and precious in the devastated city." They realized they were surrounded by artists who were trying to make sense of the tragic events and their own grief by utilizing their creative backgrounds. The two friends used merged this with their love of children to co-found Mythic Bridge, an inclusive community that strives to strengthen communication and connection through "experimental filmmaking."
Turns out, there's even a bigger story than that. Gage Cass Woodle was kind enough to take some time to answer some of our questions and chatted about his own past as a troubled kid, the biggest misconceptions surrounding "at-risk" youth, how Sarandon got involved, how he sees Mythic Bridge evolving, and of course, who some of his all-time favorite artists are.
JustLuxe: What sets Mythic Bridge apart from other non-profits organizations aimed towards the youth?
Gage Cass Woodle: What sets Mythic Bridge apart from other organizations are the life stories of its two founders. […] Both of us have lived through tragic events which threatened to derail our potential, and as a result, we are committed to helping other struggling adolescents discover their passion and find meaning in their lives. For Don, as a survivor of the Columbine tragedy, he gained a unique insight into the difficult process of self-discovery and transformation that occurs during adolescence. He learned first-hand that through artistic endeavors that he was able to examine, and ultimately make sense of his tumultuous emotions. I am the son of two predominant psychiatrists and have numerous years of experience working in teen crisis centers. I learned early on how to empathize and relate to others.
Don and I knew we needed to build on our bond and create art that supported these two important elements of their life; creating film and supporting adolescent development. We set out to create a community where like-minded individuals could come together and support each other toward the common goal of creating dynamic, powerful films. We committed to take on the responsibility of raising funds and resources, allowing the community to focus entirely on creation.
JL: What's your personal story behind co-founding the organization?
GCW: I was one of these troubled teens. As a teenager I was plagued with depression and anxiety and hopelessness. I was lost and was headed down a dark and unhealthy path. I acted out and as a result got myself into quite a bit of trouble. Then I met a man who changed all that. He was the newly hired theater director at my school and for whatever reason, he took a liking to me. He pushed me to try performing but I was resistant, probably based on too many misdirected macho beliefs. He succeeded in getting me enrolled in the performing program, and that changed everything.
At first I was so bad! I mean embarrassingly so, but then he challenged me to keep at it, to not quit. Well I didn’t quit and I got better and suddenly I was actually good at something. I had finally found something that I cared about, I found my passion. My attitude and behavior improved and I turned into a hardworking, caring, creative man. It saved my life quite literally, and now that is my mission, to help other struggling adolescents discover their passion.
JL: What is the biggest misconception people have of troubled kids and teens?
GCW: First of all, I think that for the most part, when people hear the term "at-risk kid" they immediately picture lower income non-white kids. That is just not the right way of thinking. There is no socio-economic group that is most susceptible to being at-risk. I was a middle class white kid and I was most certainly at-risk, and that’s because of the choices I was making. I’ll be blunt, I was arrogant and mean and destructive, and thought that no matter what I did, I was still a kid and [thought] there would be no long-lasting consequences. I was wrong. For me the term at-risk applies directly to the future of these kids. Sometimes the bad decisions we make at an early age stick with us and shape our lives, not in a good way. That’s what it all comes down to for me. So if there is a way to interrupt that cycle of destruction, we must do all we can.
JL: How did Susan Sarandon become involved and what is it like working with her?
GCW: Susan is great. We met at Burning Man a few years ago through mutual friends and instantly hit it off. I told her about the work we were doing at Mythic Bridge and she was impressed. As I am sure you know, Susan is an activist and a champion for important issues, so I am honored that with all of the causes she is connected with, she feels strong enough about ours to sit on our advisory board and lend her name to our work. She is down-to-earth, approachable, and makes me feel important when we communicate—never like a burden. We are all very happy to have her in our community and look forward to her continued support.
JL: Is there anyone you would love to become involved with the organization?
GCW: This is a loaded question! You want my list of hopeful supporters? We could be here for a while. There are so many people I want to get involved in the Mythic Bridge community! Right off the bat I’m going to say Mark Wahlberg and Ed Burns. To me, these guys ground it out and fought their way into the biz, making projects that they believed in, and made incredible careers. That’s an admirable quality and one that I want to inspire in the kids we work with. Obviously it would be game-changing if we could enroll some of the heavy hitters from Hollywood, like directors [Martin] Scorsese (who is the absolute idol of our very first participant), [David] Fincher, [Quentin] Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and producers like J.J. Abrams, Brian Grazer, and Joel Silver. I mean, who wouldn’t want a "who’s who" of Hollywood supporting [their] film making endeavors? But that’s not where my dreams end.
As we are an educational organization and not a production company, we rely on support to keep our program happening and it would mean the world to us to get some corporate sponsorship. If Canon, Adobe or Sennheiser—companies that make the products that we use in all of our workshops—could provide us with gear that we normally have to borrow or rent, it would take a lot of the stress off our back. Also, I’m very intrigued by this new YouTube production space in NYC. Having a place where we could hold all of our workshops would also be clutch.
I’m happy to announce that we have recently developed a partnership with Huffington Post as a place to showcase the films the kids make during the workshops. That’s something we are very excited about. But again, this is all very one-sided, focusing on the craft of filmmaking, when what we are really here for is to help these struggling kids. I am proud to say that we have been developing collaborations with other non-profits such as Covenant House who do amazing work for at-risk teens. Partnering with organizations like them give us access to more kids we can help inspire, and that is what this is all about.
JL: As someone with such a deep-rooted commitment to the arts, who are some of your all-time favorite artists (actors, directors, musicians, writers, poets, painters, etc.)?
GCW: As you can imagine, the arts are a big part of my life. I am inspired and enthralled by so many different artists and mediums for so many different reasons. I’m a huge fan of my cousin Shepard Fairey’s work. I really like how he has been able to create social awareness using art, and I love how big most of his work is. The following is in no way a complete list of some of my favorite artists, but it’s a good start: Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman, Robert Downey J., Daniel Day Lewis, Chuck Palahniuk, Chuck Klosterman, Jeff Noon, Dan Brown, Michael Crichton, J.J. Abrams, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Clint Eastwood, Dave Grohl, Charles Bradley, Rodger Waters, and Shirley Manson.
JL: What's on the horizon for Mythic Bridge?
GCW: In addition to us hosting our workshops and other programming, we are really looking to start building up our job placement elements. We are training all these kids with both the interpersonal life skills and technical skills they will need to get work, [and] now I’d like to be able to actually help them get some of that work. We’ve started a bit of this by filming a few corporate videos which have turned out quite nice, so hopefully that will lead to more of that kind of work. It's not the "glamorous" filmmaking most people think of, but it’s a great way to make some money while fine-tuning the skills. I am very excited about this for our community and look forward to seeing what we’ve taught put into action.
JL: What does being a mentor entail and how does one go about applying?
GCW: The mentors that teach these workshops are local, professional filmmakers who want to pass on their knowledge to the next generation of artists. We thank them for this by providing them access to our resources of production. After each workshop we choose one mentor project and produce that film; giving that young filmmaker the opportunity to create their art, but also giving the participants access to invaluable real life experience. This mutually beneficial model of operation encourages our participants to grow up and become mentors which keeps our community strong, loyal and growing.
There are a few ways one can be a mentor. The most common are the filmmaking mentors, local filmmakers who donate their time and skills teaching the actual workshops. For the most part, these are individuals who have at least a basic understanding of each element of the filmmaking process (writing, directing, camera, audio/lighting, and editing) so that they can help guide the participants through each part of the creation process. As we are growing and attracting more well-established mentors, we are finding that we are getting people who specialize in certain fields and that allows us to provide more in-depth training. For example, we have a great mentor who is a 3-D animation wiz. The kids love when he is involved because their films will get some incredible animation or special effects.
But you don’t have to be a filmmaker to be a mentor in our community. We have a handful of people who love what we are doing and want to support anyway. These people help out in various other ways, sometimes administratively and sometimes as friends to one or more of the kids. There are people in the world who like to help others and see them succeed, we embrace those people and welcome them into our community. It's very easy to become a mentor in the Mythic Bridge community, simply go to our website and sign up on the "Become a Mentor" section.
JL: Are there any future plans of expanding the organization outside of New York?
GCW: From the beginning we have envisioned Mythic Bridge expanding outside of NYC to be a nationally and internationally recognized organization. We have already begun talks with people in Austin, TX and Cabarete, Dominican Republic to do some workshops. We joke about it and say that we want Mythic Bridge to operate like "fight clubs," where we as the founders go to a new city and host a workshop, essentially training the local talent of how we do what we do, then leaving them to run it the best they can. It’s an exciting notion for us because each geographical location has its own unique personalities and the art that comes out is so vastly different than anywhere else. I honestly look forward to the day when I can see Mythic Bridge films that I had no part of shaping. That for me will be a sign of success. This has already grown bigger than me, and honestly, that makes me proud.