Interview with GMU Student Actor & Filmmaker, Brian Jackson

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Brian Jackson is an aspiring filmmaker and actor from Arlington, VA where he graduated from Yorktown High School in 2008. Currently, he is studying at George Mason University and is scheduled to graduate in 2012. Here’s what he has to say about his career and film as a whole:

TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF, PERSONALLY AND CREATIVELY/PROFESSIONALLY. WHAT FIRST GOT YOU INTERESTED IN FILM? WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE AMERICAN FILMS? FOREIGN FILMS? TELEVISION SHOWS?

Well, to start off movies have been my life since I was a little kid. Everyone goes through their phases of wanting to be an astronaut, a firefighter, a policeman, you know the usual, but I always had a hankering to be a film actor. I was always shooting little videos with my buddies when I was a kid, and we have vastly improved and film something new every chance we get. I got a little side tracked during middle school when I thought I may want to be a Navy aviator or a S.E.A.L, pending a CIA career afterward, but that was merely a phase, I remembered I’d rather play one on TV. My favorite films are “The Sting,” which has to be the best written movie ever made, if not the best, “Boondock Saints,” “Collateral,” “Goodfellas,” “The Hunt for Red October,” those I would say are my favorite prestigious movies, everyone has got to love the Star Wars movies and Indiana Jones, cause I grew up on them, my first movies were both of those trilogies, and the princess bride. For animated movies definitely have to go with “The Great Mouse Detective” and “FernGully.” My favorite TV shows are definitely “LOST,” “24,” “Burn Notice,” “Scrubs” and “The Wire” when it was on. I also loved the “One Season Wonders: Firefly,” and “Black Donnellys.” As for foreign language films—the ones that stand out are, “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,” and  “Hardboiled.”

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR FILM EDUCATION?

I am a Film Major, Theatre minor at George Mason University, and it allows me to learn the art of filmmaking while also toning my acting skills, so I can implement both of them after I graduate. To upcoming GMU film students: be comfortable both in front and behind the camera and learn all ends of the spectrum from lighting to camera operation. Writing is also key. D.C. is probably the 3rd largest film area in the U.S. (LA being # 1 NYC being #2.) So since it is a smaller niche here you get a lot more recognition, however it is difficult to get big budget productions over here; there is a lot more independent filming taking place on the east coast.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR STUDENTS INTERESTED IN ATTENDING THE SAME SCHOOL?

You basically have to audition your ass off, and get your own equipment and just start shooting.

WHO OR WHAT DO YOU CITE AS MAJOR INSPIRATIONS (THEY DO NOT HAVE TO DIRECTLY RELATE TO FILM) FOR YOUR WORK? WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE SCREEN ACTORS? WHAT DO YOU ADMIRE ABOUT THEIR ACTING? WHAT ABOUT THEIR TECHNIQUES SHOULD ASPIRING SCREEN ACTORS STUDY?

I’ve always been inspired by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh, David Cronenberg, Peter Jackson, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola. Favorite actors? Well, gotta put up Harrison ford, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, James Cagney, Denzel Washington, Christian Bale, Johhnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Colin Farrel, Edward Norton, Robert Downey Jr. (he is the man), Hugh Jackman, Gene Wilder, Clive Owen, George Clooney, Tom Cruise,  (yeah, I know people give him flack, but I don’t care about his personal life; he’s a tremendous actor), Viggo Mortensen…the list goes on and on.

All these guys just have a presence that steal the movie, most of them have genius comedic timing, and most have incredible range from tears to action sequences. They all keep in really good shape, which is something I strive to do as an actor, and most of them are genuine individuals who you could see yourself hanging out with.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR FILMMAKING PROCESS?

My filmmaking process…well usually it starts with an idea or a scene I come up with randomly sometime, and I pitch it to my group and if the consensus on it is positive, we try to work a movie around it.

WHAT EXPERIENCE DO YOU HAVE IN OTHER ART FORMS?

I sang when I was younger, when I still had a singing voice (haha.) I painted a lot earlier in life, but I’ve moved on from that since I am not much of a drawer anymore. I have been off and on with musical instruments. I played the trumpet and drums when I was in middle school, had a guitar for a year or so, gave that away to a center for homeless children, but this year at college a lot of my friends have guitars and I’ve been learning again.

HOW DOES FILM UNITE DIFFERENT TYPES OF ART AND MEDIA?

Film is my favorite form of art because to me it combines all other forms. You have the written word, photography, music, sculpting, theatre, science, pyrotechnics, etc. Film enhances all of them so it is nearly an all senses perception experience, all that it’s missing is smell and taste, but I’m sure they are working on that.

WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER SOME OF THE MAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CINEMA AND THEATRE?

The main difference between film and theatre is the live audience. It is a pro and con for both. Theatre has the pro of the live audience because you get to see and hear the audience’s immediate response. However, film has the upper-hand in that since you are performing to a camera, you can do multiple takes. This benefits in three ways: 1) it allows editors different options for a shot, 2) gives actors directors and cameramen opportunities to experiment and try new approaches, 3) it also takes the load off your shoulders in that you can mess up and the whole thing won’t be ruined (this of course allows for the very humorous blooper reels, keeping everyone in a more comfortable state.)

WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER SOME OF THE MAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CINEMA AND TELEVISION?

Now cinema and television…well, television is a lot more stressful because everyone is on a short term deadline, and most people are rushing around trying to get each episode completed on time and with good ratings. Since everyone is worried about ratings, TV shows need as much steady work as people would think. There is, however, a huge amount of stress over completing a feature film, and acquiring all the distribution rights.

WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER THE ELEMENTS OF A GOOD FILM? A GREAT ONE?

A good film is one I can watch over and over again because it is well done and entertains me. A great film is one that changes my perspective on something, brings me almost to tears, or leaves me sitting there as the credits roll. Great films are the ones where everything comes together, like I stated earlier. It starts with a wonderfully written script, money is put into it, it is strongly acted, the director has a vision of the project, it is beautiful shot, and edited into a masterpiece.

WHAT SORT OF THINGS DO YOU STUDY AND CONSIDER WHEN WATCHING A FILM?

Whenever I watch a movie I’m doing research. I’m getting inspiration for ideas for my own movies. I’m studying camera angles and the ways things were shot. I’m reading into the fight choreography to learn how to better improve my fight scenes. I also sometimes just sit there during a great movie, wishing I had been a part of it.

WHAT SORT OF INTERNSHIPS AND JOBS HAVE YOU HAD THAT RELATE TO YOUR FIELD? WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR STUDENTS INTERESTED IN GAINING THE SAME TYPES OF OPPORTUNITIES?

I have had two internships at Arlington Independent Media, a public broadcast network located in Clarendon [Arlington, Virginia]. I got great hands on opportunities, both in front and behind the camera, I was involved in every aspect of the filmmaking. I recommend anyone who wants to get an early start in this business to try to get an internship or job there. I have also auditioned for feature films, done some extra work, been cast in short films being done on campus.

WHAT ARE YOUR POST-GRADUATION PLANS? WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THEM?

When I graduate whether I have stayed at GMU all years, or have miraculously transferred to USC and graduated from their film school, I plan to audition my ass off and make small movies on the side, work a steady paying job, and just hope that sometime soon, I’ll be on the big screen. I see myself in 10 years as an action movie star living in LA. I just pray and hope I can get there.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ANYONE INTERESTED IN PURSUING A FILM CAREER?

My only advice is just keep shooting footage, and in terms of auditioning, we have an expression in the business. “F*ck ‘em who’s next?” meaning if you get turned down, just keep pressing on, you are never as good or as bad as they say you are. You have got to have drive and passion. You have got to be hungry to make it in this business.

WHERE CAN READERS VIEW YOUR FILMS AND LEARN MORE ABOUT YOU?

I post most of my shorter stuff on Facebook, I’m working on throwing some stuff up on YouTube, and working with a buddy on getting our production company’s website up. I will keep everyone updated and informed, and I hope to be speaking to you from the big screen very soon, and I hope to see Christine and readers in LA having fun in this business like me.

ANY LAST WORDS?

It’s a business remember that, but that doesn’t mean this can’t be one of the “funnest” jobs ever.

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