Interview with Filmmaker Nathan Bach (NO SMALL DREAMS)

NO SMALL DREAMS was the winner of BEST FILM at the February 2022 DOCUMENTARY Short Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

As the Sr. Video Producer for New Story’s Creative Team, I’ve always been encouraged to apply a filmmaker’s approach to everything I produce. In our work, we have a unique challenge, because not many people spend their spare time googling “global housing crisis” and “innovative nonprofits”. We consistently produce a lot of marketing materials, but we also felt a strong conviction that we should explore an unconventional approach to storytelling that could both inform and compel audiences in a unique way. Producing a short documentary felt like a tremendous opportunity to introduce our work to audiences in an authentic manner.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

When I began working with New Story in 2018, we gathered our newly formed creative team and had a “big idea” kick off meeting. At the time, we had very little in the way of content, and New Story had only been an organization for a couple years at that point. But we knew we were building something bold, and we wanted our creative work to be a direct reflection of that. So for two hours, we talked a lot about things that felt just out of reach, but with the right resources could become a possibility. At the top of a long list of audacious goals sat two projects – “A Netflix-quality Documentary” and “A Super Bowl Ad”. We spent the better half of three years crafting the documentary, so I guess now it’s time to start thinking about that Super Bowl ad!

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?

Relentless Determination. I’m constantly amazed by the true heroes of this story – the families we serve. How they always seem to possess a tenacious spirit despite all the insurmountable odds. It’s the single biggest motivation for our team, and it creates a universal connection that elevates every part of our work – the relentless determination to dream of a better future and take steps towards making it a reality.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

In my 15 years as a filmmaker, it’s not hyperbole to say this was the biggest challenge I’ve ever taken on. How do we tell a story that has no true protagonist, no true antagonist, and has not yet reached a conclusion? How do we showcase our work in a compelling way without overinflating ourselves? With documentaries, you can storyboard yourself into oblivion (which we definitely did at times!), but we realized that we gained the most value in being able to see the story through rough cuts. But even then, we went through many, many cuts that were determined problematic for one reason or another. There were more than a few times when the project felt all but dead, where we’d have to walk away from it for a week or two just to clear our head and find a new kind of inspiration. It took about six months and about 20 rough cuts in all before we started feeling good about the story. But then another huge issue presented itself: we still couldn’t feel an emotional connection to our work. That’s when our team decided to craft the B story of the mother and son in El Salvador. I personally feel that late addition to the film ties the whole thing together, and I couldn’t imagine the story without it!

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

We haven’t shown this film to many people outside of our organization yet, and with festival season approaching, it’s a little unnerving to be in this position. I’m extremely proud of this story, and I fully believe in its potential, but I’m as biased as it gets! Not only am I the storyteller, but I’m also part of the story. I’ve been in front of and behind the camera building deep relationships with our team and the families we serve. There are so many feelings that flood my heart throughout the 28 minutes of this film, and my goal has always been to help convey those feelings as best I can to anyone willing to watch, whether they know about us or not. But transparently, I haven’t had the slightest gauge as to whether or not we accomplished that goal. So to receive such positive feedback, and to be voted as Best Film at the LA Documentary Festival – it’s not just a tremendous honor, but it helps solidify the strong feeling that this story will deeply resonate with audiences.

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

In 9th grade, my English teacher assigned a project to do a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet. It could have been through any medium, but I decided to make a movie after discovering our family’s old camcorder the week prior in an old box of stuff. I didn’t even know how to turn the damn thing on, but I somehow convinced my best friend, who was in the same class, to collaborate with me. We spent a weekend diving into user manuals, Google searches, figuring out how to piecemeal this little film together. The result was a very crude story filled with random props and terrible acting, but we got the highest grade in the class, which for me was really eye-opening. I realized this method was not only an incredibly fun excuse to be goofy with my friends, but it was repeatable. I thought, “Not only could I parlay this into learning how to make movies, but I could probably get paid for the effort in school credit.” I started building a reputation around school as being “the film guy”, and pretty soon teachers were so hyped on the idea of me and my friends making movies for their class projects that it became an expectation throughout the years. All told, I made probably 15 little films during high school, and I just never stopped. Went to a tech school to earn my associates degree in television production, power around in the church and corporate video world for about a decade, and now I’m traveling the world capturing stories with a camera. Being a filmmaker is an enormous part of my self-identity, and I feel extremely fortunate for the way my story has unfolded.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

As a proud member of the binge watching community, it’s tough to say. The obvious ones come to mind – Forrest Gump, When Harry Met Sally, etc. I will say I’m a sucker for coming-of-age stories, and no film has influenced me more in that arena than Allen Hughes’ The Defiant Ones. The 4-part docuseries highlights the life and careers of music and business moguls Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, and there are quite a few nods and winks to the film that exist in No Small Dreams. I watched all four episodes probably five or six times during the editing process alone. It’s a complete masterpiece from start to finish.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

Our team talks a lot about how no great accomplishment is the manifestation of one person. I believe that, in order for a creation to truly transcend, it needs to come from a place of collaboration. That starts with dialogue, healthy communication, and an understanding of the power behind a shared goal. I’ve met some of my closest collaborators at film festivals, and I’ve found that these festivals are an amazing place to meet people with a common goal. I would encourage you and any other festival to continue leaning into ideas that create opportunities to build relationships. It really does add so much value to the filmmaking community as a whole!

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

I’ve really loved using Film Freeway to get our documentary the attention we feel it deserves! It’s not lost on us how fortunate we are to have a catch-all tool for so many amazing opportunities, and there’s no way we’d be able to take advantage of those opportunities without sites like Film Freeway doing the heavy lifting!

10. What is your favorite meal?

This one is easy. Breakfast food is sacred in the Bach house. There’s something about pancakes or waffles (or both), eggs, sausage, bacon, fruit, grits, and hash browns that gives me so much life! I’ve been perfecting my pancake recipe for years, and I’m getting dangerously close to nailing it.

11. What is next for you? A new film?

We’re exploring a bunch of exciting storytelling opportunities at New Story in 2022 and beyond. Since 99.9% of our audience will never get to experience the magic of our work in person, it’s incumbent upon us to find the most immersive experiences to spread our message. The one area that’s been on my mind the most is in the world of VR. There’s an entire storytelling universe just waiting to be uncovered in that space, and I can’t wait to dig into it deeper!

By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival www.wildsound.ca

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