Dugan Bridges’ (ABJ ’06) “distillery” helps entrepreneurs find the spirit of their idea
Dugan Bridges’ walk to work has, over the years, put him on bustling New York City sidewalks and Hollywood studio lots. Those walks through the global financial capital and the center of the entertainment universe taught him a lot and helped him grow. But it’s his walk to work today—past the Chapel, by the Arch and under the oak trees of North Campus—that he calls “heaven on earth.”
The Oconee County native came to UGA in 2002 with a strong interest in media production, so he set his sights on an ABJ in Telecommunication Arts. In his first three years at UGA, he took on a fairly high-profile extracurricular activity: the position of UGA Mic Man.
The Mic Man is a student who works to fire up Bulldog fans at football games. If you’ve watched or attended a game in Sanford Stadium and seen someone cheering, dancing, and screaming in front of the student section next to Hairy Dawg, you were looking at the Mic Man.
“I was baptized into college football and became a huge Georgia fan because of that,” said Dugan. “I traveled to all the games with the cheerleading team and the mascot. I ate with the athletes, I worked out with the athletes. It was an amazing experience.”
Dugan served as the Mic Man for three years, after which he focused on his major coursework and new extracurricular pursuits.
“I built relationships with people who are some of my best friends now, and we were making films on the side with whatever cameras I could get a hold of through the journalism school,” said Dugan. “I loved it, and I fell in love with UGA.”
After graduating in 2006, Dugan headed for New York, where he found a job with a large marketing firm producing corporate videos for brands like Ford, Gillette and American Airlines. The work—though different from what he’d done in college—provided experience and connections.
It was also during this time that he met Jennifer, a New York-born woman who shared a surprising connection with Dugan.
“She loved that I was from Athens,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘How do you know about Athens?’ And I found out she was a big music fan, particularly REM. She said, ‘I read a book about them and the town they’re from, and I’ve always wanted to go there.’”
The future Mrs. Dugan Bridges would eventually get her wish. But for now, they were just dating, while Dugan and the college friends who accompanied him to New York continued to produce short films that were getting accepted to more and more film festivals.
In 2012, Dugan began eyeing a move to California. The prospect of leaving his college friends spurred the group to act on an idea they’d been kicking around since their Athens days. Financing was the big question, until someone suggested what was then a relatively unknown avenue for funding: Kickstarter.
“Time was running out, and it was the only shot we had,” said Dugan. “We thought we knew enough people, but movies are expensive, so this was the kind of favor you can only ask for once. We hoped that our network would show up, and thankfully, they did.”
“The Little Tin Man” became one of the first feature films to be funded by Kickstarter. The film premiered in 2013, was accepted to numerous film festivals around the country and eventually garnered interest from Gravitas Ventures and Amazon, who became its distributors.
By this time, Dugan and Jennifer had moved to Los Angeles, where the film’s success opened doors for Dugan as he began to pivot his career.
“In New York, I was doing more producing, some writing,” said Dugan. “But in LA, I was much more focused on pursuing writing and directing. The success of the film helped me meet working Hollywood screenwriters and producers and have them treat with me respect and not as some outsider.”
Those opened doors turned into a variety of opportunities for Dugan: mentors gained through writers groups, the chance to direct a fully funded short film, a position working for Robert Zemeckis, the award-winning director of “Forrest Gump” and the “Back to the Future” trilogy.
In 2016, Dugan and Jennifer welcomed their first child, Ronen. Dugan’s career continued to develop as Ronen did, but when his son took his first steps, Dugan’s perspective began to shift.
“As soon as he was able to start walking around, it was like I started having visions,” said Dugan. “For the first time in my adult life, a yard with green grass, a house, all that stuff really started to appeal to me.”
As Dugan’s interest in keeping his family in a one-bedroom apartment waned, his interest in returning to Georgia grew. But because of his work, leaving LA was a big decision.
“Ultimately, I realized that Hollywood is not a place—it’s a direction that you’re going,” said Dugan. “I realized I could go to Georgia, create, stay in contact with my networks in Los Angeles and New York, and help the community that’s growing here and has a desire to make something permanent.”
The Bridges family moved to Athens in 2018. Over the next year, Jennifer got a job with St. Mary’s Health Care System, Dugan got the pieces in place for a business, and Ronen got a brother. When Clark was born, the demands of home began to compete with the demands of work, and the family took a leap: Dugan would launch his business, and Jennifer would stay home with the kids.
Dugan created F7 Film Distillery, a company that helps organizations and individuals refine the stories they share to their audiences. Dugan started F7 in his home, but reached out to UGA early on.
“I wanted to be in a creative environment, and I couldn’t think of a better one than on campus at UGA,” he said. “So, I put out some feelers, and the message I got was ‘This is a great idea, and we have something in the works, so we’ll get back to you.'”
That something was the Delta Innovation Hub. Located on Spring Street near downtown Athens, the Delta Innovation Hub is part of UGA’s Innovation District and hosts startup venture efforts, helps faculty become entrepreneurs, provides students the chance to work alongside UGA corporate partners and serves as the university’s front door for industry engagement.
In late 2020, Dugan was offered a space in the Hub, which opened earlier this year. In September, F7 Film Distillery officially moved in.
Now, alongside his F7 work, Dugan is working with UGA student interns, sharing ideas with other start-ups in the building and preparing to take part in pitch competitions to help aspiring entrepreneurs sharpen and curate their ideas. And when he leaves work, he’s able to walk back under those North Campus oaks, by the Arch and past the Chapel on his way home, to a family that’s grown by two—Micah, 2, and Scarlett, 6 months—since they moved to Athens.
“When I moved back into town from LA and New York, I asked myself, ‘If I’m going to plant here for the next decade, how do I want to live it?’ And all I could think was, ‘I’d love to be back on campus,'” Dugan said. “There’s just so much energy. Surrounding yourself with these aspirational people takes you back to an aspirational time in your own life.
“That’s the environment I wanted to be in, and I found it.”