Interview: Julie Bruns and Steven Kammerer

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Julie Bruns and Steven Kammerer lead the creative team behind the short biographical film Ada, about the English mathematician Ada Lovelace, considered the first computer programmer.

Synopsis: London, England. 1851. Dying of cancer and facing down early Victorian sexism, brilliant mathematician Ada Lovelace risks a high stakes gamble to raise the money needed to complete her life’s object, the worlds first computer.

Steven Kammerer (Director/Writer)

Steven Kammerer is an award winning filmmaker based in Vancouver, Canada. He has been nominated 6 times and won 2 awards for Best Director. His film “Ada” (2019) has garnered over 50 total nominations on the festival circuit, with 19 wins including 5 wins for Best Short Film. More on IMDB

Julie Bruns (Lead Actor/Writer)

Julie Bruns is an award-winning actor, writer, director and producer. Born in the Great White North, the Yukon Territories of Canada, Julie first took the stage at four years old for a performance of I’m a Little Teapot. Her passion for the performing arts was born and she hasn’t looked back. Much of her childhood was spent in Baja California, Mexico where she learned to speak Spanish fluently and fed her growing love of cinema, making a number of self-directed short films. More on IMDB

What attracted you to tell this story, what was about it that inspired you to make this film?

Julie: I think we first stumbled across Ada Lovelace’s story together because Steven was researching the history of science. He also had this interest in Lord Byron, who was Ada Lovelace’s father. He found her story and I had worked in web design before I came to film so this news that the world’s first computer programmer was a woman was not only amazing to me but also, I was shocked that I didn’t already know this. It felt wrong that she’s not a household name but on the level of Edison and Tesla still to this day. We made this film a few years ago now, when you dig a little bit suddenly you uncover this subculture, there are Ada fans out there. I think it just really resonated with us that anybody who’s come across her story has been fascinated and intrigued and connected with it and as filmmakers the fact that we had stumbled into this made us go, this deserves to be brought to the screen.

Steven: We’re in 1851, in this film, where Babbage has designed the analytical machine, which they didn’t even start, they just had plans for a machine that would have been. The government had been funding Babbage for a while, but he was such an ornery, creative genius, that he lost their support. I think he yelled at the Prime Minister in his office or something, they threw him out. And then he was by 1851 on to his next project and kind of just left that all behind. But Ada stuck with it. But I think for Babbage, it was always just going to be a fancy calculator.

Julie: And she knew that it was going to be something beyond that. A lot of bits of the film are lifted from actual quotes or very close to her actual quotes in correspondence. So, we kept very close to her authentic views on what it was going to be.

Steven: Okay. I think we read all the biographies. At that point, there were five, I think there’s been one or two coming, like major biographies of her. We read all of all of them. But just to try to, where is the dramatic core in this to tell, I mean, our film is 18 minutes long. And so, we needed to just boil it down to the dramatic core of it. And she was gambling on the horses at the end of her life. And running into money troubles. So, there was a great there was a great little way to tell it within a few, you know, within 18 minutes, really, this her final gambit.

What was the greatest challenge that you faced as filmmakers in terms of the creative decisions that you had to make about what’s in, what’s out, what’s we’re all about, what’s in scope etc., as you were making the film?

Steven: There was so much of that was a masterclass in learning. It was part of a competition, first, called Crazy Eights and that eight meant eight days, three days of shooting, five days of post. We had to make it, we had to shoot it in three days.

Julie: But for all your pre-production, we had months to do that. Plenty of time to research and write and I mean I think this was, you know, one of the films that we did earlier on in our careers as well. We co-wrote it and I think one of the biggest challenges was how to cover so much ground and there’s a fair bit of exposition to kind of establish where we’re at and who she is and what’s going on. So, I think that was a big challenge to not only cover all of the ground that you have to in telling the actual gritty bits of the story, but also to include her personality and the personalities of those people around her because she was this atypical personality. She was a genius and maybe a little bit of a mad genius in some ways which is not a story we’re used to hearing about from women of that era. And I think if we ever had the opportunity to revisit it in a longer form as a feature or a show, taking the time to explore her as a person, as well as just her accomplishments, would be something I think we want to dive further into.

You were saying this film was earlier in your filmmaking partnership?

Steven: We had it on the festival circuit for several years, and it’s kept going. I think we went to about 40 different festivals in the end.

Julie: We shot it in 2019 and finished it up by the end of 2019 and we were just starting to head out to festivals and then of course 2020 hit. The festival environment became different and so at a certain point, you’re okay that it’s going to online festivals. We thought about whether we continue this so that we can kind of do some in-person festivals later, it was unprecedented times so we kind of took our time to try to figure out what it was we could do with it.

For other independent filmmakers, what was your strategy for distribution?

Julie: I think the first goal was being that we’d stumbled into this incredible story. It felt remiss to not just give it that individual focus. The first goal has always been we fell in love with Ada as a character and wanted to tell the story from a filmmaker’s strategic stance. At this point, the goal stands as having as many people watch the film as possible because we really do want it to have an impact on spreading her story. And absolutely, I think being able to revisit a feature version would be incredible. Of course, being independent filmmakers, that would be a big ask budget-wise because it is a period piece.

Steven: I would say that we don’t want to rush into doing that as our next project because that is something down the line a bit. It’s a historical drama. That’s not our first feature. We would want to do it properly with a $10 million budget or so that’s just not our next step, I would say, but we’ve been doing a lot of other things in the interim, and I feel like we’re getting to a point where we would be ready to take on that kind of responsibility, but just a few more steps left.

Where do you get funding to put these films together?

Julie: We, I mean, I feel like we’ve always kind of gone this very indie route of privately funded people who believe in the project. We were lucky enough to… Well, with Crazy Eights, we won by being able to produce this film.

Steven: We had already won. They produced six films a year. So we were one of the six. They get over 200 applications and submissions, and then they produce six. And so, at that point, you get, you get a $1,000 cash, which, you know, for three days pays for your catering or less. But then we, but you get a lot of gear and kind. They offer a lot of access to a lot of gearing. We were lucky enough to have also just a fantastic team on the film. I think by the time it was finished, probably a hundred people had touched this film and everybody who came to it was very passionate about it. We had a DP, Wai Sun Cheng, who brought a lot of gear and just incredible expertise to create the look of the film. We had an incredible production design team. We had just, just everybody really kind of extended themselves for this film. And then we went the very, very indie filmmaker route of doing, you know, private funding on the side.

Steven: There’s a used bookstore in Vancouver called MacLeod’s, which has appeared in several films because it looks like a hole in the wall where you just have stacks of books to the ceiling through it. It’s just a labyrinth and I met Kat Staples by asking for books about Byron and Shelley and then she said I know the family of Shelley’s in London. She turned out to be interested in Ada’s story and said they wanted to produce this film with us and came on as one of our executive producers and provided some of the funding as well. I think all in all our budget was still very low, in the end, around eight thousand dollars..

For other independent filmmakers who are not at your stage, the people who are starting, what would be your best advice?

Julie: I think honestly for indie filmmakers, especially when you’re a bit newer, keep the team small. You’re all gonna learn so much more and so much more quickly. And there’s this sense of accountability and yeah, a passion. But I would say both experiences are important. Like working with Ada with a hundred people or with the next show where it’s 30 people, although it’s only five minutes. I mean, navigating that size of a crew is a great experience as well. But then when you’ve got a core group of six people and everybody can multitask, that is amazing as well. And I think that that just where you’re much lighter on your feet. If you can do it with a small team and feel the way that feels, then you can scale that to a larger team and you know what you’re aiming for. I think also do not roll the camera until you’re you feel good about your script. How you feel about your script is going to evolve as you gain experience and kind of get to a point where you’re like, oh, yes, this is a good script for where I’m at now versus in 10 years, you might look back and go, oh, there’s stuff I would change.

What’s your current excitement? What’s driving you right now?

Steven: Well, we’re releasing a lot of our back catalog onto our YouTube channel, which is kind of new for us.

Julie: We just put out, apart from Ada, which is the focus, especially with it being Women’s History Month, we’re focusing on getting Ada out in style as she deserves. But we also recently released a web series called The Eviction, which is basically Home Alone meets the current housing market.

Steven: It’s a tragic comedy about getting evicted in Vancouver. We have some great comedic talent working on this,

Julie: It’s definitely a topical series. And then later this year, I think we’re releasing Blink, which is our little five-minute horror that played earlier this year at Blood in the Snow. I’ve switched up the log line a couple of times but honestly the best logline is is the line that opens the film which is I stabbed my husband to death 27 minutes ago and he won’t stop blinking. survive and what will be left of them I like it fantastic thank you blink enjoy it yeah that’s good well I’m gonna thank you both.

More info & links:

  • Directors: Steven Kammerer
  • Writers: Julie Bruns and Steven Kammerer
  • Cast: Julie Bruns, Hanneke Talbot, Matthew Kevin Anderson
  • Ada on IMDB
  • Rent/buy Ada on ReelWomensNetwork

Blair Campbell

Film Reviewer

Blair Campbell is a graduate of the television broadcasting program at Algonquin College in Ottawa. A long-time fan of everything film-related, he is passionate about independent films and works as a producer focused on providing support to local, independent filmmakers. Production credits include A Clean Slate, The Gift, Pot Bound, Heartless, and Claire and Joseph.  Blair is also a board member of Ottawa Festivals where he advocates for emerging film festivals in Ottawa.