Attendees of this morning’s premiere of the short movie Building Bridges with Benny Breeze were asked to sign an oath saying they would listen to all sides of the debate over the Ohio River Bridges Project and be respectful of anyone with differing opinions. At the end of the movie, the star—Chris Saunders playing Benny Breeze—faced the camera and told the dozen people who signed the oath and stayed for the show that they were either for progress (meaning they were in favor of the bridges project) or against it. And if they were against it, they should “get the f*** out of this region.”
Building Bridges was made by local video producers Brennan Clark and Kyle Crews. It was commissioned by bridges proponent, businessman and One Southern Indiana member Vaughan Scott.
“Vaughan led us to the well where we drank and regurgitated bridges information,” said Clark at the premiere.
Clark and Crews both say they didn’t know much about the bridges project (two new bridges over the Ohio River and a reworked Spaghetti Junction) when Scott approached them in April. Scott encouraged them to study before writing the script, and he says the filmmakers routinely questioned his reasoning for supporting the full ORBP, rather than a scaled-down or redesigned version.
“The more we looked at it, the more we agreed with him that we did need the bridges,” says Crews. “So we got on the project and about a week later, we met with the Ohio River Bridges Coalition; sat down with them and had some questions. We had a meeting with them and that geared this whole discussion.”
Crews, Clark and Scott insist the Bridges Coalition only supports the idea of the movie and not the film itself. Scott says his work on the project is not related to his position with One Southern Indiana. Further, Greater Louisville Inc. promoted the movie on its website, but it’s not clear if anyone else associated with the coalition, 1SI or GLI contributed to the film. The production was paid for largely by Scott, who says he put up 90 percent of the funds. He has declined to name the other benefactors, though, because he says he wants to protect them from what he calls agenda-driven media scrutiny.
“You in the media are part of the problem,” Scott told WFPL on Wednesday evening after being questioned about the film’s content. “You are creating this divisive environment by making things things that they are not. So read the About Us section [on our website], read for yourself what the intentions are and don’t call me again.”
Scott’s criticism of the media stems from coverage of two topics. First, the bridges project itself. At the film premiere, Scott said news media, driven by the desire to sell advertising, was exaggerating the controversy over the project. (WFPL does not sell advertising, but has an underwriting department that secures support for programming. It does not influence the news department or vice versa.) Second, Scott questioned the motives of reporters who had covered the movie itself. Specifically, he took issue with a story in LEO that raised questions over the content of the video. The story was based on a trailer for the film and an interview with Scott, Crews and Clark. Sources close to the project told various media outlets the film contained humor based on racial stereotypes, including a joke about African Americans not being able to swim.
“We always try to entertain ourselves first and foremost and obviously people will get offended. That’s the nature of any project,” said Clark as he was editing the movie on Wednesday evening. “We’re not too concerned about it. We know our intentions are good.”
“There were some folks…other African Americans who actually wanted us to push the envelope even more,” said Scott before seeing the final cut. “We didn’t feel comfortable doing that. I didn’t feel comfortable with some of the themes that were discussed because at the end of the day, we want to get people talking about the issue. That’s the real goal in all of this. And we want to get people connected with community leaders.”
Scott, Clark and Crews declined to say whether such a joke was in the original draft of the movie. It was not in the final cut, but Crews says “The most outrageous stuff is on the cutting room floor.”
And jokes, offensive or not, were largely absent from the final cut of the movie. What premiered at Spalding was essentially a monologue delivered by star Chris Saunders’s character Benny Breeze. His lines focused on arguments in favor of building the bridges, including the need to reduce traffic flow on the Kennedy Bridge and the desire to connect Louisville and southern Indiana. The most outrageous moments were jokes about first lady Jane Beshear (Breeze told her on the phone to “leave the cookies in the mailbox”) and Diane Sawyer (Breeze proposed calling the east end tunnel that is part of the project the “Diane Sawyer Canal,” a name that was used in further innuendo later in the movie).
It wasn’t the content, but the tone that drew the most questions before the premiere. Scott was asked whether a comedic film was the best venue for promoting the bridges project.
“[Benny Breeze] reaches people you wouldn’t reach otherwise,” said Scott. “Like the guy next door. He doesn’t read the paper but he’s on the internet all the time. It’s truly intended for anybody who’s going to enjoy some humor and who is also going to want to be informed with facts.”
Later, at the premiere, Scott further defended the movie, calling Crews and Clark artists.
“We’ll let feces art hit national news. We’ll let people put a certain people’s god in urine, and call it art, but we’ll criticize young men because they happen to use four-letter words. I think that’s ludicrous,” said Scott at the premiere.
8664 co-founded Tyler Allen was among the dozen people in the audience. Afterward, he pointed out that Scott was accusing the media of making assumptions about his motives while making his own assumptions about the reporters’ motives.
Scott then apologized for the comment.