An Interview With James Cels Bragg

Clint LaForest
15 min readMay 10, 2017

Toledo Film is expanding. There are more directors, cinematographers, actors, and editors now then even in the past three years since I entered the scene in such a minor fashion when my wife, Lindsey, and I volunteered our house for filming A Night of the Living Dead (2014). To be honest, it could just be my awareness expanding to see the full range of individuals involved in independent movie production in the area, but since that production three years ago, we have seen the first two 48-hour film festivals and an expansion in short film festivals. So in the spirit of helping, in any small way, rise this community to new heights, I wanted to bring more attention to the minds behind the shorts and features being released from this northwestern Ohio region.

If you have been paying attention to any of the upcoming movies to be released from the Toledo area you have likely seen at least a mention of Talk Nerdy To Me (2016). To my knowledge, this is the first feature length comedy being produced out of the Toledo area. If this isn’t true, please correct me, but I wanted to emphasize the movement toward a wider range of feature length films being made in the area.

The eye behind the camera and the mentor behind the drama in this new movie is locally raised talent, James Cels Bragg. I wanted to find out where James came into this project and what he thought, in his own words, what he was bringing to the movie. Talk Nerdy To Me (2016) is James’ feature film directorial debut and, from my perspective as a newly minted producer, that is a major challenge. However, if anyone could handle the challenge, it’s Cels.

I sat down with the man of the hour at the Six Pack on Sylvania, a bar restaurant where James is known by a number of the servers, for an hour to talk about his journey to becoming a director and what he thought of his new feature film. Along with me was Lindsey and along with him was his delightful daughter, Flower. While our two companions became fast friends, James and I chatted film.

Clint: How do you balance your job, parenting, working on Glass City Grind, and directing a feature length movie?
James: The TV Show… we film once a week. Sometimes if there’s like an event going on, we’ll probably film that as well. Once to three times a week is when we’ll do the show. With it being a half hour show it makes things alot easier. When I first read the script, I talked to my lady and I asked her to read it to see if she liked it. She thought it was really funny and said “I can see you doing something with this.” I’m like, “Ok, you know it’s going to take some time.” The schedules I made for the crew on our filming days was working around my work schedule, her work schedule, and the tv show. So we pretty much filmed on weekends. You know with me being a stickler with time the longest with filmed for was probably about 9 hours. I wanted to make sure we stayed in a reasonable time limit. Primarily for myself but also for anybody else who has children, jobs, family… and you know the ones who travel from a distance. We aren’t going to have 13, 14, 15 hour shoots.

Clint: Do you think it went well then?
James: I think it went great. It was crazy because the very first day we started filming we had that snow storm in April. Actually, one of the actors that was supposed to be there for that film shoot got into a car accident that same day. They called me and told me what was going on. In my mind I was like, Ok well they aren’t going to make it so i got to figure out how to change things around at the last minute to make this make sense. They kept saying they were going to be there but they kept saying that, “I’m going to still be there.” I said, if you are injured you need to do what you gotta do. But they said, “No, I’m fine but they want to take me to the ER to make sure everything was ok. If everything goes well with that, I’ll be there.” They was a trooper. They came about an hour later. Was still a little shooken up. But they got into their character as soon as it was time to roll. It was a really good night. That was our longest night, I actually lied earlier, I think we went for about 13 hours that night.

Clint: What are the challenges you saw with this movie?
James: One of the main challenges that I would say was going around everyone’s schedule. That was really difficult. Honestly, the film could haven’t gotten finished sooner. But because of certain that were main characters in the script and with their job they just couldn’t make it. And on top of that we had 3–4 people who came from out of town. There was actually one from Pittsburgh. That right there I was really worried about. Actually there was only one time that person from Pittsburgh couldn’t make it. They really felt bad. I understood the situation they were in cause one of their kids came up sick over night. I was like trust me I’ve been there plenty of times. They were like, I can be there the following weekend. The scenes we needed them for that weekend I had to improvise. The following week we added a few things that weren’t in the script to make it work. I had to fill in some spaces anyway because the script had a few dead spots. I was like I like it but we need to add some fillers in there. It’s like when someone’s watching a movie based on a book. It depends on how good that story is as to whether people will accept the extras the director puts in there. You can’t just go from book to film. You need to add in things to make it make sense on a film level.

Clint: You mentioned you had four people from out of town, where all did you have people from out of town?
James: Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Troy, Michigan. Which Troy isn’t too far but they are all travelling. I don’t take anyone higher than the other. I thank them all for driving down here. So I definitely wanted to make their time valuable while they were here. We couldn’t be wasting time BS-ing. That’s one thing I think I did well. We could have fun and make the movie fun, but when it’s ready for action we gotta be ready. You know there’s bloopers here, and I get that. But I pretty much told everyone we gonna be done by this time. And it was pretty much because I had to be somewhere or I had to get home so my girl could go to work and leave the kids. In 8 hours trying to cover like 5 or 6 scenes, it’s doable, we can make it happen. Let’s just make it happen. I welcome the challenge. I always like something new that gets my mind working.

Clint: You looking for more director positions in the future?
James: There’s a few things I think could have been a bit smoother. So the next project I would be part of it’s going to be strictly in the director role. I might do other parts of the project but for the most part the director’s role. Because when you are doing more than one thing and some of them are unexpected… I don’t mind being put in the pinch because luckily I’ve been put in a situation like that. With the experience of being put under pressure luckily, I have plenty of years of that. And actually working on the TV show kinda helped me to get things sped up. I’ve had a lot of things that prepared me for this project, so I’m very grateful and blessed to pretty much be put in the position previously to help the position I was put in now.

Clint: So how did you get the directorship for this project.
James: I was talking with Chad Zuver and he had a few movies he was thinking of producing and he was looking for some directors. We talked about a couple of the movies he wrote and he wanted to know what I thought I would bring to these movies. He ended up going with another choice for [Descending] but he came to me and mentioned that he and Katie Sampson were looking for a director for Talk Nerdy To Me. I was like, “Yeah, send me the script”. I think I showed him that I had director’s value. I kinda want to say he took a chance on me. The only reason I say that is because we did things together in spurts, bits and pieces, together over the years previously, but never a lengthy enough to have him know what he’s capable of doing. I think I came to their attention because of the short films, tv shows, music videos, and for me doing a little bit of acting under his belt for his films. I guess in his mind he was like, “With all this that I’ve seen that he done and with all that he done for me I think that he’d be a good candidate for this project.” I think that that was his mentality. But, it worked. I asked for the script and said “Hey if I like it. If I think it’s funny. I’ll be a part of it.” Cause I do consider this to be a big deal for this to be my first film. I don’t want to it be I was offered to be the director of a feature film and I’ll take anything. I gotta like what I’m getting involved in. I see a lot of things in this movie that I like to watch, the tv shows I like to watch, the style of comedy.

Clint: It’s a big time for you: So you have the IndieGoGo campaign (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/talk-nerdy-to-me--3) wrapping up, you just had a music video released for Yvonne y Fuego…
James: Yeah, Yvonne and I go back years. From their own words, I am the only one they want to do their music videos because I give them what they looking for and also me being friends with the group it’s a personal connection there. It’s a comfortability. It makes me feel good to know that they are getting offers from others of the same caliber or higher, but in their mind they are like “We don’t know you and we are pretty good with Bragg.” That right there just gives you some satisfaction, that’s pretty awesome, thank you very much for liking what I do. I know their children, I know her husband, I filmed their wedding. They are like my second family.

James followed up the question about Yvonne y Fuego with a bit of bragging about Toledo itself:

James: They are bringing a lot of attention to Toledo, Actually there is a lot of attention being brought to Toledo for a lot of different areas, from film to music to sports. It makes me feel good that we are being known for positive things. Because for awhile you always hear about certain things that are negative that are linked to Toledo. So when you hear about positive things that are being known throughout the world and at the very least the entire country that are about our city. That just makes me feel awesome to be a part of this city. I always felt like there was a lot positive things going on even when the negative was being said. Just because you don’t venture out, granted you do need to look for things, and see what is offered doesn’t mean it’s a bad place. I don’t know where your head is at. I think that give it another 5 years and something serious will happen to bring us some great attention.

Clint: What do you want to see come out of Toledo?
James: From film, I would love to see a big budgeted film be shot in Toledo. You have films being shot in Cleveland, Detroit, other parts of Michigan. It would be nice to have a big budget film shot here. It doesn’t need to be the whole film. It don’t know if that involves government, the funds to make that happen, or a film commission or what not. But I think that right there would be the next big step I would like to see happen. I think that what we are doing as independent filmmakers to put the stamp on the area and make our mark. Maybe that will bring attention to Toledo.

Clint: So I know a bit about your background since I’m married to Lindsey, I have to ask how did you go from being in Cosmetology at Penta to being where you are now?
James: I think I’ve always been a visionary, so I always was messing with hair, I cut my own hair from sophomore year on and… Well now I don’t have any hair but yeah I always like messing with hair. But when I toured Penta they gave me only two options: Auto body and cosmetology. I think I was trying to get out of Springfield because I wasn’t comfortable there. Well I wanted to be in auto body but it took a couple weeks but they came back and said they were completely filled in auto body but they had a position in cosmetology. So I said, well… ok, I’ll go. I went I was the only guy there…

Clint: I think Lindsey’s words were, “That guy knows what he’s doing, he’s the only guy in the room full of women.”
James: The guys that knew me, or the friends that knew me said, “Man, you a lucky ass dude. You in there with all them women.” I had a female at the time, I had a high school sweetheart so it wasn’t my thought but knowing that now, I’d be like “That guy knows what he’s doing” But I’m still good with a,lot of them, I still keep in contact with 5 or 6 of my classmates from back in the 90s.I almost made it, I took my state boards and did pretty good. I pretty much aced the physical portion and the written portion I missed by three points. Now with cosmetology, you need to build up credit hours and once you have the amount that you need you take the test. If you need to take it again, you owe more hours*, and I let it go. It was a mixture of being too concerned about my female and honestly a little bit of laziness. I let my hours expire where I couldn’t take the test again. It was a fun ride, I learned a lot about people. A lot about women. I mean being put into that group of people you learn a lot about them.

Clint: Ok, so you go from there what brought you into film?
James: You know I’ve always done this (puts his fingers up to make a frame to look through) while I was driving, well actually at that time, being driven. And I just loved going on drives and seeing scenery. Just being having thoughts in my head about how the world looks beautiful. So I always had a vision for filming. I watched a lot of movies with my mother. So when I was 24, I was bought a camera and I thought it was cool but I let it sit around and I lost it. Well, I used to work for a company and I was terminated. Well, at that point I was down, so I was just like, I’m just going to move. So I called a friend in New York and he said come on out. So when I was cleaning up [getting ready to move] I found the program and camera that I had sitting around for years. And I had been thinking about doing videos, at that time I was thinking music videos. So I went to New York and I was like, “I got this camera and I got this program, we can start making movies” So that was around 2006. Back then I didn’t know what was going on. So I started messing with it. I hardly slept. I stayed up endless nights just experimenting and learning.I ended up coming back to Toledo. I didn’t know that University of Toledo had a film school. And I had a couple friends watch my stuff, like my early early stuff, and they said, “you know this is pretty good. You should go to film school.” Then I found out we had a film school here in Toledo and I was like, “Really?” So I went ahead and got into film school in 2009. It was kinda crazy because around that time I was thirty-something and at that time I was just thinking more about blue collar type work.

Clint: You mentioned that you did more than directing in the project, what roles beyond director did you take on in Talk Nerdy to Me?
James: Director, editor, one of the cinematographers, did sound. We had four cinematographers but I was the main one. Doesn’t sound bad saying, it’s only three or four but it’s a lot. We did have a team but they couldn’t be there every day of filming. So I was like, well, whatever days you can’t be there, I’ll do it. I wanted it to be completed, I wanted it to be good, and I wanted everyone to have a good time. Regardless of all the roles I had to play, I kept a level head. I made sure everyone ate. I was like, “I don’t know what you all ate before you got here but I got entrees, eat. Get comfortable. Let’s work through it.” Just thankful for the people I worked with. Most of them I hadn’t work with before, but I’m a pretty easy going guy. I didn’t think it was going to be a problem. It’s just crazy how things went pretty smooth. It was great.

Clint: So tell people why they should invest in or at the very least come out to see Talk Nerdy to Me.
James: It’s a good film. It’s very funny. The people that are a part of this film, most of them it’s their first time, their debut. The two lead actors, this is their first time in a leading role and man they did an awesome job. I’m actually surprised at the acting chops, meaning when you see everyone on screen you’re like, “man this is a good movie.” You know what man it was great. I had very little input in how they played their characters, because everyone took their characters from paper and made it their own. They played them so well. If anything I just said, “Ok, add this line or say this” It was rare I had to tell them how to play their role. It just kinda came natural to them. It’s a fictional movie about high school kids and like what can happen… I mean… teen pregnancy? It happens. I really want people to get out of it that people can come together. Cause at the beginning of the movie there are a lot of divides in between groups, popular crowd, unpopular crowd, bullies, and people dealing with their sexuality. All of that is kinda put in there. Everyone’s divided in the beginning and comes together in the end, you want to see how that happens? Come see the movie! The comedy that’s in it is really relevant to a lot of people. If you like Seinfeld, if you like pineapple express… if these are the kind of movies or shows you enjoy, you’ll like this movie.

Cels and I had a great conversation and I didn’t even transcribe all of it. I’ll follow up with a bit more around the time that Talk Nerdy to Me is released. From the conversation, a person could tell that James is excited about his work and is willing to grow in his chosen field. That drive is what will bring our film community to new levels in the future.

However, he’s not the only one in our community expanding film in the Toledo area and I want to keep finding new and existing talent to talk with. Each person brings their own story to this movement. Each story is worth hearing. So at the end of the conversation I stole a bit from the Rough Draft Diaries on WGTE. I had James give me a few additional names that I could follow up with in the future to add yet another face, another story, to the narrative that is the growing Toledo film community. I have a few people to talk with in the future outside of James’ recommendations, but most of his names weren’t already on my list and I was thrilled that I could get a better idea of who is involved in this community.

Before I wrap up, James mentioned that there are a couple cameos in Talk Nerdy to Me but he didn’t want to give too much away. If you want to know who shows up, you should check out this project at release!

And check out the IndieGoGo campaign: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/talk-nerdy-to-me--3

* — Lindsey clarified to me what James mentioned about the cosmetology testing regulations: From the interview, it seems James only took the test once. Additional hours were only required if you’ve failed the test 3 times, and then you would have to go back for just like 40–80 hours. As he mentioned there were several factors that kept him from attempting again. Rules have since changed to allow taking the test as many times you need until you pass without the need of more schooling. However, you did and still do have to pay for the test every time.

Originally Published on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/notes/clint-laforest/an-interview-with-james-cels-bragg/1288546087879253/

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