Exclusive Wholly Cinema interview with Bron Studios Co-founder Brenda Gilbert

Blog post by Ross Munro for Wholly Cinema.
Photos by Maria Munro.

In 2010, the husband/wife team of Aaron and Brenda Gilbert started their Vancouver-based film company BRON Studios and over time have successfully parlayed their hard work and passion into the current entity recently known for their critically and financially acclaimed feature films like the Oscar nominated “Fences” and “Birth of a Nation” amongst many more titles.


We here at Wholly Cinema are thrilled that the extremely warm and personable BRON co-founder Brenda Gilbert took the time from her busy schedule to sit down and chat for the following exclusive interview on the verge of releasing their latest film- the Sundance hit “Beatriz at Dinner” from “Chuck and Buck” indie filmmaker Miguel Arteta.


Starring the great Salma Hayek and John Lithgow, the movie more than parallels the current political powder keg simmering in the US as a holistic healer with humble Mexican immigrant roots (Hayek) takes part in a dinner party presided over by a Trump-like host (Lithgow) who, I’m guessing, ends up knee deep in his own covfefe by the time dessert’s served. Now playing to rapturous crowds in NY and LA, “Beatriz at Dinner” opens wide later this month.

Wholly Cinema: What are the origins of Bron Studios?

Brenda Gilbert: One of the projects that we were working on went “sideways” and Aaron (husband/co-founder) was one of the producers and had to take over the whole production. Afterwards, he realized that this was something he could do- not just creatively but also putting together the financing. Then later he was asked to put the money together for another production and then, lo and behold, he was able to that as well. He then thought, ‘Why don’t I open up a small studio?’. So that’s how we started out as a studio with around three people and then it eventually grew to forty or fifty people to where it now is today. The road wasn’t straight and narrow- there was a lot of work and a lot of detours where we had to be very innovative and creative.


WC: What do you look for in a project?

BG: A great story as well as talent attached to the film is very important. Also, with a lot of experience you have input into the decisions taking place during prep, production and post production and having an active voice in the room which is very important. For “Assassination Nation”, a movie that we finished in April, Sam Levinson wrote and directed it- his dad is the famous director Barry Levinson. Sam is not just a talented writer but he’s also a visionary in terms of making a very beautiful film. We’ve also made decisions based on passion projects- “Birth of a Nation” was definitely one of those. It wasn’t about the money for us with “Birth of a Nation”- it was more about an important story that needed to be told. When Nate Parker talked about the film with us he talked about the educational elements of the film as well.


WC: Tell us about your latest feature- American indie filmmaker Miguel Arteta’s “Beatriz at Dinner”.

BG: Salma (Hayek) was always attached to the movie with director Miguel Arteta- who’s brilliant. He’s one of those directors who’s really empathetic and really respects the actors themselves and tries to empower them. We’re also very excited about the talent that’s attached to the movie- John Lithgow who was absolutely amazing in “The Crown”, Chloe Sevigny, Connie Britton and Jay Duplass. It wasn’t meant to be a political film but the timing just ended up that way as many people didn’t envision that Trump was going to win the election. We’re very excited for everyone to see the movie up on the big screen in terms of the talent that’s come together as well as the political conversations around the dinner table it will create as we realize people have different perspectives. We should be respectful whether it’s politics or religion- realizing that when we are very overt in terms of our opinions it can have a real hurtful impact on a person’s feelings.


WC: What are some other projects you are working on?

BG: On the animation side of things, we’re still in production on “Henchmen”. That’s something we’re very excited about but aren’t quite at the finish line yet. Also, we’re excited to have “The Willoughby’s” by Kris Pearn from “Open Season” who’s the writer and director on that project. On the live action front, we’re in post production on “Monster”. The other two movies that are set to shoot this year are “Fonzo” which is the Al Capone story after retirement and Tom Hardy is attached to that one. And we have “Red Sea Diving Resort” with Chris Evans attached and starts shooting on June 22 in South Africa. “Red Sea” is another passion project because it has to do with a rescue mission of Ethiopian Sudanese jews inspired by a true story. The Red Sea Diving Resort was an actual resort that was used as a front to smuggle refugees back to Israel.


WC: You’re also producing the latest feature from “The Babadook” director Jennifer Kent.

BG: She is an absolute visionary. “The Nightingale” is a movie set in Tasmania in 1828 about a convict- a young woman- who has to cater to a group of soldiers at a camp by washing dishes, singing- and while she’s there her husband and young child end up getting killed. So she seeks vengeance on those who killed her child and ends up hiring an aboriginal who knows the lay of the land as they set out on a mission together so you can imagine the gender and race relations that have to do with this young woman. Jennifer Kent actually consulted with a lot of aboriginal folks and elders and they were on set when we were shooting- what Jennifer did was to revive an aboriginal language that was lost and incorporated some of the language and some of the ceremonies into the movie itself as well as having a ceremony prior to shooting. It just goes to show that this will be an amazing film because she’s so respectful to her surroundings and was able to revive a forgotten culture which is so impactful- it will make for a beautiful film.


WC: What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?

BG: What is most rewarding for me is telling stories that haven’t been told before and that resonates with audiences much more than just the life of the movie itself. With “The Nightingale” reviving a language and with “Birth of a Nation” having people realize that these things did happen and they did exist. It’s important that these stories resonate with people in the years to come and can also be used as an educational component in the educational system itself and can teach young people and give us different insights and perspectives which is very important. We want to tell stories that are not just entertaining but also people can learn life lessons from.

Also, the fact that we’re a Canadian company- I was born and raised in Vancouver- and can really help the community and create jobs for people here. That’s really important. I want to make sure that people are employed here and create some opportunities that they wouldn’t have in the larger corporate or studio setting so they have room to grow and do things they never would have been able to do before.

WC: What are your biggest challenges?

BG: I think for me as a woman there’s been a lot of challenges in terms of being undermined and being respected and being the authority. That’s been really hard. I belong right now to a women’s group in animation and we’re trying to empower and support young women. Also, as a woman I feel sometimes lacking in confidence in terms of being taken seriously and that has probably been my biggest challenge in terms of not having the confidence to voice an opinion knowing that I’m right and bringing different perspectives to the type of films we’re involved with. I want to make sure that, as a woman, other women here have the opportunity to bring those different perspectives and to continue to empower and support each other.


WC: What’s in the future for BRON Studios?

BG: I see us continuing to make these types of movies that are really powerful and that we’re passionate about making. As we increase in visibility, we’ll have more access to resources by way of talent- people will be drawn to us because we hopefully have a better reputation out there by way of the types of movies we’re involved with.


Viva La Cinema!