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‘The Bridge’: A Lonely Man, An Abandoned Dog... and a Life-Saving Bond

Bernardo Romero’s tearful and truthful animated short about a despondent New Yorker and a stray pup whose paths cross on the Brooklyn Bridge – based on the director’s own chance 2008 subway encounter – is helping the PAWS NY non-profit change lives.

In 2008, 37-time Cannes Lions and 80-time Clio Award winner Bernardo Romero met a man on the New York City L Train who inspired an idea for a film that would stick with him for almost 15 years. 

“I had just lost my dog, and I was riding the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan,” explains Romero. “I was crying a lot and this guy came over to talk to me and asked if I was okay. I told him about my dog, and he started telling me this story about how this guy he knew who was basically saved by his dog and how he thought that this relationship between humans and dogs is beautiful and unique, because you never know who's saving who.”

Romero says that the idea for The Bridge was born that day, and though it would take him over a decade to see it made, his animated short film is now making its rounds on the film festival circuit while serving as a catalyst for more life-changing encounters between pets and people as part of the fundraising efforts for non-profit PAWS NY.

The four-minute film, inspired by the true story Romero was told and developed with Klick Health chief creative officer Rich Levy, is about a lonely New Yorker having suicidal thoughts, and an abandoned dog who no longer has a place to call home. The two experience parallel lives of rejection until their paths repeatedly cross on the Brooklyn Bridge, and a quiet bond begins to grow.

Take a few minutes to watch the film before reading more of Romero’s insights into its production.

“Our organization’s goal is to help people in New York City, who are facing both physical and financial obstacles, keep their pets,” says PAWS NY founder Rachel Herman. “We believe pets are family and just because somebody is going through a hard time, or dealing with obstacles that they're facing in life, that should not force a separation. When we were introduced to Klick Health and learned about this opportunity, we felt it perfectly demonstrated the reason our organization exists. And to have a platform to really be able to spread that message is something we're really grateful to be a part of.”

The Bridge is animated by Lightfarm Studios (Snooze, ZOIO: Earth Comes First) and written and produced by Cannes Lions award-winning commercial partner Klick Health, who Romero joined last year as a “Maker” on their creative team. The role was specially created around the filmmaker’s desire to return to creating impactful projects that positively impact people’s health.

“Working for Klick Health has been great because they really encourage us to use a portion of our time to give back and double down on the fact that we want to be magnets, and not hammers,” notes Romero. “Powerful storytelling, especially in the context of animation, has the potential of drawing people in and inviting people into your story without forcing people to watch something they might not be that interested in.”

He continues, “Good filmmaking needs to tap into a place within you that makes you move and makes you take action. I hope this film not only saves and changes lives but helps PAWS NY advance its amazing programs and gets them the attention and the funds they need.”

The Bridge embodies one of animation’s most important qualities; the ability to effectively communicate a powerful message in just a few minutes that has otherwise taken people like Herman their whole careers to convey. 

“I remember how I felt the first time I watched it,” says Herman of the film. “It was not the final version, but it was just so powerful. Not all our clients are living with depression, and every experience is different for each person. But what all our clients have in common is this idea of isolation, which is certainly reflected in the film. People are coming to us because they need support they aren’t getting from family, friends, or neighbors. They need help, and collaborating on this film gives us a voice to share what we do and the need that we’re meeting which are often hidden.”

The design and color choices for the film were all made in an effort to speak to the universal feelings that come with isolation and abandonment. Romero says he wanted to find a way to visually cue this storyline and the characters’ road to recovery in a way that didn't hinge on any lines. 

“We wanted this film to speak to any person, regardless of if they speak English or not,” says Romero. “And we found a solution through color.”

Klick Health and Lightfarm worked closely to develop a look for the film that would, in Romero’s words, “be gritty and honest,” but also make the audience really love and feel for the characters, who are not the most handsome.

“The main characters were designed to have unusual proportions and edgy, scribbled textures to portray their stress and agony,” explains Lightfarm’s director Gabbo Freire and project director Ramon Lima. “The shaky effect on all the characters, objects, and fonts creates an overall sense of instability and a need for resolution. The overall art direction of the film was developed to create a hostile world where our characters feel cramped and unwelcomed in the world they inhabit, which we designed to feel distorted with gothic-inspired angles.”

The design of The Bridge isn’t friendly in any way, but it’s the color that’s meant to draw viewers in, giving them story cues for what’s going on in the hearts and minds of these loveable, yet unloved, characters. 

“The blue and gray colors in the film are a metaphor for our lead character’s mental state,” shares Freire and Lima, referring to the human man in the film struggling with depression. “As the man and dog begin to form their bond, the blue and gray colors turn into a warmer orange. When that final, powerful connection is made between the man and the dog in that pivotal moment of the film, you see this beautiful burst of yellow to signify the brightness and joy they bring to each other’s lives.”

Romero adds, “And we wanted the characters to be able to connect to audiences in a way that you would feel for them, despite their looks, and despite where they are in their journeys. We spend a lot of time studying his expressions with close-up shots and peer deeply into his eyes. The mix of 2D and 3D also added more depth to the characters so we could triple down on all the feelings they were facing.”

In addition to the color and intimate exploration of the characters’ expressions, music played a vital role in tying it all together. 

“Music was a big help in bringing a narrative that speaks to the seriousness of the subject we're talking about, but yet creates room for you to be able to care for someone that is in very bad shape mentally,” says Romero. “This story came to me at one of the saddest moments in my life and stayed with me for a long time. But it wasn’t until the 15th time that I watched it, after we’d added the music, that I actually started to cry.”

The song "Perfect Day,” written by Lou Reed and published by Oakfield Avenue Music LTDA, was released in 1972; it took the team a long time to obtain its rights for the film. But, if The Bridge has taught Romero anything outside of its messages about mental health, it’s that the best things in life are often those for which you wait the longest. 

“Stories that you'll never forget are probably the right stories to tell, no matter how long it takes to get them told,” he says. “And this turned out to be the best time this film could have been made. After the pandemic, we've all been affected by mental health at some level. It's been a very lonely and long few years. I hope this story brings comfort to those who need it.”

For those who wish to support PAWS NY, more information can be found on their website.

Victoria Davis's picture

Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She's reported on numerous stories from activist news to entertainment. Find more about her work at