Category Archives: Canadian Talent

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

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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.

Anna Pniowsky masters different levels of fear to terrify audiences in ‘He’s Out There’

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Photo by Kevin McIntyre

Even at the age of 12, Anna Pniowsky understands that choosing to pursue a career as an actress would not be worth doing for the wrong reasons. It is a cutthroat field to work in and if you wish to become an actress for glamor or fame, it is unlikely that you will be able to withstand the pressure and the challenges that you will be faced with. Pniowsky knows that becoming an actress involves a type of perseverance that most individuals will never require in their lifetimes. She is always on her game, ready for any audition, callback, or role that she is tasked with. On top of that, she has mastered the ability to look self-doubt in the face and turn it away. Her love for acting transcends any obstacle that she comes across and by believing in herself and surrounding herself with people who support her dreams, she has no doubt that she will be acting for years to come.

“If you feel that acting is truly in your blood, remember the well-known adage – it is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes a lot of auditions before you book something. You will feel self-doubt and you will want to give up, but if you truly love it, you can push forward. You just have to believe in yourself,” told Pniowsky.

Despite her age, Pniowsky has earned herself a breadth of experience and training in her field. Just this past year, she landed the lead role in a film written, directed, and starred in by Oscar-winning actor Casey Affleck. The film, Light of My Life, is a drama about a father (played by Affleck) and his daughter (played by Pniowsky) who live on the outskirts of a society that was destroyed by a pandemic ten years ago. Buzz about Pniowsky’s role in the film is already gaining traction as being a career-defining moment for the talented young actress and audiences everywhere are eager to see what happens when it premieres.

Prior to filming Light of My Life, Pniowsky won the role of Kayla in Sony Screen Gems’ horror film, He’s Out There. He’s Out There depicts the terrifying tale of a mother and her two daughters who take a vacation to a remote lake house and wind up being tormented by a murderer in the woods. In the film, Pniowsky acted alongside celebrated actress Yvonne Strahovski, as well as her little sister, Abby. She was paramount to the film’s storyline and appears in the entire duration of the film. In order to play her character as convincingly as possible, Pniowsky endeavored to master multiple different ways of appearing frightened. Since her character is scared throughout the entirety of the film, she felt it was very important to develop her character to be dynamic and she avoided appearing one-dimensional at all costs. With that, she developed various different levels of fear that she could transition back and forth between, depending on the intensity of the scene. In doing so, she created a character that audiences can relate to, and ideally, will identify with as they embark upon the journey that the film aims to take them on.

The film’s director, Dennis Iliadis, could not have been more pleased with Pniowsky’s performance. Knowing that the quality of the film rested entirely on the performance of his cast, he was determined to find actresses that could emulate the mood of the film directly into its audience. When asked about Pniowsky’s performance, Iliadis had the following to say:

“Anna was phenomenal to work with. For such a young age, she’s an actress of incredible intelligence, sensibility and instinct. I have never worked with a young actor or actress who is so hard working, disciplined and focused. We had a very emotionally demanding and technically difficult shoot but in those very challenging conditions, Anna gave a great performance in a role of strenuous physicality and very complex and heightened emotions. Even in the most difficult situations, Anna was always prepared, always ready to go. She really made the rest of us up our game.”

After wrapping He’s Out There, Pniowsky gained a new appreciation for the horror film genre. Most mainstream horror films today have one goal and that is to terrify an audience. It is rare, however, to be able to act in a horror film with an underlying moral compass. Pniowsky was fortunate enough to be able to identify the deeper meanings that the story tells. Not only is it a story that highlights the unrelenting strength of a mother’s love for her children, it also does an excellent job of emphasizing a journey of personal growth in Pniowsky’s character. She found herself inspired by the presence of strong, female characters in the film and feels that young girls can learn a lot from Kayla’s will and determination to survive. She loved seeing strong female characters taking charge and fighting hard for what they believe in. It is a message that women of all ages can carry with them beyond the film and into their own personal lives and Pniowsky was honored to be able to play a role in helping foster that movement.

Actor Jeff Parazzo’s Artistic Authenticity

While Jeff Parazzo first made his professional bones in children’s television, the ambitious young actor unfailingly projects a forceful dramatic presence. The Canadian-born Parazzo imbues each role with an impressive mix of skill and instinct, and whether it’s a soul-searching dramatic feature like The Waiting Room or the dark science fiction of powerful short film Celsius 486, Parazzo deftly creates convincing characterizations that unfailingly display a rich measure of nuance and emotion.

It’s a striking combination of deft technique and natural instinct that Parazzo realized was his vocation early in life

“I was always fascinated by films and found myself enjoying drama class way back when I was in school, “Parazzo said. “When I finished my studies it just felt natural to start taking professional workshops.”

Born and raised in Toronto, he has been acting for the better part of two decades and has a strong resume of professional training.

“I’ve continually trained in Canada and Southern California,” Parazzo said “I was fortunate to work with the acclaimed Canadian coach David Rottenberg in Toronto and, in Los Angeles, with Michelle Danner from the Larry Moss Studio, as well as the Edgemar Centre for the Arts in Santa Monica.”

Early in his career, Parazzo jumped right in with a recurring co-lead in a very popular, action packed series. “I’m best known for my work as Trent Mercer, the White Dino Thunder Ranger on the Hit kids TV show Power Rangers Dino Thunder,” Parazzo said. “I went on to do the critically acclaimed Canadian indie Late Fragment as well as many more TV and film credits over the years.”

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The ease with which Parazzo transitioned from the Power Rangers glossy, fantasy adventure into the eccentric, innovative Late Fragment significantly raised the actor’s professional profile and his subsequent, fast rising stack of credits is a testament to the both his talent and broad appeal.

“For The Waiting Room, I just got a call from my agent saying they were interested in meeting me.”  Parazzo said. “At the audition the lead actor and I just played around and improvised a bunch of different thing, and a few days later I was booked. It was so fun, I’ve always loved doing indie films. There’s a freedom that comes with working on an indie that’s hard to experience on bigger studio productions—I’ve got an indie heart, so working on these types of films, with creative filmmakers, is all I could ask for.”

Parazzo’s skills once again allowed him to craft a wholly believable performance.

“I worked with Jeff on The Waiting Room, which tells the story of a once successful actor, Jasmin, who struggles in his older age to find roles,” actor-director Jordan Barker said. “Jeff played the role of Teller, who has an endearing conversation with Jasmin and comforts him in his current situation, He was so focused on the material that it didn’t feel like acting at all—just another character existing.”

Next up for Parazzo was grim sci-fi thriller Celsius 486, set in a distant overpopulated future where a government mandated sterilization program targets males  arbitrarily deemed  undesirable.

Celsius 486 was demanding but creatively fulfilling because we were working on such a tight schedule,” Parazzo said. “Everything had to be shot over a 2 day period and, as the lead whose eyes you see the story through, I was basically in for every scene.”

Typically, Parazzo not only exceled but also enhanced the production.

“Celsius 486 is where I first worked with Jeff Parazzo,” writer-producer Christos Petsis said. “Jeff flourished in this role which was a very demanding character. It was amazing to see how real he made the role feel, adding a deep strength to the character that we had not seen on the page.”

Here, Petsis’ aptly summarizes the actor’s approach; a gift for creating a comprehensive dramatic presentation which Parazzo, who can currently be seen in Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut Molly’s Game starring Jessica Chastain, unfailingly achieves. It’s an essential quality for any onscreen portrayal—a subtle, particular brand of aesthetic sensitivity which Parazzo very consciously nurtures.

“I enjoy doing projects of all genres,” Parazzo said. “But I do seem to be drawn to roles that are offbeat and stylized, dealing with interesting themes, and characters that are slightly off center. I just want to continue to learn and communicate my work truthfully, authentically, while never forgetting that I am just one piece of the whole story telling puzzle.”

 

Canadian Actor Donald Heng Faces the Supernatural in SyFy’s ‘Ghost Wars’

Canadian actor Donald Heng followed a downright unorthodox route to break into the business, but it’s definitely working for him. The Vancouver-born Heng’s recurring role as Deputy Larry Foon on the new SyFy network fantasy/horror television series Ghost Wars encapsulates the Heng story, an offbeat, pan-professional mash-up of career choices that has placed him alongside some high profile stars.

“Quite frankly, I never felt I was attracted to acting for necessarily the right reasons,” Heng said. “I grew up admiring the police I saw portrayed in films and I wanted to be a police officer. I studied criminology in university. In the end, I figured being an actor would provide the positive aspects of being a cop without having to deal with the public pressure and boring administrative work.”

Born in Vancouver B.C., Heng had flirted with acting as a teenager, but after graduating high school and studying for a Bachelor of Arts Degree for Political Science and History at Simon Fraser University, he decided to obtain representation and study the craft in earnest.

“Despite that initial ambivalence, I fell in love with acting for all the right reasons. I acquired an agent and jumped in headfirst,” Heng said. “I studied acting with Jeb Beach for the next 5 years. And also worked with Matthew Harrison, Robin Nielsen and most recently, Andrew McElroy.”
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“Initially I just wanted to be on TV,” Heng said. “I can pinpoint the exact moment I decided I wanted to be an actor and that I was in it for the long run. My second class ever with Jeb Beach coincided with a deeply depressing moment in my life and Jeb helped me channel that energy into something I was able to illustrate through acting. I realized that I could take all the bad things I’d experienced in life and turn these into something good. Meryl Streep articulated it best as she remembered Carrie Fisher, ‘take your broken heart, and make it into art.’”

Heng swiftly parlayed that emotional breakthrough into a successful television career, with a small but memorable role in Disney’s T.V movie Girl Vs. Monster, a string of appearances on such series as Supernatural, Ransom, Arrow and, most recently, the elegantly terrifying Ghost Wars.

“This was a project that checked so many boxes on my list,” Heng said. “First off, I got to play a police officer which has always been a dream of mine. Secondly, I deeply respect the actors on this series. It was a wonderful experience to work with Vincent D’Onofrio [Full Metal Jacket, Netflix’s Daredevil], Meatloaf and Avan Jogia. I had some challenging experiences working on this as my character goes through some traumatic events in the series premiere. But it was a challenge that I welcomed and deeply appreciate the opportunity to have experienced it.”

His co-stars agree. “Donald was an absolute pleasure to work with,” Ghost Wars lead Avan Jogia said. “It’s so nice to act alongside someone who understands what each individual character brings to a scene and then, ultimately, the entire piece.”

Heng is also fully invested in his new role. “I am very excited about Ghost Wars,” Heng said. The horror/fantasy has experienced revitalization in recent years and demand for quality stories in the genre is at an all-time high. New shows have to meet that demand by integrating a very human story into the horror and develop a show that can stand on its own and be mainstream without just catering to a niche market. Remove the ‘creepy factor,’ and there’s still a very human story beneath it. By attaching that human component, it becomes easier to think about the character’s relationships and also about what might be at stake because of that ghostly entity.”

Heng stands at the cusp, savoring a rich, loaded professional moment in a fast moving career that has already come far and is poised to reach full bloom

“I just want to make good movies and TV,” Heng said. “And I want to do it for the same reasons that I fell in love with acting—I want to continue to push that goal of consolidating all the bad that is in my life and make it into something beautiful.”

Donald Heng will next appear as a guest star on episode 2 of the 4th season of The Flash airing on the CW, Tues., Oct.17th.

CREATING A STATE OF THE ART LOOK FOR FLATLINERS

At the end of this month (September 29th in the US) the Cross Creek Pictures/Columbia Pictures distributed drama/horror/sci-fi film Flatliners will open worldwide. Why does Hollywood choose to remake such a film (the original Oscar nominated production was released in 1990)? There are numerous reasons but one of the most prominent is that the ability to tell the story has become better, at least in certain genres; that’s code for technology. There’s no denying that there have always been great artists and professionals creating films but technological advances make the unbelievable more believable. As someone who works in this field as a VFX Coordinator, Jacquelyn Racine is always working with the latest developments. The soon to be released remake of the 1990’s film Flatliners (starring Ellen Page, Diego Luna, and star of the original 90’s film Kiefer Sutherland) has a remarkable look thanks to the work of Racine and her team at Spin VFX. Movie audiences have become savvy in regards to VFX, leaving the professionals who create them with the task of creating exceptional visuals that are somewhat grounded in reality. This is especially challenging within the story of Flatliners with its otherworldly settings. The mediator at the heart of this is Jacquelyn Racine.

Spin VFX is a large-scale visual effects studio in Toronto. One of the top three companies which most L.A. based networks outsource their work to, it has over 100 employees working on up to/over 20 projects at a time. As a VFX Coordinator at Spin VFX, Jacquelyn oversaw three groups of artists, assessing strengths and assigning work according to deadlines. Perhaps more than any other professional around her, the human aspect was paramount. The director’s vision needed to be communicated clearly and manifested by those whose individual skill set best met the need. The very nature of the art being created for the film necessitated a two-way street in communication with Jacquelyn as the roundabout.

The look of the film is not the only difference from the original. The new production has a markedly more supernatural turn on the idea of the afterlife that was investigated in the 90’s story. Technological advancements in cinema have made this a much more viable course. When each of the characters in the film go into their ‘flatline’, they enter an alternate universe with magical components. These paranormal experiences follow them back to reality and haunt them in everyday life. The students push themselves so close to the limits of human life that they almost kill themselves to chase a high of the unusual alternate reality. The 2017 film uses the idea of the original as more of a starting point. The work of Spin VFX empowered the filmmakers to take the idea much further than before. It is meant to be a separate film even though it’s a remake. The characters are different and it takes place in modern day, meaning that the same initial aspects remain the same but the overall look can change and has given the story a different bent.

While the flatline experiences were hinted at in the 90’s film, VFX allows them to be deeply explored and displayed in this new version. In this rendition of Flatliners, the visual effects play an integral role, essentially becoming another character within the film as they help direct the plot. A deliberate vagueness makes it hard to differentiate between reality and the ‘flatline’ in a number of scenes. The result of this is that the audience becomes somewhat disoriented in a similar way to the characters in the film. Jacquelyn worked with her team and the filmmakers to develop a look for each of the characters’ ‘flatline’ world based on their history. Some are meant to be ethereal and beautiful while others are enhanced versions of reality. The VFX in the film adds a visual spectacle to a unique story that would otherwise be quite sad.

The work of Racine and her team at Spin VFX is not as simple as just sitting down at a monitor and using software and…Voila, everything looks amazing! From the very beginning, the producers and directors of a film like Flatliners understand the visual needs of their story are great. Racine and Spin VFX were heavily involved in the previsualization meetings that took place before shooting. This included creating mock-ups of some of the more complicated sequences. They created a blocking for the actors and production team members to use on set for complex camera movement scenes (often involving the use of a techno dolly). Bringing a simplified video example on set can help the director understand and perhaps alter the way they choose to shoot a given scene. Jacquelyn was in charge of overseeing all the work being brought on set and ensuring it was completed on time and on schedule. She explains, “The animation team at Spin VFX, with my management and the VFX Supervisor’s direction, created previsualization videos to give guidance to the team on set. It included a bird’s eye view and camera view of the set, actors, and equipment on location. We used software called ‘Maya’ to create a fully computer generated version of what they were seeing in real life. It demonstrated where the camera would need to be placed to perform the required camera movement. It also included each set piece placed to scale (based on location measurements), so it was a realistic depiction of the production. The video was played for the director and DP to determine whether their vision could be achieved in the space or not. We discovered that the actors would need to be relocated since the camera would interact with them. This was something we wanted to avoid, so we rearranged the placement of the elements in the video and demonstrated the new version to the director. This ensured that when they got on set to shoot the sequence it was clear what needed to be done, and no time was wasted.”

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Spin VFX’s Wes Sewell professes, “It was my distinct pleasure to work with Jacquelyn on the feature film Flatliners. We worked closely together at Spin VFX with the animation, effects, and tracking departments. With Jacquelyn’s oversight, we developed a previsualization system for the film. Her excellent and precise management of these teams of artists made it possible to deliver the on-set materials within a tight schedule. It’s not only her knowledge and abilities, it’s that I know I can trust her to keep everything moving. It always gives me comfort to know she’s there. Every success is built on the talent of those involved but also on their commitment and reliability; Jacquelyn is a master of all these.”