One-on-One Q&A with Bradley Glenn
Director, Battle of the Bozos
By Brian Geldin
On a beautiful sunny day in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, I met up with filmmaker Bradley Glenn for a One-on-One Q&A during the first annual Docnic (short for Documentary Picnic and organized by Lesli Klainberg). Glenn talked with me about his new short documentary, Battle of the Bozos, which is an official selection at the upcoming Seattle International Film Festival, and also recently screened at the Athens International Film Festival. Glenn’s production roster includes work as a producer and director creating content for multiple platforms and across various genres, including half-hour lifestyle shows, on-air promotions, technology shorts and segments, 30-second commercial spots, and corporate videos. His media clients have included NBC, Bravo, G4 TV, Al Gore’s Current TV, Sports Illustrated/Time Inc., and IEEE Spectrum Online…and as I discovered during our Q&A, he did a stint as the road host of Wheel of Fortune, and he told me all about the one time he met Vanna White.
Battle of the Bozos is about the fun that ensues after an employee of a Manhattan ad agency (Harrison & Star) decides to put a blow-up Bozo the Clown bop bag in the window facing the street. Directly across the street, an employee of the company VideoHelper notices the Bozo and decides to put a Bozo in their window. By now, the competition begins, and Glenn, who happened to be working at Harrison & Star, miraculously captures the “shock & awe” campaign as the two companies rival to out-Bozo one another. Word gets out to the press, and the competition becomes a much-talked-about phenomenon.
TFPN: How did you first hear about the Bozos standoff? Why did you feel this is a film that needed to be made?
Glenn: I was producing a DVD and several other projects at Harrison & Star. I was working on the floor where it was all happening. It kind of started in a funny way. Everyone knew what was happening, but it grew very organically. One day in the afternoon I was on the phone with my wife (Deb, also the producer) and there was a scream. She heard it and asked, “What’s going on there?” I told her we put up a Bozo in the window, and they (VideoHelper across the street) put up two. She said, “What?” I hadn’t really told her the whole story about what was happening. I started from the beginning, and she said, “That is hilarious!” She was kind of the impetus. I was almost a little too close to it just being a few doors down in my workspace. At that moment, things got bigger. She ended up pitching the story to New York Magazine. It got picked up on their website. That really escalated everything. It went viral around the web.
TFPN: When the story broke in New York Magazine, had you already started shooting the film?
Glenn: I started thinking about it. I wasn’t sure how to do it. One of the issues was that on the Friday the story broke, Harrison & Star was supposed to do their big “shock & awe” campaign, but they couldn’t find enough Bozos to do it justice, so they delayed it to Monday. That allowed the story to gather steam. What we didn’t realize on the other side at VideoHelper, they had a blog going. All of a sudden, Curbed.com picked it up, people were commenting on it. At that point, since it wasn’t happening till Monday, now I could get cameras in place. That was when I started making calls and getting some shooters together so we could be in both places during the “shock & awe” campaign. What became really clear at that point was that Michael from Harrison & Star became the defacto leader, where Betsy she was the main instigator on the VideoHelper side. We started with the climactic event and then we worked our way backwards to get the story.
TFPN: Did all of the press that this whole Bozo standoff got help the companies themselves in terms of generating their own PR?
Glenn: Harrison & Star certainly gained a bit in terms of recruiting, positioning themselves as a fun place to work. We had the support from upper management to go ahead with the campaign.
TFPN: Harrison & Star didn’t think of doing this in advance as a publicity stunt?
Bradley: No, not at all. It really just happened in a weird way. People reacted with a mix of competition, wanting to outdo the other side, and at the same time, keeping a relatively friendly face over the whole thing. On the Harrison & Star side, no one knew who VideoHelper was. And no one on the VideoHelper side knew who Harrison & Star was. I like the words quoted in the film that Matt said in his blog about what it all meant: “it enlivened the soul-crushing monotony of the office environment.”
TFPN: I agree with that statement, but you also state in your film summary that the “face-off was more than just a prank”…“It became an experiment in non-verbal communication, a way to build camaraderie among coworkers, and a true testament to the desire to connect with others.” While Harrison & Star and VideoHelper didn’t necessarily realize all of this until after the fact, do you now view this as a social experiment?
Bradley: I think so. Everyone just jumped in with both feet. They were just going to take this to the end, but what was the end? They didn’t know. The end ended up being not just the surrender, but also the benefit (the money went to the Ronald McDonald House). Often times in documentaries we see stories where people react to the lowest common denominator in their rawest form. Here, I think you actually see the opposite happening where you see people at their most generous, just wanting to be a part of something. I’m proud that we captured that. We really see in this film the better angels of our nature, in a fun way, not in a heavy way.
TFPN: I understand that this is not a “message” film, and you didn’t start out trying to have a message, but what are you trying to say from your point of view about this story after-the-fact as a filmmaker? What do you want to get across to audiences?
Bradley: People can get together and do great things. It doesn’t have to be something life changing or huge. It can be just a day where you spend half your day blowing up Bozos and put them on your window. To me, the message really is that you can do great things in small ways. I certainly will never forget that day and I think anyone else who was involved won’t either. Betsy says in the film during the “shock & awe” that “it felt like a Christmas gift just for you,” and Matt said, “It was like fireworks going off.”
TFPN: As a viewer or someone who’s viewing this second hand who wasn’t actually there at the moment when it all happened, you did a brilliant job conveying this moment.
Glenn: When I started working with editors Melissa Hacker and Yaniv Dabach, I said this is not a film about the great shock. Visually, we want to tell each side of the story almost at the same time. I feel like we can do that because things were happening at different phases. We split the screen into different areas, showing different aspects of the story at the same time in essentially real time.
TFPN: Before the day of the “shock & awe,” did you have to go back and shoot re-enactments of things that took place before then?
Glenn: We did some b-role here and there. Pretty much everything was “live.” We didn’t have to do any re-enactments. We were lucky about that. I think it’s a film to me that in a way grows organically. Every time we got together to shoot something, something new would come up. We had no idea where it was going. I didn’t know when I started it, would this make a good film? If I don’t get anyone there, then I’m definitely not having a movie. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow. Sometimes you just have to start rolling and see what happens. It’s not like you’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to do it. You can just do it and go back and see if it’s working.
Glenn: It’s still in development. We have a fair amount shot. We showed a work-in-progress at a Producers Guild event during the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
TFPN: What is your background and education?
Glenn: I went to NYU where I graduated in theater. I was in the film department for a year. I was an actor and a comedian for a long time. I worked for Disney and did several commercials. From 2000-2003, I was the road host for Wheel of Fortune. I was basically Pat Sajak on the road. We had several rotating Vanna Whites. We did live contestant searches with Wheel fans, playing a modified version of the game and giving away prizes.
TFPN: Have you met Pat Sajak and Vanna White?
Glenn: I have met Vanna. We did a show together in Myrtle Beach (her hometown). She was doing a parade there. Vanna had never seen our show. I didn’t even know if she knew what we were doing. Before the show, I was warming up the audience. All of a sudden out of the corner of my eye, I see my boss coming toward the stage with security guards around her telling me to introduce Vanna. I say, “Ladies and gentleman, North Myrtle Beach’s own, Vanna White.” The security guards departed and out steps Vanna. People went crazy. Four standing ovations later, she finally notices that I’m there and asks, “Who are you?” I really like my time at Wheel, but it taught me one major thing, which is that I didn’t want to be a performer anymore.
TFPN: So Vanna did that you?
Glenn: Oh, no. Don’t blame Vanna. It’s my own doing. It was just being in that environment. I was done with that part of my life. I did an independent pilot. I started directing commercials. I did a series for Current TV called Hooking Up: Real Stories of Love, Sex & Relationships. Here I am now, trying to do long-form projects.
The Battle of the Bozos is playing at the Seattle Film Festival on Friday, May 21 at 4pm at the Egyptian Theater as part of the “Straight from NPR” series.
Film website: http://battleofthebozos.com