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New Film Highlights Bridge Painters

Friday, August 4, 2017

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A new documentary follows the men and women who paint America’s bridges, illuminating the importance of their work and the bonds that connect them as a team.

Bridge Brothers, released this month by 4th Coast Productions and available for purchase via Technology Publishing Co., the publisher of Durability + Design News and PaintSquare Daily News, chronicles the painting of two bridges in the Philadelphia area by Corcon Inc., an industrial painting firm with offices in Lowellville, Ohio, and Bayside, New York. Corcon CEO Lou Lyras is the film’s executive producer.

Bridge Brothers crew
Images courtesy of 4th Coast Productions

Bridge Brothers, a new documentary from 4th Coast Productions, chronicles the rehab of two Philadelphia-area bridges by Corcon Inc.

The film was made during rehabiltation projects on the Commodore Barry Bridge and the Walt Whitman Bridge, both overseen by the Delaware River Port Authority on contracts awarded to Corcon in 2014 and 2015. Filming proceeded with permission from both DRPA and the Department of Homeland Security.

Bridge Brothers producer, director and cinematographer Matthew White, the founder of 4th Coast Productions, spoke with us about the experience of entering the world of a team of bridge painters, and some of the ideas he took away from the experience.

PSDN: How did the film come to be?

White: If my memory is correct, Lou [Lyras] and I first talked in 2008. I love bridges, and I always have wanted to film on bridges, because they’re epic; they produce an epic image. Lou contacted me in 2008 because he came across my information, about being a director and producer of documentaries. His passion was, he wanted to have somebody like myself be interested in the topic of restoring the large bridges in America. He was particularly interested in not only showing the public what went into large bridge painting, but the crew that did it: the men and women. He wanted to have them recognized.


The film follows bridge painters through prep work, blasting and recoating, and delves into their lives, following one worker home to his family.

This was a topic I had never really heard anything about. And what we show you in the doc is a lot of stuff that’s never really been documented thoroughly.

It ended up being this long process, because you can’t just go onto a bridge and start filming. You have to get permission from, basically, the bridge owners. But then also, you have the side of getting permission to film with a contracting company that’s doing the work. With a lot of stuff in life, when you say you want to show up with cameras and document people, not everybody’s into it. We tried to get this project off the ground in 2008 in New York City, but we just couldn’t get permission.

What did you find to be the focus when you began filming?

It was always a story about the guys, and the industry. We wanted to give these bridge painters the credit they deserve. In essence, bridge painters restore the major bridges—for our purposes, we wanted to focus on the large bridges—and if there weren’t people restoring bridges, every bridge would deteriorate, rust and collapse eventually. [The film is] kind of a way to show people who drive across bridges that it’s such an important thing to keep infrastructure functioning. People take bridges for granted.

And what we wanted to capture, and I think we did successfully in Bridge Brothers, was a 360-degree perspective of these guys: what they do, their lives, we actually follow one guy home. The original idea, when Lou and I first spoke, we wanted to capture all the details about the work and the guys. And I wanted to put the viewer right up there, so they feel like they’re bridge workers.

We have some scenes where we have a camera mounted on a guy’s helmet—you’re looking from the perspective he has when he’s up on the scaffolding. A lot of people, when they watch those shots, have to turn their heads. Some people are very uneasy with heights. When people say they can’t watch that scene or something, I secretly enjoy that, because the fact that we were able to capture it so up close and personal that the viewer would be bothered by the height through the television—I kind of feel like that’s satisfying, because it captures what it’s like for those guys every day.

What was the biggest surprise you encountered personally in making this film?

I’d say—obviously, I knew that bridges had to be taken care of and restored, and of course you drive past bridges and see work going on, ever since you were a kid. But to actually see behind the scenes what they do, that gave me a whole new perspective on just how much work goes into restoring these bridges.


"I came away with a whole new respect for everything that goes into bridge painting, and the effect it has on the guys who do it," says director Matthew White (not pictured).

There are all kinds of aspects you never realize. One of the guys [in the film] actually says, the hardest part of the job is not repainting, it’s getting to where you need to paint. When they built these bridges, they never built platforms for crews to get up and repaint them. So the first thing the painters have to do is to build from the cables up, and build platforms just to get up there. Then for environmental protection they have to wrap the whole platform and bridge in a tarp system, the containment.

Between safety, environmental protection, all the aspects that go into painting a bridge, it’s such a massive undertaking. I came away with a whole new respect for everything that goes into bridge painting, and the effect it has on the guys who do it. They have to think about their health, physical safety, the stress it does put on their family when they’re out of town. But a lot of these guys say they love what they do. A lot of these guys really take pride, and they should.

What are you hoping audiences will take away from the film?

I’m proud of the fact that hopefully these guys will get some recognition from the public: Hey, when you drive across a bridge, there’s a reason why perhaps a lane is closed or they’re doing work. They’ve got to keep that bridge standing. And when they do the work, nobody really knows they’re doing it, because most of the time they’re in the containment. You see the tarp wrapped around the bridge, but you don’t see the guys doing the work in there.

As far as the experience, it’s one of the great adventures of my life, filming and making the documentary. We got to climb around on the bridges. We got to hang out with the guys: They would have us over to their apartment for a barbecue, because of course when they’re out of town, they all live together in these apartments.

We got to know these guys, they’re really great personalities, and we had a really fun time hanging out with them. They’re a riot to hang out with; they have a great sense of humor, and of course everybody is always joking around with each other. And besides that, they’re guys from everywhere. You get to meet guys from different countries, with different backgrounds. Like I said, it was a great experience for me as a documentarian.

For more information and to order the Bridge Brothers DVD/Blu-Ray set, with accompanying booklet, click here.


Tagged categories: Bridge Brothers; Bridges; Contractors; Corcon Inc.; Good Technical Practice; North America

Comment from Jennifer Davidson, (8/4/2017, 10:15 AM)

Great job on the documentary, guys!

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