03/19/2010 - Marc Brodzik knows a good idea when he sees it. For instance, the senior citizens who caught his attention during his regular breakfasts at Sulimay’s Restaurant in the Fishtown area of Philadelphia.
“I would see these three characters talking, and they were like the stars at Sulimay’s,” he says. “You see that quality in people, and you can’t help but laugh into your pancakes.”
Brodzik, a 2009 Pew fellow in the arts, had just started working on Web-based video projects a couple of years ago, when he had an idea for a show that would feature senior citizens reviewing cutting-edge music. He discussed the concept with his producer and later approached the trio in the diner. They agreed.
The result is the viral phenomenon Breakfast at Sulimay’s, which airs weekly on Brodzik’s Web sites, Scrapple TV (www.scrapple.tv) and Woodshop Films (www.woodshopfilms.com) and is available on YouTube, where the most popular episode has over 100,000 views.
Joe Walker, 84, Bill Able, 75, and Ann Bailey, 66 (who replaced an original member who found early on that show biz was just not for him), are the capable stars of the show. They are filmed in short episodes, listening through ear buds to music—the latest in heavy metal, electronic dance music, whatever else is hot—after which they give their honest, and often unexpected, opinions (“This is music?”).
Breakfast at Sulimay’s is both comical and refreshing, and while it seems natural that it’s been covered locally in The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Weekly, Brodzik is a bit surprised at just how far and wide the show’s notoriety has spread. It was recently featured on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and has even garnered notice in England, with mentions in Time Out London, the Guardian and The Independent.
Despite its popularity, Breakfast is a small part of Brodzik’s repertoire of shows. All of them are part of Scrapple TV, a Web site he calls his “pirate TV station,” growing, he says, to fill the gap in local news coverage as local printed weeklies continue to downsize. The Web is the future of journalism, he is convinced. His interns “don’t read newspapers. They might look at magazines, but it’s rare,” he says, adding, “My children, who are 4 and 7, won’t know what a newspaper was.”
With his grizzly beard and denim overalls, Brodzik may not look cutting-edge. But while others struggle to imagine the future of journalism, he seems to have been there already and is back to tell the rest of us about it. In his large studio space in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia, a team of interns is shooting and editing videos destined for Scrapple TV. The Pew fellowship will provide the start-up capital, but he expects to sustain the operation with advertising revenue.
In its current state, Scrapple TV is an assortment of video clips. Some of his early work satirized mass consumerism through a series of mock advertising campaigns. Even when he is irreverent, however, his magic ingredient is the compassion with which he approaches his subjects, perhaps most evident in his 2006 film Hard Coal: Last of the Bootleg Miners, a documentary about family-owned anthracite coal mines in Pennsylvania.
Brodzik came into contact with the miners when he rode dirt bikes in small Pennsylvania towns and felt a deep and immediate connection. “At first I didn’t even realize it was coal I was riding on,” he recalls. “I would talk to [the miners] and relate to them, and they would tell me their hardship stories.”
With a partner, he was able to make the film on a shoestring budget. It has been screened at seven film festivals, winning Best Feature Documentary Award at the 2009 DIY Film Festival in Los Angeles, and is being considered for a reality-based show.
While Hard Coal is an example of Brodzik at his most subdued, there is something unsettling behind the humor of his early pieces based on commercial imagery. Aside from his considerable talent in figurative painting, there is a message to his art: People should trust in themselves, not in canned information or advertising campaigns provided by mass media.
Brodzik’s feel for art is largely self-developed. A graduate of a vocational high school who says he went to advertising school to avoid the military as a career, Brodzik never studied art history. “I am the common guy,” he claims. “I started exploring art, looking at it from the common perspective and just re-spitting it out with my own slant.”
It is exactly this flair for showing us something new in the everyday that has made Breakfast at Sulimay’s the Internet sensation it is.
“I have the ability to connect with people, no matter who they are,” says Brodzik. “I see the star in everyone.”
This article appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of Trust magazine.