Category Archives: Canadian Talent

Actor Tennille Read’s Award Winning Style

Actor Tennille Read’s rising star is powered by a very particular brand of creativity, one that’s equal measures sensitivity and swagger, a super-charged dramatic formula that spans the entire emotional spectrum with undeniable in-the-moment veracity. Read truly inhabits her characters, always delivering a performance subtly imbued with the full depth and breadth of the human experience. Her award winning performance in the dramatic 2018 short “I Lost My Mind” is as ideal example of her impressive natural talent, a rich gift which, ironically, she almost didn’t take seriously.

“I did a lot of school before I could accept that I actually wanted to be an actor,” Read said. “I did my undergrad in film and theatre at Queen’s University, and then a Graduate program in Communications at Concordia University. But acting always called me back. So to step up my game, I did a three year Acting Conservatory in Toronto. That was where I learned how to approach my work with discipline, unending curiosity and playfulness, and where I really committed to being a professional actor.”

Tennille Read photo by Hamish Birt 2
Tennille Read photo by Hamish Birt

Try as she might to resist the impulse, the seed had been planted years earlier. “I was about 10 and I was watching a re-run of Growing Pains—the season where Leonardo DiCaprio is on the show,” Read said. “In that episode, he has this huge emotional scene that I was spellbound by. He just seemed so raw and vulnerable. I had a lot of pre-teen hormones bubbling up inside me at the time and acting seemed like the perfect way to let them out. I remember asking my mum if I could get an agent—I’m sure that made her heart stand still for a moment. So, instead I started doing little skits and storytelling performances for my grade five class.”

With a solid grounding in live theater and on-set film experience, the Toronto-based Read specializes in spiritually liberated, audacious characters. “I’m excited by female-driven stories and a lead character that overcomes big obstacles by discovering their own potential,” Read said. “There’s a common thread with the films I adore. They usually explore different dimensions or alternate worlds, be it space or expanding possibility. I’m a bit of a nerd about that stuff. I love the idea of tapping into something that is bigger than ourselves but that is still in harmony with us when we get out of our own way—that sparks my imagination in every way.”

This distinctive approach made her an ideal choice for “I Lost My Mind”’s leading role.

“I played the character of Penelope who facilitates a community workshop on filmmaking,” Read said. “One of her students, Wolfy, becomes fascinated by her and finds his thoughts objectifying her in her class. Penelope is pure intelligence, aspiration, with a vast knowledge of her craft, based on her own directing experience. But Wolfy is stuck on her appearance and he can’t focus on what she’s teaching the group. His thoughts get LOUD, but Penelope’s intuition and smarts have him figured out and she puts him in his place with one elegant move.”

“It was easy to relate to Penelope,” Read said. “Her situation was of a woman being objectified by the male gaze. I think every woman can relate to that in some capacity. I’ve been that woman—feeling like I wasn’t being heard and but instead being seen through a narrow lens. I loved playing Penelope because she’s firm and steady in front of this group of young filmmakers and genuinely wants to teach them and have them realize their own potential. Even when she calls out Wolfy at the end, she does it from a place of kindness and good humor, but with enough pointedness to drive her message home.”

Read’s formidable skill as a dramatic interpreter significantly elevated the film’s impact and made “I Lost My Mind” a popular entry on the busy North American film festival circuit. Along the way Read was honored with the Hollywood North Film Awards 2018 Best Actor award. Director Michael Tobin sunned up the actor’s artistic essence “Her perspective on the story that I wanted to tell was invaluable to the final cut. My process has always been a collaborative one, and Tennille brought so much of her own experience to the table that not only fit the role she played, but also enhanced it beyond my expectations. Tennille brings a compelling depth to the characters she plays that I think is a result of her own authenticity.”

That authenticity has become a professional calling card for the n-demand actor. “I recently did a season on ‘Workin’ Moms,’” Read said. “It was my first fleshed-out character who had her own multi-episode story arc. Television shoots move fast and I really like the pace—you don’t have time to get stuck in your head. But I would also like to do more film, on top of the TV work I’ve been booking.”

As an actor, Read has the perfect attitude: “The simplest way is usually the best way. Try something different with each take. Use the nerves to fuel the preparation and then let go of the work.”

Female Filmmaker to Watch: Eliza Brownlie

Eliza Brownlie
Movie poster for “The After Party”

 

Canadian filmmaker Eliza Brownlie has firmly made her mark as a director in Hollywood. A breath of fresh air in the contentious filmmaking landscape, Brownlie has solidified her reputation as a director who tells stories with a unique aesthetic style while exploring social constructs and the human experience of modern life.

Her 2016 surrealist horror film The After Party earned praise from coast to coast in the U.S. garnering a hugely successful festival run with exclusive “invitation-only” screenings at the Sacramento Horror Film Festival in California and the Williamsburg Independent Film Festival in New York.

Directed and written by Brownlie, The After Party follows an aspiring starlet who hopes to break into the Hollywood scene by attending a mysterious, late night party where she quickly discovers a darkness the lurks beneath the glitz and glamour.

With captivating visuals and an intriguing story that leaves audiences wanting more, The After Party is rendered even more interesting thanks to the distinct female lens through which it is filtered.

“I knew I wanted to make something within the horror/thriller genre and set in Hollywood. I had been living there and was interested in the idea of how this beautiful dream world could resemble more of a nightmare when you examine it a little closer,” explains Brownlie.

“I needed a context, so I thought, what more appropriate setting for a surrealist horror film than a private party in the hills. I also needed a protagonist who was naïve to this world and desperate to be a part of it, so, naturally, I decided to make the lead an aspiring starlet. The rest of the story and the characters expanded from there.”

 

 Tarryn Lagana Eliza Brownlie
Still of actress Tarryn Lagana in Eliza Brownlie’s film “The After Party”

 

The film’s star Tarryn Lagana, who’s represented by Luber Roklin Entertainment, the same talent agency that represents Disney superstar Dove Cameron and the late Oscar-nominated actor Burt Reynolds, shines on screen. Lagana was also recently signed to Abrams Artists Agency, which represents Finn Wolfhard from the Netflix series Stranger Things.

“Working with Eliza is an incredibly open experience. She loves to communicate with her actors and give them freedom to explore within the scene. Which was great for ‘The After Party’ because it gave me a chance to create the character Simone and ultimately deliver a strong performance,” says Lagana.

“Eliza is a one of a kind director… She has a very specific voice and vision that makes her stand out as one of the greatest filmmakers of her generation… She is what the industry needs right now.”

 

Director Eliza Brownlie
Cinematographer Ari Bre Bre (left), Director Eliza Brownlie (center), and producer Jessica Kelley (right) on set of a commercial for Cast + Combed

 

Well versed in directing projects across various mediums, Brownlie’s resume showcases her impressive flexibility and includes commercial, fashion films, music videos and narrative films, with her collective body of work revealing a highly stylized and dreamy nature that has reinforced her reputation as an auteur. Over the years she has directed numerous captivating and edgy commercials for an impressive list of clients including Dove, Top Expert and Canon.

In the fashion film she directed for Top Expert featuring model Breanna Box, she captures her subject with slow camera movements, creating a sultry, relaxed vibe that makes us want to dress ourselves in all of the company’s luxury basics. Brownlie effortlessly pulls us into the ethereal worlds she paints in many of her fashion films with a unique style that is simply unforgettable.

A dynamic director, another powerful aspect of her directorial prowess that has set her apart and led her to become a sought after director for more human-interest style commercial pieces is her talent for eliciting raw and vulnerable emotions from her subjects and revealing them with a rare form of elegance. As the director of the docu-style commercial series ‘Imperfectionists’ for Dove’s Self-Esteem Project, and Canon’s Female Hero series, Brownlie captures the women on screen in a way that is captivating, relatable and empowering.

“I like projects that challenge or engage the viewer in an interesting way. Something in the material needs to resonate with me. There’s nothing more painful than working on something you don’t have any passion for,” says Brownlie.

From the extensive repertoire of work that she has released to date it is clear that Brownlie is passionate about her subjects. She is definitely one contemporary female filmmaker that has made a powerful mark in both Hollywood and on a global scale, and she’s one that we will continue to look towards for inspiration.  

Canada’s Aida King is worried wife and stepmother in action flick ‘Hemorrhage’

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Aida King

Being Canadian of Filipino descent and growing up in a multicultural downtown Toronto urban neighborhood, Aida King uses her prominence as an actress to be a representative of a world population sector that is still well under-represented in the entertainment industry. Her unique appearance allows her to portray a variety of cultures and she aims to provide a deeper understanding of different ethnicities. Through the creative arts, she can provide a fresh perspective and not only entertain her audiences, but also educate. With every project she takes on, no matter the genre, she makes sure to understand her character and their background, as well as what drives them. It is such a devotion that makes her such an outstanding actress, and a leader in the industry in Canada.

Known for her versatility, King has worked on a variety of genres as an actress, showing that she is capable of anything. Whether bringing on the laughs in Desert Drive or keeping you on the edge of your seats in the thriller War of Mind, this actress knows exactly how to captivate an audience.

King not only impresses audiences, but also those she works with, as seasoned Producer and Director Josh Mitchell was so moved by the actress’ work in his film The Convicted, which went on to several prestigious international film festivals, that he immediately offered her more roles on his future projects. The two also worked together on the 2015 film Hemorrhage.

Hemorrhage tells the story of a brawling hockey player who suffers from his fourth concussion and is forced to retire. He connects with a shady old high school friend and starts flipping houses, but quickly finds himself face-to-face with a dangerous Mexican gang. When they rough up his wife and kidnap his son – the gloves come off and he takes matters into his own hands.

“Everyone thinks that a pro athlete leads only a glamourous life. That being said, not all are successful as the main stars that are showcased. So many of them face their own unique set of challenges, especially if their career gets cut shorter than expected. The movie is an age-old warning to be careful of whom you associate yourself with,” said King.

Playing the lead role of Ana Chaffe, King was ready to take on a little bit of an action hero. She was a wife and step-mother that was stereotypically cautious and suspicious of her husband’s questionable associates. She was very protective of him and had been worrying about his future, ever since he was forced to retire from his professional hockey career. Her instincts turn out to be correct as she later suffers from her stepchild being kidnapped and her husband under the control of a criminal. Ana’s worry provided pivotal foreshadowing in the film, building suspense and emotionally investing the audience.

“It was a rush to play such a strong character, fighting for her husband and step-child,” said King.

While shooting Hemorrhage, King was required to handle a gun for the first time in her career. Even though it was just a prop, she found the experience quite unnerving. She researched how to shoot a gun, and despite never actually doing so, perfectly executed the scene. This was made easier because of how comfortable she was on set, extremely familiar with the entire cast and crew. However, there was a lot of testosterone on the sports fuelled action film, she joked.

“It’s such an overall different frame of mind when you’re involved in an action focused film. I enjoyed this new approach and the comradery that goes along with it. It was a great time to channel in all great angry female roles that I have seen on TV over the years,” she said.

The trailer for Hemorrhageis featured on Daily Motion‘s website, and the full film is available via Vimeo on Demand since September 2015.

“I am very proud of its outcome. The reviews have been kind and we are grateful for it,” King concluded.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

Using makeup to embrace womanhood with Allison Giroday

Allison picture sitting down
Allison Giroday, photo by Liz Rosa

There is a common understanding in the fashion industry that clothing, and makeup are products that you buy, but style is what you do with them. Style is eternal. It doesn’t fade when new trends emerge, or when old trends divulge. For makeup artist, Allison Giroday, style is inherent, running deep through her veins. She credits her love for fashion and makeup to the fact that she grew up in one of fashion’s most acclaimed decades: the 1990s. She recalls herself as a young girl, inspired by the token 90s bombshells she’d see on billboard signs and magazine covers. She even remembers her 13-year-old self, locking herself in her school bathroom, trying all sorts of tips and tricks to achieve Pamela Anderson’s signature smudged-eye and baby pink lip look.

“I thought those women were just the most beautiful women in the world and I would stare at their pictures, studying their makeup. I collected fashion magazines and watched Fashion File. I never anticipated that I’d be in the position I am, looking back on those days. Now, the greatest feeling in the whole entire world is when a client gets excited over the reflection she sees in my mirror. It doesn’t matter whether she gasps, smiles, tears up, or sits up taller, it brings me a pride like no other. Every woman deserves to feel beautiful, powerful, and confident. I love the fact that I get to be a part of that,” raved Giroday.

Fortunately for Giroday, she has been able to be a part of that journey for a number of different people, projects, and publications over the duration of her career. For instance, Giroday was referred to hit Canadian artist, Lights, in order to do her makeup for Canada’s largest, most prestigious music event, The Juno Awards. She has also worked for several other celebrities such as professional basketball player, Steve Nash, and successful rap artist, Lil John. Her work has even found its way into publications such as Glassbook Magazine, British GQ, Life & Style, Reader’s Digest, and several others. When founder and editor-in-chief of Mother Muse Magazine saw Giroday’s work, she knew she had to bring her on board for her publication.

Mother Muse is a fashion and lifestyle printed coffee table book, available worldwide, that focuses on the quality of slow living and modern motherhood. It is rich with artwork, articles, interviews, and editorials intended to inspire everyday women and everyday mothers to follow their passions and to live life to the fullest. Due to its heavy emphasis on style, Mother Muse is often full of unique images of models, beautiful color schemes, and several other style inspirations. It is important, therefore, that Mother Muse work with exceptionally talented artists to shoot images that will captivate their readers’attention at first glance.

They begin every shoot with a mood board selected and prepared by the editor with a description of the woman or women that will be featured. This is when Giroday begins to determine how best to match her model’s facial makeup with her other style and hair elements. In a constant determination to outdo her former self, Giroday places great emphasis on keeping her makeup looks current and ensuring that she doesn’t fall behind on the latest trends. With that, she conducts research in her own time to ascertain that she is providing her clients with the latest and greatest that the cosmetics industry have to offer.

“Success has the ability to breed complacency and that’s an easy trap for an artist to fall into because at that point, you stop continuing to grow. It’s important to want to stay inspired so that you never fall out of love with what you are doing. To me, the term makeup artist really is about the art. I don’t just apply makeup, I paint the canvas. My goal is to make my client feel like it’s the best makeup they’ve ever had and I’m so passionate about that,” noted Giroday.

In addition to her passion for makeup itself, Giroday loves working for Mother Muse, as it allows her to explore femininity with every shoot and to embrace the qualities of a goddess. She has crafted her talents so much over the years that she manages to evoke emotions of power and wisdom through the makeup looks she presents and with that, her work tends to flow seamlessly alongside the rest of the magazine’s team. She loves being able to work with other organized, motivated individuals to promote and celebrate the nuances of motherhood, and womanhood in general. What’s more, is that Giroday gets to see the final outcome of her work in print form, a dying art. She loves the fact that she can pick her work up, hold it beneath her fingers and touch it. The amount of dedication and love she puts into her work makes it all the more exciting when she gets to hold it in her hands.

Overall, Giroday considers herself fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Mother Muse in the past. Every time she is brought on board for a project with them, she remembers exactly why she fell in love with their publication in the first place. She also takes great pride in knowing that Mother Muse has been covered internationally by Yahoo Australia, as well as the Daily Mail. It has also showcased the faces of popular celebrities like Selma Blair and Brie Bella. Next time you’re walking by a copy, pick one up and witness Giroday’s greatness with your own eyes.

 

Written by Sean Desouza

Go behind-the-scenes of Korean hit ‘The Society Game’ with TV Exec Dan Cazzola

For Dan Cazzola, a career in television was always what intrigued him. He never had a back-up plan, and never needed one. Starting out as a producer, he found his calling, as every day he was doing something different and meeting new people; every day was a learning experience. Overseeing every aspect of a show, from beginning to end, was exciting to this Canadian native, and as a producer, he brought shows to success in both his home country and internationally.

Cazzola has now moved on from producing just one show and is currently the Vice President of International Development for Endemol Shine North America, the world’s largest television production group. Working on the corporate side allows him to lend his talent to a variety of current and upcoming shows. Having previously worked for Shine Group in the United Kingdom, he brings years of experience to his role.

“I worked with Dan over many years at Endemol Shine, and he is one of the hardest working people I have ever met. He continuously strived to make every single project we worked on top-notch, and always managed to succeed. On top of all this, he is an extremely positive force in the workplace, always encouraging everyone to do their best work. He is a leader, and I am happy to also consider him a friend,” said Fotini Paraskakis, Managing Director, Endemol Shine Asia.

One of Cazzola’s largest successes abroad was with his work on The Society Game, a South Korean reality TV series, which he co-created. The format was similar to Big Brother, where contestants are isolated from the outside world, but instead featured two teams competing against each other with the twist that one side had to live as a democracy and the other a dictatorship. It was a social experiment to see which society was more effective and which types of leaders would rise to the top and win the game. The show premiered on TVN in October 2016 as their tenth anniversary special series where it was extremely popular and was picked up for a second season.

When creating the idea for the show, Cazzola tried to think of a format that could take place in Korea but resonate with other countries. While brainstorming, he asked himself, what is something many people associate with Korea? His answer was the North and South divide. This is when inspiration struck to have a reality competition show with one team representing dictatorship and the other democracy to see which was ultimately better.

“My favorite thing about working on this project was that we actually shot it outside Seoul close to the border of North Korea. It was a constant reminder that the show we were filming actually was real life for these two countries. We would see the military helicopters flying over every morning and night and the rugged mountain range that we could see in every aerial shot was the physical barrier between us and the DMZ,” Cazzola described.

TV, as Cazzola says, is a universal language. However, its development greatly varies around the world. The Society Game was Cazzola’s first experience with the Korean market and television production in the country. Not only were there language barriers to overcome, but processes were different than what Cazzola was accustomed to. This provided a pivotal learning experience for Cazzola, who at the time had only worked on television programs in Europe and North America. Cazzola and his team set many strict targets and made sure everyone knew exactly what the plan was. In the end, they developed, filmed, and aired the show all within a mere nine months.

“I loved that I not only got to work on an exciting new reality format idea but that I learned all about Korea and how they make TV there. So much of TV can be inward facing and the best part of my role was that I learned how it all comes together there. I learned new ways of doing things and also saw great creativity from the team there. I had a huge amount of respect for them,” said Cazzola.

The Society Game was a large success for Cazzola, as it was his idea that sparked the hit. Now it is a successful format currently being adapted to sell around the world, and Cazzola’s understanding of various markets are one of his greatest assets when scoping out international formats for American television.

Producer Kegan Sant talks award-winning film ‘The Bear’

Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Kegan Sant moved to Canada at just six months old. Growing up just outside of Toronto, Sant was constantly drawn to filmmaking. He has worked in varying capacities on set since he was only a teenager and enjoys shooting photography to keep the creative juices flowing. While trying out the many roles that a film set offers, there was one that spoke to him, and he ultimately decided there was only one option: he was meant to be a producer.

“As I worked through the different roles on set, I realized that my skill set led more heavily towards the management and overall execution of a project. I’m a big believer in knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses and always playing to your strengths; in this case, it set me down a path of working in production and ultimately producing. Being a professional comes with the job description and something I pride myself in – running sets with integrity and calm amidst the chaos,” said Sant.

Throughout his esteemed career, Sant has worked mostly in the commercial sector primarily dealing with advertising agencies to make commercials for brands. This includes large companies such as WestJet, Woods, the CFL, and TELUS. Each and every commercial he has taken on has received national recognition in some capacity, exemplifying just what makes Sant so formidable. However, his talents are not just limited to commercials, and his track record with films is no different.

In 2015, Sant began working on The Bear. Isolated, exhausted, alone: the dramatic thriller follows three miners in a remote Yukon mining camp in Canada’s far north who swap tall tales that lead to a violent showdown with the camp’s bitter owner. Part story of man in the wilderness, part neo-noir, The Bear takes the audience into the Canadian ‘heart of darkness’.

“I think this was an important Canadian story to tell and describes an environment that not many people think about but is a reality for many miners. I liked it because it was loosely based off someone the director had met working on a documentary many years ago and it allowed for different departments to flex their creative muscles. Being able to cast the characters the director had envisioned made the story come to life that much more for me,” said Sant.

After premiering at the 2015 Fort McMurray International Film Festival, where it won for ‘Best Direction’ and ‘Best Cinematography’, The Bear went on to several other prestigious film festivals around the world. It was also an Official Selection at the Yellowknife International Film Festival, Toronto International Short Film Festival, Edinburgh Short Film Festival, Atlantic Film Festival and Austin Short Film Fest. In 2017, it was then acquired by an online VOD distributor.

“I’m proud to know that the film has been so successful and screened around the world. It means that all the hard work myself and the crew put in, was worth it. It impresses me when I think about how many films are made all over the world and what the competition is like in festival screeners these days,” said Sant.

Sant was the team’s first choice for the producer of their film. Long Format Director, Warren Sonoda, knew Sant’s reputation for being able to assemble great crews and bring a high level of production value to the project. When the Director of the film, Peter Findlay talked with Sant about the project’s merits and goals, he felt at ease that Sant was the one who could make his first narrative project come to life.

Although he works on commercials more frequently, Sant knew he wanted to work on The Bear the moment he read the script. He was happy with the team, and admired Findlay’s commitment to the story. He couldn’t pass up the opportunity to help bring the project to life.

“I had the good fortune to work with Kegan as my producer on my award-winning film The Bear. I found Kegan to be extremely professional, creative, and always working calmly behind the scenes in the best interests of the production. What makes Kegan such an asset is that he has the steely focus it takes to deliver on time and on budget – and he also just flat-out loves telling stories. A great compromise between the art and business of filmmaking,” said Findlay.

When shooting, Sant and his team worked outdoors in a remote location. He extensively prepped, knowing that once out there, it would be difficult to change anything. Sant had to build a miner’s camp set from scratch and work with the Director of Photography to find lenses that worked to help it appear that the film was shot in the Yukon rather than rural Ontario.

On top of this, he also offered the director multiple options and a chance to exercise his creativity. Sant wanted to let Findlay feel like he wasn’t rushed, knowing the importance of allowing a director the freedom and flexibility to feel comfortable with their process. Findlay had no prior experience in the narrative world. He didn’t have the crew contacts or resources to bring the project to life in a way that it needed to be produced. Sant was able to introduce him to the right key crew for the job, specifically the cinematographer and production designer.

“I enjoyed working with an experienced director that came from a different world of storytelling – it was enlightening to see the differences in process and to learn from it as well. I could learn from him and likewise, he could learn from me. It was a great working relationship and I was able to hire the best crew for the job, giving some crew opportunities that they hadn’t had before to help build their reel and portfolio, in addition to creating a short on a cool subject,” said Sant.

The Bear is just one of Sant’s many successful films, and he looks forward to working on more in the near future. He is an extremely versatile producer and is constantly adapting to be successful. Audiences can continue to expect great things from him, and for those looking to follow in his footsteps, he offers insightful advice.

“I would tell aspiring producers that they need to get their hands dirty. Producing is not a glamorous job, but it is fulfilling. Work in a variety of capacities on set and make sure that production is what you want. Production manage before you produce; it will help you understand the crew and different departments and needs versus wants. Know your strengths and weaknesses; it will determine whether producing is for you or not. You have to have a thick skin…you will face much rejection in your life if you choose producing as a career path. You must learn to be empathetic, as you will be the boss of an eclectic group of professionals. They will have their quirks, they will have wildly different personalities and you’ll have to learn how to manage them, understand them and realize what you as a producer are willing and able to handle and what you are not. There are many production companies and crews in the industry – if one or two don’t work out, it doesn’t mean you should give up. Perseverance is key – it is the defining difference between you and everyone else who is not a producer,” he advised.

 

Pictured left to right: Kegan Sant, Peter Findlay, Rob Comeau on set of “The Bear”, photo by Stephanie Langzik
By Sean Desouza

Actor Chris McNally’s Dramatic Trip to ‘Heaven’

Actor Chris McNally’s easy going, amiable demeanor is completely genuine, but the Canadian-born performer is capable of utterly transformative characterizations, fraught with subtle psychological nuance and stark, emotional depth,  It’s an attribute that’s served him well in a fast-moving career which  has taken him from aspiring supporting player to major lead roles, and his striking portrayal of Cal Dennison in Lifetime network’s forthcoming adaptation of the celebrated VC Andrews novel Heaven is a prime example. For McNally, landing the film’s second lead was the almost inevitable conclusion of a lifelong passion. “I just have always wanted to be an actor, ever since I can remember,” McNally said. “I’m not sure what initially prompted my interest, but there really was nothing else I ever thought to pursue.”

 Heaven, which sparked an entire series of best-selling novels, is a sort of glorious throwback to mid-century Peyton Place-era tearjerkers, loaded with melodramatic moral and social conflicts and fraught with scandal and hopelessly romantic entanglements. In the case of titular character Heaven Casteel, a comely teenager who finds herself sold off by her abusive father to a childless couple only to reluctantly submit to the male head of her new household’s seduction, the story line definitely pushes some boundaries.

 As McNally explains, “Heaven follows a teenage girl and her difficult journey through adolescence. The story begins in a dark place—Heaven lives with her alcoholic father, pregnant stepmother, grandmother and siblings in a small, dilapidated house in the mountains. When Heaven’s stepmother loses her baby, it triggers a tragic chain of events, ending with her father selling all his children and separating them. Heaven ends up with Cal and Kitty Dennison, who seem great at first, but life becomes even more complicated when Kitty begins having schizophrenic, abusive tendencies and Cal falls in love with Heaven.”

 To call the role of Cal a challenge would be a tremendous understatement, and McNally approached it with a characteristically canny mix of dramatic craft and emotional restraint.

 “Things become complicated when Kitty begins mentally and physically abusing Heaven, not letting her outside the house, forcing her to clean all day,” McNally said. “Cal finds himself trying to shelter and protect Heaven from Kitty’s actions. During this process though, Cal starts to develop romantic feelings for Heaven. This was the most difficult part to navigate, because we didn’t want Cal to come off as a predator.”

 McNally’s natural, persuasive approach to a role is so convincing that, in fact, he got the part despite the fact that he had to audition remotely, via a tape shot in a friend’s apartment—hardly an ideal circumstance. “I couldn’t attend the audition since I was out of town,’ McNally said. “So I asked a friend for help taping it. We got together in his tiny kitchen and made do with what we had. When I got back to Vancouver, I had a callback, so I went in for a session with the director and producers, and a week later was told that I’d gotten the job.”

 

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After landing the part, McNally got down the very serious business of making his character sympathetic.

 “I tried to prepare for this by using the relativity of the circumstances as structure,’ McNally said. “I doubt anything would ever have transpired between Cal and Heaven if they were in a normal situation. Their reality, though, is that they both find themselves as prisoners in this house arrest-like jail that Kitty has created. So within the walls of the house, we have this warped reality, separate from the real world. In that world, I looked at Heaven as my ally, and I protect her, we bond, and her earnestness and kindness begins to authentically fill a void in my heart that I hadn’t realized, until then, that Kitty never did. I’d say that was my main prep—understanding how and why these feelings came to be, and making it work for me.”

 This precisely reasoned motivation—calling back to Stanislavski’s famed dramatic admonition to “play the life”—is key to McNally’s appeal and success, artistically and professionally. In just over a decade, his continually rising profile has led to a formidable resume of on-screen achievements, with numerous roles, both on television series and small-screen movies and 2018 looks to be a banner year for the actor—he not only has Heaven coming out soon but also a recurring role in the highly anticipated Netflix original series Altered Carbon, already making a significant Hollywood buzz for being one of the most ambitious and highest budgeted series in television history.

 All of this was earned solely by McNally’s dedication. “Chris has a lot of talent and passion which he brings to his work,” co-star Julie Benz said. “He’s disciplined, reliable, passionate about his craft and he really delivers when the cameras are rolling. It was refreshing to work with a young actor who is more interested in the craft of what we do than how many Instagram followers he has.”

 It’s an exciting time for the perpetually driven McNally, who remains a down to earth, affable guy with a winning, attitude.

 “I believe you only have one chance at life, so if you really want something, you need to do everything in your power to make it happen,” McNally said. “I use that philosophy every day and it inspires me to keep going after my goals, to keep training, keep auditioning—and working.”

Ashley Bruzas is Veronika Stealz, Internet Sensation

Over the last decade, with the rise in presence and popularity of social media platforms, critics have begun to suggest that different means of online technology are working to isolate and hinder human beings on a social level. There has become a large push amongst parents to encourage their children to disconnect from their technological devices in order to properly connect with each other. What these critics often fail to take into consideration, however, is the emergence of online influencers who are taking the digital world by storm, using various online mediums to link together a generation of social media users. They create interest-based communities, and effectively unite the individuals within them. Take Ashley Bruzas, for instance. The Canadian Digital Writer and Content Producer uses the internet to bring together like-minded individuals and interact with them in such a way that transcends social constraints like distance, cultural differences, time zones, and more. Her modern-day adaptation of journalism allows her to share news in a widespread fashion, reaching audiences on a large scale and engaging with followers in an authentic way.

“What I enjoy most about working as a digital writer and content producer is my ability to interact with people. I am a storyteller and through this passion I am able to interact with interesting people, situations and events who are the basis of what I do. I have worked with some of the world’s most well-known and reputable brands and companies as well as some extremely interesting and respected individuals who have shaped me into the person I am today,” tells Bruzas.

Online, followers know her as Veronika Stealz, but in reality, Bruzas is an enthusiastic, talented Digital Writer and Content Producer with an online following that has amassed upward of 85,000 followers to date. Given that her Instagram page had gained a substantial following in the early days of social media use, expanding her personal brand and creating a blog felt like a natural next step in her budding career. Now, using that very blog, WhoIsVeronika.com, Bruzas shares information about different projects she works on, brands that she collaborates with, details about her personal life, captivating images, compelling articles, and much more. The idea for her blog developed in conjunction with the rising popularity of her online alias and when she realized that her followers and other aspiring bloggers could benefit from an in-depth, behind the scenes look at her lifestyle. As a result, she now expertly spearheads an extensive network of fellow bloggers, local influencers, content producers, and writers who engage with her content on a regular basis and communicate with each other accordingly.

As her online influence and popularity rose on social media, Bruzas started to receive requests from a variety of large-scale companies who felt that she was in touch with their target demographic and could help enhance their online exposure. Her expansive network of followers makes her a valuable asset to any company’s marketing strategy and by attending an event or featuring a campaign on her blog, Bruzas helps to adequately grow a company’s online presence and customer base. Since she began incorporating marketing collaborations into her blog, Bruzas has worked with many Canadian brands such as Peace Collective, Converse, Nike, Adidas, Moose Knuckles, and more. Beyond her reach at home, Bruzas has helped enhance the consumer market for international brands like Triangle and Bali Body.

“I have a large network of followers that I grew in Toronto, so attending an event or working on a campaign was valuable for Veronika Stealz to be associated with. I eventually created a media kit that I would pitch to brands, which included some of my past work, relationships, rates, statistics, etc. I would never work with a brand or agency that I do not support and I want my content to be unique and organic in order to keep my follower demographic interested and honest.” she notes

In addition to clothing and apparel companies, however, Bruzas also uses her background in journalism and passion for writing to work with creative agencies like Sweet Dreams Magazine. Marketing gurus within the companies and creative agencies that Bruzas works with are fortunate to foster working relationships with digital writers and content producers like herself as it allows them to appear before an audience they wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach. Typically, they will contact Bruzas and request that she feature their products or services on her social media platforms. The exchange allows her to profit from her business ventures and in turn, allows them to engage with her network of followers. Along the way, she establishes strong business relationships and connections, such as the one she formed with PIQUE, a production studio and creative platform that preserves Canada’s young creative community. When working with PIQUE, founder Imad Elsheikh realized just how valuable Bruzas can be as a brand ambassador and digital writer.

WhoIsVeronika.com, and Ashley’s social alias, Veronika Stealz, have become a prominent source of knowledge within the world of digital writing in Toronto and she is often involved in producing original content for many of Canada’s fast-growing companies. Working with her is so wonderful not only because she is a social and articulate individual, but because she shows every sign of being able to take on any challenge thrown her way. From working with big name apparel companies, to providing popular event coverage in a way that speaks to a wide audience, she provides exceptional skills in digital writing and content production. Ashley has an impressive work ethic and her ability to create content from start to finish makes her an extremely valuable asset to the creative community in Canada and around the world,” remarks Elsheikh.

For Bruzas, the true joy of being a blogger sets in when she gets to work closely with and appear alongside creative minds like hers. Joining in and standing out within a community that creates and promotes consistently interesting, unique content reminds her that she is maximizing her potential as a writer and blogger. She is proving herself to be a force to be reckoned with in the online world and her sharp work ethic places her amongst some of the top Canadian business women of her generation. If you’re curious to see what this talented social media mogul and blogger has to offer, click here to find out: WhoIsVeronika.com.

 

Photo by Tyler Lord

FIGHTING FOR A BETTER LIFE…& FOR HIS LIFE: EL GIGANTE

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Edwin Perez takes acting very seriously, not in a dramatic sense but rather in the way that he gives every bit of himself to the role. Many of those in his profession give their psyche over to a character but in the film “El Gigante” Perez approached his lead role of Armando with a level of commitment that is often used to refer to such intense leading males like Daniel Day Lewis, Tom Cruise, and others. Edwin’s intense performance is augmented by the bilingual dialogue and the extreme physicality of the storyline (the actor performed all of his own stunts). This emotionally draining Horror story (for both the audience and the actor) was fertile ground for Perez to exhibit his intense commitment to the film. His eclectic credits include animated productions (Nina’s World), Romantic Comedies (Heartfelt), and others but “El Gigante” is best described as Action/Horror. Edwin seems custom tailored for each of these roles and his performance as Armando might well be the shining star of them all. The process was draining in a number of ways for him but the success of this film and his performance justify the toll it took. The film has appeared at multiple festivals worldwide, winning over forty international awards and receiving acclaimed as one of the best horror short films ever made, for which the director has said that “This recognition wouldn’t be possible without Edwin.” It has also gone on to inspire a Japanese comic book series based on the film, distributed by Studio Kurabayashi.El Gigante 2

  The immense popularity that this gritty film received had to start somewhere. For the film’s director Gigi Saul Guerrero that spark was during Edwin’s audition. She professes, “Edwin Perez is by far one of the most outstanding and committed actors I have had the pleasure of working with. The moment he auditioned for Luchagore production’s most famous/successful short film “EL GIGANTE” there was no doubt that he was born to play the lead role. “EL GIGANTE” didn’t only involve a lot of emotion and pain in the horror world we built, but also a great deal of physical strength and creativity from the actors.  Edwin showed enthusiasm and initiative when it came to creating the atmosphere involving the character. He did not disappoint transferring the uniqueness of his craft from the audition room to set. Luchagore considers themselves lucky to have collaborated with Edwin.” The audition scene which won the lead role for Perez is that of a man fighting for his life and his family. While the setting is violent, surreal, and disturbing, Edwin focused solely on the humanity of his character and his fear for his loved ones rather than for his own life. While action is involved, it takes a backseat to the desperation the character openly exhibits.El Gigante 3

  “El Gigante” is the story of Armando (played by Perez) who is attempting to get his family across the US/Mexico border in search of a better life. He awakens in an unknown room, his body broken down and a Lucha Libre mask sewn onto his neck. He is forced to fight for his life against a sadistic family of killers in an effort to escape and find his wife and child. While the movie falls into the Horror genre it also has equally important social connotations. Perez himself immigrated legally into Canada with his family as a young boy. Armando’s plight and the potential dangers is a story not unheard of with those whom the actor has known. The actor made use of his Latin roots to increase the authenticity of the character, working with a dialect coach to perfect his North Mexican accent (the region from which Armando originates).

  The actor’s penchant for physical training paid off in spades when it came to the action scenes that were so vital and so believable in “El Gigante.” While he may not have been a wrestling/MMA super fan, his physical conditioning allowed him to quickly be at a level required for training. Perez communicates, “Fight sequences are like a dance, you have to work with the timing and abilities of the performers. We had a stunt coordinator and a technical consultant for the authenticity of the wrestling moves. The fights were choreographed based on the things we could do physically but it was very demanding. The whole film is also an homage to lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) so we also had to stay true to those guidelines. I was a fan of wrestling as a teenager so I was familiar with the popular moves. That’s where we started and then adapted these to what worked best on film.  With the size difference between David [Forts] and I, we thought it would be really great do some aerial moves. I also really wanted to show the brutality of the beating Armando suffers. We worked on my ability to take a hit and make it look devastating. Needless to say ,I took a lot of bruises throughout this film. During the fight scene with El Gigante, David Forts was supposed to lift me up in the air like a plank over his head. We used rigging to do this. David is a big strong guy but I’m not as light as I look. During one particular take, he threw me against the ropes in a classic wresting set up. The move was for him to grab me by the shoulder and inner thigh; I would plank and then he would press me above his head. Plans don’t always work and he missed my thigh, resulting in his hand slipping right to my groin as he went to lift me over his head. I took an extra-long pause on the canvas after I came down.”El Gigante 4

There was a lot of pain and discomfort involved in “El Gigante” in the script and in the making of the film, not that Perez considers this something he would avoid. The somewhat hyperbolic nature of the film seems actually possible in the real life climate these days. The filmmakers and the cast wanted to make a film which depicts a heightened state of the reality for the people of Mexico who risk it all to gain a better life for themselves and their loved ones. The actor concedes that he was uncertain at the audition for “El Gigante” if he would be offered the part yet Guerrero and others were immediately convinced of his greatness. There’s a bit of an analogy in this facet of his involvement and the story itself. Immigrant comes to a land and is able to achieve greatness and exponentially add to the success of others. Armando may have never been given the opportunities of Edwin but Perez is determined to portray the character’s greatness with his own abilities and talent.

NOT YOUR TYPICAL FUNNY MAN: JAMES PRESTON ROGERS

Actor James Preston Rogers is tight lipped about the plot details of the upcoming 2018 release Benjamin (Darius Films). What he is happy to speak about is his enjoyment of being in this film cast alongside so many comedic heavyweights. Rogers is so often noticed and cast for action roles (with a commanding physical presence of 280 lbs. and over six and a half feet tall) that displaying his comedic abilities alongside Kevin Pollak, Dave Foley, Rob Corddry, Peri Gilpin, Cheri Oteri, and numerous others was a joyful difference for him. His appearance as Ulf, a Russian semi-pro hockey player allowed James to stay close to the accent he had developed for the “Siberian” in “Frontier” (on Netflix) playing the nemesis of Jason Momoa’s lead character. The accent is as close as James gets in this film to any aspect of the melee that the Siberian or the combative aspect of Ulf’s hockey career in this comedic role. The inference of Roger’s commanding stature might be the premise of a fish out of water but James takes his place evenly matched alongside so many recognizable faces in the comedic acting world. As director and costar of Benjamin Bob Saget states, “Simply put, James is impressive. His comedy talent is obvious. He understood the role of Ulf and added great depth to it. It would have been easy to present the character as one dimensional but James portrayed Ulf as sincere, deep, and of course with the imperfections that make real people so funny. It was a pleasure to work with him and we were lucky to have him in the cast.”

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Benjamin is the title of the film as well as the character which the story focuses upon. A teen who has decided to delve into drug use, a group of family and friends hold an intervention to dissuade him. During the act of revealing the skeletons in their own closets (in hopes of eliciting a similar response from Benjamin) these individuals all come to realize how they are perhaps living more chaotic lives than the young man they came to help. Rogers appears as the Russian hockey player/boyfriend of Benjamin’s mother Marley, played by Peri Gilpin (perhaps best known as Roz from TV’s “Fraiser”). ULF comes in as Marley’s boyfriend very supportive of her and her situation. Throughout the course of the story ULF realize that he doesn’t fit into this new world he has embarked on, and need to focus more on himself to make his dreams a reality. English is Ulf’s second language. He really loves hockey and Marley and will do anything for either of them as the wild side of the sport and this woman fulfill a part of him. Amongst all the other adults who appeal to Benjamin, Ulf is the character who is likely the most unlike them and therefore has an unexpected connection with the perspective of Benjamin.

Appearing as Ulf is the second time recently that James has appeared as a Russian (the first being in “Frontier”). The language and accent are nearly second nature to this Canadian born actor who spent his childhood and early adult years amongst a variety of cultures. His childhood friends in Toronto were German, Irish, English, Scottish, and originated from many other parts of the world. This was early training for his ears, training that Rogers put to good use in his acting career. In regards to his role in Benjamin, James describes, “The advantage I have over Russian actors is that English is my first language. You need to know that the script is written in English and is for an English audience looking for a Russian accent. It can be difficult for a Russian actor who learned English as a second language to hit all of the nuances of the jokes the writer is looking for. I’m sure it would be the same for me if I were in a Russian language film. Sometimes it’s about what you don’t say and let the space be taken up for the audience to complete the joke in their own mind. This comprehension gives me an advantage and I usually book these kinds of roles over the Russian actors. Like almost anything, you need to know your audience. If you put the accents on too heavy, you will lose your audience. You need to put on just enough and know the comedic timing for the joke to get across.”

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Being cast alongside so many famous comedic actors might seem intimidating, and James admits that it was at first. However, the process became so enjoyable and satisfying that any insecurities took an immediate backseat to the experience. Rogers tells that the scripted and non-scripted jokes were plentiful and the conversations off camera were intelligent and enlightening; proof that like James himself, his costars are far from one dimensional. Rogers feels drawn to roles that (similar to career courses of larger actors like Dwayne Johnson and Jason Momoa) dispel the idea that an actor who is cast in action roles does not possess the ability to be equally gifted in comedy or drama. He confirms, “Just because are tall or in good physical shape doesn’t mean that we don’t have life experiences and emotions that equip us to communicate through the camera and onto an audience. Most well-known actors get painted with one brush and it’s very rare that we get to color outside the lines. I love seeing a comedic actor cast in a dramatic role and present another side of themselves. My father was hilarious and I think that part of that comedy gene exists in me. When I was in 10th or 11th grade we’d have these things called ‘cut-fests’ at school. You’d square off with someone and trade insults. People would cut class just to watch. It was all for laughs. Between my father and the cut-fest I was working on my comedy timing through my entire childhood, I just grew into being a big guy. Benjamin has given me the chance to show that training and the fact that I’m standing alongside some of the best comedic actors in the present day entertainment industry is beyond exciting.” James Preston Rogers has taken his rightful place as the physically and comedically impressive gentleman alongside his talented cohorts and can be seen doing so in Benjamin.