Interview with Actor Brian Dragonuk

Brian Dragonuk

ED- The Eerie Digest occasionally runs into an individual who has many venues that they work in, but not so many as actor Brian Dragonuk. Brian, you currently wear more hats than anyone that I have met to date. Since 1999, you have been in over five-hundred projects throughout the Mid-Atlantic States, on projects as varied as a Film/Video Actor,

Print Model, Radio Personality, TV Show Host and as an Actor in the training of Federal Law Enforcement Agents, Medical Students, Lawyers, and Emergency 1st Responders.. Please tell us about these aspects of your career.

BD- I started my Acting career very late in life (47) as an Extra on the set of “The Replacements. I worked daily for 43 days with from 300-500 other Extras (daily- Over 15,000 Different people over the 43 days) and that collective pool of experience taught me something (Very Basic) that I believe is still true today – If you want to make a Living as an Actor here – You must make yourself VALUABLE to as Many Employers as you can.

Some of the People I met on “The Replacements” worked “Other Markets” – (Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC and Richmond are all different markets with their own Agents, Casting Directors, Production Companies and Projects), By the end of my 1st full year (2000), I had worked in and was “On File” with people in each of them.

Others on set felt the way to increase the Potential Employers (looking to hire you for Future projects) was to work different types of Venues in the Same Market. Each requires different Training & abilities, Different Resources and in most cases different Potential Employers. By the end of my 1st year, I had broadened my Resume to include – My 1st Commercial Modeling (Print) work, TV Commercials (Including my 1st Speaking part), Public Service Announcements, 1st Speaking part in a Film (a Student Film), and my 1st Live Practical Training jobs. Hosting a TV Show, Radio Broadcasts & Voice over/Narration jobs were added my 2nd year.

Live theatre has never interested me so I still have not added those opportunities to my Resume.

The Career Defining opportunity I “Fell into” that year was something new and almost Unheard of – The Live Practical training. Here you are hired by a Training Center to play a part while interacting with their students so Staff can evaluate how much training the Student retained and how they will react in various situations. Most is 1 on 1 Training (you and 1 student) but group Training is also done.

My start as a Standardized Patient working with the Medical Students at Johns Hopkins University in 1999 and at The Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Academy (a joint Training Academy for 19 Virginia Law Enforcement Agencies in Ashburn VA) in 2000, led to a lot of work over the last 10 years as this type of training became a standard training practice.   This also boosted my Film/Video work because by paying attention and Learning what the students did for their end of the training practical, I gained the knowledge & resources to create believable characters.

I have been employed as a Standardized at 9 Universities including Johns Hopkins University, University of Maryland – Baltimore, Howard University and Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. This led directly to 25 Film/Video Projects As Patients, Doctors or Nurses over the last 10 years.

I have assisted in the training of federal law enforcement agents at the United States (US) Secret Service training academy, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the US Capitol Police and Virginia Law Enforcement Officers at NVCJA in Ashburn VA.  This led to 30 Film/video Jobs as a Law Enforcement Officer over the same 10 years I have participated in mock trials to assist in the training and evaluation of trial lawyers

For a major training center in DC, Assisted in the training and evaluation of first responders in radiation disaster drills for the Department of Homeland Security And planned and executed Mock assassination attempts for The US Dept of State- Diplomatic Security (teaching Embassy Personnel How to avoid being a Target when out of the US) .

ED- You have also produced twelve cable talk shows, and you own DragonukConnects.com Please tell our readers about these projects.

BD- Producing the Talk shows was an outgrowth of hosting a few shows. I auditioned for a Hosting position with a Company that has Several Shows “On-Air”. After I Interviewed Several of the People they had Scheduled, I approached them about an idea about taking several Projects I had been part of and interviewing the people involved in from original idea to broadcast. I produced several Shows for them starting with the Original Concept, Writing Scripts, Hiring Talent and Production Crew, Shooting, and Editing to create the final project. I produced Shows on TV Commercials, Public Service Announcements, and Industrials then produced a few other shows for them and others.

The idea that evolved into DragonukConnects.com started in 1999 on ‘The Replacements”. While the other Actors on Set would talk about their other jobs, the Training they had and issues about making a living in this Market, They would not provide any of the Important Details, Agents & Casting Directors that hired them, Who Provided the Training, Where to get good Quality Headshots ETC.

I started trading any information I found out about with other Actors for any additional information they had. That led to a Yahoo Group to Send Casting Notices, Information on Training sessions & Networking Events to Hundreds of Actors at a time then to DragonukConnects.com. I wanted to be sure EVERYONE that wanted Information had FREE access to it.

DragonukConnects.com not only sends the casting notices, Training & Networking Information out to 5500 local Actors but allows Employers to view the Actors Headshots, Set Photo’s, Profile, up to 10 different Resumes, 10 Video Demo reels, and voice Reels – all as a FREE Service to the Actors. DragonukConnects.com also has a large membership of Freelance Production Crew.

ED- You have had a long acting career, and in 2001 you appeared in the television documentary, ‘The New Detectives’. Describe this TV Show and the role that you played.

BD- The complete name of the show was The New Detectives: Case Studies in Forensic Science, it was the 1st (starting in 1995) of the Forensic shows (CSI 2000, NCIS 2003, Bones 2005). It was my 1st speaking (Principal) part in a Nationally Broadcast TV Show (cable).

I played the Detective (Detective Doug Lake) investigating a missing person’s case that becomes a Murder Investigation. Paying attention to what the Police Academy Cadets did during the Live Training Practical’s I had worked on (Holding the Gun Properly, Handling Evidence, Getting person out of a Vehicle safely, handcuffing them ETC) gave me the resources to accurately play my part and directly led to many other Film/Video parts as a Law Enforcement Officer.

ED- In the year 2000 you had roles in several additional shows/movies. How did these projects add to your acting experience and what confidence did they give you towards your career?

BD- In 2000, I was still trying to piece together the process of Filmmaking – How all the pieces fit together. Extra work in Major Hollywood Productions like Unbreakable, & The Book of Shadows – Blair Witch II & TV Shows like The Young Americans gave me the Onset Experience I needed.

Blair Witch II was mostly crowd scenes but Unbreakable & Young Americans were Close-ups. In Unbreakable I filmed a 2 day scene as a Close-up with Bruce Willis. Willis Walks down a staircase in the Train Station – I walk up and Bump into him and walk away (Scene was Cut). It is a lot different even as an Extra to film that type of Close-up scene between you and a Major star. The timing of EVERYTHING you do must be exactly the same in every take – from every Camera angle. And I do mean EVERYTHING, a pause in your step, looking at your watch, adjusting your glasses, looking left or right ETC.

I learned more on filming that 1 scene than on 10 other Sets, but what I learned on those other sets is what got me on Unbreakable.

ED- For the next three years you played in such notable productions as ‘American’s Most Wanted’, ‘Hack’, ‘Shallow Deep’, ‘The District’, and ‘Line of Fire’. Tell us about these and the roles that you performed in them.

BD- Hack (Philadelphia PA) The District (Washington DC) and Line of Fire (Quantico & Richmond VA) were more Extra work – Mostly Crowd Scenes with a few more featured  shots mixed in. I worked multiple episodes of each.

Americas Most Wanted was my 1st speaking (Principal) role in a UNION (AFTRA) National Broadcast TV Show (The New Detectives was Non-Union and Cable).

My Scene is on 1 of my Video Demo Reels on my website. It’s only 3 Words “What the Hell??? Then I Chase the Bad guy in my car & on foot – But it’s a Career Milestone.

Shallow Deep was a Local Independent Film and my 1st fairly Major role (I had shot 10-12 Student or Low Budget Independent films by that time but ALL were 2-3-4 Lines shot in 1 day). In Shallow Deep I had Multiple Lines, in multiple scenes throughout the Film.

I Played the Main Characters Probation Officer.

ED- You had a role in ‘The Sorcerer of Stonehenge School in which you not only acted but assisted in the casting department. This is something that you also performed in the video ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde a few years before. What did this entail?

BD- At that time I was posting Auditions thru Yahoo Groups but what most actors did not know was that I also was involved in other casting opportunities and job selection with several Agents, Casting Directors, Production Companies or local Filmmakers outside the newsletters. Since they (not I) contacted the Actors, no one knew I had a small part in the hiring process.

I would get an e-mail or phone call asking Advice on who I felt could play a role or that these 2, 3, 4 Actors auditioned for a Part and did well, who did I think  would be best for the part.

These 2 Projects were developed by a good friend and I brought him a few Actors that he had not previously known for both projects. He gave me Credit for Assisting on the Project in the Rolling Credits & IMDB.

ED- You also had appearances in ‘Bones’, ‘Limits to Ambition’, ‘Twenty Questions’, ‘The Sentinel’, and twelve episodes of ‘The West Wing’. This was a remarkable series of productions that must have been exhausting for you. Please describe your work on these and how you managed so many acting roles during this period.

BD- Bones, Twenty Questions, & The Sentinel were Extra work – Mostly Featured In our market extra work keeps you working (and in the Casting Directors Mind) until the principal roles comes your way.

Limits to Ambition and West Wing are a Different story.

Picture This – I am an Overweight OLD man (True life Casting) in my underpants only, Face down in a bed with both hands and both feet tied to the 4 corners of the bed and Duct Tape over my mouth. (Beautiful picture isn’t it)

Now add an incredibly gorgeous 20 yr old Brunette, scantily (but fully – $%^& -it) clothed, sitting on my legs- spanking me.

Just then the door opens, My Mother walks in to see what the noise is, and faints – falling to the floor. A very powerful scene (and Funny) for the project but to this point non-speaking, the story was told in Facial Expressions & gestures – not words.

West Wing was Featured Extra work and a very prestigious set to work on. Many locals never got to work on 1 episode- to be cast (even as an extra) 12 different times told other potential Employers more about the quality of my work than anything else I could show them.

A trained extra knows when doing background, to keep their face from being clearly visible. Once you are “seen” or “established” you are usually not brought back for more work until the Production is sure you can’t be recognized. When you are “Featured” (given something to do when in focus and clearly visible) you have no choice but to follow directions and be seen. You might be a Bartender or Waitress (Non-Speaking) you can be seen again at that location, but once they leave to go to the ballgame (the next 3 days of shooting), you can’t be there as well.

Toward the end of the series I was “Featured” on the 1st day of a 3 day shoot. My being booked for the next 2 days had never been an issue because the Crew knew I would hide my face and stick to the crowd scenes for both as I had done in the past, but this time I got a call from the Casting Director asking if I would mind working as Crew the next 2 days instead of as an extra. I accepted and worked on the Production Crew as a Casting PA (Wrangler) the next 2 days. I was able to work as a Casting PA on 2 additional West Wing episodes and that work led directly to Production work on the feature films Breach & Step-Up.

One last West Wing story.

Last year a good friend (She played my daughter in my 1st Commercial Modeling (Print) job back in 2000) e-mailed me saying she was In LA and had landed an Intern job as the assistant to Director Thomas Schlamme on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. She wanted to know if I ever heard of Thomas Schlamme.

My reply was simply a Photo of Brad Whitford, Tommy and myself, standing in front of the White House in a West Wing Episode.

When she showed Tommy the photo he remembered several other scenes I was in on other episodes. You have to remember Tommy only came to DC 1 weekend at a time 2-3 times a year and I had not seen him in 3 years, yet, he can describe what I did on set.

ED- You followed these up with a role in the television documentary, ‘Countdown to Ground Zero’ 2006. Please tell our readers all about that.

BD- Countdown to Ground Zero is a 9/11 documentary and I Played Rick Rescorla Vice President of Security for Morgan-Stanley/Dean-Witter and Safety officer for Tower II. Rick had been trying to get Morgan Stanley to move since the 1st bombing in 1993 but to no avail. On 9/11 he evacuated the entire building successfully when the 1st plane hit the other tower only to have people on the ground send them back up. Once the 2nd plane hit his building he got everyone below the plane out a 2nd time but no one above the plane hit got out the 2nd time.

One of my favorite career principal roles.

ED- Please tell us of your role in 2008’s ‘One-Eyed Horse’.

BD- One-Eyed Horse is a Western set in the 1880’s and filmed in Jessup MD. I had a very small principal part where a group of riders stop at my farm looking for directions to town. I give them directions, offer them food and water and send them on their way not knowing they intend to attack an event going on there.

One-Eyed Horse, as an 1880’s Western created challenges for character development because of having to deliver my lines as an 1880’s rural farmer / Amish Church Deacon.

ED- 2009 saw you in two projects, ‘The Color of Rain is Red’, and ‘Sealed Fates’. Can you describe these to us, and what were the themes behind them?

BD- Both of these projects offered some unique challenges to expand my skills as an actor.

In “The Color of Rain is Red’ I played to OLD Overweight (real life typecasting again)

Indiana Jones character out to save the world from an Invasion from Outer Space.

The challenging thing was the scene where I takeoff and Pilot my ship into space to head off the Alien Fleet. It’s set up as a scene from Star Wars where Han takes off in the Millennium Falcon; I’m actually setting in the back of a panel truck (like a UPS Truck)

With the back door open looking out into the darkness of night (not a studio with a Green screen). All of the controls I am using, monitors I’m watching are not there but are Computer Generated Graphics added later in editing. Much more challenging than the Green screen work I had done earlier.

In Sealed Fates I Faced a different Challenge, Films use Changing scenery, Background Extras moving through the shots and a large revolving pool of principal actors interacting to keep a movie moving forward and interesting. 90% of Sealed Fates (the 90% I’m in) takes place in an Elevator with only 1 or 2 other actor’s total.

We had to totally rely on the interaction between ourselves, our facial expressions & body language, and attitude keep things interesting and moving forward. Everything is a Close-up.

ED- We understand that you are currently developing and writing several movie scripts and a book. Can you give us a sneak-preview of them?

BD- The 3 Scripts are as varied as my Career – A Family based movie about a Group of 12-15 year olds bonding as Friends while learning to ride horses and help the main character deal with very adult issues in “Teenager” ways.

The other 2 are a Courtroom Drama (Mock trials for Lawyer Training) and a Political Satire.

The book is what I’m really excited about right now. It’s about making the right choices in order for actors to be considered for more of the available jobs. While I am trying to keep positive and uplifting, I focus on the everyday things Actors do in order to stop anyone from hiring them.

A lot of things are simple to correct like giving out Business cards with contact information so small or in a font that is unreadable that they are tossed out by the very people you are trying to build a relationship with.

Other things are HUGE and 99 1/2% of you will think I’m making this up but it happens more than you think.

I Equate the Actor getting a job from an Employer as the same Process as getting a date with “THE ONE” in the following manor.

Have you ever walked into a crowded room, and Gasped “Oh my Gosh – That’s “THE ONE”.

You have 2 very different choices:

Go comb your hair, Check your clothes, pop in a mint and walk over and say HI.

Guzzle a few beers, run over Belching and yelling “Pull my Finger – Pull my finger” so you can pass Gas and Smile.

How often do you think Actors run over to Employers Belching and yelling “Pull my Finger – Pull my Finger?” And why do you think they still expect to get hired.

A few years ago (before DragonukConnects.com) I sent out the following request for Headshots:

This is Brian

I’m looking for new headshots to update my home files that I use to assist others in Hiring actors for their Projects.

I use Binders with 8 X 10 Plastic sleeves for my files so ALL headshots must be the proper size.

Resumes must be printed on the back of the headshot or printed on paper, trimmed to 8 X 10 and attached to the back of the headshots. Untrimmed Resumes will not be saved because they will not fit the 8 x 10 plastic sleeves in my binders. Do not send e-mailed files – I’m Computer Illiterate, Have no way to store them. They will be deleted without being opened. I must have printed paper headshots. So, I stopped counting at 500- the number of unopened e-mailed Headshots & Resumes I deleted over the next week.

One guy Federal Expressed (so that is $15) a beautiful Expensive Folder (I still use it) knowing I was taking the headshots out and putting them in my binder but the folder contained 5 copies of 5 different headshots with 1 8 ½ X 11 resume and a cover letter that said he “Only sends Headshots out LA Style”. I have not found any LA source saying to do this.

That’s right- he spent $15 to send me a folder as a gift and 26 pieces of trash I had to carry down 2 flights of stairs and out to the curb.

I actually had 2 FULL trashcans of oversize (8 ½ x 11) headshots, headshots without resumes attached, ETC to carry out to the curb that week.

Between the 500 plus e-mailed replies and the sending of useless paper about 75% of those that submitted Ran up Belching, yelling “Pull my Finger – Pull my Finger? And only 25% were Professional and sent the proper tools to get work.

2). One of those that sent things in properly was an Actor I had never met but had done some great work on a few projects I was involved in.

He is dark skinned African American, wearing a dark shirt, with a dark backdrop and the photographer did not use any front lighting. His skin, hair, Shirt and the backdrop all looked like blended shadows – Nothing in the Photo could be recognized.

I knew of a TV Commercial shooting soon that he could be perfect for, so I e-mail him asking for better photos so I could show them to the People casting and their client.

I received back a Scathing e-mail telling me I didn’t have a clue what I was doing because those headshots were the hottest things in LA. (Do you see a pattern here – IF it is really -really stupid – It has to be hot in LA.  I can’t find any headshots anyplace in LA where you can’t see the person in them.)

Several days later I received a 2nd e-mail from him telling me I was disorganized and incompetent because he still did not have the date, time & location of the Audition.

Do I have to tell you that the job is a $1200 paycheck he will never see?  He Ran up Belching, yelling “Pull my Finger – Pull my Finger?

ED- Brian, You most definitely have been busy, and have spanned a career that most actors would be envious of. We want to thank you for sharing your experiences with our legions of readers, and just know that there are many more good things in the cards for you. We wish you much luck and hope that you will keep in contact with all of us at The Eerie Digest magazine.