Brandon Zuck

Brandon Zuck picks rebellion as his protagonist. As a short filmmaker residing in Los Angeles, Zuck’s best ideas come to him between pop punk covers of ‘80s hit songs. This is only fitting given that his work traces angsty storylines against the backdrop of muted neon hues reminiscent of the worlds in John Hughes’ cult classic films and Lana Del Rey music videos. Though he now has a catalogue of work as a writer and director, Zuck first began to focus on filmmaking in his twenties. After emerging from a handful of unfulfilling careers, he eventually quit his desk job to allow his creative vision to become more than daydreams.

Despite pursuing film studies in both your undergraduate (New York University) and master’s programs (Columbia University), your early career led you into brief ventures in the fashion industry and law school. What was it that eventually lured you back to film?

Somewhere in my twenties I landed in a career that I never wanted. I had been a little bit of a mess and everyone told me to grow up and get a normal job and be a responsible person and when I did that and found myself the director of marketing at an apparel company, under fluorescent lights all day, in an office with a view of a hallway, talking about what kind of stitch to put on a $3 t-shirt, I thought— ‘This is it? This is the life everyone was telling me to have? No thanks.’ I made a personal promise that I was either going back to film school or jumping off of the roof.

As evidenced by your IMDb profile and the end credits of your short films, you have interests and talents that could make you a one-man-show on a film crew. Is there an aspect of filmmaking you enjoy most?

Mainly I’m a writer and director, but I’ve crewed various positions on set mostly because I work with my friends on their films and I’ll just fill in whatever gap they need filled. On my own sets, however, I’ll play multiple roles simply because money can be tight on independent productions and no one works cheaper for me than me.

Your work on short films has garnered attention and accolades from film festivals and the online film community. Was there any piece of recognition that really struck you or helped confirm this career path for you?

More than film festivals and awards honestly the coolest thing for me was when I found out that a few high school clubs like the Gay Straight Alliance were screening A Song for Your Mixtape. Really that meant more than anything.

Your short films like The Happy Ones, A Song for Your Mixtape and, most recently, Goodbye Blue Sky tell coming-of-age stories. Why do you think themes like youth, LGBTQ+ narratives and finding community are mainstays in your work?
I mean the easiest answer is probably just that I’m an aging gay punk with Peter Pan syndrome. One time I had to speak at an event about the importance of queer filmmaking and it made me realize that I never actually thought about it. I never wrote a gay character to send a message—it’s just that I’m gay so when I write about love I’m writing about dudes, and when I write about heartbreak I’m writing about my ex-boyfriend. But maybe if I can make you hate my ex as much as I do, then we all understand each other just a little better? Or I’m a narcissist, hard to say.

If you accomplish one thing with your work, what do you want it to be?
I want to create the kind of character and story that gets people wearing Halloween costumes and starting arguments on Reddit. Which is to say: I want people to give a damn. I feel like when I’m writing I just want these people to come alive, and part of that is when an audience connects enough to feel some kind of ownership. Like if someone makes a fandom or “ship” video on YouTube set to emo music, it means you did your job exactly right.

What or who motivated you to pursue filmmaking?

There’s literally nothing else I could do with myself and still want to live on this planet. Trust me, I tried. I’ve had like thirty careers and a brief homeless punk phase. This is the only thing that fits.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I’m developing a few different things right now. Features, pilots, digital series. I drink a lot of coffee, so it’s fine. Stay tuned!

Text Kyle Thornburg
Photography David Brookton