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Getting to Know ‘Offbeat Bryce’

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The “Waterbury Special” sculpture on the trestle in Waterbury. Photo by Gordon Wood.

“I made friends while I was hiding behind a camera,” says videographer Bryce Douglass, reflecting on how he discovered his life’s work. As a five-year old, he remembers being attracted to all cameras, recording his family at dinner, his older brother Josh on his four-wheeler, and then later, filming the races at Thunder Road in Barre. Now, as a young adult, he has a business, OffBeat Bryce Productions, producing videos about local events and people.

Douglass was born with multiple birth defects in his heart, which required multiple and complicated surgeries as a child. “I realized recently that I was attracted to video so much because of my social anxiety. I couldn’t participate much in sports, which is what boys my age did to connect, but I could film others just going through life and watch back to see how the world interacted. My intense awkwardness around people was helped by my passion for making movies and doing comedy on my YouTube channel.” 

Bryce Douglass. Courtesy photo.

In 2006, as a junior at Harwood Union High School in Duxbury, Douglass produced a tribute video to Kate Abajian, a Harwood student who had died at the age of 16 in 1998 of complications from cystic fibrosis. Her family and friends created “Kate’s Garden,” a green haven on campus as a place for students to gather, but as the years went on, memories faded. “People were not taking care of the garden,” said Douglass, “so people at the school asked me to make a short film with interviews, people remembering what an awesome girl she was. The garden has been spotless since. And I got a standing ovation!” He is proud that at the beginning of every year, students still see that video at an assembly, and hopes that he can continue to produce videos for families as tributes to loved ones. A key motivation for Douglass was the tragic loss of his beloved brother Josh in a motorcycle accident, “Since all my tapes of Josh were ruined in the flooding during Irene in 2011, I became inspired to document the lives of people while they are living so that loved ones can watch them back after they are gone. Preserving memories is what is important to me.”

After graduation from Harwood, Douglass continued to learn for two years at the Next Step program and then at the Burlington Tech Center. He continued to gain skills at the Documentary Certificate Program at Burlington College, which he says was “really fun. I made a short film about my grandmother Harriet Durett, hearing her stories about being a schoolteacher, experiencing news of Pearl Harbor and 9/11, and living in Stowe.” When she died, the family shared it with calling-hours visitors. Douglass is especially proud of that work because it connected the family.

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Two major opportunities to make films came from the Vermont Arts Council, which commissioned Douglass to create a film about the mural in the atrium of the former State Hospital in Waterbury, now the State Office Complex. Artist Sarah-Lee Terrat combined images from the former psychiatric hospital’s past, documents, and photographs of nurses and patients with a poem by patient Jean Killary, who was a patient there in the 1940s and 50s. The poem, “Green and Gold,” is the title of Douglass’s film, and connects to the images of birch trees in the mural. ”People in the hospital had talent, but nobody saw that except that they had…problems,” Douglass muses. 

Douglass has been inspired to face challenges in his life with a recent project sponsored by Revitalizing Waterbury, following Randolph artist Phil Godenschwager in his creation of the “Waterbury Special,” a sculpture that greets visitors to Waterbury as they drive under the train trestle into town. “I learned that the technical challenges he was facing were part of the process, and so it made it into the film. His persistence inspired me, and it certainly was a unique story.”

For Bryce Douglass, story-telling with video offers “a way of understanding myself and the world around me. From my work as a kid creating stop-action videos, and films of my brother Josh eating dinner, I learned that I needed to learn to edit because they were really boring. And now I have this business and have some side projects too. Most people know me as ‘Offbeat Bryce’ Douglass. I love to make comedy videos on YouTube under the name ‘Offbeat Bryce.’” 

Learn more at offbeatbrycepd.com.

Linda Radtke lives in Middlesex