Ron Brodie and Don Brodie are twin brothers and filmmakers who, as you might suspect, have a great rapport with each other that makes producing films together special. (In this interview Don introduced himself as "the cooler one." To be honest, they both seemed equally cool to us, however.) The Washington, D.C. natives also have a great rapport with the people they talk to for their short films, as evidenced by their debut docuseries for Independent Lens online, Driver Radio: Jamaica. [Stream on Independent Lens, or on YouTube.] Four episodes make up this series where they returned to a land of childhood road trips, the Caribbean island nation both their parents hailed from.
Returning to Jamaica as adults with new perspectives and new curiosities, the Brodie brothers then hailed local taxi drivers to help them learn more about today's Jamaica, and to tell the stories of the place less often told.
"Driver Radio is a short series telling stories from our experience being first-generation and going back to Jamaica," they told us. "Growing up in a culture that's so surrounded by tourism and trying to find a more naturalistic way of life and explore people, in a unique way of looking at—as Jamaicans sometimes say—a captured land."
"We found a lot of influence from the trips we would take across the island when we were young our parents would drive us around, but as we got older and visited the island on our own we had to find drivers to do so. Being taken to places meant having a lot more conversations and finding a lot more discovery about who we really were."
[Answers here are from both Ron and Don together except where otherwise specified.]
So you're driving around recording these adventures. How did you build trust with these drivers and with all the people you're talking to? You have a camera and boom mic up in their face, what was that like?
We grew up visiting the island frequently and there were some guys who worked with my aunt and just helped out around the house. As we became teenagers we would hang out with them rather than our family, like our sister or our brother in Jamaica. We'd want to know what these guys who lived on the island were up to. And they were into fixing up cars and being really cool and taking the cars out down to the hip strip, showing off and being popular in the streets. Their love for mechanic work and modifying cars kind of evolved into professions for them.
They started driving people around and making some money in the process so in a way we grew up vicariously through them and what they were doing on a local level in Grandville, Jamaica. And we often asked ourselves, "If we lived here, would we be doing the same? Could we have been drivers, too?"
Above them just being drivers in Jamaica, to be hustlers, it's like you meet somebody and you just start developing a relationship. It just so happened that they were the ones behind the wheel, but besides I think for any taxi driver [in Jamaica] if you said, "Hey man can I drive?" They'd probably be like, "Yeah sure," and get up from the driver's seat for you.
It's just, "keep talking…"
Yeah, it's just two buddies going on a journey together.
So having been exposed to it and growing up around it, and then also the nature of Jamaican people—they are so forward and outgoing, and, as they say, "Up." It's always about ups and whatever can keep lifting you, keep you going if you need to go where you need to go, or if you need to borrow a car, or want to take somebody on a journey—its going to be up.
Speaking or understanding [Jamaican] Patois goes a long way too because if you ask a question they're going to respond but the conversation continues in Patois, if you understand what they're saying and then they're willing to tell you anything from that point, once you show you understand.
What were your biggest challenges that you had to deal with?
Ron: Dealing with each other.
I guess working with siblings is a particular kind of challenge.
Ron: Yeah, I mean there's also truth to all of that, when you're dealing with family and you're handling family matters you want to be real and you want to take care of family. You also want to make sure you represent family properly so between Don and I just being twins and doing things creatively together, it's a challenge producing a project like this because you want to be true and you want to really represent the culture and not cut corners on that.
For me at least those were the two challenges, making sure creatively we both had our voices fully included in what we were creating and then also really upholding and protecting the culture, and the way we say we recognize that and we're going to uphold it properly.
Don: My challenge was more so the idea that it had to end. I mean not end but we had to put a cap on it and say this is where the story feels like we've gotten somewhere because there's just so much. That's the hardest thing to know where it stops, or when its good to just take a breather for a minute. It's not an end, it's more a breather because I could tell stories about Jamaica forever, 'cause it's so organic down there, you blink and its changed in two seconds.
Switching gears here for a second, can you talk a little bit about how you came to work with ITVS.
Ron: I have a colleague who was a former [ITVS] employee but he made me aware of Open Call and having done a lot of work in the past I think he knew my passion was telling stories and sharing stories. He asked me to check it out and I brought it to Don and said, "Hey, we should do this."
Driver Radio started as a documentary 5 years ago, me and my brother have been working on this project with a goal in mind but without a supportive partner to say, "hey this is going to become a thing where there is a way to do this"— to bring it to a place [where] you imagine this story could be shared. So when we made our proposal and pitched the ideas we had we were excited to see that ITVS would support us as filmmakers and come on board as partners to guide us in a way that would bring it to a place that could actually make this an achievable project.
Don: For me, I think ITVS gave a structure that was needed. As a creative you're always in a battle with this idea on how to do a quick little breath and how to add punctuations to your paragraph, and ITVS was such an amazing partner to nourish a creative mind and give it a little bit more purpose. Not to just say, oh you don't know what you're doing, but to come in and say, "we're with you on that, we understand what you're doing there and were going to watch you grow, and we're going to be there to provide feedback"—which I think is hard to get from anybody whether its good or bad. To stick with you and help inspire you to continue, so while our stories are inspiring, ITVS inspires to pull it out and say, let's put a belt on these pants.
You know what you're going for and so it's more just helping you get there.
I feel like a bridge jumper. Like, yeah I climbed up this mountain to jump off it and turn to look at my guy and he nods, "yes this is a good height," or, "No! You need to go further!" (laughs)
I was looking for that picture of your dad wearing that ITVS hat [laughter].
It's a good one. Because in a way it's kind of representing the relationship, what's become a little bit of a family bonding.
Yeah, I hear that a lot—it's not just a piece of paper and a contract, it's not like, "Okay thanks, and see you later"— it's more of a relationship.
Like walking in there and just looking around and that's when it feels like you put on your favorite pair of shoes or you've come home and mom made you your favorite meal, there's something there, there's a warmth that's generated by ITVS. You do feel safe and feel like you're in a space to just be free in a way and inspired.
The Brodie brothers with Orville (center), dancehall professor
If you could give a piece of advice to a filmmaker who's just getting started, who's thinking about public media, something that you wish you would've known getting started or something you would want to relay to another filmmaker.
I'll start with the most important piece of advice I ever received in all of my creative ventures and in some aspects in life—I highly subscribe to it—it's learn as much as you can and forget it right away because the second you start to rely on things you think you know so well is [when] you miss the moment. The moment that what you're looking for passes you.
It's funny, I think it was referenced in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty as well: some things you gotta take for yourself, and take it all in—not let your experience dictate how you see it or how you tell that story.
You go to film school and you learn all these rules and then the second you get out there—
Don: —You walk into a space and you're like, "Oh well the lighting is not really there and whatever and where's the closest rental house? It will take this long to get this light right." I mean, what happens if you just pick up a camera and shoot it? What happens if you just go out there with no crew and you just sit like a fly in a room and wait for the decisive moment.
It's kind of a risky major as well.
Ron: I'd say I've never been in a position to offer advice unless someone was maybe younger than me. But if I could offer advice I'd say it would be: trust yourself. And believe in yourself because—piggybacking off of what Don said—I think in the process of telling stories, it is a very demanding endeavor. I'm traditionally a filmmaker and I put myself out there with some stories here and there. But I think it's trusting yourself, you work with a lot of people and that's maybe understanding square one. It's like you're going to have a team, you're voicing that team. You have to kind of believe in yourself and trust yourself to know what you're talking about, to follow your instincts. If there are other perspectives, of course you hear them out, but you also trust yourself.
And then you're going to go out into the field with all those people and be presented a number of different variables—some you might have planned for and some you didn't expect, but you gotta trust yourself through that as well. And when you go through production and come home and think you got the story you set out to tell, you gotta trust yourself that you've done enough and that if the story has changed you'll find it, that you'll be able to tell the story you need to tell.
I mean, as cliche as it sounds, it is a little bit about trusting yourself, and it's mental health. My brother's a creative person, and working with him—I know what kind of creative he is, but if I let self-doubt consume me something might fall to the waste side, the project might not happen, so I have to trust myself that I know what I am talking about and I think it starts there.
There's one more piece of advice that I could give: burgers and fries wins over pizza and fries.
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