ACTOR MICHELLE ALEXANDER SHIFTS FROM HORROR TO COMEDY WITH HILARIOUS NEW SERIES ‘OVERACHIEVING UNDERDOGS’

To say that actor Michelle Alexander is versatile would be a thundering understatement. While the Vancouver Island-born performer is best known for her role as serial killer Alison on the innovative horror anthology series Darknet, Alexander’s current small screen incarnation, as Tess on web series Overachieving Underdogs, plays at the opposite end of the spectrum—it’s a fast, funny comedy centered on two young women living in Toronto—but for Alexander, the transition was simple.

““Both genres need to be 110% believable and authentic,” she said. “If a viewer can smell a ‘funny moment’ is being played for the joke rather than fulfilling the circumstances of that character, it feels false.”

Alexander’s keen grasp on the emotional mechanics of performance are impressive, and provide a fascinating insight in the actor’s modus operandi. “In terms of preparation, the two genres are not as different as people think,” Alexander said. “Drama is a tragedy with irrevocable consequences—death, heartbreak, loss. But comedy is tragedy without those consequences—your pants fall down in public; you fart during grace at your in-laws’ dinner party. The trick is to give the ‘comic circumstances’ as much importance as you would a dramatic tragedy. The comedy is there for the viewer, but the actor has to be invested in the circumstance.”

 

In Overachieving Underdogs, Alexander makes it look easy, and the results are hilarious. With equally gifted co-star, Sophia Fabiilli, the pair’s zany impulses, emotional vulnerability and unpredictable gags are deftly realized, and run the full comic route, from physical slapstick to razor sharp repartee

 

Together, the two make a formidable team. “Sophia is amazing,” Alexander said. “Everybody say that we have an onscreen chemistry that is rare. The series is all about our characters, Tess and Polly, individually as well as their relationship, so we share a lot of screen time. We know how to feed each other in the moment and riff on a joke together. Plus, like me, she’s determined to get an authentic funny moment rather than a ‘cheap funny moment’. We push each other to go further, to take bigger risks, to make each moment as funny and full as it can possibly be. She’s a joy to be on set with.”

 

The pairing has created a volatile, endearing and evident bond that provides a solid foundation for wild comic escapades, from irony laden observations on contemporary life to the pitfalls of dating and the unexpected twists which the two women face, as Alexander said, when “going after the dreams they never knew they wanted.”

 

“In terms of comedic performance, Sophia and I shine most in scripted comedy, rather than stand-up or sketch,” Alexander said. “Following on the success of series like Broad City  and Garfunkel and Oates, we decided to put those skills to the test.”

 

“It’s been pure fun,” Alexander said. “The pilot shoot was peopled by highly skilled professionals both in-front of and behind the camera. We all believe so much in the potential of the series that we all brought our best work to the pilot. The set designer even made a “Tess and Polly shrine” in Tess’ apartment. I’m not sure if you ever see it on camera, but it’s a metaphor for how every tiny detail was attended to and cared for. “

 

Alexander also generates enthusiasm among her colleagues. “Michelle brings a great energy to set, always prepared, focused on the end game, willing to take risks,” director Patrick Hodgson said. “Directing her on Overachieving Underdogs was a fantastic experience. Her bright energy carried over to the crew and made for a genuinely fun time on the show. When we reached moments of conflict, or struggled with a scene, we put our heads together and worked out a solution that worked for both of us. No drama, no ego. She is a diligent, committed performer, who is keen to collaborate with her scene partners and director, always early to set and eager to make sure the cast and crew were all taken care of.”

The series’ wit and charm have an empathic appeal that’s bound to reach a larger audience.  “We are currently in talks with some Canadian networks, one in Europe and one in the US, to produce a full 13-episode season of the show,” Alexander said. “And we’ve been overwhelmed by the popular response. Publications, both in Canada and the US, wanted to write about it, women from as far away as the UK tweeted at us that they “felt like you are making this series for me.”

 

The show’s success lies with Tess and Polly’s—and Alexander and Fabiilli’s—personal relatability, a genuine emotional quality that can’t be manufactured, but is instantly recognizable.  As Alexander said, “Once Sophia and I, dressed as Tess and Polly, did a promo stunt in downtown Toronto during rush hour. We had two girls shout from the streetcar, ‘I’m a TESS!’ and ‘I’m a POLLY!’”

Writer Emiliano Forino Procacci combines love of psychology and writing to inspire readers

Emiliano Forino Procacci lives in a countryside near Rome. He writes his best poems in front of a sunset, near a forest where the leaves are singing accompanied by the wind dancing among the tall trees.

He bought a hill and on top of this hill he built his house. From there, you can see the sunrise and sunset.

“I believe that a writer must be inspired and I draw my inspiration from nature and from my family,” he said.

Procacci is a psychologist who teaches in the Department of Communication Sciences at the Università Popolare of Gorizia. He accomplished a master’s degree in organizational development and human resources in addition to a short degree in education sciences and a second level degree in psychology and pedagogy in Rome. He continued his education at the City University London in England. He is regarded as an expert in the field of verbal and non-verbal communication and coding/decoding of facial expressions. He holds lectures and consulting sessions for institutions and corporations on techniques for facial recognition, which can be useful when selecting personnel and whenever it is necessary to identify lie detector signals (for judiciary, civil and military purposes).

However, most importantly, Procacci is a writer who uses his understanding of psychology to write books that inspire people to change their lives for the better.

“For me psychology is like a poem,” he said. “This is how we will make our lives and the world we live in healthier. Hope lights any kind of flame and desire feeds it with dreams, if we truly love what we do, all of our actions will have the strength of an embrace.”

Procacci’s writing career truly began in 2003 when won high-profile poetry contest and his name was entered in the Encyclopedia of Italian Poets. Since that time he has penned five books. His book Communicating With Success: The Secrets of Persuasion is the Golden Book Awards 2016 Winner, and a finalist at the International Book Awards 2016. He also wrote Secrets of Motivations and Personal Growth, Organizational Evolution and Development of Human Resources, Follow Your Own Star and Fulfill Yourself in Change, and The Freedom of Words. He left his high profile career to become a writer, and now advocates taking risks to achieve happiness.

“We could compare our minds to a vast sea full of sailing boats, which represent thoughts, emotions, feelings, and more. If they didn’t open up their sails (willpower) to be inflated by the wind (determination to act), they couldn’t go anywhere. Of course, this way you’ll live far away from the storm, but it is also true that if you want to discover the world and be a good sailor, you just can’t stay anchored in the same point (comfort zone) for your whole life. Nobody was born to act like a spectator of the world we live in, but rather to be the leading role of their lives, a leading role that follows a route to achieve a goal,” he said.

Enzo Kermol a professor and director at the world renowned People’s University of Gorizia is a fan of Procacci’s writing and demeanour.

“Few writers are as Emiliano Forino Procacci. His poetic style is unique and he has been able to use poetry in books on personal growth and self-esteem. Many people say that he has invented the ‘poetic psychology’. He very modestly says that he loves to write and not be considered an inventor. With his books he wants to make the world a better place and I must say that many people have found his works really useful for personal growth and motivation. The Emiliano secret is that he is a psychologist too. He has studied psychology and manages materials in his books to make these easily understandable even to those who have never studied psychology,” said Kermol. “Emiliano work with is outstanding. He is a volcano of ideas, and I have never known a person with a will as he developed. When he writes his books on motivation is as if he were telling his story, he tells how to deal with difficulties because personally has faced, solved problems, and he has had the courage to change his life. Emiliano is not only a writer, but a great motivator and coach. In the past and even today is working with VIP, actors, sports personalities and show business to improve their motivation and their performance.”

Procacci keeps busy. He founded the psychology group, which he says gave him strength. His life is divided between work as a writer and as a consultant for many companies as an expert in facial micro expressions. He also teaches at the university and is a coach and trainer.

“Life is exactly as it looks like, but it is as if we looked at it through the lenses of a pair of glasses, which sometimes get worn out and must be replaced with a new pair with a better performance, and that can really make a difference,” he said. “My books help people to change their glasses.”

Canadian actor Cody Sparshu to star in upcoming film Overboard

cody 2
Cody Sparshu will star in the upcoming film Overboard.

Despite being from a small town Cody Sparshu always had big dreams. He never let the lack of acting opportunities in Westlock, Alberta interfere with his plans to be in actor. His determination is part of why he has achieved what he has, and now the actor has been cast as the lead in the upcoming and anticipated feature film Overboard.

Overboard is a psychological drama about eight high school friends who bonded together over tragedy in their school. Ten years later they get together for a reunion aboard a luxury yacht and tragedy strikes again. The screenplay was written by writer/producer Mat Lo, and the film is set to be shot in Vancouver, Canada during the summer of 2017.

“The script is quite complex and I’m excited to play a character that has so much going on beneath the surface. His relationship to every other character in the film is so unique and dynamic that I feel there’s some real opportunity to dig deep and develop something interesting,” said Sparshu. “It’s going to be a lot of fun for me both artistically and because I love boats.”

The script for the film was written by Mat Lo. Sparshu says it’s already been quite fun throwing around ideas with him and talking about the characters.

“When I read Overboard I was really drawn in by the script. The characters are all quite interesting with really cool back stories which I think will make for a great dynamic. My character in particular is quite different from me, yet also hits close to home in a lot of ways. I’m really excited to dig into what makes him tick and really take it somewhere interesting,” he described.

Prospective director of the project James D. Schumacher has seen Sparshu’s work and finds him to be an impressive actor.

“I am incredibly excited for the opportunity to work with Cody. I first saw his work at the world premiere of Double Booked in Los Angeles, and when I met him in person at the event it amazed me how different he was from the character he portrayed,” said Schumacher. “Cody seamlessly transforms himself into the characters he plays and it will be a lot of fun to work with that talent and mould something unique together.”

The current plan is to film Overboard in the summer of 2017 which should make a release date around Spring 2018.

Sparshu is no stranger to success. He is in the film Double Booked, which premiered at Action on Film Festival in Los Angeles, and screened at the Northern Virginia International Film Festival and the Sunscreen West Festival in LA. The film was nominated by the Alberta Motion Picture Industry Association’s Rosie Awards for Best Feature Drama and Best Original Score.

“That movie was a lot of fun to shoot. I got cast as a last minute addition to the film, giving me just over a week to prepare around 60 pages of dialogue heavy, dramatic scenes. I locked myself at home for the week and dug in which was a pretty immersive experience. I pretty much lived as my character Jeff once we hit the cabin,” described Sparshu.

Sparshu appeared in CMT’s series Pet Heroes, and was also in the series Bluff. He was the lead of the acclaimed short In the Grip, and most recently appeared in Umbrella Collective’s feature Incontrol. That being said, he describes the highlight of his career as getting to act alongside one of his favorite actors Keifer Sutherland.

“I’m a huge fan of the show 24, it’s one of my all-time favorites. I was working on a film with Keifer and towards the end of the shoot they needed someone for a small character who he draws a gun on and tells to get out. Knowing I was also an actor they told me to go get into wardrobe. It’s probably one of the shortest moments I’ve had on screen but Keifer is so incredibly talented I instantly had the fear that Jack Bauer puts into a man,” Sparshu described. “It was a really cool experience and he’s a great guy.”

Sparshu first realized his love for acting at the age of six. He was a chatty kid, so his teachers decided acting would be a good outlet for him.

“I was cast as the lead in our first grade play The Greedy Green Goose. I went on to do drama through school, but being from a small Alberta town, film opportunities didn’t exist at the time. Once I graduated, I tried out some other things, but it was acting that drew me back in,” he said.

Despite his success, Sparshu still says there are challenges that everyone faces in the industry.

“Sometimes I’m my biggest challenge when it comes to really finding the truth in a scene. Sometimes I have personal stuff to overcome for it to really work, but doing the work causes growth,” he describes. “That’s not always easy but it’s always worth it.”

But above all, Sparshu genuinely loves acting, and it is this passion that brings him success.

“I love the opportunity to embrace all sides of who I am. My dark side, everything that’s within me, I have permission to let it out, to express it, to be real,” he concluded. “I get to play.”

Cinematographer Peter Hadfield has loved filming from a young age

Growing up in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Peter Hadfield and always had a passion for filmmaking. From playing with his father’s video camera, to taking classes in high school, to using his hobby of skateboarding to film tricks with his friends, Hadfield spent his early life doing what he loved.

Hadfield now lives in Toronto, and has had many achievements in his career as a cinematographer. His work has been selected in film festivals such as Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF), and he has had four music videos selected as Vimeo Staff Picks.

“I think I’ve always been interested in the way things look and observed the way I felt as I was looking at an object or situation. When I was I kid I would stare at the waves rolling across the Pacific Ocean or the landscape passing by. I had a habit of closing one eye and alternating which eye was open just to look at how the perspective of my view would change,” he described. “Robert Mapplethorpe said ‘It’s all about light.’ To me that meant how the light fell or reflected or got diffused and how that could affect my emotions.”

Hadfield also had the opportunity to work on Bayer’s We Can All Be Remarkable commercial about a device that measures insulin for diabetic athletes.

The commercial features a lot of different athletes performing a variety of sports , so Hadfield says they really had to be on top of their game. He describes shooting the hurdler as the highlight of the experience. It required an electric camera cart called the EXO camera cart, and they fitted a Steadicam arm to it and burned down the track while the hurdler was going. However, he says the challenge came during skating.

“The hardest part was skating and camera operating at the same time. We were shooting with a 9 year-old girl, and I hadn’t skated in a while but I thought I could keep up with a little girl, but she left me in the dust! It was pretty fun that she could skate so much faster than me,” laughed Hadfield.

Hadfield worked alongside director Claire Edmondson on the commercial, and the pair agree they made a dynamic team.

“Peter is great to work with as he is a good collaborator, is relaxed and patient. He listens to your thoughts and ideas, adds his own and is dedicated to finding the best way to making something look good,” said Edmondson. “Peter is a good cinematographer because he’s always looking for the most beautiful way shoot something, the more interesting angle. He is a master at handheld, his composition is always stunning.”

“Claire is amazing. She’s got such an eye for performances and is so in control of what she’s getting out of the talent. It just so happens that my visual taste lines up with hers quite well, so we found that we gelled quite well,” said Hadfield.

The project helped Hadfield with how to handle and communicate with bigger film crews.

“As commercial budgets increase, the amount of people the cinematographer has to manage goes up as well. At a point in commercial cinematography a lot of delegating starts to happen, so having effective communication skills is a must,” he said.

Hadfield was in his twenties studying psychology when he realized he should follow his passion as a cinematographer. He attributes this to the rebellious nature of skateboarding, which helped him with “guerilla filmmaking.”

“When I enrolled in film school, I found that I would be more willing to go to a weird location at three in the morning, or hold on to a camera while hanging out sunroof of a car to get a shot. There’s a sense of danger and immediacy in cinematography that parallels skateboarding that I got really excited about,” he said. “When you’re holding a camera you have to be completely present and conscious of a moment to capture it in the way you want to, and the reward is getting amazing footage, just as when you’re skateboarding or doing anything that demands you to perform physically. You have to be completely focused on what you’re doing to perform and achieve. There’s a rush from that that I still get today.”

That rush is part of the long list of reasons Hadfield loves cinematography. For him, there isn’t just one simple reason to be in the profession. From all the different people he gets to meet by being a cinematographer, to travelling to new places and getting access to interesting places, to the act of creating and capturing images, Hadfield knows he is in the right career.

“I like the fact that holding a camera can either turn me into an observer and distance me from a subject or it can intertwine me with a subject. There’s something very intimate about capturing someone’s image. It makes the people in front of the camera venerable, and if that is met with the same openness from the person holding the camera, some very interesting moments and images can be made that will speak to the viewer,” he said. “I also like improvising with a camera on my shoulder to capture moments with actors or subjects. I like storytelling, and working with directors to figure out the best way to tell a story visually. I like collaborating with other people, and cinematography enables me to do all those things.”

Despite this, there are still challenges that Hadfield thrives of off.

“Shooting isn’t easy. Things never really go ‘according to plan’, so you’re constantly thinking on your feet. It’s a swirling mess of problems and opportunities, and it’s up to the director and cinematographer to guide the production through that mess. They’re the keepers of a film’s visual language. So, it’s a challenge to be able to keep calm, keep a cool head, keep on time, keep on budget, and still get amazing footage. But it happens! So, it’s a high risk/high reward game that’s a bit addictive,” he described.

In the end though, Hadfield says he just wants to be a decent, balanced, caring person and be a role model for young people and future film makers.

“In the future I want to live by a body of water and drive a mint Volvo 240 DL, walk my dog off leash in the forest, have good conversations, shoot film, listen to music and play guitar,” he concluded.

 

ORION LEE, SO TRANSFORMATIVE THAT EVEN HIS CO-STARS MUST MEET HIM TWICE

Orion Lee seems to have it all and yet, by looking at his history it seems that he can’t rest. This world traveler was born in Hong Kong but has resided in Zurich, Australia, Malaysia, London, and is steadily moving towards the US. While working in finance, he took an acting class to try something new and soon discovered that he not only enjoyed it but, was quite good at it. After relocating to study (and graduate in 2009) from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, he quickly began a career in television and film. Among many others, his film credits include; Fury (the 2014 war film starring Brad Pitt & Shia LaBeouf with 19 nominations and five awards including the USA National Board of Review win for Best Ensemble, grossing $208 MM worldwide), Skyfall (with 108 nominations and 71 wins including two Oscars, grossing $1.1 Billion worldwide), and many others. His roles range from military action characters to elderly Math instructors, exhibiting a wide range of personalities and physicality. Lee is an actor who is highly charismatic on camera but who sometimes opts for the more subtle aspects of a character in order to truly take on their visage. As a classically trained actor, Orion appreciates the challenges of the diverse spectrum of opportunities which he has been able to engage in his career. Two of his roles, Deng Loashi in A Brilliant Young Mind and Anderson in The Expert, perfectly present how this actor can take one idea and present completely incongruent performances.

IMG_3899

Orion Lee’s performance as Deng Laoshi in A Brilliant Young Mind is one that allows him to set aside his marquee attractiveness and make a drastic physical transformation. Lee’s performance is somewhat heart wrenching for viewers as they witness a character who is both noble and yet has been passed over by some of life’s base rewards. Orion describes his character stating, “Deng is a man who has devoted his life to his career in math and teaching. He finds himself in a situation where he is unmarried and missing a family life so he overcompensates in his protectiveness of his niece and wanting her to succeed. I appreciate Deng’s loneliness and caring for family as well as his devotion to math and teaching. He works hard to improve his students’ lives and takes pride in heading the top team in the Math Olympiad.”

Lee used his own personal experience of growing up in an East Asian culture while living in a Western country to interpret and communicate the essence of Deng Laoshi. Playing a much older man with a similar yet different cultural experience from his own, Lee discussed ideas with wardrobe and makeup to arrive at a physical appearance that is completely transformative and unrecognizable. Orion confirms, “Changing the tempo, posture, movement and voice accent of my usual self allowed me to create a character who embodies this pride at the purity of math and teaching together with a parental over protectiveness. Conversations with hair and makeup and costuming completed the characters aging process. Deng has a certain lack of modern style due to age and growing up in Communist China. I’m proud of the creation of a character which is different from myself yet completely believable and natural on screen. This was exemplified by the fact that Alex Lawther, one of the actors in this film, introduced himself to me twice: once when I was myself (Orion Lee) and once when I was Deng the character before realizing he had already met me.”Deng Laoshi X Y

A Brilliant Young Mind is a story about Math competitions but the actual subtext is about overcoming your own fears. The film was quite successful, with multiple nominations from the British Independent Film Awards, the London Critics Circle Film Awards, the Seattle International Film Festival, and wins at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival as well as the Palm Beach International Film Festival (winning Best Film). The story of an awkward teenage math prodigy who competes at an International Mathematics Olympiad resonates with anyone who has felt insecure and somewhat out of place, unaware of their own true strength.

The filming locations, split between the UK and Taiwan afforded A Brilliant Young Mind’s cast some fun and interesting opportunities. Orion recalls, “Part of the film was set in Taipei and the cast had a brilliant time visiting Taiwan and bonding over exploring a new city. Finding a noodle restaurant where the meals cost £2 and checking out the night markets (including eating novelty pastry’s shaped as genitalia!).”

IMG_3161

A Diametric presentation of a similar character to Deng Laoshi would be that of Anderson in The Expert. In this film, Orion plays a man who might have a similar uncomfortability with others like Deng, but the delivery is with humor and relatability rather than a serious tone. Lee was heavily involved in The Expert early on. He explains, “The script was originally tested at a showcase for new work called the Constellation Creatives CoLab. The director altered the script to suit a stage version and we tested the material in front of a live audience before doing a final draft of the script and then shooting it.Constellation Creatives is a collective I founded of film, theatre, and television professionals. The Constellation Creatives CoLab is a not for profit showcase of work in film, theatre, and television in collaboration with and held at the private members club, The Hospital Club. The Hospital Club was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen through his investment company Vulcan Inc. and Dave Stewart (formerly of the band Eurythmics)/producer and Founder of Weapons of Mass Entertainment).

The Hospital Club’s main ethos is to support the creative industries by providing an inspiring environment that actively encourages its members to create, connect and collaborate. Members include designers, writers, creative entrepreneurs, performers, producers, musicians and film makers.”

Lee plays the lead role of Anderson, the resident expert at a company which produces geometric shapes for its clients. Rather than a tale centered on events and a climactic resolution, The Expert is a study on how certain professionals find themselves challenged to communicate and relate to others. The genius of The Expert is that many groups of professionals of varied vocations see themselves as Anderson. It was the comedic aspect of this storyline and role that enticed Orion to become involved. He comments, “The fun and challenging part of the role was to create a character whose responses and reactions are believable and yet funny: to tread the line of reality and comedy. Also Anderson needed to be someone that people recognized and related to. I learned a lot from being involved in The Expert; collaborating with the director to develop the script and source the actors for the other parts was a fun process and expanded my skill set in the industry. More than ever, I understand the importance of working with an excellent cast…working off them and with them to create the action and reaction of comedy.”

Orion Lee is an actor who seeks out varied roles to expand his character study. His extensive background in theater has empowered him with a perspective which respects the craft while he uses the vehicle of film and tv to reach a wide audience. He takes a traditional approach to performance in a modern society. With a multicultural background and a passport full of experiences, he endeavors to pursue new avenues to add colors to an already ample palette.

FILM EDITOR TAKASHI UCHIDA KNOWS THE MAGIC OF VISUAL STORY TELLING

Film Editor Takashi Uchida’s fluid, crisply rhythmic work has earned him a professional reputation as a first rate, fast rising craftsman. Uchida’s skill is reflected in his impressive roster of achievements, credits he has racked up in short order, not only as an editor but also as a director, composer, writer and in visual and special effects. While he followed a somewhat circuitous route, Uchida’s path to Hollywood was almost inevitable.

“I was born and grew up in Tokyo,” Uchida said. “I was just a typical nerdy kid who liked anything film and TV related. I spent my teenage years exploring films from all over the world and the different cities, beliefs and cultures that I discovered in them made me question whether or not I should stay in Tokyo. I ended up deciding to go to the US after high school.”

“Although I always wanted to do film, during college I focused on anthropology, and then upon finishing undergrad, I started focusing on film making. I went to USC School of Cinematic Arts and started my career as film editor.”

At the SCA, Uchida’s natural flair, flawless visual instinct and sense of clarity were immediately apparent, developing an editing style is driven by an artful enthusiasm.  “In the film production program, you learn every aspect of film making during the first year,” Uchida said. “I pretty much like every aspect of film making, but I especially like writing and editing. And if I have to choose which is more cinematic, I believe that editing is the more unique aspect of film making, it really determines the finished film. However boring the footage may be, there’s always a way to make the film better in post-production. I really enjoy that creative capacity.”

Uchida hit the ground running, tabbed by multi-talented performer James Franco to work on Actors Anonymous, the feature adapted from Franco’s own popular novel. With its complex weaving of ten different narrative vignettes, the project was an ideal vehicle to debut Uchida’s deft cutting style.

Actors Anonymous is one of the films that I am most proud of,” Uchida said. “Not only because it was the first feature I edited, but also because I was working with 10 directors for the project and the result of the collaboration was phenomenal. Every film has different kind of challenges, and struggling with those challenges made the film very unique and emotional, I believe.”

Uchida went on to edit Jessica Darling’s IT LIST, based on the New York Times teen bestseller and starring Disney TV actress and YouTube sensation Chloe East. His ongoing work on the popular Netflix animated series Kong: King of the Apes provides an ideal analog for this talented artist’s professional life: a redefinition of one of film lore’s most abiding, fascinating figures—the oft misunderstood, quasi-human behemoth Kong—that is offered to audiences on the non-traditional web-based Netflix platform, a melding of past and future that reflects Uchida’s solid grounding in film history and his singular, beyond-the-horizon creative perspective.

Kong was the second animation editing I did,” Uchida said. “I had actually made a couple of animation shorts myself so the opportunity to edit Kong was really exciting to me. One thing I’ve learned is that an editor must know the importance of ‘one frame.’ Film is usually 24 frames per second, so one frame is almost 0.042 second. And indeed that tiny difference actually matters. Kong was reminded me of that importance, it had a lot of action sequences and it was a great experience to see how that one frame can make a scene much better.”

His innate grasp on the intricate technical delicacy each instant of every project demands elevates Uchida to a plateau of his own, and the editor is keeping busy, currently working the post-production end of Rio, another feature adapted from a James Franco novel.

“Film editing is the most unique and creative phase in film making,” Uchida said. “It is a magic of time and the visual. It is very instinctive and creative, but also very logical and knowledge-based. It mixes both, like where the river meets the ocean. And combining  intuition and logic is so complicated, it’s almost impossible to consciously grasp. But that’s exactly why I want to keep doing it.”

 

 

Keanu Uchida: “dance cannot ever cease to be part of me”

Keanu Uchida has been dancing since he was four years old. At that age, it is easy to do what you are told, and not what you love. But for him, that was definitely not the case.

Uchida was born and raised in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, and is now known on both the stage and the screen as a dancer. He has been recognized on an international platform, and has been awarded for his abilities. However, he does not dance for the recognition he now receives but rather because it is his passion. “Wherever life takes me I will always turn my gaze to dance and to what it offers me. For me, that is what pursuit of a life in dance consists of,” he said. “I don’t think there was ever a formative moment leading me to pursue a life in dance. Rather, there may have been a gradual realization that dance cannot ever cease to be part of me. Everything varies, especially my understanding and appreciation of dance. But what doesn’t is its consistency: it has always offered a safe headspace, an escape from reality, or what I perceive to be real for that matter. I’m always guaranteed a fresh slate of exploration and a resultant discovery process when I dance.”

Uchida’s first performance was at the age of five, when he began his journey into competitive dance. Since that time, he has had many achievements. In July of 2011, Uchida was awarded the title of Teen Male Dancer of the Year at the American Dance Awards. This international dance title competition was held in Boston, Massachusetts and congregates title winners from across the USA, Canada and South Africa. The dancers engage in an opening number choreography and are judged in audition classes before the Teen Title evening, where each dancer has a chance to compete his solo. Uchida was crowned at the end of the night for his unique Charlie Chaplin inspired solo “Charlie”. As a winner Uchida was invited to be featured in the title winner opening number the following year. He also participated in the collaborative group dance highlighting the 2011 Dancers of the Year.

Uchida’s affiliation with The Dance Awards has brought him many opportunities. It serves as the international summer event for JUMP, NUVO and 24/7 Dance Conventions. Hundreds of winners from the regional events of these conventions met in NYC to compete for the “Best Dancer Competition”. Uchida competed in a week of heavy audition process, opening number rehearsal, improvisation and solo performance. After a first round of performances he was invited to compete in the top ten solo improvisation competition. He was then selected to be among the top 3 senior males, all hailing from Toronto, Canada. After one last performance, Uchida was awarded the title of Senior Male Best Dancer on the final gala evening. Along with a $1500 prize, he was invited to tour with the regional conventions the following year. He was given the opportunity to tour with many of the most recognized choreographers in the industry, to name a few:  Travis Wall, Mia Michaels, Mandy Moore, Sonia Tayeh, Stacey Tookey, Jason Parsons, Lauren Adams, Teddy Forance, Nick Lazzarini, Misha Gabriel and Al Blackstone.

“Dance is my medium to explore as a dancer. You are able to reflect on everything as you would regularly. You dance out of joy, through the sorrow, you dance to question and to speak out. I’m fortunate to dance because I can feel a lot of ways and not need the rhetoric to convey,” said Uchida.

Last spring, Uchida had the opportunity to play a vital role in the workshop process of the new Toronto original equine production Dancer. Mounted by Cats producer Marlene Smith and John Mckellar, this musical features some of Canada’s most talented contemporary dancers and internationally recognized artist Stacey Tookey. Uchida was casted as Northern Dancer, the principle of the performance. The show is expected to debut during spring 2017 at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre, one of Canada’s most revered performance locations.

Despite this, one of Uchida’s all time performances was a personal creation, his solo entitled Spark.

“For this I put together a musical piece with my percussion skills and then filtered the music with movement. To perform this dance was incredibly personal and empowering. It was a then-and-there reminder of what it means to be a dancer and why it can never cease to be part of me,” he said.

Uchida’s career has been filled with success. In 2013, he was asked to attend the Juilliard Summer intensive, which he describes as one of the best experiences to date.

“Forty-four dancers were selected to participate in this three-week experience. I was the only selected Canadian. Every morning we were lead through a ballet or men’s ballet, and modern class, followed through with anatomy, music, improvisation technique, yoga, partnering, and given a chance to work with a selected choreographer in the evening to create a ten-minute work,” he said. “The talent and the assortment of knowledge and experience among the dancers was riveting.”

Jason Parsons, choreographer and teacher at the international Nuvo Dance Convention, believes that Uchida’s fearlessness, curiosity, and humility make him a fantastic dancer: “I like Keanu for his work ethic, and for what he brings into the dance space as both an artist and mover,” said Parsons. “I’ve been fortunate to witness his choices and the development of his creative mind over time in my classes. I’m inspired to get the opportunity to work with such an open and inspired soul.”

JUMP choreographer and Capezio ACE award winner of 2015 Kirsten Russell has worked with Uchida both on and off stage, and believes he has outstanding abilities. “Working with Keanu is a privilege. He lights up any room with his humble spirit and positive attitude. I admire him for many reasons, but mostly because he is always putting forward his best possible effort no matter the situation. Never complaining, always listening, and extremely thankful for any opportunity that comes his way. I wish I could work with him more often, as he brings out the best in me while I am on the job. He is the definition of professional,” described Rusell. “Keanu began assisting me almost a year ago, and had never taken my class before he was dancing on stage with me. He not only adapts to choreography very quickly, but he also executes movement exactly how it’s given unless asked otherwise. Any correction given, he is the first to apply it. This fact alone makes him not only good at what he does, but extremely smart at what he does. He is one of the most talented dancers in North America, and anyone would be lucky to work with him.”

For Uchida, dance also acts as a type of therapy, helping him in tough situations.

“Despite the fluctuations of my life I am consistently able to come back to dance and, as mentioned, dance through it all,” he said. “I think the most comfort comes in that I always have a safe haven of exploration. I’m able to learn from the hardships and face them with dance.”

“I’ve gradually fallen in love with performance,” he concluded. “It makes me feel like no other; to embody, to reenact, to feel in front of an audience and share this stream of information is something quite special.”

Simone Lombardo revolutionizes visual effects

Simone Lombardo has always known he wanted to do visual effects. Although it may not have been a dominant industry, growing up in Liege, Belgium, he never strayed from that path.

From the time he was eight and first had the opportunity to play with a computer in school, Lombardo had a passion. He did not accept just being good, he is exceptional. And since then, he has worked on films and video games that have been recognized all over the world.

Lombardo worked on the visual effects for the blockbuster films The Maze Runner and The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials, which together grossed over $600 million in the box offices worldwide. Lombardo’s touch is a contributor to that.

Maze Runner Escape Version was really special, because it gave me the opportunity to test my pipeline, a pipeline in which not many people believed in. I always wanted to use game engine technology to render movies. Doing the escape version of Maze Runner was a big chance to prove it could work. We had so many shots to do in such a short time, but the pipeline held it together and we did deliver. This was the first time, (and only time I believe, with Maze Runner Scorch Trials Escape) that a game engine was used to render a AAA movie for theatrical release,” he described. “I use this project as proof that I was not crazy when, 5 years ago, I was advocating to use game engine instead of renderer for movies. I’ve done it, proved it can be done, I can now move to the next step.”

The Maze Runner films are widely regarded as having outstanding visual effects, and Lombardo’s vision saw to that.

“It was a year of taking risks, but finally it was done,” he continued. “Some people before that were not taking video game engine seriously.”

Lombardo’s determination to stay up-to-date with technology in his industry has led him to be recognized internationally in his field. He was an honorable mention at the CG Society International Challenge Spectacular, and first runner up at the Journey Begins. He won the Vocation Foundation Price in Belgium, in the CG Animation category in 2007, and is in the official 3dsmax Bible Book of 2008 and 2009.

He also had the opportunity to work on several commercials during his career with the production company Luxoom, an experience that Lombardo describes as “special.”

“I went to China without really any idea of what I would be doing, but I ended up at Luxoom, fresh from my training in Visual FX and particles work, and I had the chance to be one of the only people there with understanding of fluid dynamic and advance particles work,” he said. “So working at Luxoom let me use that knowledge on amazing project, and work with great brand like Porsche, BMW and Mercedes. But even more, it taught me efficiency. We had no time to do these projects, while in movies you have rarely have enough time to do what you really want, in commercials it’s even more challenging. We did one mini-cooper event video in 2 days once, from storyboard to shooting and post. And we were only 4 guys.”

“What I liked as well, is that it was the first time I saw general manager being so hands-on. Tobias Sievers, the GM of Luxoom Shanghai at the time, was an amazing artist and technical guy. Many times he jumped on the project and actually made it so that we would deliver. He was at the office longer than anybody else. This was a great experience and a big learning step in my life” he continued.

Alexandre Ouairy worked with Lombardo at Luxoom for a variety of different commercials.

“Simone Lombardo and myself work together on several national and international campaign during our time in China, at Luxoom and Idcreation. While pushing the limit of technology and executing pixel perfect 3D rendering for the like of Porsche, BMW, Audi, Nike, he was simultaneously taking online courses learning to program particles rendering,” said Ouairy. “It is always mesmerizing to see the speed of execution Simone can achieve and the dedication he put to is work, mixing his learning from the world of video game production with 3D rendering. Simone shows a passion and commitment to its industry that you rarely see.”

Lombardo uses the skills he has from working on video games such as Soul Caliber V, Resident Evil, and films such as Hugo and combines the two different technologies.

“They are really different but similar industries,” he said. “I like working on both video games and film. I like the polishing and real-life implementation of the movies part, and the time you can spend on one shot. But there is also frustration on the time you have to wait, and the politics involved. On the other side, video games are all about optimization. You have a finite number of memory, any draw call you can save, the better it is. It’s cheating to the extreme, but everything is real time.”

It is no wonder that with knowing the technology so intricately, Lombardo is regarded as an expert in visual effects in both film and gaming.

A GOOD ZOMBIE IS A FRESH ZOMBIE

Imagine that you wake up hanging upside down in a tree, not knowing how you got there. You look down and see zombies. What do you do? Most of us have seen enough episodes of The Walking Dead to know how to handle the situation. You get down as quickly as possible, avoid the zombies, and try to find living companions to band together with in order to survive. Easier said than done…and what about that troubling amnesia? That leaves a lot of questions unanswered. It’s an interesting premise; part horror movie and part action film. These are the thoughts of Bruno Nunez Romagnoli when he decided to make his first film Zombie Games. Bruno wanted to film his first big project in his homeland of Argentina with a large cast and zombies are…well, popular for lack of a better word. He reveals, “It’s not that I’m the biggest fan of zombie movies. I’ve seen the films and television shows that most people have seen. I wanted to do something new with the genre. The premise is that of a zombie film but it is actually an action movie. The twist in Zombie Games is that it actually takes place in a videogame. It is a computer reality.”

Romagnoli plays the lead character Dennis in Zombie Games. In the tradition of Hollywood icons like Sylvester Stallone, Bruno not only starred in his first big film but he wrote and directed it. This is a herculean task to say the least, made somewhat more ominous by the fact that it was not planned. Romagnoli recalls, “I had studied acting and directing in my homeland of Argentina and I wanted this first film to be a big production. I had written it and planned on throwing myself heavily into the role. I knew that I would have to be in the best possible shape to be believable to the audience as a real action leading man. That was already daunting enough. It turned out that it was just going to work out better if I was directing because I had this unique idea in my mind and it was very difficult to describe the approach. In the end, it was just going to happen more efficiently and more accurately if I directed myself. Sometimes you have to bite off more than you can chew. I know that there are people who can act and direct at the same time without much difficulty but it was hard for me on this film. I had a second director on some of the shoots because there was physically no way for me to do both. That added a lot of time due to the long conversations between the two of us in order for me to explain how things needed to look.”

zombie games 2

The biggest reason for the difficulty in having another director on Zombie Games was the original direction and the look that Bruno wanted. Zombie movies were everywhere but his movie would be at its core an action movie that takes place with the characters trapped inside a video game. Romagnoli explains, “The new approach to the film is that the character are basically trapped inside a videogame, a computer reality where the creatures are the zombies. The editing of the movie itself is determined by the videogame, the glitches, mistakes, holograms, technology; it is kind of a futuristic place. I wouldn’t say that is a horror film, it’s science fiction with action and adventure.” While many movies are creating video games from the premise of a movie to generate revenue, Bruno is reverse engineering this process. His original video game concept didn’t translate completely and he had to tweak some of his concepts. He confirms, “It was very hard to manifest all of the things that I wanted for the film. The first idea was to do it in the forest but with futuristic weapons to create a contrast but it didn’t have the exact look that I was going for.  I have to admit I changed the script about five times before I decided on the final version. Some things were changing while filming, but that’s normal for me because I like to improvise a lot.” One of Bruno’s costars in Zombie Games, Lautaro Bertoglio, was well aware of Romangoli’s tendency to be impetuous commenting, “, Bruno was one of the greatest partners I’ve ever had on set; we got each other’s energy so quick. The connection was powerful in front of the camera. He likes to improvise a lot. He really surprised me in one of the scenes. I was supposed to take a gun out of my bag and point it at him. He didn’t tell me but, he had taken it out of the bag before the scene started. Here I was in the middle of the scene and I was looking for my gun while the camera was rolling…in front of the entire cast and crew! Bruno whistled, I looked at him and he threw me the gun. The reactions were amazing! I was stunned with actual fear in my eyes. He loved it, so it stayed in the movie.”

 

Although wearing three hats on the making of Zombie Games was quite daunting, Romagnoli is certain that it is what enabled him to successfully achieve the goals he set out for the film. He reveals that, “In all movies you have a hero; the secret to a great lead character is the small details. My character was an antihero. You can see that he doesn’t treat people nicely, so how could the audience like a person like that? What you have to do is just add a small scene where you push the audience to like him. In Zombie Games I made Dennis an Elvis Presley fan. People like these small details. They start liking the character because they recognize something of themselves in him. I think it is also very important is to keep some parts of your character’s life a secret. When the audience knows your character completely they become bored. In real life you don’t know everything about another person; what their true motivation or intent is. Dennis knows how to fight against zombies but you don’t know why. You can see that he knows things about that world that we don’t.  Those details keep the character interesting. As a writer, keeping those things in mind helped me a lot to achieve the character in the moment of filming. If I didn’t have all of these perspectives, I might have pushed for something to be more or less obvious but as the writer/director/lead actor, I knew just how much should come out on camera to the audience. It added to the intrigue and suspense.”

Bruno Nunez Romagnoli is one of those young determined triple threat talents in the vein of Kevin Costner and the aforementioned Sylvester Stallone. He has vision, talent, and the determination to make films even when it seems impossible. It is perhaps most eloquently stated by another of his costars in Zombie Games, James Bonfiglio, in his remark, “The thing I can say about Bruno is that he has presence anywhere he goes. He also has a powerful voice. He can carry a movie on his shoulders without a problem. A lot of actors want to do that but not many can command your attention the way Bruno does. He can take it out and be a leader to the rest of the cast.”

zombie games 3

MONICA SMITH ADDS LAUGHS STANDING SHOULDER TO SHOULDER WITH SOME OF THE BIGGEST NAMES IN HOLLYWOOD

“There is no I in TEAM.” We all know the phrase and exactly what it means; don’t be motivated to be the star. Yet, in some situations there are those individuals who are team players that still manage to get noticed. Monika Smith is one such individual. Although she has spent her entire life being part of a group, she has carved out a very unique career for herself. As a successful model, improv comedian, and actress, she has established herself in Hollywood as a “go to” actress with the skill, looks, and intense work ethic to make any role believable. It is ironic that by spending her entire life aspiring to be part of an ensemble she has become the most memorable person in any group. In a conversation with Smith, she continually directs the praise to those she has worked with and often refers to influences that are ensemble players. Actors frequently use the word generous to describe those acting partners whom enable them to explore creativity and enhance the scene with honesty. If this is the acting benchmark, it seems that being a generous person has resulted in Smith becoming one of Hollywood’s most noticed comedic actresses.

As a young girl, Monika was always pulled towards comedy. It was always the edgy and experimental forms that gained her attention, such as Saturday Night Live and Canada’s own Kids in the Hall. From an early age, Smith knew that she wanted to act and that comedy was the correct expression of that desire. Years later Monika would work with Cheri Oteri (SNL) and Kevin McDonald (Kids in the Hall) while being one of the stars of TBS’s Who Gets the Last Laugh. Smith states that she considers it an important personal achievement, “Making Cheri and Kevin laugh so much was a very gratifying moment for me. When someone who has had such impact on you from a very young age proceeds to give you such compliments and praise about how funny you are it is almost unbelievable.”

1402826_10151627279385997_224451799_o

Before devoting her life to acting and comedy, Smith had a bright future with both the Ford and Elite modeling agencies. Working as an international model may have been lucrative and enticing for a young girl but she soon realized that denying her true passion of comedic acting would only serve to frustrate her. Charging forward, she began to work with the Second City Touring Company in Toronto. Soon realizing that Los Angeles held even greater opportunities for someone who is driven, she relocated and began working with the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) as well as Second City and Nerdist. Improv sketch comedy was instinctual for her and it wasn’t long before she was teaching at these sketch comedy institutions, including travelling to China to help start their first long form improv school and direct their first show. Second City and UCB have given us some of the most important and recognizable names in comedy including; Bill Murray, Tina Fey, John Candy, Amy Poehler, Adam McKay, among others. Smith confirms that her time with these groups taught her one of the cornerstones of improv sketch comedy. She states, “I think the most important skill I learned from improv is ‘yes-ing’ your partner and what they say to you. It’s a wonderful thing to trust another person implicitly and know that whatever they say I’ll add to and we’ll create something together. I have no idea how many improv scenes or shows I’ve done at this point, but all of them have been different and special.” This perspective and demeanor led to Monika’s starring roles of multiple seasons of shows like MTV’s Disaster Date and TBS’s Who Gets the Last Laugh. These type of shows required actors who were at the highest level of improv comedy. Nick Kriess (Who Gets the Last Laugh producer) comments, “Who Gets the Last Laugh? was a hit due in large part to Monika’s extensive improv background.  Monika has managed to make a strong career out of her fantastic comedic sensibilities and her amazing way of always knowing the best direction to take a scene in no matter what is thrown her way.” Joel Zimmer (Disaster Date producer) adds, “There was no possible way that Disaster Date would work without Monika taking control.  The show called for Monika to play her character for hours at a time.  There were no cuts like a normal production.  Only an actor with an abundance of improv talent like Monika could convince unsuspecting contestants that this was a real date and that she was a real person.”

While becoming established as one of LA’s most in demand comedy improv actors, Smith has also directed her career path towards film and television. Adult Swim’s Newsreaders, The Tonight Show, and even Funny or Die (which garnered Smith a best actress award at the 48 Hour Film Festival for ‘Les Douchbags Horribles’) have all made use of Monika’s exceptional talent, among many others. Actress Brea Grant (Friday Night Lights, Heroes, Dexter) is one of the many highly notable actresses who recognize Smith’s abilities and presence. Grant comments, “Monika Smith is one of the best improvisers in Los Angeles right now. She has worked very hard to hone her skills and is both a great teacher and performer. I love working with her because she is always professional and hilarious but also really supports and lifts up anyone who she is working with. She is a comedian to watch as she will be huge in the next few years.”

Most recently, Monika has been known to viewers as Sylvia on the STARZ series Blunt Talk. Playing a porn star involved with Adrian Scarborough (Gosford Park, The King’s Speech)’s character and acting in scenes with luminaries like Patrick Stewart (the star of Blunt Talk), she brings an endearing side to her character’s provocative profession. The ensemble cast could easily be intimidating for any actor but Smith seems to handle herself with the same confidence and comfort she has exhibited in so many less scripted venues. Duncan Birmingham (writer/producer for Blunt Talk) declares, “Monika is one of the best actors I have worked with during my illustrious career.  I have worked with the likes of the tremendously gifted, Oscar nominated director David Fincher, and currently, the legendary Patrick Stewart (who was nominated for a Golden Globe for Blunt Talk), but Monika holds her ground with those luminaries with ease.” Smith’s performances became so successful that her role, which was added part way through season one, was added to the second season of Blunt Talk.

Monika Smith’s story is literally the Hollywood Dream. A small girl from another country, with stars in her eyes, works hard to become a peer to the gifted creative individuals who inspired her. With self determination, hard work, and a large dose of talent, Smith has created the situations that have led to her success while constantly challenging herself to evolve. Part of what makes it so endearing is that she is constantly focusing on the opportunity to place focus on the talented professionals with whom she is surrounded. As the arc of her career continues to ascend, it will be exciting to see the new challenges that she will undoubtedly take on.