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06/09/13 8:30am
06/09/2013 8:30 AM

JULIANNE MCGRATH COURTESY PHOTO | Dan Bruno and his crew of five college friends visited 11 cities over 16 days in January, including the Grand Canyon, trying to find out how Americans view the ‘American dream.’

“The American dream” is an expression most Americans have grown accustomed to hearing, but what does it mean?

House and picket fence? Eternal happiness? Wealth?

And many say the American dream, whatever that may be, is dead.

Mattituck High School alumnus Dan Bruno, 22, set out on a cross-country road trip in January to find out the true meaning of the American dream.

And he filmed his entire experience for a documentary entitled “The Road Ahead of U.S.”

“What is the American dream, really?” Mr. Bruno asks at the start of his film, as the camera pans across different views of New York City. “I always thought it meant that if you work hard, you’ll be as successful and rich as you’ve ever wanted … But is that really true? Has this been working for all Americans?”

CLAIRE LEADEN PHOTO | Dan with a copy of his documentary and the award he won for it.

These are the questions Mr. Bruno attempted to answer as he visited 11 cities over 16 days, interviewing locals with his video camera, microphone and crew of five college friends.

He and the crew sought funding for the trip online through Kickstarter and raised enough to cover much of their equipment, gas, food and hotel costs.

“Everyone really wants to go on a cross-country road trip, so people kind of connected with their inner bucket list and the donations just started growing,” he said. “I was just blown away by the generosity.”

A Mattituck native who graduated from high school in 2009, Mr. Bruno spent the last four years at Fairfield University in Connecticut, where he studied film and television. He graduated in May, taking his trip during the school’s winter break.

“The Road Ahead of U.S.” started as his final film project for school, but Mr. Bruno wanted to do something a little different from the short films most students make on campus. He finished the project last month.

“I thought of the idea of the American dream and how to me it meant that if you work hard, you have a great life,” he said in an interview. “I’m following all of the steps that I should be following, but I don’t have any job set up out of college.

“I wondered if the American dream was just a myth and if it was true or not,” he said. “So, I thought it’d be cool to go on an adventure across the country and see what people think about the American dream and if it’s worked for people. That’s how the idea was born.”

The 11 cities chosen for the journey were Washington, D.C.; Durham, N.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Montgomery, Ala.; New Orleans, La.; Dallas, Texas, Albuquerque, N.M,; Las Vegas, Nev.; Los Angeles and San Francisco, Calif; and the Grand Canyon.

“I already knew I wanted to do the southern loop and I just looked to see what good cities were along that route,” he said. “Then I took days and days on Google Maps calculating everything.

“There were certain cities I knew I wanted to hit, like Montgomery, for Martin Luther King Jr., because he had the biggest American dream, or Vegas, because it’s Vegas. Then there were certain places, like Savannah, that I saw on the map and was just curious to visit.”

Interviewees ranged from a war veteran in D.C. to college students at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill to an Elvis impersonator in Vegas to a former drug addict in San Francisco — and answers to the question “What is the American dream?” were just as diverse.

One particular interviewee who stood out to Mr. Bruno was a young, homeless man the crew met in Durham, N.C.

During the interview, the 25-year-old responded that the American dream “would probably be figuring out how to beat the odds. A lot of people waste their time on it, you know, looking for something that they’re never going to find. For me, I’m just looking for whatever I can find.”

A war veteran Mr. Bruno interviewed in Washington replied to the question by saying there’s no nation quite like the U.S.

“I’ve traveled the world in the service,” the vet said, “and I’m telling you right now there isn’t a country out there that will give the opportunity to any of you like this country will. This country is just awesome.”

Most of those interviewed didn’t give a name on camera.

Mr. Bruno won the Best Producer award at Fairfield University’s annual film festival, called Cinefest Film Festival. He plans to submit the film to Long Island film festivals as well and to the Coney Island Film Festival, which is popular for documentaries.

As for other future plans, Mr. Bruno says he will move to Brooklyn in early July and is hoping to secure a job at Kaufman Astoria Studios, where he interned for the “Sesame Street” television show last year.

The most important lesson he says he learned through the film is to “take advantage.”

“Take advantage of the time you have,” he said. “Take advantage of America, because we take this country for granted. We had the freedom to travel across the country and meet people and have an amazing two weeks on the road and that is something I will never forget.”

Mr. Bruno believes that, in the end, he did discover what the American dream really was.

“Everyone’s life is so different and you have to find happiness your own way, and this country is great because it allows you to find it your own way.

“That’s what I think the American dream is.”

[email protected]

03/18/13 8:00am
03/18/2013 8:00 AM

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Regan and Carey Meador in front of what will soon be Southold Farm & Cellar’s tasting room. They will plant their ‘weird grapes’ on seven of the 23 acres behind the building.

Long Islanders with novel business ideas have been using the fundraising website kickstarter.com to finance innovative projects that promise to add diversity to North Fork commerce.

Four local projects have received the green light thanks to the unique site, and another has high hopes of reaching its goal.

Unlike platforms that raise money for research or medical expenses, Kickstarter is intended to help people with creative ideas generate financial support for a new enterprise.

“There’s a lot of amazing, imaginative projects coming to life, and that’s great,” said Justin Kazmark, spokesperson for Kickstarter.

Everything on Kickstarter must have a specific goal, such as recording an album or publishing a book. Whatever the effort, it must produce a result, according to the Kickstarter website. Approximately 75 percent of proposed projects are accepted by the site.

The concept for Kickstarter emerged in 2001, when co-founder and CEO Perry Chen had such an idea, but no way to tell if it was worth the risk of investing in.

“He thought to himself what if there was a way to determine if there was a sufficient amount of interest in a project like that,” Mr. Kazmark said.

Mr. Chen, along with Yancey Strickler and Charles Adler, launched Kick-starter on April 28, 2009.

Project creators who turn to Kickstarter set a fundraising goal and a deadline up to 60 days away and are given a webpage to explain their goal. They may even include videos to help get their message across. To provide an incentive for donors, who can give as little as a dollar, creators also craft rewards for backers. If the project reaches its fundraising goal by deadline, the backers’ credit cards are charged. Kickstarter.com retains 5 percent of total amount of funding collected.

If the entrepreneurs don’t reach their goal, they receive no money, Mr. Kazmark said.

Since Kickstarter’s launch about 89,709 projects have been proposed and over $518 million has been pledged. More than 37,000 projects reached their fundraising goals, with about $435 million charged to backers’ credit cards, according to the website.

Four of those successfully funded projects are rooted in the North Fork.

Having spent eight years brewing at home, Central Islip couple Matthew and Lauri Spitz dreamed of starting a craft brewery. They created a Kickstarter campaign and met their goal on May 23, 2012. The couple raised over $30,000 to help establish Moustache Brewing Company in Riverhead.

“You basically have to sell yourself and your idea,” said Ms. Spitz. “Why should somebody give you money? Asking for money to fulfill our dream, it’s weird, but we figured we’ll give it a shot.”

The developing brewing industry moved closer to making the North Fork a craft beer destination thanks to another successful Kickstarter campaign.

Wading River hop farmer John Condzella surpassed his Kickstarter goal of raising $27,000 toward bringing a German hop harvesting machine to the East End. It will be available for cooperative use among start-up hop producers on the North Fork.

The hop processor will make the once time-consuming harvesting season fly. Without it, harvesting one plant by hand takes about an hour, Mr. Condzella said. “The machine will do that same plant in about 30 seconds,” he said.

Mr. Condzella reached his goal March 4 and raised $30,398 by March 10 with 320 people backing his project.

Just one day earlier, chef Keith Luce of Mattituck reached his $50,000 Kick-starter goal to create what he described as “true farm-to-table artisan products,” with cured meats from humanely raised animals from his family farm.

Mr. Luce raised $51,090 from 96 backers. He said social media was key to reaching his goal.

“I’m very active on social media and it’s one of the reasons why I decided to go down that avenue,” he said. “I believe I created a bit of a buzz, which is always good when you are starting a new endeavor.”

There was certainly a buzz about Southold couple Regan and Carey Meador’s Kickstarter campaign, “Bring Weird Grapes to the North Fork,” which met its $15,000 goal Saturday. The couple will plant four grape varieties distinct from others cultivated across the North Fork.

Their start-up vineyard, Southold Farm & Cellar, could have its wine ready for tasting by 2015, Mr. Meador said.

So far they’ve raised more than $22,000 from 133 backers. If they reach 223, the Meadors said they’ll let their backers choose the grape varieties they’ll plant next.

“We have reached our goal but we want as many people as possible to hear about it,” Mr. Meador said. “There is a community around what we’re doing and we want them to be part of the process.”

[email protected]