Multitalented producer, director, actor, stuntman, and casting expert Jacov Bresler discusses his early days in the industry
By Sandy Rodriguez
Jacov Bresler has been active in Hollywood for decades. As an assistant director and producer, he is known for films such as Across the Line: The Exodus of Charlie Wright (2010), starring Aidan Quinn, Andy Garcia, and Mario Van Peebles, or Larceny (2017), with Dolph Lundgren.
Astro (2018), Eight Days Carlo (2016), and Memphis Rising: Elvis Returns (2011) are among the many other films he has worked on. The Circuit (2002) and Seven Days (2019-) are TV shows he has been involved in, and the latter features several major stars from China.
Bresler has been instrumental to the completion of roughly 150 films and 600 commercials. Throughout his lengthy and successful career, he has been active within the industry in many different ways. He has been a director, an actor, a stuntman, and a casting expert.
Sylvester Stallone and his brother Frank Stallone, Brooke Shields, Steven Seagal, Gina Gershon, Corbin Bernsen, Olivier Gruner, Gary Daniels, Lorenzo Lamas, Scott Adkins, and Luke Goss are a small sampling of the many celebrities he has worked with.
He recently told Heart of Hollywood Magazine about how he got his start. His story highlights the possibility of good luck just happening, and the importance of coupling it with dedication and hard work.
“In 1979, I had been in this country for about a year and a half. I had been taking on all kinds of odd jobs, and one day I saw an ad in the paper that called for some extras and stand-ins for an NBC television show”, Bresler remembers. “I went there, all the way to Van Nuys (California). The guy who saw me was all alone, and I told him I was there because I saw an ad in the paper. He said, ‘you’re the only one who showed up to work for me. Because of that, I’m going to make you a stand-in for the show. Do you know what a stand-in is?’ I said, ‘yes, of course,’ even though I had no clue what he was talking about.”
Tijuana BajaCalifornia, Mexico
At the time, Bresler was not aware of how desirable being an extra or a stand-in can be for a young person hoping to start a career in entertainment, because this is a great way to get a foot in the door. He was not yet aware of the fact that stand-ins, sometimes called the second team, are individuals who are not seen onscreen, although they take the place of a principal actor during camera and lighting setups, or rehearsals. An extra is a performer who is seen in the background of a shot. Although they have no lines, it is thanks to them that shots appear realistic.
In any case, Bresler was indeed given work on the show, which was a Movie of the Week titled Enola Gay: The Men, the Mission, the Atomic Bomb, featuring Billy Crystal and Patrick Duffy.
Behind the scenes pictures
Previously, the young man had been working in a warehouse, which was very physically demanding. This new gig, on the other hand, allowed him to earn 30 dollars a day, in cash; to receive free meals, and to be put up in a hotel in Palmdale, located near an airport that was used by the military at the time. There were craft services on the set, and he got to mingle with the actors.
“I said, ‘oh my God, this is a great job it can’t get any better than this.’ I was so excited, so of course I worked very hard and learned very fast. Then I grew close to some of the actors. We were playing football on the set, talking, laughing,” Bresler says. “Of course, I met David, the guy who was doing the casting, and I told him, ‘you know, I think I could do this job, this business that you’re doing. After this show, I’m going to open an office.’ And he said, ‘if you ever open an office, I’ll come and work with you.’ Then I did another TV show with him, I helped him supply a few people and coordinate extras on the set.”
Afterwards, Bresler did open an office on Ventura Boulevard, in an upscale are of the San Fernando Valley, California.
“It was fancy, to look good. At that time I was paying 680 or 700 dollars a month, which was very expensive. I only had about 3000 dollars to my name altogether, and I had to put the first month down, along with a deposit and stuff like that. I had enough money to stay open for about a month, maybe two at most”, Bresler recalls.
Out of necessity, he then started working at a furious pace, signing people up while promoting and advertising his business.
“Sometimes I ended up sleeping in the office, but I quickly had around 300 people who came to work for me as extras. The signup fee was 20 dollars a person, so I then had about 6000 dollars, but I had to split that with my partner, who did not help much with the business”, Bresler mentions.
In those years, there were three big casting companies in town that focused on extras and stand-ins, as well as specialty extras, those with a special skill or talent, such as dancing, flare bartending, or horseback riding. These agencies joined forces with Bresler. Still, the entrepreneur was struggling to keep his new business afloat and was searching for a job to supplement his income. While doing so, he got in touch with a casting expert he had worked with in the past.
“She had recently been hired to work on a movie called Escape from New York, starring Kurt Russell and Ernest Borgnine. She was doing the specialties and the extras and some of the principals, but she had experienced a falling out with the director, so she said she couldn’t go to the set. She wanted to know how much I would charge her to go to the set on her behalf”, says Bresler. “I was desperate to put all the extras to work, because they were calling me every day, asking if there was any work. So I told the lady I’d do it for a dollar per person. She agreed, because I think she was getting around three dollars per person. That was my first job casting extras. I had over 760 people total working in the film.”
Escape from New York, released in 1981, was actually shot in Los Angeles and is considered one of the biggest movies ever made, and the young entrepreneur’s company, BJ Casting Service, got off to a strong start. Still, Bresler was interested in exploring other facets of the industry. He had been introduced to martial arts in 1968, at the age of 16 while working as a Merchant Marine for the Israeli company Zim.
“My friends said, ‘listen, you know martial arts, why don’t you look into becoming a stunt guy?’ So I went and trained with some stunt coordinators, pretty well-known in the business; I took driving lessons, and learned some fighting techniques to use in front of the camera,” states Bresler, who practices karate, krav maga, arjukenpo, ninjitsu, and kickboxing.
In 1983, the multitalented entrepreneur got his start as a producer. This was for a sci-fi film titles Alien Warrior, released in 1986, and he went on to produce over 40 different movies.
Bresler’s career spans genres that range from action and crime to romance and comedy. He was in charge of directing Hollywood or Bust, a 2016 production for Heart of Hollywood about the challenges faced by a group of people hoping to break into entertainment.
He is still very active in the industry, and in fact is always looking forward to new projects, either behind the camera or in front of it. He especially enjoys working with younger talent, which in turn appreciates his experience and knowledge.