When Ron and his daughter Bryce Dallas Howard premiered their new short film, "when you find me," at New York's American Museum of Natural History earlier this month, it wasn't exactly the typical opening night for a new project by an Oscar winner and an A-list young actress.
There were no high-powered producers, Hollywood moneymen or famed screenwriters to be seen on the red carpet. Instead, eight decidedly un-Hollywood photographers who happened to take a chance on an Internet contest stood in groups, excitedly taking in the moment. And they'd earned it: their photos, chosen from over 96,000 entries to Canon's Project Imagination contest, had formed the basis of the film, which was produced by Ron and directed by Bryce.
Beginning in June, the camera company had called for entries in eight different categories, with the promise that, once Ron picked winners from a narrowed list, those selected would be used to inspire a short film. Ron approached filming, which took place in September and October, with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.
"I was anxious about it," he told The Huffington Post. Though selecting the photos gave him a measure of control, he had no guarantee that they'd be any good; and even if they were, that didn't mean that he and his team would be able to string them into any sort of coherent plot. "We told ourselves initially that, 'Hey, worse comes to worst, we're taking inspiration from these photos. We don't have to be that literal about it.'"
Luckily, Ron wound up with plenty of quality images to choose from. That allowed him to choose photos that could correspond to different themes, offering Bryce and her writing partner, Dane Charbeneau, all sorts of potential directions in which to take the script. Striking but farflung -- a deserted cockpit, a glistening white tree, a woman giving birth in a hospital, a girl looking out from spaceship -- the pictures would have to be brought together somehow.
The result was a surprisingly cohesive film that features recognizable glimpses of each photo amid a story about two young girls, the loss of their mother and an emotional reconciliation years later. To make it happen, Bryce and Charbeneau pushed the script into sci-fi and fantasy territory.
The painterly picture of the abandoned cockpit was turned into a vessel that could travel across time and dimensions, conveying the girls to the afterlife, where their mother waited by a majestic white tree. Earlier hospital scenes were inspired by a photo of a woman doubled over in pain in a hospital bed, while an animated sequence takes care of the space travel image.
That such a concerted effort was made to create a plot with a real emotional core can, in large part, be credited to Bryce's determination to do more than just make a moving scrapbook.
"The photos existed but it was our responsibility to determine what kind of story it was and how we interpreted the photos, so ultimately, it is extremely personal to me," she said. "And I think anything you do creatively kind of represents an aspect or facet of one's personality."
That sense of personal investment in a collaborative project could have significance beyond this single short film, pointing the way to a potential new method of filmmaking.
Joining Bryce at the event was her "50/50" co-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose interest in the filmmaking process behind "when you find me" went far beyond just supporting a friend. One of Hollywood's fastest-rising leading men, Gordon-Levitt has a burgeoning side career running the online production community HitRecord. The company offers artists across the world the opportunity to contribute to songs, books, short films and other endeavors.
"That's just the way that storytelling is going," he says, looking toward a more web-based, two-way entertainment industry. "It's going back to the natural order of things, where, throughout the ages, people would gather communally and would tell stories to each other. It wasn't just one clique of people that told a story and everyone else had to listen."
Now, with broadband Internet access and professional-quality cameras that slide in and out of pockets, the conversation is changing -- and for the better, Gordon-Levitt insists.
"People who contribute to HitRecord, they do it because they love it," he explained. "And there are people in Hollywood who do that, Bryce being a good example. But there are also a lot of people who are just kind of doing it for the money, and that doesn't tend to lead to inspiring art."
The experience of making this film also won over Bryce, who plans on merging aspects of public participation with the more traditional mode of directing to which she has long aspired.
"I think in future projects that I work on, I'm going to want to sort of somehow model this approach," the young director said. "Because there were creative filmmaking decisions made early on by these photos. Whatever that means, I think it was a process that I wouldn't have been privy to, but now that I am, I'm going to still try to replicate it."
For more on the film, click over to Project Imagination's YouTube page.
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