Bridges aren’t built in a single day or even by a single person. In order to make a significant impact, or to cross a yawning divide, you need a creative vision and a nimble team to bring that vision to fruition.
The Bridgebuilder Cinematic Arts Program (BCAP) has long had that vision and, during the four years since its founding, the program has become expert in assembling teams. In guiding 50 Boston high school students to becoming first-time filmmakers this summer, BCAP Founder Hollis Meminger tapped more than 20 of his Local 600 colleagues to help make a very challenging assignment a bit more manageable.
Hollis Meminger (center) with a pre-COVID cohort from his Bridgebuilder program.
“They were the first people I called,” Meminger, a New York-based Director of Photography said of his union colleagues. “I called everybody I had worked with in the past and asked if anyone was available. Everyone was available because nobody was working and people wanted to donate their time.”
Serving as instructors and mentors, the participating Local 600 camera operators, assistants and directors of photography were divided into teams to work with individual students and help them shoot and edit a short film. The films shared a common theme: life during the time of COVID-19. Instructors and students met virtually three hours a day, four days a week. The students were given access to equipment to make their films and were paid through the City of Boston’s workforce development division.
In addition to camera expertise, organizers brought in guest speakers from different divisions within Hollywood. With 50 program graduates, the Boston cohort is the largest to date for Bridgebuilder. The students had their films screened at a Zoom celebration with more than 300 participants.
The instructors reported that forging meaningful connections with high school students while working remotely was no easy task. Technology glitches and Wi-Fi instability were a common theme. Nonetheless, the Local 600 members who participated found the experience fulfilling and meaningful, and they gave major kudos to Meminger for his ability to build these bridges.
“It’s nice to give back. I think that’s what a lot of felt as we were participating,” said Tom Weston, a Local 600 Director of Photography and National Executive Board (NEB) member. “I’m not sure all of the kids are going to get into the film business, but they have all gotten a good taste of it. I’m looking forward to the next one. I hope Hollis does it again.”
“It’s great to be with that age group and to identify people who are really interested in film,” agreed Director of Photography Sam Levy, another instructor. “When you come across a young mind that’s passionate about something, that a really invigorating thing.”
Meminger developed Bridgebuilder with an eye toward nurturing that creative spark in people who might not otherwise have easy access to the industry. During his more than 20 years working in camera, Meminger routinely heard from colleagues who maintained they learned more on sets than in school and that they never really got exposed to camera work until after college.
“It made me think, why are we waiting so long to put students through the process of seeing if this as a career choice,” Meminger said. “What if we started earlier?”
Meminger focused on reaching women and people of color – populations that have not had easy access to working in Hollywood. After establishing the program at KIPP NYC charter school, he has done BCAP sessions in Baltimore and St. Louis. A current cohort is being held in New Jersey in partnership with the nonprofit Black Girls Dive Foundation.
Meminger’s work on behalf of students and with diverse populations goes beyond Bridgebuilder. He is on the Board of Trustees for the George F. Baker Scholars Program at Georgetown University and was part of the Presidential Leadership Scholars program in 2017.
“When we work on jobs in the south Bronx or Harlem or Baltimore, there’s always a kid from those areas who asks, ‘How did you get started?’ and that to me is a big deal,” said Meminger who is currently working on the show Younger. “There are a small number of DPs who are African-American. I think for a kid to see you in a position of influence on some level is hopeful for them.”
Christine Ng, a Local 600 Camera Operator who taught in the Boston BCPA cohort, attended a program for teenagers through New York University which was similar to Bridgebuilder. The program, she said, strongly influenced where she ended up in her career.
“In this climate of inclusivity and Black Lives Matters,” Ng said, “what’s so important is offering people who weren’t brought up in the film industry a platform to see what it’s all about.”