BURNING BRIGHT is a stylized, animated thriller produced in partnership between IMG Models and filmmaker Aaron Bierman. Inspired by noir classics like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, the film features the talents and likenesses of supermodels Chanel Iman, Elsa Hosk, Jessica Stam, Nadine Leopold and actor Nolan Funk.
When a mysterious briefcase is stolen, a young woman (Chanel Iman) battles to reclaim it while her ex-boyfriend and his team of ruthless female assassins does everything in their power to destroy her.
Burning Bright is the story of a young woman who has given away her power to an unworthy man and must fight to recapture it before she loses her life and possibly her soul.
Aaron Bierman has been a storyteller his whole life. As a kid, Aaron shot Super 8 films, wrote and drew comic books and was a breakdancer in the streets and clubs of New York City during the early days of hip hop. As he grew older, Aaron didn’t see his creative pursuits as a way to make a living so with student loans to pay off, he pursued a career on Wall Street.
While working as a trader at JP Morgan, Aaron’s distinctive market commentary and storytelling skills cultivated a loyal following of clients and were featured in various media including The Wall Street Journal & ABC News.
Aaron was working in finance for over a decade when he read a New York Times article about a playground basketball legend that would change his life forever. The story inspired him to make a film about the man’s life. Three years later, “Release: The Jack Ryan Story,” was sold to 20th Century Fox and Aaron was given a writing deal to develop additional projects with the studio. Aaron quit his corporate job to become a full-time filmmaker in 2010 and was signed by the Gersh Agency soon after.
Since leaving Wall Street, Aaron has completed the Professional Screenwriting Program at U.C.L.A’s School of Film & Television, written over a dozen feature screenplays, directed award-winning short films and developed feature film projects with producers including Warner Brothers, Anonymous Content, Studio 8 and 20th Century Fox.
It is our pleasure to interview Aaron Bierman regarding the making of his award winning animation.
How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on?
I'd been working on Wall Street for over a decade when I read a New York Times article that would change my life forever. The story inspired me to make a film about a playground basketball player’s life while still working as a trader at JP Morgan. Three years later, "Release: The Jack Ryan Story," was sold to 20th Century Fox to be adapted into a feature film and I signed a writing deal to develop additional projects with the studio. I was signed by the Gersh Agency and quit my corporate job to become a full-time filmmaker shortly after. As a kid growing up in New York, I was an artist and fell under the spell of Marvel Comics at a young age. Animation and comics helped me develop a sense of visual grammar which later helped inform my filmmaking. Despite this, as a director with no experience in animation, I knew I had a lot of work to do if I was going to deliver the kind of project we could all be proud of. I read books on animation, watched countless animated classics and took an art class. I began to fall in love with animation as an art form and my passion grew. I started collecting vintage animation art and even bought a rare animation desk used at Walt Disney Studios in the 1950’s.
What made you fascinated with the animation genre?
In an animated film, artists act very much like cinematographers. I worked very closely with the artists to achieve my vision for each scene. Elements including color palette, lighting, composition and character design all go into the creation of a frame that later becomes animated to tell the larger story. The first step is a great illustration based on a photograph of the person we are creating a character for and animating. The first draft can be drastically different from our final work and getting the art correct often takes 5 or even 10 passes.
At the end of the day, the only limits of animation filmmaking lies within your imagination and that excites me. I love that infinite sense of possibility.
What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent filmmaker in the film industry?
The most challenging thing for an independent filmmaker is finding resources to share your work with the world. It’s a difficult to find the right team, the budget, distribution... Everything falls on you which is great challenge but also a lot of fun. Being an independent filmmaker makes you resourceful, creative and resilient. It forces you to focus yourself and your resources in a direction that is unlike anything else I’ve ever done — and I love it.
How difficult is it to fund indie animation films?
Funding independent films is difficult. Funding ANY film is difficult. When I worked at JP Morgan, we financed 90% of the films in Hollywood and I was constantly amazed how difficult it was to put funding together for film projects, even with the biggest studios and producers on the planet.
Please name three of your most favorite directors. How have they been influential in your work?
Three of my favorite directors are Steven Spielberg, Frank Capra and Francis Ford Coppola. Spielberg’s ability to tap into a childlike sense of wonder and still explore the darkest parts of the human experience is inspiring to me. He weaves deep theme into his films in artful and entertaining ways with an unparalleled visual style. His camera is like an artist’s brush, every frame a painting. I watch his films dozens of times and am always finding new elements of his mastery. Frank Capra’s films have a simple, raw cinematic purity that didn’t rely on lots of bells and whistles. He was a master of on-set improv and trusted his actors implicitly. I love his commitment to stories that feature the virtues of humanity in the face of great adversity. It’s a Wonderful Life is a timeless classic. I’ve watched it 100 times and cry every time! Coppola made The Godfather franchise AND Apocalypse Now. Enough said. Absolute masterpieces. Further, the incredible challenges that came with his projects and the lengths he went to complete them are beyond inspiring to me.
What inspired you to work on "Burning Bright" and how did the film go into production?
I first got the idea for Burning Bright when I overheard a friend say, “I just want to find a man who will light my cigarette.” Superficially, it was a relatable and understandable want. However, upon further thought, it struck me how much power we give to other people and things in the search for happiness or fulfillment. We live in a time where people too often surrender their personal power and don’t even know it. We hope a romantic partner can make us whole. A rewarding job will make us happy. A great leader will solve all of our problems… I had a screenwriting instructor at U.C.L.A. who said a story’s theme should be the lesson you wanted to share with the world if it was your last day on Earth. Like everyone, I’ve unknowingly given my power to others and it caused me great pain. I think it’s part of being human — but so is storytelling. One of my favorite things about telling stories is the impact you can have on people. Burning Bright is the story of a young woman who’s given away her power to an unworthy man and must fight to recapture it before she loses her life and possibly her soul. Through the metaphor of the story, I hope to remind people that despite what the world fools you into believing, our true power always lies within. Most people don’t know that we first set out to make Burning Bright a live action film and worked towards that version for about a year. I’d been speaking to my longtime friend who is a senior manager at IMG Models, Lisa Benson, about working together for years. Lisa has always been an innovative and forward-thinking agent – looking for exciting new opportunities for her models. We thought a short film would be a good way to feature some of IMG’s talent who were transitioning into acting. We secured an incredible crew, locations… and were full steam ahead on the project. However, the hectic work schedules of 5 supermodels made a three-day shoot nearly impossible so we were forced to reassess how to finish the project. I asked Lisa if she was open to the idea of turning this into an animated film. She was understandably a little nervous. I have a friend that draws for Marvel and we did some concept art with different models and Lisa loved it.
How was the film received by your audience and what is your plan for further distribution of the film?
So far, Burning Bright has screened at over 20 film festivals around the world and has been received well. The film has won 12 awards in 8 different countries to date. We’ve had inquiries to expand Burning Bright into a feature film but nothing has come to fruition as of yet. The project still in its festival run so we are open to whatever opportunities may present themselves.
What do you recommend to other filmmakers regarding the making and the distribution of independent animation films?
Distribution is an endless challenge for filmmakers at any level. I recommend filmmakers have a plan and know that distribution is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It’s a process that takes time and you need to stay with it to be successful. I think if a filmmaker is willing to be persistent and creative, nothing can stop them from sharing their work with the world. And never, ever give up!
What is your next film project and what are you currently working on?
My next project is the incredible true story of surfing legend and founder of Quiksilver, Jeff Hakman. Mr. Sunset is being developed jointly as both a documentary and a feature film.
Why do you make films?
I make films because I want a deeper connection to the experience of being human. Films penetrate our lives more profoundly than any other art form because they resonate in the deepest parts of our subconscious the same way dreams do. In their highest form, films are dreams. I make films because I believe stories have great power. Stories can be used to deceive, manipulate, destroy… and they can be used to inspire, uplift and heal. If we want a better world, we need to learn to tell better stories. I think the world needs great stories — now more than ever.