Film school grad with autism realizes dream

Local filmmaking pair premiere web series comedy 

By: Terry Oparka | C&G Newspapers | Published February 20, 2019

 Alexander Ray, left, top, and Bradley Egrin, will bring a nine-part web series titled “Dragnet of Spies” to the big and small screens.

Alexander Ray, left, top, and Bradley Egrin, will bring a nine-part web series titled “Dragnet of Spies” to the big and small screens.

Photo provided by Alexander Ray

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The collaboration between Rochester Hills resident Alexander Ray, 32, and Southfield resident Bradley Egrin, 26, both actors and filmmakers, had an unlikely start at the Motion Picture Institute of Michigan in Troy in 2012. 

As a student, Egrin worked the boom with the sound department. 

Ray had graduated from the production program at MPI in 2011 and went back to be a teaching assistant in the production lab. 

As a teaching assistant, he performed what he hoped was a comedic dance skit so that the students would have someone to film, and he became “increasingly self-conscious” during the filming.

“With film, there’s no audience. Take after take, there’s no reaction,” said Ray, who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in theater from Oakland University prior to attending MPI. 

After the last take, Ray said Egrin told him, “Well, you did your best.” 

“I thought it was kind of a rude thing to say,” Ray said. “But then I came to know it came from a sweet place in his heart.” 

Egrin was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was about 7 years old.

His mother, Denise Egrin, explained via email that he was mainstreamed in the third grade. He had a paraprofessional in elementary school, and for some of his classes through middle and high school. 

“He has always been interested in comedy,” she said. “He liked watching ‘The Three Stooges’ with Dad. He (Bradley) knew producers and directors and information about all of his favorite movies. We ended up getting a video camera for him at Christmas when he was 12, and he began filming his own movies. Brad took a TV production class at (Southfield-Lathrup) High School and decided to pursue this area after he graduated.” 

She said she wouldn’t let the label of autism define her son. 

“I tried to teach him not to use autism for an excuse for anything. He may have to work a little harder to overcome some challenges, but there are really no limits to achieve what he wants to do. I tried to seek treatments that helped — occupational therapy, horseback riding, along with recreational therapy, including swimming and basketball, speech therapy, music therapy and art classes.” 

 

Learning the industry

“When Bradley applied, we knew that he had autism and that a program such as ours would be a challenge,” Douglas Schulze, the president and CEO of MPI, said via email. 

 “But Bradley had some important attributes that we felt would play in his favor. He had made a number of films in high school,” Schulze noted, one of which won the Best of Show award at the Michigan Student Film Festival. “He had editing skills; he has an incredible imagination and can come up with story ideas. He is very social and, most important, he is a self-starter,” Schulze said.

“Our school, being small, doesn’t have the normal resources that larger schools have to accommodate students with autism, but having evaluated Bradley, we felt that we would accept him with the expectation he would need additional attention. Bradley’s primary area of interest was coming up with ideas with the intent to direct and edit, which he focused on during his studies in the program. Our program is designed to train students to enter the film industry after they graduate.”

Schulze said some notable MPI graduates include Zak Bagans, the creator and host of the Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures”; Sam Kadi, who directed “The Citizen” and the award-winning documentary “Little Gandhi”; and Shelly D’har, who wrote and directed a feature film in India titled “Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga.”   

For his thesis film for the program, Egrin wrote “Dragnet of Spies,” based on his love of old TV shows. Ray acted in the short film with him, as well as in two sequel episodes that Egrin produced in 2014 and 2016. 

 

The creative process

“I thought he (Ray) was good,” Egrin said. “I asked him to be in ‘Dragnet of Spies.’” 

Egrin said his film was inspired by Jack Webb’s TV show “Dragnet” and the TV show “Barney Miller.” He said he based the main characters on himself and his experiences with his cousin, Adam Egrin.

He also drew inspiration from the 1997 film “Mousehunt,” described as a dark comedy slapstick film; the comedy of Laurel and Hardy; “The Little Rascals,” and W.C. Fields. 

Egrin wrote a dozen short scripts for “Dragnet.” Ray rewrote them, adding major plot elements and episodes of his own, and combined them to create a nine-episode web series with an overall story arc.

Ray described the characters as “main buddy cop duo protagonists.” 

Ray co-produced and directed the series. Production costs were $8,500 for the 14-day shoot, which Ray said “is challenging. You can’t spend much time on each shot. You’re constantly in rush mode.”  

A crew member quit, the art department manager injured his toe, and a big rainstorm stressed the schedule. 

Ray said he tried to stay true to Egrin’s creative vision and help him “tell more about his characters.” 

Egrin liked to be in control of the process, which the two had to agree upon, Ray said. 

“I would listen to every idea Bradley had,” Ray added. 

Egrin said that he and Ray had to find “a good way to make it work.” 

The series will premiere at 8 p.m. Feb. 28 at Emagine Novi Theater, 44425 W. 12 Mile Road. The nine episodes run about 10 minutes each. The cost is $10, cash only. 

Find them on Twitter at @DragnetofSpies, on Facebook and on YouTube for updates on the web series. 

Editor’s note: Bradley Egrin is the reporter’s nephew. 

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