We’ve all come across those frustrating people in life who refuse to consider others around them and live in their own little bubbles and when writer/director Jonathan Salmon was dreaming up the central character in his comedic anthology this was exactly the type of loveable idiot he needed. Life of Brad James succeeds in making you laugh out loud, cringe and reflect on similar situations encountered in life. By focussing on three innocuous daily situations chosen by Salmon for their simplicity and relatability, Life of Brad James keeps you guessing as to what absurd behaviour our protagonist will enact next, never quite landing where you think it will. Coupled with documentary-like footage and a natural tone it’s a short which provides a delightful ‘thank god it’s not me’ fly on the wall view of the titular character’s series of self-absorbed faux pas. We invited Salmon to join us for a chat ahead of today’s online premiere of Life of Brad James about leaning into the physical comedy aspects of the film, maintaining a cohesive flow through the three pieces and making sure each segment stuck to the character’s consistent flaws.
What inspired this loveable yet hateable rogue?
Life of Brad James is a comedic anthology that I set out to create, inspired by my observations of the carefree man-child persona that I see within myself and many young people around me. My goal was to craft a short series that not only entertains but also prompts viewers to contemplate the consequences of unchecked selfishness in us all. Through different scenarios and humorous portrayals of the central character, Brad James played by Zack Fox, I wanted to shed light on the whimsical and stagnant nature of individuals who resist personal growth. I want audiences to reflect on their own capacity for growth and self-awareness.
The anthology serves as a playful exploration of the perpetuation of selfish behavior, emphasizing the importance of introspection and accountability. Through this series, I wanted to entertain while provoking thought. Each film showcases Brad James’ consistent nature, regardless of the circumstances. My hope is that viewers will identify with the relatable scenarios and find humor in the unchanging and unhinged nature of the central character.
In your thematic exploration how did you decide and then finalise on the three hilarious situations we see?
The adventures in the film were all in reference to real-life events, whether in my own life or the ones I’ve shared with my co-writer Khari Johnson. Our goal was to pinpoint the balance of making viewers laugh with the ridiculous behaviors using enough unpredictability to keep the narrative entertaining until the very last second. The key to making that happen was mixing a familiar event with many unfamiliar elements and unusual characters that I’ve seen in my life. We focussed on capturing moments that showcased the character’s consistent, poignant, and entertaining baseline, whether he was involved in voting, dancing, or selling a bike that didn’t belong to him. It was a process of refining a total vision to ensure it remained both engaging and achievable.
I particularly enjoyed these looks at different every day but slightly odd stories, how do you as a writer build the comedy into each of these situations?
It was no different than writing any other piece. I used the fundamentals of writing, leveraging the overall structure and scene beats to propel the narrative. It always helps that there’s an underlying conflict or main goal within the scene that’s seamless as it helps with natural ebbs and flows. Before filming, I had the cast in mind and tailored each actor’s dialogue and actions to their characters so any nuances would’ve been picked up in an organic way that doesn’t feel stiff or unnatural.
We focussed on capturing moments that showcased the character’s consistent, poignant, and entertaining baseline.
Our filming approach was an interesting blend of scripted and unscripted moments. The foundation was a well-crafted script that provided clear beats to develop and define the character throughout each short. And then within these defined moments, we focused on physical comedy, allowing our actors to interact with the physical elements in each scene – be it a door, a couch, or a bike. We carefully locked down the controllable aspects of each scene, providing a solid framework, and then allowed our talented actors to bring their own creativity and spontaneity to the table. It was a process built on trust and guided exploration, resulting in some truly humorous moments on screen.
How many filming days did you need and how did you plan the shoot to capture these three different scenarios?
I made sure to write the shorts around what was already available to me. So a weekend was easy to achieve and we kept this two-day window in mind while conceptualizing and developing the films. This general timeframe came from my experience of directing another series, Bizarro World which has a similar comedic and satiric feel. My plan was focused on using similar cinematography that could be replicated to maintain a cohesive and seamless flow, ensuring all of the films looked alike. There was even a discussion to write and film a 4th short since there was extra time on our hands, but I felt like that could’ve been too much.
There’s a great almost documentary-like view of the world inhabited by Brad James. What style were you looking for and how did you get the right look you wanted?
A significant influence on the overall style was the budget available. The entire short film was funded by myself and the producer, Johnny Hernandez, so given these upfront constraints, I embraced a documentary aesthetic. I feel like it’s always easier to go with the flow of a film and embrace it, instead of trying to force the film to be something that’s unrealistic, especially since this was a passion project. While keeping this challenge in mind, I put my attention toward the framing so it feels more symmetrical and surreal.
Our primary choice of equipment was the ARRI Amira. While it might not have been a purely creative decision, it was driven by budget considerations as we stuck to a simple mantra – create with what you have available. We aimed to achieve a high-quality digital feel for the films while optimizing our resources in other departments. The digital format offered us the flexibility to capture numerous takes, ensuring that we could fine-tune performances and keep everyone comfortable on set.
Can you talk us through the edit and ensuring the cohesion of these stories into what honestly feels like one long wild day?
The editing process was similar to the cinematography, we kept a similar editing style that allows the film to live as stand alone pieces or flow together due to their underlying similarities in shooting style, comedic tone and general feel. We had a lot of improvisation during the production, which gave the editor and I a unique challenge since we didn’t have the usual three-camera coverage for a comedy. Almost every take was different than the one before, in a different set-up. However, this allowed us to be creative in filling in the gaps using the performances and the flow we had established based on the story beats. It became sort of a plug-and-play situation. It might sound a bit frustrating, but every take was so funny that however the film came together was an absolute blast.
We had a lot of improvisation during the production, which gave the editor and I a unique challenge since we didn’t have the usual three-camera coverage for a comedy.
The loose narrative arc in this anthology posed an unusual challenge. We wanted to create a character-focused anthology, which isn’t a common approach in short films, especially when the films don’t share a common theme, only a character. We had to think creatively about how these films could coexist in a longer format to tell a somewhat cohesive story. That’s where the date and time element at the front came into play. It allowed us to showcase the evolution of the single character, Brad James, remaining a constant presence throughout, albeit becoming increasingly eccentric with each appearance.
We had to think creatively about how these films could coexist in a longer format to tell a somewhat cohesive story.
How is the feature version of this progressing and how are you leaning on the short to build that larger world?
Slowly but surely! The foundation of the film revolves around the events and the world is slowly expanding as the main character, Brad James, is a dance instructor alongside his brother facing an incoming catastrophe from influencers and other aspects. This is more of a sneak peek, offering a taste of the style and tone along with the main characters in the full-length feature.