Q&A: Director Eric Steele on ‘Bob Birdnow’s Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self’

Bob Birdnow is a curious candidate for a motivational speaker. Balding, crippled, and past middle-aged. He does have something no one else has though: a remarkable tale of human survival and the transcendence of self. When asked by his old friend to speak at a conference, he avoids the subject, opting for a more traditional speech. However, when forced off script and desperate, Birdnow takes the audience on a unique and unforgettable journey that brings us face-to face with one of life’s biggest questions. Based on the hit one-man play/experimental theatre piece by HIFF alum Eric Steele.


Please describe Bob Birdnow’s Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self in your own words.

Eric Steele: Bob Birdnow is an experimental film that takes the audience on a difficult, uncomfortable journey through one man’s recollection of a horrible event. What makes the film unique is that we aren’t seeing the events—they are being told to us in monologue form.

What inspired you to make this particular film?

ES: Bruce Springsteen once asked in The River: “… Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?” Around 2008, I was working a corporate job, traveling frequently, and I had begun to explore that difficult question (and I didn’t like the answers I came up with). I eventually realized that, as an Artist, it’s my duty to make sense of where I am… to write about what I know, what I feel (and in my case, I knew about travel, corporate America, and the feeling of not quite ‘adding up’). So one day, on a flight from Cedar Rapids to Dallas, I opened up my laptop and thought, “If I were pulled into another ‘motivational conference’ somewhere in the Midwest, what could somebody say that would actually change my life?” This was the impetus for Bob Birdnow.


What is *your* most incredible tale of human survival and the transcendence of self?

ES: Such a great question!! Hmmm… (I’m thinking on this one…) I’ve been very lucky in my life to not have had an accident or event that literally required me to fight for my survival. The closest I’ve been to feeling the exhilaration of completing a journey while feeling physically and emotionally exhausted was when I completed my first marathon. It probably sounds absurd to non-runners out there, but when you are on that 26th mile with the finish line in sight, it’s very emotional. Your body is numb and tired, you are hungry, sick and sore, but your spirit feels like it could lift a car. I remember thinking on the last few blocks that there was nothing the human mind, body, spirit couldn’t do.

What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

ES: There are two ideas I’d like for audiences to leave with after seeing Bob Birdnow—one is a visceral response to the film, and the other is the belief in a certain concept. The visceral takeaway is that I want audiences to leave feeling a sense of accomplishment—they fought through the journey with Bob and made it—and I also want them to feel that sense of accomplishment about their own lives; being alive, surviving, is an accomplishment, not to be taken for granted.

Secondly, I’d like for audiences to leave with a different definition of what storytelling in a movie can be. Hopefully, they will have been engaged and impacted by the film—if that’s the case, then they will leave knowing that we don’t need to have 37 comic book characters and giant ships exploding to keep cinemagoers engaged.


What’s one piece of advice you have for aspiring filmmakers?

ES: Be a warrior for your project. As long as you are operating outside of the (Hollywood) system, there will likely only be one person truly fighting for your work/voice/success: you. When you carry the steadfast belief that you will do anything to complete your project and bring it to an audience, then you undoubtedly will. Don’t be a filmmaker who is constantly on the sidelines *waiting* for a moment when someone else will come along and launch your career—jump right in and go for it. (It’s hard, but it’s a great fight, ultimately.)

What are you most looking forward to at the 2013 Hamptons International Film Festival?

ES: I love the Hamptons—both as a location and a festival. Coming from Texas, it’s a beautiful thing to be near the sea, so I’m looking forward to the environment. Most importantly, though, I look forward to seeing some incredible films. HIFF has a reputation for showing some of the best independent films in the world, and I’ll definitely be exploring the entire program.

I also look forward to the “Rowdy Talks” —last year I had a chance to hear Rachael Horovitz (Moneyball producer) speak, and it was inspirational. I’ll be getting up early to catch those (assuming I don’t stay out too late!).

Tickets: Bob Birdnow’s Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self
Follow Bob Birdnow on Facebook and Eric Steele on Twitter.

Eric-SteeleEric Steele is a filmmaker, playwright, and producer from Dallas, TX. Writing and directing credits include the short films Cork’s Cattlebaron (2012), which screened last year at the Hamptons International Film Festival, and Topeka (2010) . Bob Birdnow is Steele’s feature film directorial debut. Producing credits include Pit Stop, directed by Yen Tan (2013), Clay Liford’s Wuss (2011), and The Verdigris. In 2010, Steele and three other filmmakers formed Aviation Cinemas Inc., and restored the Historic Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff, TX, which they now operate.


  1. Janie marino says

    Terrible movie!!! A waste of money & unnecessary fictional tale of human suffering. Pseudo intellectual group making a movie obviously with no knowledge of aviation & chances of the human body surviving severed main arteries. Many questions unanswered– why right prop engine stopped? I suggest the screenplay writer read “Alive” and return to drawing board. Every thumb down. Or perhaps he did read “Alive” in which case it’s a poor attempt to marry “Alive” and “Glengarry Glenn Rose” for blatant plagiarism. In any case it’s not a commercial work which makes me wonder who would fund it. Sorry I stayed to the end. Go back to your day jobs.