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Opinion and Insight

Strawberry Frog's Lush Film Opens Up the World of Autism for One Small Girl

Director Jakob Strom and Strawberry Frog's Scott Goodson discuss why magic and beauty were the keys to unlocking autism in film for the SunTrust Foundation's film 'The Bridge'

Strawberry Frog's Lush Film Opens Up the World of Autism for One Small Girl

"Autism can keep those with it in their own world. This spot shows how the SunTrust Foundation helps families and people with autism learn to connect. In it, a young girl and her pet stuffed pig explore a beautiful world. We journey through it with her, seeing the magic of it, a bit uncertain about who she is or where she is. The girl discovers a bridge and hears a voice calling her to cross it. At the end of the bridge we discover the voice is her mother, finally able to create a bridge between her world and her daughter’s world, and make a connection," says Scott Goodson of StrawberryFrog

The 90-second short film stars a little girl, on an isolated island in what appears to be the pacific North West. The film begins with the little girl waking up in a little shack on an island, beside a waterfall. We see that her world is full of magic -- all with the help of a few carefully placed Easter eggs that vary from tiny ants, to a forest of glowing fireflies to a multicoloured flying fish in the woodlands, all appearing along with her walk around the island with impeccable timing.

As the film unfolds we hear a muffled voice and when we do something magical happens through CGI, subtle at first and then more overt as the film continues. Each time we hear the voice the little girl is startled but continues on her way exploring her magical island. The crescendo of the film brings the little girl to a bridge off her island. We hear a voice calling her to cross over the bridge. The film resolves in a powerful emotional conclusion as we discover the voice is that of the little girl’s mother. The little girl has crossed the bridge between her magical world and her mother’s world, and they make a connection.

Scott Goodson of StrawberryFrog and director Jakob Strom talk about the project.

Q> What was the mandate for this job and what was your process like in figuring out how you wanted to execute it?

Jakob Strom: The brief was this fantastic script by Scott Goodson at StrawberryFrog which brought to life the world of an autistic child into a 90 second story that is beautiful and incredibly emotional. Briefs like this is very rare, I mean I fell in love with the idea the first time I read it. And called my producer Mark Thomas at Cultivate Media and told him I REALLY want to do this job. At the very first meeting Scott and I discussed how brilliant this would be as a magical story of a little girl but I don't think anyone else really took us seriously. The more we talked however the more it became apparent that the magic really needed to be done. Needless to say this caused a certain amount of anxiety to ensure that we could portray the world of an autistic child in a powerful and beautiful way. The problem was I just knew that anything less than real moments of visual brilliance would not be anywhere near as good as we wanted. After the first day of shooting in a incredible forest in the Pacific North West that was greener than you could ever imagine, a natural setting that looked like a set from Game of Thrones, we got some amazing takes in a fairly spectacular way! Thankfully the cast pulled it out of the bag and went on to give us brilliant take after brilliant take. The sense of relief around video city was as powerful as the waterfall you see in the film.

Q> What made you choose the Swedish director Jakob Strom to direct this in the first place and how did he meet/exceed your expectations?

Scott Goodson: I literally cannot overstate how brilliant I think Jakob is. He was the natural choice to direct this important film. In terms of expectations I think I only had the ones anyone would have had about Jakob. He's our Scorsese. He won the Cannes Gold Lion for his incredible film "Dear Daddy". He has done some amazing work in Europe and it did worry me slightly that he might not take the project seriously and might be difficult to direct. Nothing could have been further from the truth. He was incredibly easygoing, charming as hell and incredibly professional. It was really interesting actually. I often wondered what it is that made someone like him as successful as he is. There are of course all the things you'd expect - like the talent etc. But the thing that really struck me was just how hardworking he was. The pressure he put on himself to get it right was extraordinary. He made the script come alive and his ideas such as adding the flying fish in the forest was brilliance in film-making. By the time we finished the film, there was this collective euphoria with our friends at SunTrust and among the StrawberryFrog team.

StrawberryFrog’s producer Linda Rafoss and Tim Tontz, Project Management at StrawberryFrog and I did loads of prep. The moment we got the script approved we called Jakob and from there the ideas started to flow. Jakob would read and send me lots of Facebook messages of his ideas. By doing this again and again we could work out the story boards. Jakob and his team including the world renowned DOP Jallo Faber and Pablo Fernandez VFX supervisor for SWISS literally jumped on a plane in Sweden and flew to the West Coast and started scouting the perfect place for this island story to come to life so that by the time we were ready to shoot we were very well prepared and knew exactly what all the ideal locations would be as well as potential problems were from a technical point of view. We then joined him and started casting and shooting. We transferred the process up to Sweden to finish the post and the amazing computer graphics.

The location found by Jakob and his team was absolutely perfect, and you probably couldn't have found a more beautiful place to shoot this film considering the evergreen forests, the beaches, the waterfall, the weather and a suspension bridge.

Q> Were there any challenges in making this film?

Jakob Strom> The biggest challenges were technical as we shot deep in nature. In spite of all our preparation the things we couldn't account for were things like the people who were also attracted to the locations. The whole crew was covered in rain gear in case the weather changed but it did not. We had to respect the natural environment where we were shooting. The whole crew on location was amazing, our producer from LA, Paul Papanek made it all happen and the cast “wow”. Everyone helped out carrying all the equipment into the deeply mossy green woods, and we worked as a team throughout the production. Due to restrictions in the forest, we had no video village, no trailers but no one complained, on the contrary, we had a blast and I would do it any day again.


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