By Aaron Hale/UGA Today
Dugan Bridges has lived on both coasts in his journey to become a filmmaker. The UGA alumnus now calls Athens home.
Sometimes a dream come true isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Dugan Bridges had just gotten his first big break producing and co-writing the independent feature Little Tin Man, released in 2013. The film tells the story of an actor who, tired of being typecast because of his dwarfism, auditions for the Tin Man role in a remake of The Wizard of Oz.
The movie garnered several nominations and awards on the independent film festival circuit.
There were plenty of reasons to celebrate. Instead, Bridges ABJ ’06 was reeling.
His experience as a producer was dreary and uninspiring.
“I learned that I hated what I was doing,” he says. “I made this movie in New York and then moved to Los Angeles heartbroken.”
After graduating from UGA, Bridges went to New York with dreams of moviemaking, but he wasn’t confident in his innate creativity. That’s why producing, essentially being a film’s designated problem-solver, seemed like a natural fit. But by the time he was leaving for LA, he no longer knew where he fit in as a storyteller.
Though his confidence wavered, he gave writing another try. This time on a solo project.
He wrote a new script that gave him agency representation and a foot in the door at Warner Brothers. He found more work and began carving out a role for himself in Hollywood.
When he and his wife, Jennifer, were ready to start a family, they weren’t sure about raising children in LA. That’s when they started looking back near Bridges’ hometown.
Bridges grew up outside Athens. He played soccer at Oconee County High School before enrolling at UGA.
In his freshman year, Bridges earned the role of mic man during football games at Sanford Stadium. He held the position for three years.
When he wasn’t in class or leading the stadium in “calling the Dawgs,” Bridges was scrounging around for equipment to make movies with his buddies.
“I built relationships with people who are some of my best friends now, and we were making films on the side with whatever cameras I could get a hold of through the journalism school,” he says. “I loved it, and I fell in love with UGA.”
A Leap of Faith
Despite his Georgia roots, Bridges struggled with the decision to leave Hollywood and return home.
“I’d be leaving the place where decisions are made,” he says. “So that could be perceived as almost waving a white flag. That was hard to get over.”
But his confidence in his faith and family helped Bridges overcome his hesitation.
"I felt that God was directing me and made me for storytelling; that’s where I belong. So even if I move to a different location for what’s best for my family, I still have to believe I can achieve my goals and dreams.”
He returned to Athens in 2019 with his production company F7 Film Distillery. And, pandemic notwithstanding, he didn’t miss a beat. He’s busy with gigs as a freelance director, editor, and, yes, even producer. He’s worked on projects for big brands and small independent films. He directed a documentary film in Germany and a short narrative in Nepal; he’s attached to direct his first feature in North Carolina later this year.
While most of his work is out of state, Bridges is active in the Athens film scene, pushing for more projects to come to the Classic City. In 2021, he was one of the first tenants of the Delta Innovation Hub on UGA’s North Campus. Part of the university’s Innovation District, the hub hosts startup ventures and connects UGA faculty and students to industry partners.
Despite his distance from Hollywood, Bridges has found a home where he can raise a family and be a storyteller. It might not be how he dreamed it, but he is reaching his career’s highest peaks so far.