This issue features a “micro-interview” with Arthur Bradford, conducted by Dave Eggers. In 1999, Bradford, the author of the short-story collection Dogwalker, directed a feature-length documentary called How’s Your News about adults with disabilities conducting man-on-the-street interviews. A new MTV series based on the documentary aired its first episode last month.
DAVE EGGERS: Now that you’ve done a film in a very independent way—privately financed and made without any official producers and executives—and have now done a TV show with a partnership with MTV, what are the pros and cons of each method?
ARTHUR BRADFORD: How’s Your News, despite its odd conceit, is really a great example of how the indie-to-commercial system can work. Our very first videos were made at a summer camp for basically no money, and then friends of friends offered financing for an indie short which played at film festivals. This led to a privately financed feature film, which we then sold to HBO after completion. That was the indie phase, and throughout it I always felt like we could do whatever we wanted because our only goal was to make something interesting and good. The problem with this indie route is you basically have to work on spec. I never received a salary up front for all the work I put into those early films. This felt right at the time, but it can’t go on forever. After seven years of working at a loss I think we were all ready to try a different system. So we pitched a TV series idea, based on our independent films, to several networks, and MTV offered to finance a pilot. There was a lot of worry about working with this company, for all the obvious reasons, and at times it was a huge pain in the ass. But I don’t think there’s anything inherently evil about this way of doing things. You just have to be really vigilant, and you have to be willing to walk away if it gets too out of hand. Sappy as it may sound, I think that within every corporate media outlet there exist a few people who are there because they care about making good things, and if you give them the chance to do just that they will work extra hard on your behalf.