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Exclusive interview with writer, director, actor Robbie Bryan of 'Black Hat'

Upcoming manga/anime-themed feature film Black Hat is currently in the fundraising stage.
Upcoming manga/anime-themed feature film Black Hat is currently in the fundraising stage.
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Earlier this month, the national fundraising campaign for Black Hat launched to promote the passion of the anime, manga and cosplay community with writer/director/actor Robbie Bryan (iMurders, The Stand-In). The launching pad is with Seed & Spark, a truly independent filmmaking community where filmmakers and audiences come together for crowd funding, production, and streaming distribution. (www.seedandspark.com). Robbie Bryan wrote about a 16-year-old American girl who is determined to travel to an anime convention halfway across the country to pitch her manga book to Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop/Animatrix/Macross Plus). Black Hat is a narrative feature and taps on the themes of bullying, regret over life’s choices and their consequences, while underscoring the need to be yourself and find your own way in the world. Black Hat has already gained a huge international fan-base with more than 218,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook and is currently the #148 highest-ranking Facebook movie Fan Page on fanpagelist.com; it just surpassed Julia Roberts’Mirror Mirror and Apollo 18. Examiner.com had the opportunity to catch up with Robbie Bryan, and he shared his passion for this project and talked about the message behind this project. Read the full interview below:

Examiner: “How are you?”

Robbie Bryan: “Doing great and as excited as ever. To have the opportunity to make a movie like BLACK HAT gets me going the minute I wake up to the moment I hit the pillow. I think we are about to make something special. It's a story about an alternative teenage girl who is an amateur manga comic artist and dreams of meeting a famous Japanese Anime Director at a convention, where he will turn one amateur manga into an anime. It's a great road trip film.”

Examiner: How does it feel to have Black Hat be supported by Seed & Spark?

Robbie Bryan: “This is such a great question. When the Facebook page for the afilm www.facebook.com/blackhatanime hit over 200,000 "likes", despite not even having a trailer, several successful Producers told me I was crazy not to try a crowd funding campaign to see how much money we could raise from such a following. But which one to choose? Kickstarter was the most well known and highest profile, but you have to raise 100% of your goal, and with a budget of slightly over 2 million, I struggled with coming up with the right number that was enough of the budget to make a dent and show potential distributors, or finance partners that this film had something extraordinary going for it, but not put too high a number that we wouldn't reach our goal and lose everything that was donated to us. So then there was IndieGoGo, which we considered, and which you get to keep all the money, but then I struggled, morally, with again, if we used the flex campaign and raised an amount that didn't make a dent, but I was entitled to keep, how do I justify that? So one of the aforementioned Producers, Darren Goldberg, who happened to be on the board of Seed and Spark, suggested I sit down with the members of this somewhat smaller and newer crowd funding company and see if we were a fit. I fell in love with the company's drive to succeed, and personal touch with the filmmaker, to see the ultimate success of the campaign. It was a little-engine-that-could vibe that jibed with the Good To Be Seen Films www.goodtobeseenfilms.com mentality and I decided it was the way to go.”

Examiner: What does this mean for the film, and for you as the writer and director?

Robbie Bryan: “Well, the success of the www.seedandspark.com campaign can mean so much for the film and myself, as a writer/director if we successfully hit our goal. We have already identified several financiers who we can get a deal done if we can show that we have 10% of the budget and if we hit the goal, we'll be
closer to 12-14%. It will also show the demand this movie and it's subject matter has and an identifiable audience for which money people and distribution people can plainly see and want to get involved with us.
Although I believe the fact that we have almost a quarter million people on our Facebook page attests to this.
One might argue, if we don't hit the goal, that we don't have this, but I think, if our goal is somehow not reached, that it will be more of the fans wanting to see that this is real, and not from not being passionate about this subject matter. As a writer/director, the publicity being put out there is a great thing for myself, as I still fly a bit under the radar, but of way more importance is the fact that if I get to make this movie, I believe it will be a game changer. Not only career-wise, as I see this movie doing amazing things commercially and critically, but the fact that I can bring even further to light, the subject of teen bullying and also immortalizing a beautiful young, disabled cosplayer who we lost just a few weeks ago to a rare skin disease. I have many angels supporting this film!”

Examiner: Tell us about "Black Hat" and what prompted you to explore the world of anime and manga?

Robbie Bryan: “It was kind of a fluke actually. A real happy one. A Producer friend who had Produced Phone Booth with Colin Farrell, was working on a play with a teen actress whose father wanted to create a film project for her, a vehicle to break out in, and put up a good chunk of the money to do it. So the Producer
friend asked me if I had a script with a great role for a teen, that was a kind of a relationship film with a family member. I said "no", but I am a writer and could come up with something. So I decided to make it about a grand daughter, grandfather relationship, because I have never met either grandfather and am always fascinated by the relationship, and then, as I often do when searching for inspiration, surfed the net and came upon an article about anime. I immediately, like a bell went off, thought, what a cool, fresh subject matter to incorporate into the film. The problem was, honestly, that I knew very little about the world of
anime, manga and cosplay, so I googled anime groups, and found one up in Cheshire Connecticut and began hanging out interviewing them for weeks, and then soon attending anime conventions like Anime Boston and Otakon, and I was hooked. But I also think the message of surviving bullying and being able to be strong and be true to who you are, is equally important. I then got people like Jodelle Ferland, from Case 39 and Twilight Eclipse and Michael Gambon from Harry Potter interested in possibly joining the cast and I told the producer I wanted to hold out to work, hopefully, with incredible talents like this.”

Examiner: Mad House's Maso Maruyama has signed on to the project -- tell us about this partnership?

Robbie Bryan: “Well, I don't want to say signed on, because that isn't completely true. In this business, particularly in the indie world, no one really signs on until you are fully financed and have tentative star dates. However, short of that, I have met personally with Maruyama-san at Otakon this year, and we had an
hour meeting about the film. He had read the script, through a contact with one of our Producers, Alex, and as long as he is available when it's time to make the 11 minutes of anime interspersed throughout the narrative feature, he has assured me he is interested in joining us. It was essential to the fans of the film on our Facebook page, that we be as authentic as possible with this genre and culture. To have authentic Japanese anime created. Not in the US. And that the Famous Anime Director that our main character "Dandi" dreams of meeting, be an actual Anime Director, not Japanese American actor playing a fictitious anime director, so we have contacted legendary Director Shinichiro Watanabe about playing the role, and like Maruyama-san, I have been assured if the timing is right, Watanabe-san will join us too. It would be such an honor to work with them both!”

Examiner: The film highlighted real life issues, such as bullying. What do you want viewers to take away from the message you are trying to convey?

Robbie Bryan: “So many issues. Bullying and physical abuse in the home and alcoholism and being judged before all the facts are in. I want to explore all these things in the film, particularly bullying, as I hope, when the film is as successful as I know it will be,I'd love to start a hotline or website where people can skype with someone, when they feel alone and isolated and just need to hear a sympathetic ear on the other end. But the film is not as dark as it seems. It has many light moments. And the film speaks to friendship and I also just want the audience to enjoy the ride that "Dandi" takes.”

Examiner: Do you think teens will be able to understand the message of the film?

Robbie Bryan: “I have no doubt they will. Teens are so very bright and they are going through all the things that "Dandi" and the other characters are going through in their lives every day. Heck, if they don't get the message, then I really did a very bad job with this film.”

Examiner: Lastly, what upcoming projects are you currently working on?

Robbie Bryan: “Well, my main focus for sure is getting BLACK HAT made, and this
www.seedandspark.com crowdfunding campaign has my very attention for 30 more days. But also this year, I will be shooting a psychological thriller called "The Eyes" with my wonderful iMurders actress
Brooke Lewis and a beautiful up and coming Brazilian actress Talita Maia. So please keep up with me at www.goodtobeseenfilms.com, @robbiebryan @blackhatanime for more details on all the fun.”