“Bruce!!!,” written, directed, and starring Eden Marryshow, had its world premiere at the 2017 American Black Film Festival.
Synopsis: Let’s be real: Bruce is an asshole. He’s shitty to his friends. He’s shitty to pretty much every woman in his life. He has no job. He has no career. And his parents are tired of lending him money. And you know what? Honestly, all of this was working out pretty well for him, until he meets Kiera, falls hopelessly in love and is finally forced to grow up...in his thirties.
With a production budget of $2500 and a Sony a7S II camera, Marryshow, a Brooklyn-bred teacher-turned-thespian, made a “community film” with skills honed taking classes at Brooklyn College and shooting guerrilla-style films in the hood—3000 copies of which he once sold out of the back of his van. In 25 days, with a cast of actor friends and a three-person crew, Marryshow catapulted himself from relative obscurity to the narrative feature film competition at the nation's largest gathering of Black film and TV professionals.
He’s living proof that consistent effort applied over time yields results.
Iquo Essien: Your film was really refreshing to watch. You really have a unique voice and perspective that I haven’t seen before.
Eden Marryshow: Thank you so much, I really appreciate that!
IE: I read that your father had a theater company and you took a substitute role for an actor who got sick and discovered your passion for acting. Then you became a teacher. Is it true that you finally decided to pursue your passion as a career after one of your students passed away?
EM: Yes, her name was Latina “Peanut” Bilbro. When I was 18-years-old, I started working for the New York City Board of Education as a paraprofessional, which is like an assistant teacher. I worked with at risk kids, so they become like your family. If the kid works well with you, they’ll keep you there for years working with them. Latina was in my first class that I took care of. She was 8-years-old. I would get time off, so that I could get my college credits—because they were trying to get paraprofessionals to become teachers—and every time I would go, ‘Tina would say, “Yo, Marryshow, where you going?” And I’d say, “I’m going to school, so that I can learn how to make movies.” (I was taking credits at Brooklyn College, studying film. I bought an iMac and Panasonic mini-DV from SEARS and that’s how I started making movies—in the hood, Flatbush, where I grew up.) So she would say, “You’re gonna be famous? You’re going to make movies?” and I’d say, “I’m gonna try,” and she always believed in me. So fast forward ten years later when Latina, at 18-years-old, got killed in a drive-by shooting coming home from braiding her cousin’s hair. Hearing about it, I felt like my heart was ripped out of my body.
IE: What was your path like from that moment to your first feature film screening at ABFF?
EM: I stayed at the Board of Ed for another year, which made for a total of 10 years. Then I was like, I’ve got to go—I’ve got to keep a promise to Latina. I had made two feature films in that time, both of which I tried unsuccessfully to get into ABFF. When I left the Board of Ed, I had those two films on the shelf. The second one, called “A Thing Called Love,” I made for $300 with family and friends. My boy Sean and I took it out in the hood in my Econoline conversion van. We had a flatscreen playing the trailer that we hooked up to a battery and a table set up with the DVDs, and people would come up and talk to us. We ended up selling 3000 copies, so I supplemented my income for a year. Then for New Years 2009, I made a resolution to take an acting class—my dad gave me $50 because I was so broke—and I really loved it. Fast forward from that, and now it’s been 8 years of the acting grind and making work. Along the way, I created this script in honor of Latina, called “Peanut,” that a lot of people responded to. I had a bunch of meetings in L.A. a couple of years ago that all got cancelled, and I started to feel like a victim. And then I thought, fuck this, why don’t I make Hit 30?—that’s what we called “Bruce!!!” at the time—this script I’d written with my boy Jesse. And that was it. I had $2500 in the bank and that’s what you see on the screen.
IE: What was your experience making the film?
EM: My outcome was to bring my friends together that are really diverse, talented, serious actors, and have fun. Jean, who played my dad, I knew from acting school. He asked to see some dailies and said he wanted to be a part of it, and ended up an executive producer. Brenda, who plays my mom, I knew from a play I did in Connecticut.
The crew was the D.P. Juan Carlos Borrero, an executive producer, and one of the producers, Sasha Lewis—who was kind of like a utility man, like a Swiss Army knife—and myself. It was really a three-man crew. And then the actors would come in and help out, slating and whatever, and that's why if you look at the credits under the assistant directors it's literally everybody who acted in the film.
Most of the story takes place in Bruce’s apartment and since one of my friends was looking for a roommate in her three bedroom, we decided to rent her apartment for a month. The set was laid back. I had read a book called Creativity and it talked about how in order for people to be vulnerable, which is like the heart of creativity, they have to feel pretty safe. So I tried to create a safe environment, which is something I always need as an actor.
As a director, we’ll do it two times the way I’m thinking about it, and then the actor can do their thing, and something really beautiful might come out of it. Or something really terrible might come out of it, but that terrible idea and that freedom is going to lead to something dope.
IE: What's it like to direct and star in your own film?
EM: Amazing. It's funny because my boy/co-writer Jesse, who is white, was supposed to be the main dude. I was actually supposed to play the best friend, because I wanted the black guy to have all his shit together. But when I called him, he had a film that he was on a festival tour with, so he couldn’t do it. So I asked myself, who’s the one guy I can count on to be there everyday? And that was me. It was a problem to solve, but I really had fun. We were laughing every day.
I’d wake up at five or six and go to the gym for a little bit—just for stamina purposes—and then pick people up in my 2002 Chrysler minivan and we’d drive to set and laugh a lot and then it would be like midnight and I’d go back home and do it all again. I trusted my actors, the cinematographer, Sasha. If I felt like I didn't know if something worked, I’d ask them what they thought, or look at the tape in the monitor, or just breathe and feel the energy. It was like second nature.
IE: What inspired Bruce as a character?
EM: My friend Jesse and I have similar stories. We were around 30 when we wrote the script, that age you kind of figure things out. For my parents it might have been 20 or 21, but for my generation it’s closer to 30—and in my own life, I remember that everything changed at around 28.
I would say I know somebody like Bruce, but nah—I was that dude. There was a part of me that would talk about it, but not be about it. I fancied myself a filmmaker and it gets to a point where you get discouraged, things don’t go exactly the way you want it to, and you stop. And what Bruce has to learn is that things aren’t perfect. He’s waiting for the perfect girl and the perfect job. But no, dude, you have to keep doing, you have to keep going.
I wanted to show that somebody can change a little bit, it doesn’t have to be drastic. And it’s kind of a love note to a younger version of me. I’m grateful that I learned that it’s not about talent, it’s about what interests you, and how you keep working at it. I’m living proof. I would talk all this shit to my kids about following their dreams, and finally it hit me that I wasn’t following my own. And now they reach out to say their proud of me.
IE: What did you hope to achieve with the film?
EM: I really just wanted to make a movie with my friends, something that they could shine in that was inclusive of what my life really looked like. I was trying to make an indie movie. You know, all the movies that I love like all the John Hughes movies. Also, specifically, Boomerang, . It was also a different take on 80s romantic comedies, in which a man hangs all his hopes on a woman, by giving his love interest all this power just to tell Bruce “fuck you,” cause he needs to grow up.
How was post-production?
My picture editor was Maria Cataldo and I worked with composer Daniel Clive McCallum, who is amazing, on the score. I wanted it to have the spirit of an 80s/early 90s movies, at a time when I listen to a lot of R&B/hip hop collaborations and rock ballads. Daniel had a lot of ideas and we had a really dope collaboration, creating a score with those sounds combined.
IE: What are you working on next?
EM: I have like 7 features written, plus those two other films that I created years ago, one of which we’ll release online as a miniseries, and I’m thinking about remaking the other one. Now that I have “Bruce!!!” under my belt, I want to get the funding to make Peanut, the film dedicated to Latina. I also have a TV show in the works and some other miniseries.
IE: What is your dream?
EM: My big dream is to help other people make their dreams happen. One of the ways I can do that is through this art. That’s my purpose and that’s my dream. There could be another brown kid out there watching something that I make and she can say to herself, This is possible and my dreams can come true.