Documentary on the Fire Service Launches Campaign


Photo courtesy of Brian Sullivan

Local filmmaker, Brian Sullivan, who we wrote about in a previous article is combining his unique experiences from the fire service with his passion for filmmaking. In an attempt to bring to light what happens Behind the Bay Doors in the Fire Service, Brian has launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund a feature-length documentary. This 90-minute documentary will focus on the cultural aspects of the brotherhood. This film was inspired by a short film produced in May of 2015 that focused on the frontline efforts of firefighters to protect and serve the public. Behind the Bay Doors will be submitted into the film festival circuit in 2017, with an anticipated limited theatrical and Online/VOD release.

Crowdfunding Campaign

To make the film a reality, the production team desperately needs your help. The campaign to fund the film has less than 3 weeks remaining to meet its goal. It can be found online at IndieGoGo –​.

There is so much more to firefighting than meets the eye. Brave men and women die every year protecting our families – many of which have families of their own. Behind the Bay Doors explores some of the lesser-known aspects of firefighting, such as station life, family life, and what it is like to train for disaster situations. This film focuses heavily on the characters at a few select fire stations across the United States.

Brian is a filmmaker who has worked in Hollywood as well as Philadelphia. He has a deep-seated passion for the post-production side of the industry, combined with a drive to tell stories that otherwise would go unnoticed. Through this documentary, he hopes to put the fire service in a brighter light throughout the United States. We asked him to describe the movie-making process, to help you understand what your donation to this campaign helps accomplish. Below is what he told us:

1. Research & Development

We knocked out the R&D portion of the film when I produced the short. Typically, documentary filmmakers will decide to make a film and then need to spend months researching their topic. Since I have been into the firefighting scene for almost three years now, I know the ins-and-outs of the story that I want to tell.

A huge part of documentary storytelling is being ethical and honest. Coming into a topic with an open mind is a necessity, but you really need to know the subject, especially if it is something where cast and crew are in potentially hazardous situations. Knowing your audience, as well as the cast, is key in making a successful film — not only in terms of distribution, but ethically as well.

After a filmmaker decides “I want to tell this story” comes the question “Is there a market for this film?” Executives and investors want to know if this is a viable option before they invest their time and energy into it.

There are several markets for this film. For one, the public sector is a large target from the standpoint of a fire company. Over the past few months, I have heard a number of high-profile individuals in the fire service state that fire prevention is not always best achieved by airing low-budget advertisements on a public service channel. Getting the word out on social media is a great start, but the fire service needs volunteers (and for career departments the equivalent would be individuals interested in training). Making a high-profile film that not only tells a story but motivates the public is certainly a goal of the film.


Photo courtesy of Brian Sullivan

Secondly, firefighting is often a multi-generational following, so to speak. The black-and-white photo is a family of firefighters in Fort Washington Fire Company (Station 88 in Upper Dublin). Grandfather, father, and son are all in one frame, serving side-by-side. In the short documentary, the Wilmot family mentioned that they have three generations of history in the Flourtown Fire Company. The familial theme is a core component in the fire service, and the story falls in line with the audience interests.

2. Pre-production

Pre-production generally is the most time-consuming and most essential part in making a film. (It should be noted that in a true Hollywood production, a la multi-million dollar film, the specifics are slightly different as it simply involves more positions and more people). So many things happen at once: You are hiring producers, setting up storylines, applying for grants, finding investors, securing locations, selecting a crew, working out financial logistics, drawing up a distribution roadmap, and essentially setting up a gameplan for the entire film. Typically, the producers will handle most of these tasks, but this is dependent on the scope of the project. For Behind the Bay Doors, I have two producers and one Unit Production Manager (UPM).

You are also figuring out what you are shooting on, how you are getting the gear, workflow for post-production, and on top of all of this, how much everything is going to cost, how many people are going to be involved.

For a camera team on a narrative production, you typically will have a DP (Director of Photography), one (often several) Camera Operators (who each get their own 1st Assistant Cameraman [1st AC] and 2nd Assistant Cameraman [2nd AC]), and Production Assistants (PA’s) who assist each unit.

That is one unit of two or three possible on a larger production. Now, take into account that there needs to be lighting, sound, production design, and DIT (asset management and workflow) departments. You could easily end up with 100-200 people on a medium to large-size production.

For us at Behind the Bay Doors, we are focusing on a 10-12 person crew for the life of the production. On an Independent Film (an “Indie”) such as this one, we simply cannot afford to feed and insure that many people. Secondly, there isn’t necessarily a need for it. My mantra has always been stay out of sight and out of mind on the fireground. Part of the reason we are utilizing such a small crew is because there simply isn’t room for that many extra people at a firehouse or on-scene at a fire.

3. Production

Speaking from a camera-operator’s perspective, production is the most exciting part of a film. Behind the Bay Doors will be entering “Principal Photography” in late Feb. 2016. Filming will last through the beginning of “fire season” in October 2016. Our current plan of attack is to focus on three to four departments through those months. (Ironically, this is the shortest to describe, even though it is the longest and most involved process on paper.)

4. Marketing

Marketing, marketing, marketing! With any film, the marketing begins at different times, but is on everyone’s mind. Keeping a following and having a gameplan for distribution is something that is always happening, but really starts to hit hard when you exit production.

5. Post-production

The film isn’t over when you stop filming. In fact, it’s just begun! When most projects get to “post” (post-production) they are historically out of time and out of money, and up against a deadline set by the studio or network. We will be editing and developing a final cut from October 2016 through Spring 2017. After that, the finished cut is sent to a DI (Digital Intermediate) facility to be color corrected. Simultaneously, a post-sound specialist works on the sound design.

6. Distribution & Release

Our goal is to pick up distribution from an online retailer, such as Netflix and Amazon. Additionally, we plan on submitting the film to Slamdance film festival as well as several other festivals internationally.

If you have ever needed assistance from a fire fighter, know one personally, or just appreciate the work they volunteer to do, please consider contributing to Brian’s film.