Category Archives: Interviews & Features!

Interview with Actor and Expert Stuntman Umar Khan!

horseback riding shot
Actor and stuntman Umar Khan on horseback in California

As an audience, when we get wrapped up in a fast paced action packed film it’s easy to forget that the actor on screen is rarely the one performing their character’s crazy stunts. A production goes to incredible lengths to cheat the shots and make an actor’s stunt double look just like their character so that when they hit the screen jumping off buildings, engaging in intricate battles and all the other physically challenging feats that make stunt men so heroic and necessary, that we as viewers remain on the edge of our seat, never noticing the role change. Although it is a rarity in the industry, there are some actors who actually do their own stunts and Umar Khan is among the best of them.

Khan is known for his work as both an actor and a stuntman in a plethora of titles including the films “Close Range” and “Deliver Us From Evil,” and the popular TV series “Bones,” “Rush Hour,” “Person of Interest” and “Scorpion.” Last year he also worked as a stuntman on the series “The Brink,” and “NCIS: Los Angeles,” as well as the recently released film “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” starring Tina Fey and “Captain America: Civil War,” which is slated for its initial release on May 6.

Khan’s expertise in martial arts and various forms of combat have led him to become a sought after action designer in the industry with major productions hiring him to choreograph fights scenes for their projects. After working as the action designer on the 2014 TV series “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – District Voices,” Khan formed Stunt Fighting Concept – Umar Khan Stunt Team. With his team Stunt Fighting Concept Khan has developed pre-visualized fight scenes for several films that are set to begin production including “Killing The Seeds,” “The Master’s Legacy” and the “The Man From Kathmandu.” He is now along with his team set to make a pre-visualized fight scene for the American remake of “The Raid.”

Prior to moving stateside several years ago, Khan established himself as a sought after stuntman and actor back home in Sweden where he both directed and starred in the film “Veracious Perception,” in addition to being featured in countless magazines and commercials.

To find out more about this incredibly talented performer make sure to check out our interview, as well as the video of Umar in action below. 

 

I’ve read from some of your past interviews that you knew as early as age 7 that you wanted to become one of the few actors who also performs their own stunts– with that idea in mind, how did you initially approach your career?

UK: I started off like any kid by mimicking the fight scenes from the different action movies I saw. Later on, I developed an interest in fight choreography so I started choreographing my own fight scenes with my friends. During my years in middle school I used to borrow the school’s video camera to shoot my own “fight movies.” I remember that I was already a perfectionist at that age, I used to handpick my co-stars (based on their height, look and skills), do location scouting, direct, choreograph and act in the films I made. All of this would account for how I got more and more into the creative side of it.

For the physical aspect I tried to learn new moves and new styles all the time, trying to perfect each move and develop a new move out of it and so forth, watching martial arts movies and later on YouTube clips and comparing myself to the best in each discipline, that way I had a goal of where I wanted to reach skill wise. I think if you are truly meant to do something, there will be an urge that will draw you there no matter what obstacles you face along the way.

As a stuntman what are some of your special skills in the industry?

UK: My background is in martial arts, so I would say my primary skills as a stunt performer is screen fighting along with fight design, however I do a lot of different areas of stunts today.

How long have you been practicing martial arts?

UK: I have trained in martial arts since I was 7 years old.

 

teenager
Umar Khan as a teenager 

 

You recently wrapped production on the upcoming films “Captain America: Civil War” and “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” starring Tina Fey, can you tell us about the stunts you did in these films?

In “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” I was initially set to do stunts only but I replaced the original actor who was cast for the role as “Wild-Eyed Man”, the director said that he was impressed with my performance while I was rehearsing the scene as a stand in for the actor so he cast me for the role instead. The character I was playing was possessed and was running in a crowd towards the lion cage screaming and eventually throwing a hand grenade inside the lion’s cage. We actually had a real lion on set, so it was pretty amazing to see such a magnificent animal so up-close.

In “Captain America: Civil War” I was playing Hero Mercenary and my main scene was fighting Scarlett Johansson’s character Black Widow, it was a great fight scene, one of the best in the movie, so you guys should definitely check it out!

What technical challenges did you face on these films when it came to mapping out how your stunts would play out on camera?

UK: The fight we did for “Captain America: Civil War” was a demanding one because of the extensity of the fight combined with the lack of time rehearsing it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any time to rehearse the scene, which happens sometimes. We rehearsed the fight on set a few times right before we shot it and it all went really great actually. It all comes down to how well trained you are in screen fighting and how fast you can learn and adapt to a new choreography. Fortunately, that’s something I have always kept in mind since the day I started doing this, you never know when/if the director wants something different once he sees it in front of him, so I always keep in mind to prepare myself for any changes or the possibility of learning a new choreography at the last minute.

You have also worked as an action designer on several projects over the years– for our readers who aren’t sure what that entails can you briefly explain what you do as an action designer on a project?

UK: An action designer is basically a person or a team who is/are hired to design the action scenes on a production. In many cases, the stunt coordinator designs and choreographs the stunt sequence to suit the script and the director’s vision.

What projects have you worked on as an action designer and what were some of the different approaches that you took on each project?

UK: I designed a fight sequence back in 2014 on the TV mini-series “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – District Voices.” While designing the fight scene for the series an idea I had many years ago of creating my own stunt team came back and so a couple of months later I formed my own team, Stunt Fighting Concept – Umar Khan Stunt Team. We have been fortunate enough after creating our first action design pre-viz (sponsored by Under Armor Germany) to get a lot of calls from producers requesting to make a pre-viz for their upcoming projects. We created two pre-vizes for Joyto Films for their upcoming projects “Killing The Seeds” and “The Master’s Legacy” and successfully locked the position on both as the Stunt Unit, and I’m set to Second Unit Direct/Stunt Coordinate on both projects.

We made another Pre-viz for a project called “The Man From Kathmandu” which my team and I will action design and coordinate on, I will Second Unit Direct and star in that film. We also recently made a pre-viz for Screen Gems that we’ll soon know if we secured the position of creating the action. And currently we’re rehearsing for our upcoming pre-viz for the American remake of “The Raid.”

I start preparing an action design for a certain project by reading the script a couple of times to get familiarized with the storyline and the characters involved in it, then I ask the producers or the director what his/her vision is and what they’re looking to do with the scene and then I’ll start working my way from there creating an action design that fits the script.

From safety to how things appear on camera, what are some of the most important aspects that you need to consider when designing fight sequences on a production?

UK: The general idea of my fight designs is to make it look as authentic as possible but also visually attractive for the audience, along with the unique camera technology that we possess (the only one on the market), the cameraman can approach the performers much closer in order to get the hands on feeling on the actual fight and give the audience almost a third person POV, video game kind of feel to it.

With this system in use comes a lot of other responsibilities to keep in mind. Not only safety for the performers but also safety for the camera man who is now one more “performer” in the mix and automatically becomes a safety priority. The fight sequences I design are meant to look very authentic due to the actual physical contact me and my teammates are inflicting upon each other, it’s not something I recommend; my team consists of guys that have fought professionally or are highly trained in various areas of the stunt business and are used to the physical contact as myself. We train the same way real fighters do, with sparring sessions combined with our choreography training to have the best of both worlds and adapt fast.

The second thing is the environment and the props. Basically we use props that look authentic and can simulate the real thing, just like in any of the props on set, we utilize them when we need but as little as possible since one of the main features of the camera technology we use is to capture the action scenes in “one shot.” We are limited when it comes to cuts between scenes so it requires a lot more from the performers to stay in shape, being well rehearsed and being sharp to prevent unaccommodated injuries to themselves or their fellow partners.

What is this new unique camera technology that your team uses?

UK: It’s basically something that we refer to as a “Semi-drone.” We believe that our concept will revolutionize how filmmakers capture movie fights and overall action scenes in the future. The reason being is that our system freely captures the fights and action in a video game style look by utilizing the DP as a part of the movement within the scene along with the performers and having a second camera operator moving the camera through a monitor for a more up-close and detailed view of the action, this way it won’t leave a single part of the move out for the audience to feel, you get the best of both worlds, the sense of POV along with the interactive part of 3D which makes it feel like you are a part of the action. It’s a pretty advanced technology that we are happy to bring to the big screen soon.

Can you tell us about your work on the 2015 film “Close Range”?

UK: I got a call from the director of the movie, Isaac Florentine, when I was in Texas and he told me that he had a part for me on his new movie. So I flew back to L.A and we started working on it. Working with Isaac was great, we had been in talks of working together for about 5 years when I was still in Sweden, so when the opportunity arose we made it happen. I was playing a Mexican drug cartel assassin called “Sesma”.

 

director isaac florentine
Umar Khan (left) and director Isaac Florentine (right) on set of “Close Range”

How does your character Sesma fit into the film?

UK: Sesma is the Mexican drug cartel boss’ right hand in the movie, he is an emotionless cold-blooded killer. Playing the character that doesn’t have a lot of lines is quite demanding but also a lot fun since instead of vocally using your thoughts you have to transcend them through your facial expressions and body language.

Do you feel that you get cast to play a certain type of character more than others?

UK: Not really, I have played a wide range of characters from different ethnicities and backgrounds.

Can you tell us about your favorite role to date as well as your most challenging role an actor?

UK: I would say until this date it’s probably a project I directed back in Sweden, “Veracious Perception.” I was depicting the role of Robert Martinez, a corrupt cop with multiple personalities, so I had to bring out so many different emotions while still maintaining character. It was very challenging but something I really grew from and enjoyed doing.

They are all very different, what made you choose to participate in these projects?

UK: My main goal when coming to America and Hollywood was to work on projects that were on the mainstream level, such as popular TV shows and big budget movies. It has been great working on big name productions doing acting and stunts but at the moment I’m also looking for challenging parts for the acting aspect and great action scripts for the action design.

You get approached all the time to work on projects with people, what makes you pick one role over another?

UK: If the role has a challenging side to it, it’ll be more intriguing to me. I prioritize the parts when I’m pushed out of my comfort zone to find a “new” me through the character I’m playing. I believe as an actor if you are not pushing yourself to take on the most demanding parts you’re not really testing your limits of what you are capable of delivering from deep inside you.

Have you been in any commercials or music videos?

UK: I recently did a commercial for EAS Sports Nutrition as one of the featured athletes, before that I did a commercial for Red Apple’s Ale, performing as the Latino boxer. I did a commercial for Dick’s Sporting Goods representing Under Armor jogging apparel, and last year I did a photoshoot for Harley Davidson and Carnivore Fitness (Australian athletic apparel) who are also now my sponsors.

I was in a bunch of music videos back in Sweden, such as, Fjarde Varlden’s “Ingenting,” Unlima’s “N’ Say Love,” Emerson’s “Back Off” and Cee Rock’s “The Fury.” Anderson Iz Nice and I did a couple of commercials like Idol 2005 and ICS for Sony Ericson, and I’ve also been featured in many magazines such as Fighter Magazine, Fitness Magazine, twice in M3 Digital World, the cover of Friskispressen, as well as Kamera & Bild.

What projects do you have coming up?

UK: At the moment me and my team are rehearsing for a previsualization for the upcoming American remake of the martial arts film, “The Raid.” I’m also in preproduction with another project that is set to be shot here in the U.S. and Nepal later this year, an action thriller called, “The Man From Kathmandu.” The film, which I’m both action directing and starring in, is being produced by Clear Mirror Pictures.

Last year, I was requested to choreograph/direct two pre-vizes for Tom Delmar, a renowned British action director making his directorial debut. We shot the pre-vizes with our technology and he was really impressed by them, so he put me in charge as the Second Unit Director and Stunt Coordinator on his upcoming features, “Killing The Seeds” and “The Masters Legacy.” It will be my debut as a Second Unit Director/Stunt Coordinator on a feature film so I’m super excited about that and deeply honored to have been given such a high position.

What are your plans for the future?

UK: My plans for the future are to develop more innovative Action Design for major shows and carry on what I started when I was in middle school, borrowing the school’s camera and bringing my friends to different locations to shoot my own projects, this time I’ll do it with my stunt team and with big budget projects. I also have plans to star and direct in my own projects in the future.

 

Q & A with Award Winning Screenwriter Thomas Pound!

On set of series MOTIVE with Actor Dylan Walsh and Executive Producer Erin Haskett
Actor Dylan Walsh (left), writer Thomas Pound (center) & executive producer Erin Haskett (right) on set of the multi-award winning series “Motive”

 

Since breaking onto the scene in 2008 with a win as Best Writer at the Vancouver 48 Hour Film Festival, Thomas Pound has written, created, and produced some of the most groundbreaking TV series and films to date.

Tenacity and persistence are vital to make it as a working writer and/or producer in the entertainment industry, and Pound has certainly exhibited both qualities in droves with the projects he’s brought to the screen. In the early stages of his career, immersing himself in the writing process and building experience were his primary goals, something he achieved in 2008 with Universal’s third installment of the cult classic Slap Shot, Slap Shot 3: The Junior League.

In 2010, Pound went on to write, direct, and produce the film The Wilderness Within, which earned him a Silver Ace Award the following year at the Las Vegas Film Festival.

On a hot streak, there was no stopping Pound as he continued to write feature films including Anomalies, The Cold, and Nextworld until he landed his first television series Motive. Working with an established writer and executive producer like Dennis Heaton (Fido, Call Me Fitz) helped give Pound the confidence to evolve his craft and provided audience members with a deeper look into the show’s main characters, and by dong so Pound, and the Motive team, received a Canadian Screen Award’s nomination for Best Dramatic Series in 2014.

Following ABC’s Motive, Pound took on the hefty task of re-writing and executive producing the horror film Torment, with only six weeks before shooting. He ended up doing major rewrites on the script and eventually came up with a new story and screenplay in just three days, which is a major feat, and one that Pound claims he will never attempt again but definitely well worth it since the film premiered at Los Angeles Screamfest.

The next couple of years proved to be very busy yet successful ones for the Calgary, Alberta native as Pound went on to write, create, and produce his most challenging TV series to date, Rookie Blue. On Rookie Blue, Pound acted as executive story editor in addition to his usual duties as a writer.

He is currently in the process of developing two new one hour drama series for Canadian TV: The Brick and The Faculty. Both shows are currently in production and are slated for a 2016 release date.

To find out more about the multitalented screenwriter and producer, check out the interview below and visit his IMDB page at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3281909/

 

Where are you from and what was it like growing up there?

TP: I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It was like growing up in a giant small town. The people there are salt of the earth and humble. The town is victim to subzero winters and urban sprawl, which has resulted in the people bonding much tighter and becoming much warmer than many other cities I’ve spent time in. At the time, I likely would have said the town was too quiet and too wholesome. Only since leaving have I realized the rest of the world could use a little more wholesome.

How have your early experiences influenced some of the work you create today?

TP: Everything I create today goes back to my roots. Growing up in the prairies instilled a strong sense of community, family, and wholesome living. The Brick started as a love letter to the prairies. Witnessing a small town I would spend summers in, Brooks Alberta, become hit with big box-stores and chain corporations changed the simple small town memories I had from childhood. This town was no longer what I remembered. Knowing the people from that small town and their polarizing opinions on what this means for their way of life, it was an easy creative leap to build a fictional world using this prairie touchstone. Peppering in the organized crime elements was creative freedom and no reflection of Brooks Alberta to my knowledge. The Brick became my attempt to reclaim the small Alberta town I remember fondly spending summers at the lake in.

When and how did you get into the industry as a screenwriter?

TP: I moved to Vancouver, BC immediately after high school to attend Vancouver Film School and study Film Production. I started writing feature screenplays on my own time, trying to better understand story and how to manipulate it. It was the series Lost which sparked my interest in television. I also worked in the industry as an assistant in every capacity for four years following film school.

Relocating to Toronto, Ontario was the first step towards making a concentrated focus to write full time. The few working writers I did know lived there and the executives who could hire me had offices there, so I had to move. There’s something to be said about persistence, because that’s all I shelled out for two years. Writing spec script after spec script, I knocked on doors of producers, agents, broadcasters, to learn who was being read and what projects were coming up. Eventually, pilots I wrote found homes: Anomalies was first sold to Gearshift films, and a short while later The Faculty found its home at The Nightingale Company. The relationship with Gearshift Films presented an opportunity to co-writer and executive produce a horror film they had in the works, which turned out to be Torment. Through the effort of simply trying to meet people, I suddenly had a produced feature under my belt. That same year, I was hired on as a writer for the CTV series Motive, and where I was able to co-write my first produced hour of television with Dennis Heaton. After that year with Torment and Motive, I felt comfortable introducing myself to strangers as a writer.

What kind of audience do you generally write for, and why are you passionate about writing stories for this audience?

TP: I try to write stories anyone can enjoy. I’ve always enjoyed commercial feature films and television, and enjoy delivering material which can reach the widest audience possible. That being said, every story I write has to have a human heart, an emotional anchor anyone can relate with or connect to. Whether it’s a sweeping science fiction epic or an ensemble character drama, I strive to find the heart at the core of every story, giving the audience something tangible to latch onto and pull them into the piece. I approach every story I write with the same simple question: “What would I want to feel?” The answer can be excitement, of heartbreak, or inspiration, but it always comes from a place within of what I want to feel. If I can tap into that emotion, I hope it is translated on the page and the audience feels that same sensation. That’s the beauty of television and film, the journey and triggering of emotions to audiences all over the world.

Can you tell us a little bit about some of the projects you’ve written for film and television?

TP: I was fortunate to be brought onto the horror film Torment when it was very close to start filming. There was a script, which was to be shot in six weeks, and it needed a lot of work done on the project. I was inspired by what the filmmaker, Jordan Barker, wanted to do with the film, but the existing script didn’t provide. We met in his office on a Wednesday and spent two days locked away reworking the entire story from page one. Once we had a new story and shape for the film we wanted to make, I went away and wrote the first draft of the screenplay in three days. The quick turnaround is not common, nor would I attempt or offer it again. However, with the deadline of filming starting within weeks, we needed a script to work off of. We were rewriting large chunks of the story as the weeks wore down to the start of principal photography, often turning around entire new drafts of the script within a day or two. It was an intense process, which left me feeling like my head was spinning. When filming finally began, I recall standing on set in awe. This was my first ever produced script, and dozens of people were committing incredible effort and time to make it real. I imagined a car blowing up and typed it on my computer in my tiny apartment, and now I was on location watching the flames grow and feeling the wave of heat from the vehicle engulfed in flames. Those lost weekends and evenings were worth it. Torment was my first produced film, which I also executive produced. It confirmed what I already knew: I’m in this for life.

Motive was the first series I ever wrote for. When I moved away from Vancouver to Toronto in pursuit of a writing career, I told friends I’d return one day with a show. The joke amongst us is that I had to move to Toronto to get a job in Vancouver. Low and behold, some years later, it finally happened. Working under Dennis Heaton on Motive was invaluable. He let me hit the ground running, co-writing my first episode of broadcast television with him: “Kiss of Death”. This was another case of being under the pressure of schedule. We spent weekends locked away together working out the beats of our story, a similar experience to Torment. We wanted to do something different with the show and take a deeper look into our killer’s point of view, experiencing his own hallucinations when we learn he’s been poisoned. This seems like an easy task, however, the show had never done something like this and with Dennis’ leadership, we were able to craft a story, which sold the emotion of the moment, bringing it to screen.

On my second year, I was able to write an episode I’m deeply proud of – “The Glass House”. The idea of this episode had been brewing since my first year on Motive. It started with a very simple emotional anchor “A Father trying to get his daughter back”. I didn’t know the story, I didn’t know the character, all I knew was the core emotional drive, and it was what I constantly went back to in crafting the story. I was given tremendous freedom on Motive to tell the story I wanted. I believe this came from always servicing the emotion of the story first.

You’ve also produced some of these projects, is that correct? Can you tell us a little bit about the projects you’ve both written and produced and how tackling both jobs draws upon your different skill sets?

TP: With Torment, I was also the executive producer on the film. In writing, you rely on the ether of imagination, allowing the story and characters take you wherever they need to go. As we were counting down to the start of shooting on Torment, my role as producer on the project involved constant collaboration with the production. If we lost a location, I would have to find a creative solution in the screenplay to make the new one work. I would work closely with every department to develop the ideas of how a particular action sequence would play out, knowing they wouldn’t get the new script for several days, but they still needed to move forward in prep. It was a constant juggling of guiding production concerns as the script changed and vice versa. You have to be malleable and see how things can shift if circumstances change on a film. Things will seldom go how you planned on a film, writing and producing to those changes is an essential skill set.

Do you prefer to produce the projects you write?

TP: When given the opportunity, I prefer to produce the projects I write. I love the entire process of putting a television or feature project together. I have tremendous admiration of every department that it takes to pull off such an incredible feat. By producing the project I write, it gives me a chance to work as closely as possible with every department and collaborate our ideas. Producing something you write gives you, and the entire team, the opportunity to have constant transparency as to why a particular action or moment plays out a specific way. While production issues will arise, as the writer and producer, I can offer creative solutions, which maintain the sanctity of the story, yet allow us to film what needs to be filmed.

You’ve also been called in as a story editor on projects like the TV series Rookie Blue, and Motive—can you tell us about how your role as the story editor on these projects differ from others where you have been the main writer? How much influence do you have over the story in these cases?

TP: The difference between being the main writer and a story editor is that as a story editor, it is your job to fulfill the show runner’s vision of the show. On Motive, I would have countless meetings with Dennis Heaton to fully understand the big picture story he wanted to tell in the series. Once I understood his intentions, I would be able to craft my writing and my episodes to facilitate that particular vision. The same can be said for Rookie Blue, where I can bring my ideas to the table, but they ultimately must facilitate what the show runner wants to do with the characters. It’s a vital role in aiding to bring the voice of the series to the surface as easily as possible. I have a great deal of influence on the stories in these cases; however it’s an incredibly collaborative process. I may bring my seed of an idea to the show runner, and it may inspire him to take the story in a new direction. Together, we will arrive at an entirely new story. It’s still my job to write it, and it was birthed through collaboration, however as long as it serves the show, it is fulfilling its purpose.

From your perspective as screenwriter, what are some of the differences between writing for television and writing a screenplay for a film?

TP: One of the greatest differences between writing for television and writing for film is the pace. Television is a marathon. As soon as the gun fires and you’re off to the races, you’re cranking out story after story with the writing team and shooting a new episode every eight business days. It’s easy to drop the ball, but it’s an incredibly rewarding journey, which can create incredible partnerships with your colleagues. Feature films are much slower to produce and thus the writing can take quite a while as well. In features, you’re ideally writing about the characters most interesting day in his entire life. In television, every day has to be the characters most interesting day. You can concentrate a core theme or message much more succinctly in film; however you can build much broader and complex worlds in television.

Do you have a preference for one or other?

TP: I prefer the collaboration of television, writing with a team and building an entire world on a television landscape. However, I do love the intimacy of writing a personal screenplay and shepherding it through production on your own. I prefer whichever story idea more personally resonates with my soul.

What made you choose to participate in the projects you’ve done over the course of your career?

TP: In many ways, the project chose me. I have had the luxury of knowing talented individuals in film and television, and as soon as the windows opened to work together on their projects I leaped at the opportunity. For Motive, it was an incredible chance to work with Dennis Heaton, and join a show that expertly delves into the psychology of what drives an average person to become a murderer. I love studying psychology and this was a chance to look at the human condition on a deeper level. With Rookie Blue, the opportunity came to join the team of an already established series which I was a fan of. I believe writing should always be a fun experience, even when you’re writing about dark stories. Rookie Blue was an opportunity to play with wonderful relationship dynamics and romances on screen which I hadn’t done before. It became a wonderful experience which sought me out.

What have been a few of your favorite projects so far and why?

TP: Motive truly gave me my first opportunity in television. For that, I will always look back fondly on the project. I have remained near and dear to many of my colleagues on that series and became a part of a series I am incredibly proud of. Torment was a project which turned out far better than I could have imagined, through an experience that was incredibly draining and intense. I never imagined it would premiere in Los Angeles Screamfest, or be sold internationally in theaters. For this, I walked away with a tremendous amount of pride for what we accomplished together.

What has been your most challenging project and why?

TP: The most challenging project to date was Torment, primarily because of the timeline to write the entire screenplay when we were only several weeks out from filming. It was a real “sink or swim” scenario in many ways. With new information of casting issues, location changes, schedule shifts, coming in every day, the script was a constant moving target, at times to an overwhelming extent. In the end, we brought it together in a wonderful way and I have walked away with pride for what we did. It was a great lesson that the most challenging experiences can also be the most rewarding.

Can you tell us about some of the awards you’ve received over the course of your career and what you won them for?

TP: I was fortunate to win the Silver Ace Award from the Las Vegas Film Festival in 2011 for writing and directing my short film The Wilderness Within. It was a gratifying achievement for a project I solely wrote, directed, and produced on my own. I was also a part of the Motive team when we were nominated for the Canadian Screen Award for Best Dramatic Series in 2014. Seeing the season I worked on being honored with a nomination was a tremendous achievement.

Out of all of your awards so far, which one has meant the most to you personally?

TP: The Silver Ace Award means the world to me as it was the first award I received for bringing together a project that only exists because of the kind efforts of those who believed in me. I believe it’s important to remember where you started out, and this award embodies the person I was before ever getting the chance to make movies or television.

What projects do you have coming up?

TP: I have been currently developing two new series for broadcasters in Canada. The Brick is a one hour drama for TMN with Bell Media, geared to be one of their first original cable one hour dramas. It is a series about a fictional small prairie town, simple and untouched by big box stores of today, and what happens when a major city crime organization aims to turn this town into their new home base, and how the hardware store owner decided to take a stand. He’ll create his own mob to fight the big city mob. I have been developing this project with Bell Media and Pier 21 in Toronto since the summer of 2015, and aim to have an announcement early 2016 on the predicted release.

I am also continuing to develop The Faculty, a one hour drama series for Shaw Cable. The series is about life following a school shooting in a small prairie town, and how the faculty members return to work and strive to pick the pieces up and transcend tragedy through hope. We have been developing the series for a year, and aim to bring it out into American markets in early 2016.

As a screenwriter, where do you get your inspiration for the projects you create?

TP: As a screenwriter, I take as much inspiration as possible from my own life. Whether it be a particular experience or a specific relationship in my life, I always start inwards. If I can connect with a specific emotion I feel in relation to a story I would like to tell, I can build a script from there. I am always able to return to that place within me where it originated from. It’s as close to a “method’ approach to writing as one can get.

What do you hope to achieve with the projects you create?

TP: Ultimately, I simply want my audience to connect with the projects I create. If they are able to connect and feel the specific emotion I felt when writing it, that’s a pretty incredible journey. In anything I create, I hope there is always a personal honesty and deep truth which resonates to anyone, no matter what their background.

Why are you passionate about working as a screenwriter?

TP: I believe stories unite mankind. Films and television travel all around the world and leave immense cultural wakes, and soaring ripple affects through time. Stories challenge the way we think and how we communicate. Films and television have the ability to bring honesty and truth to an audience who may shy away or be unaware of it in their own lives. At the simple core of it, a story can help them escape and relive the sense of wonder we’ve all had at one point in our lives. My passion for screenwriting comes directly from the drive to share the wonder I have for the human experience. If I can find a way to share those stories in an entertaining way, then I’ve done my job.

Do you think you’ll stick to writing TV shows or is there another area of screenwriting you’d like to explore?

TP: I’ll absolutely stick to writing television, however I’d love to expand on the breadth of the TV I work with. I would love to be writing multiple television series as well as feature films at the same time. Of course I can only write so much, but the passion and ability to work with other writers, and find the stories they’re passionate about drives me. I’d love to explore an avenue of producing other material and using my experience to bring it to the screen and share their stories.

 

Powerful Actress Davina Cole Commands the Stage

Michael Wharley.
Actress Davina Cole shot by Michael Wharley

Since its inception, the stage has served three purposes above all else: to entertain, to recount important events, and to impart morals and lessons on an audience. In her years as an actor, Davina Cole has proven her acumen for all three. With a focus on drama, her work on screen and in theater masterfully encompasses the whole of the human condition through stories that are both fascinating and compellingly layered.

A phenomenal creative force whose talent lights up every project she touches, her work in film has long been acclaimed by critics and audiences alike. Among Cole’s most noted roles was that of Soalaih Ez in the 2011 film “When Soukhina Disappeared.” After a young woman vanishes, a journalism student begins investigating the case in this suspenseful drama.

“Soalaih Ez was one of the last people to see the missing girl, and she gives her account of how Soukhina touched her life. It was an emotional piece and I really enjoyed playing a character with so many layers,” Cole said. “Soalaih was key to the getting an account of the final movements of Soukhina.”

The film was regarded as a cinematic triumph for Cole, whose character was integral to the chilling tale. “When Soukhina Disappeared” was directed by Francoise Ellong, whose work on the film “W.A.K.A.” would go on to win the 2014 Jury Prize at the Festival du Cinema Africain Khouribga.

Cole’s immense skillset is not simply limited to acting, however, which she proved with her one-woman play “All the Colours.” Though she was born in London, Cole’s family hails from war-torn Sierra Leone, and those roots were critical in her writing and performing of the play.

“I felt this role took me to another level in my performance skills. It was, however, very draining at times playing a mother who had lost so much,” Cole said, describing the intimate familiarity with the subject matter that led her to write the play. “Having been through my own personal experience of loss and heartache, I was able to bring that to the role and give a truthful performance.”

“All the Colours” tells the gripping story of a mother, Salimatu, living through the horrifying decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone. Cole based her performance in the one-woman play on her mother’s own experience in the country. Cole’s writing was lauded by critics, and her acting earned her a 2014 nomination for Best Actress at the International One-Man Show Solo Festival in the U.K.

A natural choice to fill the shoes of strong, female lead characters, Cole’s performance in “1867” was a brilliant display of just how at home she is on the stage. Cole played Delilah McAndrew, from whose perspective the semi-biographical play tells the fascinating and inspirational story of Madame C.J. Walker, the first American woman to become a millionaire entrepreneur. Walker, who did this despite the added adversity of being a black woman in the post-Civil War South, employs Delilah, the first generation in her family to be born after the abolition of slavery.

“She was such a strong black woman in a time when black women were regularly looked down upon, and to have that level of success at that period of time is truly amazing,” Cole said, describing the connection she felt to Delilah. “As a character she had many layers and I was really able to explore the role.”

Through these roles and her countless others, Cole has established herself as one of the most powerful actors in the industry today. A dramatist of the highest order, she has used the craft not as a soapbox, but rather as a medium through which to remind us of the things we all too often forget. Where lecturers and historians may fall short of imparting these critical lessons, Davina Cole knows how to use the stage and screen to captivate our imaginations with the finesse and magic of a lifelong storyteller.

Q & A with Art Director Badr Farha

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Art Director Badr Farha shot by Michelle Castro

 

Regardless of whether he’s working on a film, music video or television series, leading art director Badr Farha let’s the director’s vision for a project guide his work. The versatile nature of his creative vision compounded by his intuitive approach has allowed him to nail the mark every time.

As an art director Farha has achieved unparalleled success in the international entertainment industry garnering attention in recent years for his work on the films “A, B, C or D?,” “The Last Conversation,” “More Than Words,” “Deliver Us,” “When Negatives Collide” and many more.

It is no coincidence that practically every project that Farha has art directed to date has received coveted accolades. The film “A, B, C or D?” earned the awards for Best Short Film and Best Cinematographer at the Golden Pomegranate International Film Festival in China, in addition to being chosen as an Official Selection of the prestigious NYC Independent Film Festival and the California Independent Film Festival; and the films “More Than Words,” “Negatives Collide” and “The Last Conversation” were all shortlisted for the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.

Back in 2014 Farha leant his inimitable skill as an art director to the film “Deliver Us” directed by Laura Elisa Pérez Rebullén. The film, which followed a young activist who unites his people in a peaceful protest against their government, was included in The Cable Show’s Imagine Film Challenge hosted by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), which was juried by industry heavy weights such as Oscar Award winning producer Nick Reed and Golden Globe Award winning actor Rutger Hauer.

Farha helped create the bleak and somber tone of the film with his use of barbed wire spun across the tops of fences, sadly forgotten stuffed animals nailed to wooden posts and an abandoned baby carriage surrounded by trash on the street leading to the protestors’ meeting location; and, in the face of tough competition, “Deliver Us” proved victorious at the Imagine Film Challenge taking home the Best Film Award and a $10,000 Grand Prize.

Farha’s far reaching talent has also helped him gain traction as both an art director and production designer for music videos with some of his past work including the music video for famed EDM DJ Rusko’s hit song ‘Lytah,’ as well as the music video for Tisha Campbell Martin’s new single ‘Steel Here,’ which was released in September and already has over one million views on YouTube.

 

 

He also recently finished art directing several episodes of the new television series “Seven Years Switch,” which was purchase by the FYI network earlier this year, as well as the upcoming feature film “Goetia,” which is currently in postproduction.

To find out more about how art director Badr Farha got to where he is today, and what drives him to create the powerful work he does, make sure to check out our interview below!

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

BF: I’m a Dubai based filmmaker currently residing in Los Angeles. After graduating from the American University of Beirut with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, I worked in advertising at Leo Burnett as a communications executive for 2 years handling GM communications in the Middle East.

In 2006 I decided to pursue my adolescent passion of filmmaking, a world completely unknown to me at that point. While studying, I managed to direct several independent music videos while in New York City under the Irreverence Group, LLC.

My insatiable yearning to truly understand narrative storytelling led me to pursue my masters in Los Angeles and soon after I directed “The Last conversation,” a film that was accepted into the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Right now my passions lays in other below the line areas of production, and the films “More than words,“ which I art directed, and “When Negatives collide,” which I production designed, were also shortlisted as part of the Cannes Film Festival this year.

So how did you first get into art directing and what led you to this path?

BF: During my time spent pursuing my MFA in filmmaking and in April of 2014, I was brought on board to art direct a film titled “Deliver Us,” which was created as a part of the Imagine Film Challenge, a 48 hour Film Festival that took place during The Cable Show. We won the competition and received 10,000 dollars. It was a great milestone and looking back it served me as the universe’s tiny vibration or whisper to continue on this trajectory.

Can you tell us about how you approach your project from the time you’re hired on to art direct through the time of filming?

BF: Depending on the scale and scope of the project, I am either hired as an art director and/or production designer. My process has been the same throughout my career thus far. My first question about any project I consider attaching myself to is always the same and that is to ask for a script (shooting or otherwise).

Earlier in my career and for experience sake I was never too concerned over the content that would be generated during my employment onto a project. As the years have taught me, I have a gravitational pull towards stories that come from a place of truth and those that speak to the human condition. I realize my efforts are best served if I am passionate about the story being told, more importantly, if I can find a way to relate or identify to certain characters within the story, then I am able to serve justice to the film at hand or in discussion.

After having read the script and if I find that I am able to serve the film, further discussions are typically had with the director during preproduction that would entail the director’s vision in terms of color palette, stylistic choices and references of what the movie visually communicates in terms of aesthetics. During this time I make SketchUp presentations to communicate my ideas of what construction of the sets would entail in terms of design plans, budgets and turnaround time, granted that these are pre-visualizations and are not in fact practical locations. Once approved and in parallel, set dressing and conversation with costume designers will have been spearheaded to make sure all involved stay within the scope, palette and framework of the vision of the film.

Congratulations on the films “When Negatives Collide,” “More Than Words” and “The Last Conversation” being chosen as official selections of the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, that is a huge accomplishment!! Can you tell us about your work on these films?

BF: The film “When Negatives Collide” centers on a lower class teenager whose world is turned upside down when the hidden secrets of her past suddenly resurface, and force her and her mother into a painful examination of their lives, their relationship with one another, and their mutual faith, which might heal the damages from the past.

I am extremely happy with the work I’ve done on “When Negatives Collide,” the story takes places in 3 spaces so knowing that ahead of time allowed me to fully explore and flesh out ideas I had to create the complexities of the characters and their environment. With such an emotionally loaded script, I knew the prop selection choices would be fundamental as we shot in practical locations. Moreover, discussions on color palette were extremely important and were discussed very early on for this film as it would have to remain consistent from wardrobe to props etc.

The fact that it was accepted into the 2015 Cannes Film Festival is a great milestone for the director, and I was extremely happy to be a part of the film and family of cast and crew.

The film “More Than Words” examines family, drug addiction, and the limits of love and self worth, all seen through the lens of a couples’ relationship as they face what seems to be an inevitable fate. In the story, Rachel and Nick return to their hometown in rural Colorado to greet friends and family while seeking a solution to Nick’s recent diagnosis with a rare brain disorder

As the threat of possibly dying from surgery or the condition itself loom on the horizon, Nick separates from Rachel and his mom Alli, and he begins recklessly acting out. When Alli suggests Rachel repair the past with her own family as Alli tries to work on Nick, Rachel returns to her home to discover a drug addled mother and her younger sister Bryce enabling the situation. Rachel finds her whole world crumbling around her as she tries to find the words to convince Nick to tempt fate and chance surgery to correct his life threatening disorder.

The director wrote the script so I knew it came from a personal space and time in his life. I was extremely excited to work on this film primarily because we got to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico for three weeks to create the worlds in which these characters lived. The characters were fully fleshed out in the script, so I had a real sense of who they were when moving into the project. I came in with a clear sense of tone palette and set design elements, which brought the story to life.

It was fully immersive and completely isolated in terms of where we actually shot the film and the fact that there was no reception or connection to the outer world. This forced everybody to stay present during production times.

A funny story from the production was when we had to create a trailer park scene in a grimy part of town, so one of the days we went all around town scooping up garbage and waste from the local dumpsters to set the scene and bring the story full heartedly to life. The waste also comprised of food, which drew in all sorts of bugs, termites, and ants to the surface of the ground, which ended up trickling into the DP’s shorts! That was definitely not my proudest moment and a lesson well learned. Having been accepted into the Cannes Film festival is wonderful, and I’m extremely happy I got to work on such a wonderful film.

I directed and art directed the film “The Last Conversation,” which also garnered attention during this year’s Cannes Film Festival and definitely, it was a great accomplishment textually, but when I caught wind of this news I don’t remember fully enjoying the moment. I had been art directing a feature film in Northern California called “Goetia.”

It was at that point that I learned that in our field a sense of accomplishment or pride over your own accomplishments isn’t ever fully realized, because moving on from the work you’ve done is paramount. The quote “You’re only as good as your last film” rings very true, and I find a deep sense of satisfaction when I learn of a new script and when I get to work on it, once it’s done it’s done. I have to let it go, regardless of where it goes and who sees it, that bares no relevance to the present.

I remain humbled by the response to the film and the fact that it was well received.

Can you tell us about some of the other projects you’ve art directed so far?

I worked on DJ Rusko’s music video ‘Lyta,’ which I thoroughly enjoyed. Just by having read through the treatment the director’s vision was clear and I knew the execution. Even though it wasn’t story boarded or even shot listed I knew a lot would have to be thought in scene and on the day of (improv), therein lies a major risk of it being a blessing or a curse. Luckily it proved to be a blessing.

I’ve art directed 3 of Julian De La Chica’s music videos in New York City, which have gathered over 100,000 views to date. At the time of production budgets are usually next to none, so a lot of the world that I along with my team have to create end up having to be extremely resourceful and limited. With this limitation I find comes the greatest challenge and if you’re able to serve absolute justice to the projects completion, that’s the greatest satisfaction you can hope for.

I got the opportunity to art direct Tisha Campbell Martin’s music video titled “Steel Here,” which was a great experience and I am really happy with the end result. I hadn’t seen her since her days on “Martin” and this was her breakthrough moment into music. I appreciate both the music video and film worlds, but in terms of fulfillment I find total comfort and enjoyment in the process of working in film as it’s far less forgiving, which is justified simply by the fact that you have time to fully create these characters’ worlds.

Why are you passionate about working as an art director?

BF: Being entrusted to decide on what goes into a frame is a grave responsibility that not too many people understand, at least the audience at large, when they watch a great film. Art direction always suggests consistency in themeless color tones, a “natural sense of placement,” being meticulous and attention to detail. These are some of the things I’ve always noticed in myself, and I have questioned the natural timidity and yearning I had in my earlier years, but they’ve proven to be useful in creating sets and deciding on the overall creative approach.

Can you tell us about any of the challenges you’ve faced on your way to the top of the industry—or any memorable “aha” moments where you felt like “hey this is the key to success”?

BF: Sometimes in this field when I have a minute to re-charge my batteries, I often think of something someone said to me– “Your own intellect can very much work against you”– at the time I never really understood it, but I now live by that very notion, which is simple really and with time I have learned to accept it. I tend to over analyze situations and dwell in certain moments far after the moment has passed. Milan Kundera’s book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” speaks to this very notion and answers it beautifully and provided a great breakthrough moment that has gravely helped me navigate in this industry.

What have been a few of your favorite projects so far and why?

BF: Every project I work on is always my favorite because the process is always the same for me. The projects that are less volatile are the ones I tend to worry about , which typically begs further questioning.

What would you say your strongest qualities as an art director are?

BF: I’d say I am highly adaptable, meticulous and detailed. It helps that I possess excellent communication skills, both personally and professionally.

What projects do you have coming up?

BF: I will be working on the feature film “1982” and the documentary film “Free America.”

What are your plans for the future?

BF: I’d like to return to my first love of directing, but thoroughly enjoy art directing in the present and plan to continue down that path for the next 5 years.

What do you hope to achieve in your career?

BF: An Oscar. No more, no less.

What kind of training have you done, and how has it helped you in your field of work?

BF: Being on set is the best training in this field. I have seen my work grow over the past few years, or rather my eye has become sharper creatively.

Q & A with Leading Film Editor Sunghwan Moon

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Korean Film Editor Sunghwan Moon

Today Korean-born film editor Sunghwan Moon is living out his childhood dream of working on large-scale narrative film productions, but, as is the way with turning most worthwhile dreams into reality, his rise to the top didn’t come without a lot of hard work and effort on his part.

After spending several years as a lead editor for movie and TV series trailers including the ones for the film Kong-Zi, the series Iris and the promos for the film 71- Into The Fire and those for the Disney and Disney Jr. channels in Korea, Moon moved to Los Angeles to attend American Film Institute, a prestigious conservatory program that only accepts a maximum of 14 film editors from around the world every year. A major stepping-stone in his career, Moon received his master’s in film editing from AFI, which allowed his to make further connections in the American film industry while making his mark as a leading editor for films.

Prior to working as the editor of the films And The Wind Falls, Tracks, Head Trauma, Together Alone, The Lost Generation and many others, Moon was already well-versed in editing hours of footage into seamless stories for the screen. Earlier on in his career he established himself as a leading international music video editor through his work on the videos for Loveholics’ song “A Good Tain Knows,” Winterplay’s “Cha-Cha,” Shin Seung-hun’s “Love of Iris,” Baek Ji-young’s “Don’t Forget Me,” and K-pop artist Standing Egg’s songs “Kiss Me,” “MAM-E-GEOL-LYEO,” and “NA-O-NEUL-TTA-RA.”

The unfortunate truth is that many people sit around and wait for their dreams to happen to them, believing that their fated break into what ever industry they wish will just come if they are patient– Moon’s story is the exact opposite. Instead, his is one of perseverance and tenacity. After years of slowly working his way to the top and never losing sight of his end goal, all of his dedication paid off. To find out more about how Sunghwan Moon got to where he is today make sure to check out our interview below!                                                                                                         

Where are you from? 

SM: I spent my childhood moving around until third grade due to my father’s job. We lived in a mid sized town called Gwangju, Korea until I was in high school, and then I moved to Seoul for university. After serving three years in the Air Force, I moved to Oakland, CA, before moving back to Seoul where I worked for a while and got married. Now I’m living in the US again.

How and when did you first get into working as an editor?

SM: I’ve always liked filmmaking so I dropped out of the university where I was majoring in Law in Korea and entered a small arts college in Oakland/S.F. in California as filmmaking major. At first, I wanted to be a director, but soon I found out that I enjoyed editing more than any other fields in filmmaking. I kept working that path, and got my first job at a small company that was creating video pieces for mobile services such as Verizon. After that, I ended up working mostly on trailers, promos, and music videos. After doing that for about eight years, I was accepted to AFI and now I work mostly on narrative movies.

What inspired you to pursue this profession?

SM: I always liked watching movies as a child. I would skip school, which I’m not so proud, and go to a theater and watch the same movie again and again. I always wanted to do something related to film. I first wanted to be a film critic, but while attending college, I found that editing was the most fun thing to do. You shape the performance, the rhythm, the emotion– the movie is really created in a cutting room.

How important is formal education to getting a job in the industry?

SM: It’s important in a sense because it can help you make connections. People say how good you are is the most important, but it’s also important whom you know.

Can you describe some of the projects you’ve worked on and some of the challenges you’ve faced?

SM: I was the sole editor on the trailers for Iris, the No.1 hit TV series in Korea in 2009, which consisted of 20 episodes, and I cut the trailers for each episode. The schedule here in the US can be crazy, but in Korea it is very common to shoot an episode in the morning and then air it that same night. I would get the script they were out shooting, and do a paper cut – meaning I would select the lines and shots based on the script, then select the music, then do the basic editing on paper. Once they finished shooting, I’d request the footage and quickly grab what I had pre-selected. Then if I felt I needed something else, I would look into other parts of the footage. This might not be an ideal method, but given such a short time to cut, it worked well for me.

Disney launched the Disney and Disney Jr. channels in Korea in July 2011 and I joined the team in January as the leader of the editing team, as well as a lead editor for the On-Air-Promotions team. We created all the promos/previews for these two channels. As a team leader, I also had to supervise other editors on their work and I really enjoyed working with the other team members. In many cases, creating the promos involved a meeting with the producers and editors since sometimes what the producers imagined in their heads wasn’t possible. We had to create many promos every week with a fairly tight schedule, but everyone collaborated well and it always went well.

I was the editor on the 8 series scripted show Fall Into Me for Lifetime. The story of the series I worked on was pretty classical – a normal girl meets a billionaire who she used to know in high school, but they wanted to give a bit of an ‘indie movie’ feel to it. We had to try to balance between a romantic comedy and an indie movie. I’ve known the director since AFI, so it was easy for both of us to communicate. Although we had never worked together before, we still shared the same education, which provided us with the same basic foundation and let us speak the same language. From a creative point of view, most challenges come from a lack of communication with the director; but that wasn’t the case this time. The director knew what she wanted and she understood what could be done and what she had to let go of.

I also edited the film And The Wind Falls, which was a bit of challenge since the story wasn’t typical. It was written in a way so that the story would unfold with subtlety. Things happen to the main character, but so many things are only implied that you will miss them if you’re not engaged completely. I’ve worked with the director before this – we worked on two music videos and then a web series pilot together after this project. We worked hard and I’m glad that our hard work got some recognitions from others including getting a Special Mention at Singapore Short Film Awards.

The director’s vision here was very clear for the film Tracks. He and the DP shot the film in a way so that the camera looks at the main character all the time like a documentary. Our reference movie was Fish Tank, directed by Andrea Arnold. During pre-production, I was very curious about how the director and the editor on Fish Tank worked together. So, I managed to find the editor’s contact info, I emailed him and we ended up having a conversation. We met a little later when he came to the U.S. to edit Still Alice (starring Julianne Moore), and became friends. He told me the story of how he approached Fish Tank, and it helped me a lot. The actor did a great job so I didn’t have to worry about making cuts to the performance, which helped me immensely. As I said, it was shot in a way that the camera never rests, and it keeps following the main character. I tried to respect how it was shot and edit accordingly. And this film got into many festivals around the world including this year’s AFI FEST.

What tools do you use to edit? Avid? Final Cut? Etc. And what are the primary differences?

SM: My main tool is Avid, but I also use other software such as Final Cut Pro and Premiere. The only difference is the speed just because I’m more used to Avid than others. There are certain things that one is better at accomplishing than the others; and I feel Avid is better for cutting narrative films than other programs are.

What is it that you love about working as an editor?

SM: I respect what everyone does in the process of making a film. However, I feel it’s in the cutting room that the film is finally created in its final form. I love the feeling of being able to shape the rhythm, the performance, and finally create the story and the emotion through the film.

Also, if you are lucky and get to work with a good director, you’ll learn a lot while working with them. In a small editing suite, you talk to a director a lot. And you get to learn a lot. I think I’ve been lucky in that sense. So, in a sense, a cutting room is a working place as well as a learning place to me.

What separates you from the rest of the pool of editors in Hollywood? What is your specialty in the field?

SM: I have a background as an editor on trailers/music videos for eight years. I believe it has given me a better rhythmic sense. Also, I have a different cultural background as well, and I am sure it provides a unique point of view on a story.

Can you tell me a little bit about your editing process? Once you get the footage, where do you start?

SM: Once I get the footage, I try to understand what a director wants to achieve in each take and scene. If a director does multiple takes, I try to understand why. Once I get the footage, I don’t rely on the script as much. Yes, I’ll go back to a script to make sure I haven’t missed any small things that are intended for the story; however, I try to see what is actually captured in camera. In general, I believe how the footage is shot tells you how to edit. The footage tells you how to cut.

What is the collaboration process like in terms of working with the other departments on a project?

SM: There is a very popular comment from Jeong-min Hwang, the most famous actor in Korea. He once said something like, “All the other people prepared such a great meal. I did nothing. I just added my fork and knife, and enjoyed the meal. It was all possible because of them who prepared the meal.” I feel pretty much the same. So, I try to maintain solid communication with everyone so that there’s no room for misunderstandings.

Up to how long can it take to complete the editing on a project?

SM: It all depends on a project.

I’ve heard people say an editor can be sitting at their computer for up to 14 hours a day working on something—is this accurate? If so how do you stay focused?

SM: Yes, that’s possible. When I worked for a trailer company, I used to have to work even longer than 24 hours straight many times. I do not have any special way to focus. Since I do what I like to do, I don’t have to struggle to focus. I think all editors like their jobs. But I have to say it’s not healthy and it’s less productive to work for too long without taking a break. You get to be more creative when you take a break.

What projects do you have coming up?

SM: I’m currently working as the assistant editor on the feature film In Dubious Battle, directed by James Franco.

Do you have a passion for working on a specific kind of film or project, if so what kind of project and why?

SM: Although I’m leaning towards feature films, I wouldn’t mind doing a TV series as long as it has a good story. A good story is probably the only thing that matters.

 

 

 

Q & A with Canadian Actress Eliana Jones!

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Actress Eliana Jones shot by Stephanie Beely

 

Over the last five years Canadian actress Eliana Jones has skyrocketed to the top of the entertainment industry internationally. If you watch television at all then chances are you’ve seen Jones working her magic on screen in one role or another.

In recent years she’s played multiple recurring roles on the hit television shows Hemlock Grove, Saving Hope, The Stanley Dynamic, Nikita and others. She also recently wrapped production on the first season of the new series Backstage, which is slated to begin airing on DHX Television’s Family Channel in 2016.

Jones’ collective performances reveal her as an exceedingly dynamic actress who is capable of portraying almost any character with ease and believability. Aside from her far-reaching talent, Jones’ ascetic appeal has assisted in making her the sought after actress that she is today; but, she remains humble just the same.

For Eliana Jones acting is about exploring other perspectives and pushing herself to see life through the eyes of her characters; and although at times, this can be a challenging experience, she admits, “I find that the most wonderful thing about being an actor is the array of different people and perspectives you get to play around with… each show/film is completely different and that just helps me grow, not only as an actress, but as a human being.”

To find out more about this captivating star make sure to check out our interview below. You can also find out more about Eliana Jones’ work on screen through her IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4107867/

And you can follow her on instagram at: @elianajones and twitter at: @elianajonnes

 

 

Where are you from? 

EJ: I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada.

When and how did you get into acting?

EJ: When I was about 8 years old, I was a competitive gymnast and that is what I spent almost all of my time doing, besides school. I went to gymnastic classes everyday for about five to six hours, then I would come home, do my homework, go to bed and restart the routine. I started getting notified by my doctor at the age of 11 that it might be time to throw in the towel because of the injuries I was receiving and the amount that the sport was stunting my growth. I finally agreed to quit gymnastics when I was 12 years old and had a back injury; I had bruised tissue around my spinal cord. It almost seemed as though it was meant to be though because during the next week or so, my mother and I were driving in the car and we heard an advertisement on the radio for some special acting, singing, modeling etc., school. I thought I might give it a go as a hobby type thing since I had nothing else to do as I was saying goodbye to gymnastics.

After that audition I became part of that school, and here I am now; 18 years old, making a career out of something I find so much passion and happiness in. I went to Los Angeles for auditions and networking and slowly but surely found myself absolutely falling in love with the craft. I never found that it was about the fame or money for me. I started realizing that I loved this craft when I was getting lost while watching movies and so inspired after watching a well-played, well-written film or television show. I wanted to be as talented and well respected as the people I spent almost all my time watching, observing and admiring. I got into acting when I was 12 years old and now I cannot imagine myself stepping out of this industry. I’ve found my calling!

Can you tell us about some of the film projects you’ve done?

EJ: I have done mainly television work however I was beyond excited to find out that I had booked the lead role in the children’s film Step Dogs. I can’t even begin to explain the feeling that ran through my veins when I received the call. In this comedic, fast paced film, I got the pleasure of playing Lacey; the obnoxious, self absorbed, conceited niece of a film and television star. We filmed in Saskatchewan for just under two months, and it was a fantastic experience.

Step Dogs is about a pampered girl, Lacey who is living in Hollywood with her Aunt Sabrina, and a down to earth boy, Josh who lives in Saskatchewan with his father. These two stories never should have crossed, but they did. Lacey is forced to move to Saskatchewan with Aunt Sabrina because she fell in love with Josh’s father. Lacey is one of the leads of this film and the audience gets to see her go from the claws out, angry teenager that could not be bothered, to a humbled girl that people actually enjoy spending time with. She was resourceful however she was hiding behind the fact that her parents’ passed away when she was younger as a license to be spiteful and hateful to every one around her. Throughout the film she is thrown into situations that bring her back to real life and show her how to connect with normal, genuine people. There was lots of comedic relief on Lacey’s behalf because of the idiotic and stereotypical things she would say. She was the classic stereotype of a Hollywood girl. It was really interesting feeling her perspective on the world change in a positive way throughout the film.

Playing Lacey was extremely fun because I found that she was completely the opposite of the person I am! It was super fun to pipe my voice up to a high pitched, annoying tone and aggravate every person as soon as I walked in the room. It felt amazingly horrible to play Lacey. It was amazing to play her because she was so big and fun and sharp-tongued however it was also horrible because I found myself apologizing after every take for sounding so condescending and rude! I eventually got over it and just basked in the fun of playing her. I also really enjoyed that Lacey had a story that unfolded throughout the film. She was very misunderstood and hid behind the facade of being a mean girl to block everyone out of her life, since her parents passed away. By the end of the film, Lacey begins to mesh more with her new family and starts getting comfortable in the cold, but cozy Saskatchewan.

I found myself being challenged because this was my first lead role, in a different town, with new people. I’m a very outgoing person but this experience had me feeling very intimidated in the beginning! Other than that, I enjoyed the challenge of memorizing chunks of lines each day and adapting to new people. Change is good. Another challenge I faced was the struggle of having about six dogs and animals on set everyday and trying to stay focused. Super fluffy, super cute.

A hilarious and memorable moment from this film/set is: In the very last scene of the film, Lacey brings a “cat” in the house from the backyard. Everyone in the room except for Lacey knew that it was a skunk. SO. My memorable moment. We used a real skunk for this scene and for the most part he was super cute and cuddly however he got scared very, very easily. When we were shooting for the movie poster we put Mister Skunk in with me and he got so frustrated and nervous that he actually pooped all over my bare arm. All I could hear on the walkie-talkies was “Eliana just got pooed on. Is she okay?” Let me tell you, it’s a moment that will last a lifetime!

How about television projects?

EJ: I played Alexa Sworn on:Eli Roth’s Netflix original series Hemlock Grove. Alexa is a shrewd vixen, with is a twin sister. Alexa and Alyssa completely tormented everyone around them and made sure that their presence was known. My character was the slight comic relief in this horrific, nail biting series. I got the opportunity to work with well-known artists such as Famke Janssen, Dougray Scott, Bill Skarsgard, Landon Liboiron, and many other talented actors. This Netflix original is currently in its third and final season.

Although a fun character to play, Alexa was a real pill to swallow. Alexa Sworn’s character was the best friend of lead character, Christina, played by Freya Tingley. The twin sisters were aggressors and peer pressuring friends; which made my character the antagonist to Christina’s storyline. Alexa and Alyssa made fun of everyone and we became the comedic relief of this horrific series. Some of the scenes involved mocking students in the hallways, or calling our best friend a prude because she wouldn’t make out with her crush at the time. Alexa and her partner in crime, Alyssa would spend hours making fun of people on their online pages, but at the end of the day, they were just regular teenage girls.

On the CBC series Saving Hope I got the rare opportunity to act alongside Wendy Crewson as her daughter, Molly. On the show, I start off as a regular teenage girl living with her single mother; but, I eventually drift into three more episodes where my character overdoses on drugs and is sent to rehab. My story was vital to the show because it created mystery in Dana’s (Wendy Crewson) life however also created a more deep-rooted storyline for Dana and her struggles, fears and joys.

Playing this character was especially fun because of the type of girl she was– high on opiates, drunk at a house party. Molly is a real mess. It was super fun playing her because I had lots of research to do! Pretending to be in this state of mind and body for a character really takes a lot out of you, however it was interesting to see myself transform when I watched the episode. I really found that the research I did came through in that episode. One of my favorite characters and episodes I have done! A fun little memory from this episode was: when I had to overdose, I was forced to lay in fake vomit. The fake vomit was a mixture of lentil soup and yogurt. I hate both of those things! Just from the smell, I almost made the vomit real! Everyone really enjoyed watching me suffer in agony from the stench hahaha.

When I booked the role of Rachel Skarsten’s younger version of herself on The CW series Lost Girl I was extremely excited for the platinum blonde hair, the opportunity to meet these talented individuals, and the learning experience I would receive from being on set with these phenomenal, well rounded people. My character in the couple episodes I starred on was “Teen Tamsin.” Rachel’s character gets sucked into a time warp and becomes young again, which is where I come in to play. It was critical for the audience to know what background Tamsin came from and how she dealt with situations as a youngling, which made my character important to the show.

Nikita on The CW was my very first show and I feel blessed to have been able to work on it. Maggie Q, Shane West, Lyndsy Fonseca; It was completely unbelievable. I worked as Lyndsy’s younger self. My character had a Russian accent, and I often spoke Russian throughout the show, which is something that I had to spend hours learning. My role was important to the storyline of Alexandra Udinov, and became a reoccurring character throughout the seasons that the show aired, which was a true honor and huge learning experience. I felt like a real adult when I found myself surrounded by all these established and talented actors. I loved playing the younger version of Lyndsy Fonseca because it challenged me to meet her level of acting by being her younger version. I really was excited and happy to become a part of the Nikita family. Something I will hold very dear to my heart for a very long time. I learned so much on that show!

YTV’s The Stanley Dynamic is a new show that I have been working extremely hard on. My character, Summer Dewhurst, is the competitive, sporty and fun-loving girl, who lives next door to the lead character of the show, Larry Stanley. Throughout season one and mid way through season two I have worked with acclaimed actors such as Michael Gross! This show was and is a huge learning experience for me as well because this was my very first multi-cam style show. We used four cameras to shoot and everything is extreme high energy and super funny. I loved playing Summer because she is similar to the person I actually am. Super competitive but means well all the time and really values friends and family. Summer and Larry constantly get into friendly battles over who is better and it makes for some great TV comedy gold!

Being on a show with more kids my age is also super fun because I feel more relaxed and at ease. I get to be silly and work with such phenomenal people. It truly is a blessing. A funny and memorable moment from this set is: during season one, Madison, the young girl who plays Lori on the show, absolutely loved pranking people. Long story short, I walked into my dressing room filled with: toilet paper, post it notes and laughter from all the pranking!

The Family Channel’s Backstage is a new show that follows a bunch of extremely talented and interesting artists such as dancers, singers, painters, actors, djs etc. I got the pleasure of working as Mel, the student teacher of a dance class. The show is airing most likely mid January.

They are all very different, what made you choose to participate in these projects?

EJ: I find that the most wonderful thing about being an actor is the array of different people and perspectives you get to play around with. I have never turned down an opportunity to be in a television or film because each show/film is completely different and that just helps me grow, not only as an actress, but as a human being.

Adapting to a new character, new cast and crew is truly an extraordinary path that I have chosen and gotten the blessing to be a part of. In the past I was working on two different shows at the same time, (The Stanley Dynamic and Saving Hope) and the characters I play on the shows are just so completely different; one being a drug addict that has spun out of control and one being a competitive teenager that loves basketball and skateboarding. Jumping from set to set really just accentuates the incredible notion that I can be whoever I want to be within the walls of this industry. I have the ability to be an extremely sad, angry teenager and then switch to being a happy, carefree, 15 year old.

You get approached all the time to work on projects with people, what makes you pick one role over another?

EJ: Thankfully I haven’t actually had to choose between roles because everything I book somehow works out to be filming/rehearsing on different days. I have gotten the chance to participate in every single role and job that has come my way. I feel truly honored and blessed to be able to say that. I do not actually know what I would do if I had to choose between two separate roles. It would be so difficult, the “what if” would always linger through my mind.

Can you list some of the theatre projects you’ve participated in up until now, and the roles you’ve played?

EJ: I went to a performing arts high school, which gave me the opportunity to play in numerous theatre projects. I acted in “Chicago,” “Almost, Maine,” “Zapped” and a few others. “Chicago” was my favorite one because I got to be in cellblock tango and perform number seventeen – the spread eagle. In “Almost, Maine” I got to play alongside my friend, being two best friends that turn out to be gay and then find out that we are in love with each other. As I mentioned earlier I just really enjoy getting to play different people with different mind frames.

What has been your favorite project so far and why?

EJ: This is such a tough question! I’ve absolutely loved every single show I got the pleasure of working on however I found Hemlock Grove and Saving Hope to be my favorites. Here’s why: While working on Hemlock Grove, I got to be a part of one of my favorite genres of film/television; horror/thriller. I got the chance to be splattered with blood and let out some scary loud screams from time to time. I also got to work with Eli Roth, which was extremely cool and humbling because of how much I admire his work ethic and work in general!

Saving Hope is also a favorite of mine because I got to tap into my “drunk mess” side. I had to overdose on opiates, which was something I found interesting to research. It was difficult to get into that frame of mind and body language but once I got there it was crazy awesome. With those two being my favorites, I also have Nikita, which was extremely emotional and allowed me to show a side of myself as my character that had not been shown to an audience before. The Stanley Dynamic and Backstage are shows that I got to be on set with a bunch of people my age or younger and just sit around and be super silly and super funny with! Lost Girl was also such a fulfilling experience because of the big wig, the frantic, air headed girl I got to play around with. I’ve gotten the chance to play some very intricate and phenomenal characters so it really is hard to narrow it down to one favorite.

What as been your most challenging role?

EJ: My role as Molly Kinney in Saving Hope was the most challenging for me. Molly is the chief of plastic surgery’s daughter; and within the three episodes I played in, it has been a different experience each time; episode one was being a hot headed, self indulgent teenager, episode two included stealing drugs from the hospital while I was interning, episode three involved me being a drunk mess, a teenager stoned on opiates, an emotional and angry comatose teenager that overdosed and didn’t think of the consequences after those events. I’ve been in rehab for a while and my fourth episode is currently in the works.

Saving Hope was challenging for me as an actress because it pushed me to do more research on my character and the details of the script (overdosing, slowing down my breath to feel dizzy and nauseous, getting the perfect amount of day dreaming to look disconnected from my consciousness). I also found that working alongside Wendy Crewson and Erica Durance for the majority of this episode helped me learn more about being a true actor. While doing my scenes with Wendy it was mind blowing how committed and in the moment she became. Wendy (and Erica) being so unbelievably present in the scenes really helped me become more present and aware of my surroundings, rather than getting caught up in the lines and actions behind the intentions. When the actors around you are giving 110 percent, it makes you bump up your game and meet them at the same level! Challenging, however, it was a fantastic learning experience that I still bring with me to every audition and set.

What is your favorite genre to work in as an actor?

EJ: I really enjoy working all genres because I love learning about new and different types of acting however I have really come to enjoy comedy. I love the little tidbits of funny jokes that are written in for my characters! Working on television shows that are comedic are just extreme high energy and super fun to be a part of.

What separates you from other actors? What are your strongest qualities?

EJ: Honestly, there are so many outstanding actors and actresses and I am often just honored to work on the same set as some of them. I think the only thing that separates me from other actors is that I am a one of a kind version. There are not any clones of me (to my knowledge J )… So I like to believe that I bring a fresh face with a unique and bubbly personality to the table. I try really hard not to be nervous in auditions because the people sitting at the table in front of me are humans just as myself and they’re rooting for me just as much as I’m rooting for myself. I think that my strongest quality is that I am personable and approachable and I am most definitely not afraid to be myself, whether it be on set, in the audition room, or in my day to day life. All actors are extremely talented and I don’t find myself more talented than any person but I do believe that I work extremely hard and I push myself to be at the places I want to be.

What about commercials?

EJ: One of my very first jobs was a KFC commercial, and let me tell you, it included a lot of finger licking good chicken and to die for fries. I was in junk food heaven to say the least!

What projects do you have coming up?

EJ: I am currently working on Saving Hope again which is a huge honor, and I am working on season two of The Stanley Dynamic!

What do you hope to achieve in your career as an actor?

EJ: I really just hope to achieve greatness. I want to be a notable and extremely talented actress and I wont stop working until the day I die. I want to be a good influence on those who are just entering this industry. I hope to build a solid body of work as an actress and I would really like to make myself proud of my achievements by being the best that I can be, and learning as much as I can; and hopefully ill have an Oscar sitting on my shelf one day. I really look up to actresses like Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock because of their astounding performances in everything they do. It is also inspiring seeing young girls like Abigail Breslin and Chloe Grace Moretz become so successful because that’s what I am striving towards! Its extremely admirable and I try to work towards that every day!

What kind of training have you done?

EJ: I have done so much training it is actually hard to remember ahah! I have done a lot of “new students” classes, in front of the camera classes, what to expect in an audition classes, how to be what the casting directors want, the basic fundamentals of acting. I am now enrolled in master and advanced classes with David Rotenberg, which I am finding very eye opening and a fantastic learning experience. I learn something new from each coach I go to. My brain is just filled with acting tips! I still don’t think I have enough training yet because there is always room for improvement, but I truly am loving every minute of it.

Why is acting your passion and chosen profession?

EJ: Although some may find it an odd and rarely successful career path, I find that acting and performing brings me true and genuine happiness. It blows my mind every day that I am doing what I love for a living. I love the freedom of expression that acting gives me. I love that I can play so many different people and characters. I really find it a blessing to have found my passion at such a young age. I love learning more about myself everyday through my craft and I also love that it gives me the opportunity to meet new and exciting people. I love that one character can be a drunken mess, but the next one can be an innocent little girl that has lost her way. I absolutely love that sometimes the projects I work on involve travelling. Being an actress has combined everything I love into one perfect little craft. I can’t really explain completely why acting is my passion, but I can assure you that it fills my heart and soul with joy and that’s more than enough for me.

 

 

 

An Interview with Acclaimed Canadian Screenwriter, Mark Satterthwaite

Mark Satterthwaite
                                 Screenwriter Mark Satterthwaite (right) and girlfriend Carla Gallo (left)

Over the years award-winning screenwriter and producer Mark Satterthwaite has brought laugh out loud comedy to some of Canada’s most beloved television programs.

Satterthwaite is a master wielder of jokes who has doted his ingenious writing upon an array of TV shows ranging from live-action and animated series to awards programs and talk shows.

In 2006 Satterthwaite wrote and produced the highly popular single camera sketch comedy series The Morgan Waters Show. The critically acclaimed series, which aired on CBC and garnered a Gemini Award in 2006, starred Morgan Waters (The Amazing Gayl Pile, Cock’d and Gunns) and featured celebrity guests including stand-up comedian Gilson Lubin, Tyler Kite (Republic of Doyle, Instant Star), actress and musician Alexz Johnson (So Weird, Final Destination 3), Canadian television personality Ed the Sock and many other pop culture icons.

Satterthwaite, who has written several other hit television programs including the animated series Almost Naked Animals, Grojband and The Dating Guy, as well as episodes for MTV Live, CBC’s one-hour special Canada’s Smartest Person, and the second season of the game show Bet Your Ass, has a talent for sniffing out jokes that will stick with whatever audience he is writing for. As the writer, director and producer of the episode “My Brother, My Record” for the series Canadian Comedy Shorts, Satterthwaite’s work earned the award for Best Mocumentary at The World of Comedy Short Film Festival.

While his innovative writing has helped garner countless programs a long list of prestigious awards over the years, he has also written the scripts for some of Canada’s most beloved awards programs.

In 2007 he co-wrote and directed the Gemini Awards, which were televised on CBC and hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos (The Hour, Battle of the Blades, Chelsea Lately, Bystander Revolution). A successful awards program relies on strong comedy moments in order to keep audiences engaged while the hosts announce the awards for each category, and Satterthwaite’s unparalleled writing for the 2007 Gemini Awards kept fans buzzing long after the awards ceremony was over.

To find out more about this exceedingly talented screenwriter’s career and what’s next on the horizon for him, make sure to check out our interview below!

 

Where are you from and what was it like growing up there?

MS: I was born and raised in downtown Toronto, Canada. I loved growing up there cause it always felt like a *small* big city. Toronto’s super walk-able and is broken up into amazing neighborhoods, so I feel like I spent my youth on tree-covered streets with friends. Pretty good.

How have your early experiences influenced some of the work you create today?

MS: My parents used to take my sister and I to see plays when we were kids. A lot of sleuth-style, whodunit plays, and it was so much fun. I would always figure them out at the act break. Not sure what it means, but that gave me a weird confidence when I was a kid… That I could solve these scripted mysteries.

Growing up in Canada we didn’t have much of a star system so it never occurred to me that I could end up writing television for a living. It just didn’t seem plausible. When I got my first writing gig at 22, I was floored. I really couldn’t believe it.

When and how did you get into the industry as a screenwriter?

MS: Canada’s answer to MTV, a station called MuchMusic, held a yearly competition where one lucky Canuck got to work at Much for a summer, with a free apartment, a new car and $10,000. All you had to do was submit a creative video to show why you deserved it. Long story short, I wrote a short and got second place in the national competition. The next year, I wrote and animated a 3-minute short and got second place again. It was heartbreaking. But the creative director at Much, David Johnson, loved my video and hired me on as a freelancer. I owe my career to David!

What are your favorite genres and audiences to write for?

MS: I love absurdist comedy. I think that’s why I ended up doing a lot of writing in animation, because it’s such an anything goes environment. Want to create a new character? Do it! Blow something up? Sure. Morph anything into anything else? WHY NOT?!?! It’s very liberating.

I actually prefer writing animated shows to writing ALMOST anything else… Other than film. Writing big splashy, Hollywood comedies has my heart. I just finished a 90-minute ridiculous script. I’m really happy with it, and I hope you get to see it soon!

Can you tell us a little bit about some of the projects youve written over the years?

MS: Coming up as a freelance writer in the Canadian television system was tough but exciting, because I had to wear many different hats to keep the lights on and to stay creatively challenged. One week I was writing an animated series, the next I was writing jokes for a game show, and after that I was in a writer’s room, scripting a sitcom with a bunch of other writers. It was a great way to figure out what I liked.

I started writing and developing TV years ago with my friend Morgan Waters. The Canadian Broadcast Corporation asked us to put together a sitcom that would work for “tweens.” Something distinctive that could be a starring vehicle for Morgan. We were both very into an American comedy troupe called STELLA at the time (we still are) and we decided to emulate what they were doing, with our own twist, for a Canadian audience with The Morgan Waters Show. Our writing and development process was to push the humor and scenarios as far as we could, so we made sure we were challenging our audience, as opposed to holding their hands. It worked out. The show won a Canadian Screen Award in its first season.

Soon after The Morgan Waters Show ended, I was offered the job of helping to bring MTV to Canada by working on the creative for the network launch, casting the hosts and story editing the live, daily comedy show, MTV LIVE. This was such an incredible experience. We watched audition tapes from hundreds of hopeful hosts from all over Canada, worked on the creative for the launch to make sure that people noticed, and put together a live daily show like no other on Canadian TV. We had amazing leaders in Mark McInnis and Alex Sopinka, and they really trusted me to lead the team of 30 or so creatives, coming up with script ideas every morning. It was a blast. The show was a hit within a year and was doing something for Canadian comedy that hadn’t been done since SCTV.

The Canadian Screen Awards are Canada’s answer to the Golden Globes, honoring excellence in both television and in film. I’ve been lucky enough to work on dozens of projects that have won CSAs, but I also got to work on the other side of the stage when I was approached to write the awards show with a super talented writer named Paul Bates. Our job was to focus on making sure that the show ran smoothly and was super funny. This was at a time when videos were just starting to go viral, so one of our mandates was to come up with edgy sketches that could roll into the show and might get people looking online the next day. I wrote and directed a sketch about what happened to all the puppets from Canadian television shows after their shows ended, a retirement home for puppets sketch. The sketch aired in the middle of the show and the live audience roared with laughter. The sketch became a national news story and even ended up in the New York Times. Mission accomplished.

My break into animation came when a Canadian production company I had done a lot of work for, Marble Media, approached me about re-writing and punching up an entire season of a new animated series called The Dating Guy. The show had good bones but needed a lot of help in the comedy department. I had such a good time peppering in as many original jokes as I could, often pushing the limits of good taste and TV acceptability. I learned a lot from the project- namely, that it’s always better to push as far as you can with your writing and get pulled back by producers. If you come in soft, it’ll be near impossible to edge things up later on. The Dating Guy was my first foray into animated TV, and my writing and contributions were very well received, so soon after, I was getting offers to write on other animated series. I did three seasons of writers’ rooms, punch-ups, rewrites on an international hit kid’s animated series called Almost Naked Animals. It was a great show and I learned so much from it.

After Almost Naked Animals, production companies started coming to me to develop and write pilots and bibles for new animated series. I loved getting involved in the shaping and writing of these worlds early on. One of the shows I got to help bring to television was a kid’s concept called Winston Steinberger and Sir Dudley Ding Dong, a ridiculous absurd show about a kid and his cat in space with their alien guardian. I wrote the pilot and the bible for E1 productions, Sticky Pictures Australia, Teletoon Canada and ABC Australia. After two pilot scripts and a bible, we were green lit to series with me at the helm as head writer and story editor of the show. I worked with over 40 writers on 52 scripts to get the first season done and done well. It’s a distinctive, hilarious show and I think it’s going to be a hit when it hits the airwaves in early 2016.

What made you choose to participate in the projects you’ve done over the course of your career?

MS: Sometimes I would choose projects, and sometimes they would choose me. I always knew that Canadian TV isn’t what it should be. There is a lot of filler in there. And I made a decision early on in my career, not to write for shows that I didn’t care about. That was my goal. And because I could write jokes and scenarios for both kids and adults, I was lucky enough to move around in the business, writing on many different styles of shows. My goal was always to work on something new and different. I think that’s why I like film so much, cause you sweat onto the page for one great story, and then you move on to the next. My ADHD doesn’t allow me to do the same thing over and over.

Do you take a different approach when writing for animation opposed to live action?

MS: If I had my way, I’d be writing the absurdist style I enjoy so much for live action projects, but it really can be a different beast. So I try to inject what I can, where I can. I love that animated, “anything goes” sensibility, and I think live action could use more of it. But I also love dry British humor. I grew up with a British dad holding the remote control, so we were always watching Britcoms. I loved them all. Still do. I think my sensibilities really come from the absurdist styles of STELLA, old 80s flicks like Top Secret and Spaceballs, and dry British comedies like Alan Partridge and The Office. I think there’s a place for animated humor in live action TV. It’s just about finding a balance.

You’ve also written storylines for several commercials, can you tell us about a couple of them and how you came up with the storylines?

MS: Agency 59 came to me about writing and directing a series of PSA commercials about drinking and driving for Labatt Blue. The goal was to deliver a strong message without beating people over the head. It was an interesting challenge to keep the topic light but focused, and I was up to it. I worked with the agency writing over six spots that I think were pretty funny and delivered a strong message. Everyone was happy.

You’ve also produced many of the projects that you’ve writtencan you tell us from your perspective, how the roles of screenwriting and producing are different? How do you manage to successfully tie them together?

MS: I never used to understand what producing was in television. But yes, I would often be hired to write and produce on shows. I really enjoy wearing both of those hats cause I don’t always find it easy to write and then give a script away, leaving it up to others to execute/shoot/animate. I really care about the projects that I work on and I like to be able to see them through to broadcast, to try and ensure that they end up being as close to what I had intended when I wrote them. Sounds a little controlling, I’m sure. And I think part of it is. But I really do care and want the best product to hit the screen. I don’t think there’s any point in working in a creative industry if you won’t bleed for what you’re writing.

What have been a few of your favorite projects so far?

MS: My complete favorite project was writing the feature I just finished. Film has always felt like this elusive, glorious mountain peak that I just couldn’t get to. I almost wouldn’t let myself try. So much of writing, for me, is overcoming all the little demons in your head that tell you that you can’t do it. “Hit the couch, fat ass. Just watch some TV. It’s easier”. Being a freelance writer takes so much discipline and you really have to believe that what you’re going to write will be worth someone else’s reading time. The feature I just finished, I think, is super funny and a good heartfelt story.

Other than that, being the head writer on Winston Steinberger and Sir Dudley Ding Dong, story editing a show for MTV when it first came to Canada, creatively helming a commercial shoot in Argentina, writing absurd sketches for Funny or Die and writing award winning sitcoms with your friends is a pretty sweet gig.

What has been your most challenging project?

MS: Writing a feature, by far. It’s so impossibly hard. I’ve been writing television for over 15 years now. I really felt like I had a good understanding of structure. But 90-minute films, the good ones, are beasts. They need to have a good strong structure, characters the audience can get behind, a minimally saggy middle and a nice arc that keeps an audience active. It’s so difficult. That’s why most films aren’t that good. It’s a very difficult proposition. Honestly, writing jokes is by far the easiest part of writing. It’s the structure and guts of a good script that need your focus.

As a screenwriter, where do you get your inspiration for the projects you create?

MS: I get inspiration from so many different aspects of my life. To start, my girlfriend is one of the funniest people in the world and a writing/acting force to be reckoned with. She’s been successful in TV/film for 15 years now, so I’m always bouncing things off of her to see what she thinks. If she likes it, I like it. I also have never been able to turn off the part of me that loved 80s and 90s silly, absurd comedies- Mel Brooks, Zucker Bros, John Hughes. I just loved all of their movies so much. John Hughes found a way to make me laugh so hard but also really care about characters. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is such a perfect example of that- hilarious, heartwarming and redeeming all at the same time.

What do you hope to achieve with the projects you create?

MS: I’d like to make people laugh and feel good, and I’d like to get offers for new, challenging projects from people seeing the work I’ve done. Sometimes I’ll read comments on the Internet from people who have watched episodes of something I’ve written. “This is my favorite episode!” or “This show is the funniest thing on TV” or “WRITE MORE! MAKE MORE!,” and that always makes me feel like a million bucks. Writing scripts is hard work; it’s so nice to know that people like it.

Why are you passionate about working as a screenwriter?

MS: I’m passionate about screenwriting because it’s a huge, huge life test. All of the time. It’s fun and it kills me. Do I have the will to get this script done? Am I confident enough in myself that I can write something that stands out? Am I special enough to write a script? Do I have a point of view that will engage people? Every script is a gut check. I think that’s pretty remarkable. And sometimes the answers to these questions can be very sobering. Other times they can make you feel like a million bucks.

 

Ingenious Production Designer Yihong Ding Wraps Production on “Mira”

Yihong Ding
Production Designer Yihong Ding

The striking talent of Yihong Ding as a production designer and art director is literally visible in every project she has touched. She moves seamlessly through the worlds of film, television and advertising; not an easy feat when one considers that the approach a person must take when designing the ambiance of a feature film to match a director’s vision is vastly different from their approach to creating the backdrop of a commercial meant to persuade an audience of consumers.

Originally from Shanghai, Ding studied in London and eventually got her master’s in production design at the world-renowned American Film Institute in Los Angeles. Since then, she has been hard at work on an ever-growing list of projects. To ensure each film, show or commercial conveys the right mood and feeling, she works closely with the director of the production to capture and physically recreate their vision. From color schemes to lighting, props to set design, she is responsible for turning the conceptual into the living, breathing worlds we see on film.

Ding has worked on projects ranging from The Birthday Boys starring Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Mr. Show) to Mandala, the winner of the 2015 Los Angeles International Film Festival award for Best Foreign Film. She’s done several commercials for Diomany high-end lingerie and served as art director of an advertisement for the Microsoft Outlook app. It’s her work on films like Mira however that really showcases her incredible talent for production design and her awe-inspiring ability to create a self-contained world on the screen.

Working on director Amanda Tasse’s Mira, currently in post-production, Ding was given a dual-challenge. First was creating a marine biology research laboratory complete with the appropriate scientific equipment and actual jellyfish tanks. Second, she had to design an intricate “memory wall” which the title character uses to keep a log of her life.

“I had a lot of fun doing the research for this project,” said Ding, who studies every project’s background meticulously to ensure the environment seen on camera is authentic and accurate. “We ended up filming at an empty lab on Catalina Island, and dressing the lab into the jellyfish lab for the story.”

Vanessa Patel as Mira in the lab created by Yihong Ding in "Mira"
Vanessa Patel as Mira in the lab created by Yihong Ding in “Mira”

Filming on an island presented its own challenges. Ding had to personally pack all of the glass tubes and prop equipment by hand, and shipping all of the fragile items to Catalina was expensive and required her to closely observe weight restrictions and eliminate any waste in the budget while maintaining the realistic integrity of the set.

“Finding the jellyfish tank was another challenge. They were all costume-made and very expensive,” she said. “I almost had to build them myself, but luckily we found a person that was willing to rent three to us for a really great deal.”

The experience tested and proved Ding’s invaluable ability to balance the creative and financial sides of production design with aplomb. The laboratory she created is so authentic and convincing it’s absolutely indistinguishable from a research facility one might see at a university. While the lab provides the backdrop, the “memory wall” Ding created gives the viewer a personal connection to Mira’s title character.

The character of Mira suffers from a form of epilepsy that causes intense seizures and short-term memory loss of the hours preceding each attack. Mira dedicates herself to studying a species of jellyfish which may hold a cure for her disease, but her condition poses a huge challenge and she has to find a way to overcome the amnesia. So Ding helped design a “memory wall,” which becomes Mira’s method of constantly reminding herself of what’s happened before each seizure.

“She would take a picture right before she knew she was going to have a seizure… and then she would map out all the pictures on her bedroom wall,” Ding described. “It was a very complicated visual graphic to create, and I wanted to make sure that it looked real… and for the very first time I sat down and considered myself as Mira… I started to think like Mira, which was really amazing, because I found myself digging deeper into the design than I normally do.”

Yihong Ding has what many specialists lack: a multifaceted skillset combined with extensive experience in every level of design and the ability to work within any range of budget without ever compromising the quality of the project. From envisioning the conceptual to building the practical, from dressing sets to arranging the details and minutia for the perfect shot, she is a one-woman creative army.

Brazilian Hottie Fred Fleury Plays the Perfect Bad Boy

Fred Fleury
                                  Actor Fred Fleury shot by David Mueller

According to an article published by CNN Travel, American women ranked Brazilian men as the third hottest out of all of the countries in the world, and those good looks have definitely not skipped Brazilian actor Fred Fleury.

Originally born in Sao Jose dos Campos, the young stud entered the world of musical theatre back home in Brazil where he studied at the famous Escola de Atores Wolfmaya.

Fleury was not only blessed with good looks and undeniable acting talent though, he also has an astonishing singing voice, something that has definitely come in handy in the myriad of stage productions he has starred in over the years.

Prior to moving to New York to attend school several years ago, the young performer made it to the semifinals as a singer on Tudo É Possível hosted by Brazilian celebrity Ana Hickman, a popular program that airs on Rede Record de Televisão aka Record, Brazil’s second most popular television network.

Shortly after, Fleury began applying for placement in musical theatre programs in NY; and it’s not surprising that he was accepted to each and every one he applied to considering the breadth of his talent, but the prestigious Circle in The Square Theatre School where such notable stars as Kevin Bacon, Molly Shannon and Benicio del Toro attended was the one that won out.

Through his performances including productions “Periodic Maintenance,” “Marley: A Musical Tragedy,” and “The White Man Is The Right Man,” Fleury has proven his natural capacity for taking on challenging roles; but, his talent extends far beyond the stage.

Last year he landed a spot as a guest star on the Oxygen Network’s TV series My Crazy Love, which stars Isaiah Seward from the popular shows Hostages, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Black Box, The Knick and The following, Laura Lamberti from Cassanova Was a Woman, Dark Tarot, Stunods and Celebrity Ghost Stories, and Alexandra Lopez from Very Mary-Kate, CollegeHumor Originals, The Pox Show, and Jake and Amir.

Shortly after, Fleury landed another guest starring spot as Jesse on the hit comedy series Gringolandia, which recently began airing on Netflix.

The comedy series, which is currently on its second season, has amassed an impressive list of awards spanning the US and Mexico; and, prior to airing on Netflix, Gringolandia became a major hit with social media fans when the first season was released on the YouTube Channel Contento garnering over 80,000 subscribers.

While Fleury displays his knack for the comedy genre beyond a doubt through his role as Jesse in the series, the actor’s most passionate about playing more dramatic roles.

Fleury admits, “My favorite genres are drama and horror with heavy content. Actors that inspire me are Jack Nicholson in The Shining; Anthony Perkins in Psycho; Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Man; and the recent work of my Brazilian compatriot Wagner Moura as the lead in the Netflix’s Narcos has been very inspiring too.”

In Pat Williams’ 2014 film When Good Girls Kill, Fleury took on the leading role of a ruthless Russian gangster. After a heated argument with her ex-husband, Ashley, played by Samantha Rivers Cole (The Long Island Serial Killer, Guyz, Fists of Love, The Psychotics, Downtown Girls), takes her daughter to the park, but when her young child disappears terror ensues.

Panicking as she scans the park for her daughter, Ashley is taken by surprise when Fleury’s character approaches her from behind, holding her at gunpoint he threatens her with never seeing her daughter again unless she does exactly what he says.

After forcefully dragging her to his mob boss Odey, played by Jon L. Peacock (The Wolf of Wall Street, Royal Pains, Deadly Devotion, Bridge of Spies), and pushing her into an SUV, Fleury’s character explains that if she wants to see her child again she will have to commit a murder in exchange.

Caught in the middle of a battle between the Russian and Columbian drug lords, Ashley sees no way out other to kill Arturo, the Columbian drug lord that Russian’s want removed from the equation.

“It’s through my character that Ashley understands the danger and violence of the situation she’s dealing with, and it’s that latent reality that makes her control her nerves and perform a murder,” Fluery explains. “This is a type of role that I love playing (the villain) and have been called for a lot since. So it was a great opportunity.”

Fleury’s versatility as an actor combined with his good looks have made him the perfect actor to play roles like the handsome bad boy, a type of character he portrays with total believability, and one that we are assured to see him take on again and again in the future.

Q & A with International Star Aleksandra Kovacevic

Aleksandra Kovacevic
                              Aleksandra Kovacevic in the film “Bertilda” shot by Anup Kulkarni

Over the years actress Aleksandra Kovacevic has made a lasting impression on audiences with her spellbinding performances in a wide range of films and stage productions; and, as she prepares to lend her talents to several upcoming productions including Tony Aron II’s series Crackerjack, and Magaly Monterroso’s film Sebudai, we anticipate the opportunity to see some of the actress’s new work!

Kovacevic’s emotional range is unmatched, something she’s proven through her roles in films including Hush, Room 007, Bits of Glass, Bertilda, A Fistful of Films and many more. Kovacevic is also featured in South by Southwest Film Festival Audience Award winner John Suits’ film Viral, which wrapped production earlier this year, as well as Rachel Yingxaun Zhou’s Web series Life is Horrible and the new Netflix series Wet Hot American Summer directed by David Wain.

Back home in Germany, Kovacevic starred in several theatre productions in Cologne including “Top Dogs” where she took on the challenging role of a man, Mr. Yellow, and “The Bond that Keeps Us Together” where she played the starring role of Lisa.

She also recently finished an incredibly successful run of the theatrical production of “4.48 Psychosis” at the Hyperion Lyric Theatre in Los Angeles where she took on two drastically roles as both the therapist and her patient’s other personality.

To find out more about this inspiring actress, make sure to check out our interview below. You can also find out more about Aleksandra Kovacevic through her website: http://www.aleksandra-kovacevic.com/#!home

LG: Where are you from? When and how did you get into acting?

AK: I was born in Sarajevo, but I grew up in Germany. By the age of 16 I joined our theater group in high school and ever since then I’ve continued following my passion.

LG: Can you tell me a little bit about the film and television projects you’ve done?

AK: I’ve worked on films like Hush, Room 007, Bertilda, Bits of Glass, A Fistful of Film, Caged: How to clip your birds Wings and the Netflix series Wet Hot American Summer. In Hush I portrayed the judgmental, negative thought of a man’s mind. In Room 007, I played a Russian spy that is looking for her partner in crime. In Bits of Glass I portrayed a warmhearted manager that can’t let go of her dead sister, but is forced to deal with the reality of the loss during one painful day. In A Fistful of Film I played a director that is taking her divorce out on set with her director husband. In Bertilda I played Bertilda, a marionette. The story portrays the social standards of a woman, Bertilda, and how she breaks free from the norm. In Wet Hot American Summer I portrayed a ventriloquist puppet that is auditioning with her friend for the camp talent show. In Caged: How to clip your birds Wings I played Justice, a young female that falls in love with her military girlfriend Serenity. She is not the only one who has romantic feelings for Serenity, her Boyfriend wants to marry Serenity as soon as possible. On her weeding day Serenity has doubts about getting married. Justice tries to opens her girlfriend’s eyes, and guides her to find herself and develop courage. But Serenity decides to live the lie, which Justice can’t accept.

LG: They are all very different, what made you choose to participate in these projects?

AK: I like to be challenged. If I personally feel that a role brings me to my limits and makes me discover a completely new journey—if it makes my imagination glow and provokes people to think, then I will participate in that project. Also, if I feel the script is well written and there is a great connection with the director, or a strong connection between the whole cast and crew, then I believe a project can have a better end result as well.

LG: You get approached all the time to work on projects with people, what makes you pick one role over another?

AK: As an artist you should affect people. It could be positive or negative. This is how I feel as well when picking a role. If the character affects me, evokes certain emotions in me and I feel this is a new challenge I would like to face I’ll pick the role.

LG: Can you list some of the theatre projects you’ve participated in up until now, and the roles you’ve played?

AK: I’ve participated in plays like “Top Dogs,” “The Bond That Keeps Us Together,” “Freak Show,” “The Shape of Things,” “All In” and “4.48 Psychosis.” In “Top Dogs” I played a rich, snobby manager that cares more about his lifestyle and bank account than about anything else. He was greedy for more power, more money and more influence. Until he gets fired. With the help of the New Challenge Company and six others who are in the same boat, he tries to find a new job.

In “The Bond That Keeps Us Together” I played Lisa. The play revolves around a girl and a boy from different religious backgrounds falling in love. In “Freak Show” I played Irene, a manipulative businesswoman who is always hunting for the new circus sensation for her own show. She knows what kind of affect she has on men and that she can get everything she wants with her charm.

In “The Shape Of Things” I played Evelyn, a manipulative graduate art student that makes a human transformation to her thesis masterpiece. In “All In” I played the eccentric showgirl Victoria Lichtenstein, who accepts that the Casino owns her. However she is a feisty one and has built up her rank at the Casino.

And recently in “4.48 Psychosis,” I played Sarah Kane’s psychiatrist who wants her to get better. I also played the patient that she meets in the hospital after her attempt to commit suicide. There is a connection between them, which is both heartbreaking and funny at the same time. 

LG: What has been your favorite role so far and why?

AK: One of my favorite roles so far was Irene in “Freak Show” and the therapist and patient in “4.48 Psychosis.”

I loved embodying Irene, because I saw her as some sort of a goddess, an object of desire that no one can have. She is independent and knows how to survive in a man’s world. She is smart and charming, and the fact that she owns her own circus attraction made her even more appealing to me. The oddness in her life path and her way of life was fascinating.

I also liked playing the psychiatrist and patient in “4.48 Psychosis” because it gave me a spectrum to discover and gain more knowledge about the extremes that the play contained. The play itself is an emotional marathon. Since it was an in your face theater piece and it is dealing with every extreme, it was really important for me by the end of the shows to in a sense “take off the shoes” and get back to my usual every day. It was interesting to learn more about the psychology of the human mind and body, and to understand the body’s functions and the complexity of the mind.

On the other hand the role of the patient was a paradox, like a free spirit trapped in her own prison. She suppresses her path and tries to reflect her fate on others. She is Sarah Kane and still can’t except that she is ill. If she dies both of them die. My character is basically telling her not to give up on herself. It was also a very fascinating journey and great experience for me to portray two completely different roles in one play and see myself growing. We had a fantastic crew and very talented people on board, which made this journey incredible. Everyone put so much hard work and passion into this production that I’m fortunate to have had the chance to work with such great people, which made the experience for me even more unique.

LG: What is your favorite genre to work in as an actor?

AK: I don’t really like to narrow myself down to one specific genre, but my old time favorite is Sci-Fi and fantasy genre. I can definitely see myself doing more in this genre, but I like to keep myself open to all other genre as well.

LG: What separates you from other actors?

AK: My imagination. Each and every imagination, the spectrum of the unknown is what separates us all from one another. Everyone has unique ideas and is unique in themselves.

LG: What would you say your strongest qualities as an actor are?

AK: Listening and observing. I’ve always liked to hear other people’s stories or the way they talk, the sound of a unique voice. I also like to observe and be aware of my surroundings. No matter if human, animal or just the flow of the nature. For example just observing people sitting at the bus station, at a restaurant or waiting in line, observing their habits, seeing different manners, behaving differently and reacting differently to situations in everyday life. Everyone is unique and everyone carries their own story, which makes everyone interesting in their own way.

LG: What projects do you have coming up?

AK: I have a new series coming up, which is called Crackerjack. It’s about a woman who sees art in the murders of a serial killer. I will be working with filmmaker Tony Aaron II. Season 1 will be released in a few months and I will be in season 2, which will begin shooting this winter.

I will also be working on a play called “Florescene” written by Cassandra Shea. “Florescene” is the journey of a young girl with a wild imagination who grows into a world where it’s hard to express that imagination. She believes she holds an ocean inside her and doesn’t know how to express the immense depth of her feelings until she meets a boy who believes he was created from the earth. When they meet the question is posed: can they sustain a steady relationship or are they destined to be separate elements?

I’m also cast in the feature film ALA (animal lovers anonymous) written by Cassandra Shea, and preproduction starts September 2016, shoot dates are scheduled for late 2016. It is a comedy film in the style of the TV show The Office and Parks And Recreation. It centers on an anonymous group meetup that doesn’t understand what it means to be anonymous. The leader of the anonymous group decides to hire a team of filmmakers that films the journey of the 7 members of the group over the span of three days. As problems arise from the introduction of the film crew and new members, the leader begins to wonder how long the group will last together.

I will be also working on another film Sebudai written and directed by Magaly Monterroso, which is slated to shoot this winter. It is a fairy tale for grownups that follows a young girl named Samantha who becomes friends with the monster under her bed. Growing up in a foster home, her foster mother isn’t really amused by Samantha’s stories. But Samantha loves to read Dracula, Frankenstein and all the other classics. When an unfamiliar creature visits her one night, she fears him at first, but they quickly become friends. He seems to be the only one she is able to share her passion for stories with. When Samantha is visited by a social worker to move to another home she knows that she won’t see her friend anymore. As Samantha grows into a young woman she decides to visit her old home. It is shabby and there is a “For Sale” sign in front of the yard. As she indulges and reminiscences, her old childhood friend appears, and she finally can finish telling him her own story.

LG: What kind of training have you done?

AK: I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting for Film& Television. I did Comedy and Improve, Scene Study, Acting Techniques (Konstantin Stanislavski, Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, Uta Hagen, etc.) Audition Techniques, Master Class for Actors with Matthew Modine; and before coming to LA, I participated in a Theatre Workshop at Stage Studio Cologne.

LG: Who are some of the people who have inspired you over the years?

AK: Some of the people that have inspired me and my work include Tim Burton, Federico Fellini, Marina Abramovic, Robert Wiene, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp and Tom Hardy.

LG: What is your favorite film?

 AK: My favorite movie is Pan’s Labyrinth. I love Del Toro’s combination of Fantasy and historical context in this movie. A well done horror fairy tell for grown-ups, which keeps a thin line between reality and fantasy. The visuals are magic and the build of the movie is incredible. A movie you can get lost in and be ready to experience all emotional ranges.