By Maria Shamkalian
Lancaster County-based film director, Bradley Hawkins, began his film career as an actor in the San Francisco Bay area in the early 1990s, starring in plays and musical theater productions on stage, as well as being on-camera in commercials, television, and films. Hawkins and his young family moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1997 where he taught acting, film studies, and humanities, and directed several stage productions at the high school level. After retiring as a high school teacher, Hawkins returned to acting on-camera and transitioned into an award-winning indie film director in 2015 with his directorial debut comedy short, Roller Coaster, which earned 30 film festival awards throughout the country. In 2017-2018, his quirky, comedy-fantasy, Filling In, won 61 film festival awards and 37 nominations from throughout the U.S. as well as in Australia, Canada, England, Italy, and even in Lithuania. Both Roller Coaster and Filling In are now streaming on Amazon Prime today. In addition to being a film director, Hawkins coaches emerging on-screen talent through his on-camera program, The Actor’s Workshop of Central PA, as well as holding virtual acting coaching sessions nationwide. Hawkins also founded his film production company, Dadley Productions, in 2015, with his daughter and producer, Sarah Hawkins.
1. What is your most recent success and how did you accomplish it?
We just recently wrapped production on my latest short, Calf Rope the heart-warming tale of the special bond between grandparents and grandchildren, and the endearing legacies that can live on, long after the elder is gone. Calf Rope is a tender short film set in the 1960s about a 65-year-old cattle auctioneer and former junior rodeo champ from rural Oklahoma, and the tight bond he develops with his young grandson from suburban Pennsylvania while teaching him a few tricks from his previous trades.
The film is loosely based on my boyhood memories of my Granddad Mac and concludes with a hint of the legacy that my "Grandad" unknowingly left behind for me as a role model for being "Grandpa" to my own young grandchildren today. To continue the legacy, my daughter, Sarah Hawkins is producing Calf Rope which will be the third film project produced under the Dadley Productions’ banner. The production phase of the film was crowdfunded through Seed and Spark (raising $23,800) and we’ve just launched a second campaign for an additional $30K to get the film through all of the standard post-production tasks, but also including marketing and enough funds to cover the expense for film festival submission fees for at least a year on a global scale. Those interested in being part of our team to complete Calf Rope can find out more about how to “saddle up” with our posse at tinyurl.com.calfropemovie.
2. How did you get started in the film industry?
After an early career as the founding director of a youth music organization in 1980, I switched lanes in the mid-90s to return to my passion for acting both on stage and on screens in commercials, television shows, and films throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1997, my wife and I and our two young kids left California for Lancaster, Pennsylvania where I taught acting, film studies, and humanities courses at Lebanon High School (Lebanon, PA) and directed several stage productions throughout my 14 years as an educator. After retiring from teaching high school in 2014, I returned to acting on-camera and then branched out as an award-winning indie film director in 2015 with my debut comedy short, ROLLER COASTER earning 30 film festival awards along the way.
3. Why do you choose to work in PA and what do you love the most about working in Pennsylvania?
Although Roller Coaster was shot entirely in Los Angeles, and principal photography for Filling In was shot in upstate NY, almost all of the B-roll footage for the comedy-fantasy short was shot throughout Lancaster County (Elizabethtown for a jewelry store in Hong Kong, Lancaster for Wall Street, Manhein for Mexico, Mount Joy for “Middle America”, etc.) . Through that experience, I discovered the wide diversity of locations available right here in Central PA, and therefore my latest film Calf Rope was shot entirely in our region (Annville, Ephrata, Lancaster, Landisville, Mount Joy, and Palmyra).
4. What are some of your favorite shooting locations in Pennsylvania?
ForCalf Rope we were fortunate to have absolutely stunning locations offered to us to throughout Lancaster and Lebanon counties to shoot at for our period piece set in the mid-1960s including Orthopedics Association of Lancaster in Lebanon for a pivotal hospital scene, the New Main Theatre in Ephrata, to represent Oklahoma during the time period, the exterior of Bube’s Brewery in Mount Joy, and the Shale Knoll Arena for a complex and climatic cattle auction scene with over 50 head of cattle livestock of all shapes and sizes. Due to the diversity in our region, we know that we have been able to convincingly pull off representing both the states of Oklahoma and Pennsylvania in 1966 while shooting the film in August of 2019.
5. What do you love the most about your job?
As a boy at age seven, I was given an 8mm Brownie movie camera for my birthday, and I knew almost instantly what my life goal was going to be. It just took me almost 50 years to make that journey. So when asked what I love the most about my new job is that it allows me to tell the cinematic stories that have stuck in my head for decades and now to be able to put them up on screens throughout the world.
6. Do you have any upcoming Pennsylvania-based projects?
Along with our plans to expand Calf Rope from a short into an indie-feature, we are also in development on an ensemble-cast, cinematic light-comedy “love letter” to Lancaster County called Whoopie! (in the vein of Little Miss Sunshine and Amélie), as well as a gritty, coming-of-age drama/thriller with the working title of Dylan (reminiscent of Mud and Short Term 12. Though there will undoubtedly be some dark turns involved in all three stories, as in all of our previous work through Dadley Productions, audiences will ultimately be left with a sense of hope and inspiration once each journey has reached its conclusion.
7. PAFIA has been working hard on increasing the film tax credit in Pennsylvania and bringing more film work to our local crew and talent, but we must all unite to really make a difference. What can you tell our elected officials about the importance of PA film industry and the difference it has made in your life?
After retiring from teaching in 2014, I’ve spent a lot of time as an actor and director in L.A. over the past five years and was essentially bi-coastal for about three years with agents representing me in both L.A. and PA. However, I’ve come to see that there is absolutely no reason in the 21st-century for filmmaking to be limited to a “major market.” Content for streaming and screening can now be created virtually anywhere. Anywhere that films ARE being created means jobs for the artists in their selected cinematic field to be able to help their local economy and community thrive. Nurturing film production in PA means nurturing our local restaurants, hotels, businesses, and jobs for our local artists that have acquired those skills so that they do not need to be leaving PA for Atlanta, Baltimore, L.A., NYC, Toronto, or Washington D.C., NYC for work. I for one, have no interest in spending any of my remaining years nurturing other regions for filmmaking either as a director or an actor and would prefer to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s economy.
8. What is your advice for aspiring actors and filmmakers? Some steps to take? Some mistakes to avoid?
For actors anywhere but particularly in our region (where performance opportunities in stage productions are currently far more prevalent than on-camera narrative or commercial work) it’s important to seek out the training to make that significant transformation from stage to the screen; from broad, external actions and projection to the far more intimate, subtle, and internalized reactions. I was trained early on that acting on-camera is often much more about listening and reacting to what their scene partner saying than it is about their own spoken lines. Stage directors are constantly telling their cast to “pick up the cues,” whereas film directors want and need their talent to take the time to internalize their unspoken thoughts before allowing the outspoken dialogue to come out of their mouths, delivered at volume levels based on truth and reality rather than having to artificially project these emotions and thoughts to the “back of the house.”
Other advice to the actors reading this interview is to seek advice from directors, producers, and casting directors (rather than other actors) on headshots, resumes, marketing themselves on social media, etc. and to hold off on creating a reel until there is enough quality footage to even have one. Far too many actors in our area just get their headshots done from whoever they’re actor friends do, and/or rush into getting acting demo reels without having professional level, quality content on it. As someone who routinely casts projects these days (and is often asked to recommend talent for local commercials, web and film projects) I tell all actors that I coach that it is far better to not have a reel than to have a bad one.
For filmmakers in our community, much of the current paid work in our region is commercial, and the film companies that I feel that do the best job at that are those that strive toward taking a more cinematic, narrative approach to their work. We also have a lot of documentary filmmakers in Central PA, and though I often greatly respect their end product, doc filmmakers tend to frequently be “one-man bands” that do 90% of the job on their own (camera operator, producer, director, editor, marketing manager, etc.). By nature, narrative filmmaking requires the need for more collaboration to create characters, actions, and dialogue in a screenplay, as well as stage environments (through production design) as opposed to filming what is happening organically in front of them. I feel that local documentary filmmakers would greatly benefit from forcing themselves to delegate responsibilities and relinquish more creative control to other crew members on their production team, as is routine in narrative filmmaking.
I’m also liking what I’m seeing coming out of Central PA through a group called Vidjam’s Central PA Filmmakers. As defined on their page Facebook page, Vidjam is “A place for filmmakers in Central PA to network and collaborate,” and the group hosts quarterly 48 hr film competitions for awards and recognition where filmmakers put together teams of their own that must write, cast, location scout, shoot, editing, color correct, score, color-correct, etc.) all within between their 48 hr starting/ending times on Friday and Sunday evening. These brave and dedicated souls (of all levels of experience) are learning, experimenting, collaborating, and stretching their creative wings to improve their skills and to network with like-minded artists in our region, and I’ve come to truly respect the spirit and the intent of the Vidjam experience.
9. What are some good strategies to find more gigs?
I’m a big proponent of creating one's own content. I’m seeing more and more local film production companies making the occasional choice to sacrifice the financial security of a paid commercial gig in order to have the experience of creating something more meaningful to them that though there may not be financial rewards (initially) could lead to much bigger and better projects that can be monetized and eventually provide sustainable income for local filmmakers. That’s at least been the strategy for Dadley Productions. Our two completed shorts both now on Amazon with a combined award total of 91 awards and 37 nominations, and our current short Calf Rope (now in post-production and set to be released in early 2020) have already proven to be a launching pad for our company in that we are now receiving screenplays for consideration from all over the world for future projects and are working with three different screenwriters on each of our upcoming feature-length screenplays which can be monetized. We view the short film format as a “short cut” up the food chain in the industry as ling as each produced short is created at the highest level of excellence that our limited resources can afford.
10. What are some of the most valuable lessons that you have learned about this industry and wish you knew earlier?
At age 63, and being in a position of directing one thing or another for over 40 years now (whether it be marching bands, jazz bands, orchestras, choirs, stage plays, or films) and fortunately learned my lessons many decades ago My top five most valuable lessons as an ol’ guy that I try to pass on to those who consider me as a mentor are:
12. What is your favorite project that you worked on?My current project, Calf Rope, means more to me on a personal level than any other creative endeavor I’ve ever embarked on. It truly feels like my entire life has led to this moment in time for the purpose of telling this story of the importance of leaving a long-lasting legacy for our children's children, as well as for the generations beyond them through the wonder and magic of cinema.
13. What is your biggest aspiration in this industry?
Dadley Productions is shooting for the moon with Calf Rope. My daughter worked for the Academy of Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) for four years and in 2015 I had the honor of attending the Oscars as my daughter’s “Plus one.” The only father/daughter date could ever beat that would be for us to return due to one or both of us being an Oscar nominee. It is our shared dream that Calf Rope is the film that brings us back as a nominee for Best Live-Action Short Film, with her as Producer and myself as Director.
14. What would be the best way for our local PA cast and crew to submit to your upcoming projects?
Follow Dadley Productions on Facebook, connect with us through our website, and look for each us on Instagram. In all honesty, Instagram is definitely where the entertainment industry has now gravitated towards and where we have connected with the most filmmakers outside of Central PA. If you’re a filmmaker and are not active on Instagram, you're seriously missing out.
@bradley_hawkins, @calf_rope, @filling_in, #dadleyproducitons, #rollercoastershortfilm
Pennsylvania Film Industry Association (PAFIA)461 Cochran Road, Box 246Pittsburgh, PA 15228(717) 833-4561 firstname.lastname@example.org