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Bradley Jackson is quickly becoming a rising star on the short film circuit. His latest short, The Man Who Never Cried, won the top prize at last year’s Doorpost Film Project. The win, not to mention the $110,000 that came with it, has definitely helped the up-and-coming writer/director get his foot in the door out in Hollywood. While Jackson currently has two scripts in the works and anticipates a later move to features, one question remains unanswered: Will this proud Austinite stay in Texas… or make the move out to L.A.?
I sat down to talk with Jackson about how he got into making movies, his experience at film school and how he lucked upon a well-known actor to star in The Man Who Never Cried.
Scattered throughout this week’s entry you’ll find links to four of Jackson’s short films, so if you’re in need of a laugh—or just want to see what this emerging film talent has to offer—be sure to check them out.
Andy Young (MM): When did you figure out you wanted to be a moviemaker?
Bradley Jackson (BJ): I knew I wanted to be involved from a young age, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. No one in my family was in the film industry, and I had never seen anyone make them, but I was fascinated with them. It wasn’t until my parents made me go to this thing at USC that I was in, one hundred percent. I started shooting short films, and it just kind of stuck.
MM: Were there any films or directors in particular that influenced you?
BJ: The movie that made me say “I want to make films” is Requiem for a Dream, which is funny because I’ll probably never make a movie like that. But a movie had never given me that kind of visceral reaction [before], where I was literally shaking. If a movie can make somebody feel that way and cause an emotion as strong as that one was, whether it’s laughter or sadness, that’s what I want.
MM: Did you go to film school?
BJ: Yeah, I immediately went into the film program at [the University of Texas at Austin]. I wanted to get all the basic intro courses out of the way as soon as possible so I could start making bigger projects with more people involved. Scott Rice was probably the best teacher I ever had there, because he showed me it was possible to make a living doing this. And he told me, “You might as well make your movies funny, because they’re gonna laugh at them anyways, but at least if they’re laughing [at a comedy], it’s on purpose.”
MM: Most of your short films are heavily comedic. Why comedy?
BJ: I’ve always gravitated toward comedy. I think there will always be comedy in the stuff I direct, in addition to some heart. I don’t think I would want to direct something that was one hundred percent comedy, but I also wouldn’t direct a one hundred percent drama. The Duplass brothers, Judd Apatow, Wes Anderson… that’s the kind of stuff I get excited about.
MM: What did you do after school?
BJ: I graduated in 2007 and stuck around in Austin. I freelanced occasionally, but I was basically unemployed for six months until I got a writing job at an educational company called Compass Learning. They did “Schoolhouse Rock!”-type stuff, but a little more geared toward education. I was required to write two or three scripts a day, and they were supposed to be funny, entertaining and educational. If you want to be a writer, you need to learn to write without a filter and without being inspired, and that’s what that job taught me how to do.
MM: Were you still making movies at that point?
BJ: I didn’t for the first year after college. And I was kind of depressed, so I started doing stand-up to get a creative outlet. But then I met some producers who had seen some of my shorts in college, and we [entered the] Doorpost [Film] Project. We did a short called The Biggest Weakness and, for the little amount of time we put into it, turned out really great and was a lot of fun! We made it into the top ten, and they gave us a $30,000 grant to make another short, called Play Land, and that was also a great learning experience. I’ll never forget when we found out we lost; I looked over to my producer and said, ‘We’re gonna enter next year, and we’re gonna win!’
MM: Did I Love You, Will Smith come after that?
BJ: Yeah. We made that for the next year’s festival. That was another one where we borrowed/stole locations and made it on a weekend. We found out we made it into the top ten, and we got another grant, so I wrote the script for The Man Who Never Cried. And they picked that and three other scripts to be produced.
MM: How did Keir O’Donnell (Wedding Crashers, “Sons of Anarchy,” “United States of Tara”) get attached to star?
BJ: We got really lucky with him. He was in Austin filming a show called “My Generation.” We went to a party and met him there, and he was really nice. It ended up being a short-lived show but, thinking the show could have gone five or six years, he met us and was like, “Oh, you guys are Austin filmmakers, awesome! What are you working on?” We told him about Man, and he asked to read it. We figured he could be a cameo or something—we never in a million years thought he would want to be the lead. He didn’t get back to us for a while, and it was a couple weeks before our shoot when he got back to our producer and said, “Hey, I love this. Can I be the lead?” And when we thought about it, he was perfect for the role.
MM: Was it intimidating, working with him?
BJ: A little. I was nervous the first day because it was this scene where he had to get dunked in the water, which was disgusting. It was the one scene he was giving me some pushback on, but the second we got on set he was very generous and nice. He bought the entire crew coffee one day!
Bradley Jackson and Keir O’Donnell (center, in
clown suit) filming The Man Who Never Cried
BJ: This is kind of a cop out answer, but just cast it right. And it’s not just “Is this person funny?” It’s “Are they the right person for this role?” If you cast someone to portray a successful person and they look like a schlubby guy, it’s not gonna play! If you cast it right, directing is a lot easier.
MM: What have you been working on in the past year, since you guys won?
BJ: A lot of writing. I’ve optioned two feature scripts that are hopefully gonna get made, and I’m also co-writing/co-editing a documentary based in London.
MM: You wrote an essay last year about how you couldn’t see yourself moving to L.A. or leaving Austin. Do you still feel that way?
BJ: I guess I’m a work in progress on that. I think it comes down to what you value, and if [you’d rather] move away from the people you love or stay where you are and maybe not be a completely massive success. Even though there are exceptions to the rule. But I’m happy with where my career is going. Things could change, but I want to stay in Austin. It’s a great, creative community.
MM: Do you think film school is worth it?
BJ: For me, it was completely necessary. I know you hear about great directors that went to one week and dropped out, like Paul Thomas Anderson, but I don’t think I had the built-in foundation or the balls to do that. I needed to see people doing it, to see what worked and what didn’t. I just needed time to fail. Film school should be your time to fail.
MM: Any advice for young aspiring moviemakers?
BJ: I know it’s easy to make short-form content, put it on the Internet and get immediate feedback, but at the end of the day, if you want to be in feature films, no one will care unless you write a feature script or make a short that tells a full story. Or just make a short that has robots. Then anybody wants you.
Andy Young is a director, editor, writer and composer who lives in Austin, Texas and studies in the University of Texas at Austin’s Radio Television Film program. At the age of twenty, he has produced over 150 short films and one feature, The Legend of Action Man, which he shot on a budget of only $200. Andy is currently a director and staff writer on the Texas Student Television show “Shenanigans” and continues to make low-budget shorts with his sketch comedy group Dingoman Productions.