Bright West Entertainment, a film finance and production company that launched last year, has announced that it will help fund Cineflix Productions and Hello Friend Media’s Summer Qamp.
Through Bright West’s involvement, its founder Alex Lieberman will now serve as an executive producer on the project, which was initially announced as a docuseries but is now going forward as a feature documentary. The film was developed and produced by J.C. Mills, Cineflix Productions’ president and head of content, and Kristin Wendell, VP of development, with Hello Friend Media’s Lauren Heimer and Mia Weier among the executive producers.
Summer Qamp focuses on Camp fYrefly, a summer arts-based retreat for LGBTQ2S+ youth that is situated between the Canadian Rockies and the North Saskatchewan River Valley. Along with the standard-issue bonfires and canoe trips, the camp offers makeup classes led by the drag queen-in-residence and healing circles in which an Indigenous elder shares what it means to be Two Spirit, exploring ancient concepts of gender fluidity.
Lieberman (pictured) said that it was an easy decision to get involved with the project, not only because he knew the teams at Cineflix and Hello Friend well, but also because he is a former camp kid himself. His grandparents ran a summer camp in Pennsylvania for 25 years, both of his parents attended summer camp and made lifelong friends there, and he as well went to a camp for nearly a decade.
“What I’ve come to appreciate the most about camp is that it provides this unique environment for kids to come into their own and explore themselves, and really learn about who they are and what they want to be,” Lieberman said in an interview with Realscreen.
“[But] I’m speaking only from my experience at generic upstate sports camps. So when I was introduced to Camp fYrefly, [where they're] providing a camp environment for a community of kids for whom finding their authentic selves can be more difficult in their day-to-day, non-summer lives — and [the fact] that fYrefly is able to create this really safe space for these kids to feel out and better understand themselves, and meet friends and mentors in their counselors with shared values and similar experiences — it really blew me away.”
Lieberman’s professional background in unscripted development has taken him from companies like Stick Figure and Optomen to MGM. Motivated to start his own company in order to expedite the time it takes to get a documentary project from concept to screens, he launched Bright West in 2021. The realization of his aim was on view at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this summer, where no less than three Bright West–funded feature documentaries made their debuts: Jennifer Tiexiera and Camilla Hall’s Subject, Jed Rothstein’s Rudy! A Documusical and Stuart McClave’s On the Line: The Richard Williams Story.
Lieberman sat down with Realscreen to discuss the origins of Bright West, and his future goals for the company.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What was your motivation behind launching Bright West?
Alex Lieberman: Coming up in development, I saw a lot of interesting projects that were not ending up on screens, [because] the decision-making timelines in traditional development really compromised the projects. Like, if there was a volcano that’s about to explode, either you get the funding to film the volcano or you don’t — and it’s not easy for large companies, for very good reasons, to be able to say, “Oh yeah, of course, we’ve got to get in, in time for the volcano to explode.”
So when I was thinking about starting my company, I was really reflecting on the pain points that I see in non-fiction storytelling — which, for me, are timeline to distribution and extended development. So I thought, how can I be most impactful? [And I realized that] I could finance feature documentaries, I could identify projects that really excited me and provide the support needed to ensure that these could get on screen in a timeline that does not frustrate the creators. I have a lot more flexibility in that regard, and I just have a tremendous amount of confidence in the filmmaking teams that I’m working with.
Is the problem of overlong development times for documentary projects worsening, in your opinion?
Lieberman: I think it has gotten worse. I wasn’t a beneficiary of this, but when I first came into the business I would hear these legendary stories of my bosses walking into TLC with a New York Times headline, and leaving the building with a six-episode order. Obviously, that was when the business was brand new and at the height of its powers.
[Funders] have a really strong understanding of what their audience is, and so they have a meaningful checklist of how to ensure that everything they’re taking on matches those criteria. I think that is delaying the process, because there are definitely a lot of checkpoints in the non-fiction sales process. And coming from development, I am comfortable just going straight from concept to yes.
What kind of funding and support is Bright West offering to film projects so far?
Lieberman: The goal is to help get my projects to an exhale moment, where they’re not cobbling together piecemeal funding after piecemeal funding, or just ensuring that once I get involved we know the film is happening. So oftentimes I am coming in early, where there’s minimal development materials — maybe it’s an idea, or access — and I’m providing the lion’s share of the capital needed to make the film, if not all of it. But there are also other times where I’m coming in and providing finishing funds to just close these gaps and take out the outstanding stress that these filmmakers have to finish the movies.