Interviews: Actor Bradford James Jackson Talks About The Dark Comedy Proper Binge

Bradford James Jackson talks Proper Binge

Proper Binge, directed by Dean Q. Mitchell and Michael Burns (The Quake Brothers), is a raw, punk-rock take on alcoholism and f'd up relationships... a dark comedy exposing the life of an alcoholic striving for sobriety after a drunken mishap threatens his best friend's life.

The film stars Bradford James Jackson, Jeremy Blake, Berick Cook, Cassandre Leigh, Cheyenne Buchanan, Thomas G. Jacobs. D'artagnon Moonin, Lois Simenson and Ron Holmstrom.

It is in a colorless room used for court-ordered alcohol intervention classes, that we first meet 32-year old Burgess Ulysses Zwink, aka Buzz. An assignment, given to Buzz by the class instructor, Freddie, is the beginning of the darkly comical journey Buzz takes to (dare we hope?) find a way to live without alcohol ruling his life.

The assignment? Find and apologize to everyone he has wronged while intoxicated and capture the progress on video. A lot happens in five days. From a bar in Wasilla, Alaska, to a 'dry' village in 'the bush' of Alaska. From a bar stool to a blanket toss, Buzz's self-awareness journey doesn't necessarily end ... but it could lead to a new beginning. 

It will screen at the Beverly Hills Film Festival on Friday April 6th at 6:15 At the TCL Chinese theatre in Hollywood. You can read our review for the film here

We had the opportunity to interview actor Bradford James Jackson about the film.

TMS: I mentioned in my review that your character feels biographical to the writers and directors. What can you tell us about the inspiration behind Proper Binge?

BJJ: (In my opinion Dean and Mike are the real ones to answer this question but I'll relay what I know.)

The story of Proper Binge was inspired by true events. It all began with a short film that Dean Q. Mitchell and Michael Burns made that was kind of a spin off version of 'Reefer Madness' but they replaced the marijuana aspect with Alcohol. They later collaborated in writing a feature film centering it more around Dean, Mike, Dean's younger brother and their friends growing up in Wasilla, AK and the drunk misadventures they endured.

TMS: I understand that Proper Binge has been in development for quite some time. Can you tell me a little bit about the history of this project? At what point did you come in?

BJJ: After they wrote the feature film they slowly began to attempt to raise money by asking around local businesses. That's where they met Chery Manning (Executive Producer). She was a huge advocate for the film. She helped push raising funds by calling potential investors, organizing a number of fundraisers, reaching out to newspapers/radio. They all eventually shot a teaser/promo for Proper Binge. All of this spanned a few years. They finally looked at each other and realized they were either going to take a chance and attempt to make this film with what they had or it was just going to remain idle and never happen. Their D.P. Mackenzie Banbury sort of put the bug in their ear and pushed them to make the film. At this point a few people that agreed to help out had come and gone, one in particular was their original lead for 'Buzz'. That's where I came in. They ended up casting me as the new lead in December. We then shot the entire film over the following summer.

TMS: One of the strongest suits of Proper Binge is the great chemistry of the cast. Did the filmmakers find everyone through an audition process? If so, what was the audition like for you?

BJJ: Yes the directors had quite a few auditions to my understanding. They had an original set cast that lasted for a long while as they shot a teaser and continued to raise additional funds. When a couple actors left the project, they held another set of auditions. That's where I came into the picture. Having read the full script, I had a distinct vision for this character, I wanted to help tell his story. After my first audition, Dean and Mike sort of looked at each other and smiled. They asked me to do it again and again and again. Over the next couple hours they had me reading all kinds of scenes from the film with different actors. They brought me back in for a callback and basically gave me the part right there.

TMS: What was it like shooting Proper Binge? How long was the shoot? Do you have any funny or interesting stories from being on set?

BJJ: Shooting the film was a blast! For many of us this was our first feature film so in a way it was like being in film school. When you work on small budget indy film, with a small crew, you all become friends very quickly. Obviously we had super long days but one of the advantages of shooting in Alaska was the 22 hours of daylight, so we never really had to rush a scene because of the sunset. We shot the entire film in Wasilla AK, some of the cast and crew would travel from Anchorage which was an hour away. Others traveled even further, from Fairbanks, which is over 5 hours. Jeremy Blake who played 'Steve' later came on as a producer for the film and literally built entire sets for them for just the cost of the materials.There were over 150 volunteers that donated time and energy into the film. We all learned so much. I made lifelong friends who I continue to make movies with today.

The shoot lasted from May until the first week of September. Everybody had jobs and the directors did their absolute best to work around everyone's busy schedules, coordinating the shoots over weekends.

One crazy story: Our make up artist Alexis McPherson was not available to be on set one weekend, so I made the decision to have her put me completely in wax based make up, with a broken nose and swollen shut eye then drive back out to set and stayed in the make up for over two days blind in one eye while shooting out scenes. When I napped, they stuck me in a car and propped my head between the door and the seat so I wouldn't mess up the make up. That was fun! ;)

TMS: What was it like working with the directors? Did they each have their own approach when directing a scene?

BJJ: They are big fans of rehearsal and so am I! We had the amazing freedom of rehearsing for a few months before we started shooting. It really helped us all solidify character choices and blocking out scenes early on so that when we were on set it was a much smoother process.

On set the director duo balanced each other well. Mike has this chill, joking personality that he uses to keep spirits up and the energy flowing. Dean literally has every little detail on his mind. He would be walking around with the script, shot list, storyboards in his hands at all times. They would work together on asking questions about your character, wanting you to define and defend every choice that you made. They wanted to understand those choices and make sure you did as well.

TMS: How closely did you adhere to the script? Was any of it improvisational?

BJJ: There were definitely some improvised moments for sure. Especially the back and forth comments/insults between 'Buzz' & 'Steve'. When I took off and was belligerently drunk, sometimes Dean & Mike would just shout to keep the cameras running, wind me up and let me go.

Overall we aimed to adhere to the script but also be as natural as possible. Extending a line or two here and there, or If something didn't work, Dean & Mike were usually the first to offer a different suggestion.

TMS: Where do you find inspiration for your performance? Did you model Buzz after anyone in particular?

BJJ: As actors I always believe there is a small part of the character in each of us that is deeply connected through experiences.

When I was younger, I experienced the alcoholic lifestyle through watching my best friend at the time struggle very hard with it for years. When I began to slip down that path myself, I knew I had to make a choice. I chose to seek after my dreams in filmmaking and walk away from his addictive lifestyle. Thankfully he has since recovered and now lives a fully sober life.

I'm inspired by those life experiences to tell the alcoholics side of the story. I can sympathize with chaotic characters, because there is a real honest cry for help. There's like this simplistic pattern in all of them that most people choose to ignore and never give a second glance. Buzz is not hopeless, he's not a loser, nor is he a drunk bum. He is simply misunderstood. Sometimes the hardest thing for us as a society is to give others a chance to be heard.

I strongly feel this is a story that many can relate too and many can find empathy with.

TMS: This movie feels very grungy to me. I am curious if you use music as a means to help you prepare for a scene. What are some methods you use to help get you into character?

BJJ: There is a grungy, raw, punk-rock feel to it for sure! I honestly feel it will connect with todays audiences in a special way.

I use different methods for different scenes and music is by far one of them. After all my prep work, when we are on set, music helps me focus inward, I usually follow it up with a movement exercise to get myself fully into my body and into the scene.

TMS: Why did you decide to pursue acting?

BJJ: I always loved acting in church plays and little short movies my siblings and I would make around the house. But I remember when I was around twelve years old and I was watching a behind the scenes interview with Richard Dreyfuss and Steven Spielberg talking about their experiences working on JAWS. But then Richard spoke about his love of acting, his passion for developing and creating a character. I was so moved and inspired even at a young age I instantly knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I didn't know where to start, I was a small town kid in Eagle River, Alaska, how the hell could I make it to Hollywood? But I believed it, I saw it, and I knew one day I would be making movies. So I made every short film I could, took every acting class I could get my hands on and to this day I never stop learning. This is my life and I will live it!

TMS: Who are some of your acting idols?

BJJ: Buster Keaton, Marlon Brando, and Daniel Day-Lewis.

TMS: What can you tell us about Buzz that isn’t said in the film? Did you do anything to further explore his character?

BJJ: FUN FACT! #1 Buzz was a butcher for a while until he was caught passed out drunk on the job in a pile of meat. Needless to say he soon fired.

FUN FACT! #2 Due to the intense shooting schedule I worked and lossed a handful of jobs over the process of the filming. I started as a server then I was a butcher, a bartender, a server again, a spinning class instructor, a server on a train, and worked front desk at a gym after being homeless for three days.

FUN FACT! #3 After casting me, Dean and Mike were concerned about my muscle mass. They asked that I drop weight for the role. Over the course of 4 months of intense cardio and High Intensity, Interval Training, I ended up loosing over 30LBS.

TMS: Where do you see Buzz in 10 years?

BJJ: A counselor for sure. At the end of the day, Buzz is a good man with a good heart. He may have made some selfish decisions in his past but he knows what he did and how to correct it. Through that journey I believe he learned the valuable lesson in sending the elevator back down and giving others an opportunity. If that means sharing his story will help motivate others to do the same. Then so be it. He wants them to know he isn't just there to give advice but to listen.

TMS: And lastly, what is next for you?

BJJ: I've been training every week with world renown fight choreographer Anthony DeLongis. He has been improving my stage combat skills tremendously! I just finished shooting two different films, both shot back in Alaska. Right now I'm working in development on a few different productions, one is a fantasy series and the other is a post-apocalyptic film which I wrote with my good friend Nik Sharshak. We plan to start shooting the end of this summer in Temecula, CA.