Gregory Bray Interview 22/06/2023
Dear Greg, Escapism has been officially selected at the Milan Shorts Film Festival! Would you like to tell us more about your project? What motivated you to create such a product?
Thank you for accepting the film! It’s a passion project. It was written by my twin brother, John Patrick Bray and I tend to collaborate on projects. He’s a playwright and teaches screenwriting and playwriting. We’ve always been interested in the popularity of nostalgic escapist media, and how it can bring comfort to us in darker times. It seems we are seeing more and more films and television programs that draw on nostalgia.
And it’s worth asking, ‘What’s driving this?’ For Guy Friendly, escapism is just that—a way to escape from a fairly traumatic set of circumstances. So this screenplay really provided me a chance to explore these ideas. And I will always leap at the opportunity to work with our actors Joe Davis, Willis Williams, and Jake Hunsbusher—who provided the animated voices and was one of John’s former students.
You are an Associate Professor in Digital Media Production at SUNY New Paltz. Would you like to tell us how important this role is to you? What is the advice you always give to your students?
Great question. I have been teaching at SUNY New Paltz, located in Ulster County, New York, for nearly 20 years. I’m a teacher first and foremost. But I also think it’s critically to bring practice into the classroom. If I’m teaching a class on film genres and conventions, I should also be writing and publishing in that arena. I teach the capstone course, Seminar in Digital Filmmaking, where students create films with little budget. They need to tell a good story with a team of adventurous collaborators.
If I’m teaching students how to do that, that should be in my practice as well. While teaching technology is important, content is king. It’s all about story, story, story. Regardless if it’s a podcast, a documentary short, a 30-second PSA, the story and storytelling have to come first. If you can engage an audience with your story, and keep them on the journey with you, you’ve done your job.
When students are conceptualizing their projects, I ask them a few big picture questions. What are you seeing in the world that you wish to shed a light on? Or explore? Why is it important to you? Why should it be important to your audience? What is your contract with the audience and do you understand their horizon of expectations? If you can conceptualize a good story and ethically execute your vision, you’ve done your job.
Returning to your short film ‘Escapism,’ the theme of trauma is obviously very important. What prompted you to take your cue from the play ‘Friendly’s Fire,’ written by John Patrick Bray? And how important to you is the theme you brought back?
Friendly’s Fire is a full-length play, which has been produced and is published with Next Stage Press. It is a deep dive into the mind of a veteran who has had a psychotic break: action figures are coming to life around him reminding him of his younger brother whom he could not save while on a rescue mission during the Gulf War. The play is a blend of outlandish hallucinations and haunting memories but is otherwise grounded in realism.
Escapism, which is a short, deviates from the source, particularly with the ending. In both circumstances, the story is a celebration of embracing memory and, more important, the imagination with a sense of victorious joy.
Tell us more about the main character and the ideation and writing work around him. Was it hard? Or was the whole process quite natural?
I’m going to defer to John, here. John: “Writing Guy Friendly was extraordinarily hard. I wanted to make sure I never used any medical terms to describe what he was going through since each person’s trauma is unique, and when we label the trauma, we run the risk of not imagining how the trauma could manifest otherwise. The character of Guy is inspired by family members and friends who have served, some of whom were forever changed by the things they saw in battle.
However, one thing that did not change was their sense of humor. I have been blessed to know people who overcome incredible circumstances with a sense of humor and a pinch of magic. Bringing all these elements into a single character, especially in a short, is daunting, but we were fortunate with casting the great Joseph Davis who fully embraces this role. His approach to the character is layered and nuanced. We are truly blessed to work with him.”
In general, what do you think the future holds for you? Can you give us some news about your future plans?
I would like to continue working with our collaborators. John and I are already talking about our next short film concept. I work in the Hudson Valley and the entirety of the crew is established here. Film and television are thriving here, largely thanks to the Hudson Valley Film Commission. And most of our team for this project were alumni and colleagues from SUNY New Paltz.
Joseph and Willis are both alumni. I have known Willis for over 20 years, and is just a wonderful collaborator. Eveline Levin, our cinematographer, has a unique and imaginative eye. Danny Asis is an amazing musician and composer. Joseph Vlachos and Brett Barry are colleagues at SUNY New Paltz, and gave invaluable help. As did Kevin Mertig. I’m looking forward to teaming up with them all again. And our Executive Producer, Joshua Kreitzman, is a joy to work with. He truly believed in our project and helped us secure funding. I would very much welcome the opportunity to work with him again. The plan is to keep teaching and keep making films. It’s a wonderful life!
Thank you for your time, Greg. As a final question, we would like to know what filmmaking means to you. And how has your relationship with filmmaking itself changed — if it has — over time.
What does filmmaking mean to me? There is a kind of magic in going to the movies. Seeing films projected on a screen with an audience, and enjoying a shared experience. Making film to me is all about storytelling, and sharing that story. When you make independent films, or passion project films, you are permitted to make the film you want to make. You don’t have to listen to the confines of a studio system. You don’t have external interests exerting control over the film that you are making, or who will impose their vision. You can go out and just share the story you wish to put together. I began working in film and video nearly 30 years ago, when my brother and I had a local access movie review show in Poughkeepsie, NY. And as a student, I produced documentaries that aired on our local PBS affiliate.
I think my relationship with filmmaking, as it’s developed, is recognizing and embracing meaningful collaboration. Valuing the trust, one has to have with all members of the team—cast and crew. And, it’s worth noting, without film festivals, the level of filmmaking would just keep going down. So, we’re grateful for festivals, such as the Milan Shorts Film Festival, to keep that spirit alive. Working collaboratively to share your story, and having places where your work can be seen—that’s really the heart of it.