Category Archives: Interviews & Features!

An Interview with One of Canada’s Hottest Actresses, Sarah Jurgens!

Sarah Jurgens
Actress Sarah Jurgens for “In the Tub” photography project in support of Breast Cancer Research

Over the last five years UK-born actress Sarah Jurgens has amassed an impressive repertoire of work on both the stage and screen; and as she continues to grow her artistry with new projects and diverse roles audiences around the world can rest assured that we will be seeing a whole lot more from her for years to come.

Jurgens landed one of her first television roles as Gaia on the hit Gemini Award winning series Lost Girl, followed up by her role as Karina Vost on the Golden Globe nominated series Covert Affairs. 

A breath-taking beauty by anyone’s standards, what makes Jurgens so special, aside from her aesthetic appeal, is her emotional range. Her ability to get inside each and every one of her characters and seamlessly bring them to life regardless of the genre has made her a sought after actress for roles in the international entertainment community.

The actress recently wrapped production on the TV miniseries Green-ish directed by multi-award winning filmmaker Matthew Kowalchuck, and she is slated to star in the upcoming film Country Time, which will be directed by Jonathan Bensimon.

To find out more about Sarah Jurgens make sure to check out our interview below. You can also check out some of her theatre work through her production company’s website: http://www.bloodprojects.com/

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

SJ: I was born in Epsom, United Kingdom. My family is from Cape Town, South Africa. We immigrated to Canada and I grew up in British Columbia. I was hooked on the power of theatre the day my dad took me to see “Cats” on Broadway in London, England when I was 5. I got involved in musicals in high school for fun, and then decided to train as an actor through the acting conservatory at York University.

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

SJ: I played the Russian wife of a big time business man in Two Hands To Mouth, a drug addicted photographer who loses all sense of reality in The Man In The Shadows, and the girlfriend of a Trailer Park Boy driven mad by jealousy with an obsession over an ex-punk rock star in Swearnet.

Two Hands To Mouth is a dark, comedic, politically-driven feature film where eight blind folded guests assemble at a secret pop-up restaurant. Chef Michael Bradori is back, sober and ready to reclaim his former glory. Food, wine, greed and lust fuel the appetites in the room. Things take a shocking turn when the dining room is transformed into a minefield of political and personal danger where the characters come under threats of guns and violence. I played Anya, the Russian wife of a business man named Frank, who was played by Joe Pingue from the films Drive, The Book of Eli, Pompeii.

Working with a Russian dialect opened up a very specific emotional range for me. It was incredibly fun to play a woman so secure in her sexuality and power. It was also an invaluable learning experience working with veterans like Kate Trotter, Ernie Grunwald, and Vincent Walsh.

In The Man In The Shadows I played Rachel, a photographer addicted to prescription drugs who starts to lose her sense of reality as she grapples with her broken marriage and her nightmares. The most challenging thing about this project was arcing the character’s decent into delusion. It was a small team of people, so we were able to get to know each other well and had a ton of fun. It opened at the Dances with Films Festival in LA, Cinefest and Scare-A-Con in New York where it was nominated for Best Feature and Best Actress.

Filming Swearnet was the most fun I’ve ever had on a set. Mike Smith, Rob Wells, John Paul Tremblay and Tom Green were constantly improvising, keeping the scenes fresh and hilarious. I played Julie, the girlfriend of Rob Wells, who is consumed by jealousy. The director, Warren P. Sonoda, created a working environment that was fast-paced and creatively freeing. We were often encouraged to stretch the boundaries of the characters actions, and the improv elements kept me on my toes. Julie spends the majority of the film making her boyfriend’s life a living hell. I anchored her destructive behaviour in deep insecurity and an insatiable desire for attention and drama. It was such a blast to be able to run wild with her. The amount of laughter and playfulness that surrounded the set everyday was an uplifting environment to be in. I developed some life long friends on that set.

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

SJ: Two Hands To Mouth allowed me to work in the world of money-laundering, power-plays and female politics in a mans world.

The Man In The Shadows gave me the permission to explore the experience of being haunted, hunted and stalked. By playing the character of Rachel, I was given the opportunity to live in a state of mental unraveling. I enjoyed the challenge of playing a character that was wrestling with truth and illusion, experiencing the slippage of her sanity.

Playing Julie in Swearnet gave me a chance to play with jealousy and extreme insecurity in a world of over-the-top comedy. Her unpredictable behaviour made her a loose canon, and the working environment allowed for much improv and play.

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

SJ: I choose roles based on challenge. If any sort of fear bubbles up when I encounter the script, I know it’s because the material is resonating with me, and whatever the character represents is a chance to explore that aspect of myself. I also get really inspired when the creative team is composed of artists who are equally passionate about telling the same story, and taking risks with it.

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

SJ: One of my favourite theatrical experiences was acting in the play, “The Bewitched.” Set in 17th century Spain, “The Bewitched” is the story of the last of the Hapsburg royal line, a family of rulers so inbred that their diseases prevent them from producing an heir to the throne.

The physical manifestation of corruption mirrors the appalling deterioration of the state and church, in an interpretation of the irrational fanaticism that led to the War of the Spanish succession. I played the role of Queen Anna through Theatre @ York directed by Nigel Shawn Williams. It was an incredible experience playing a historical figure. Maria Anna of Neuburg was Queen of Spain from 1689 to 1700 as the second wife of King Charles II. It allowed me to explore her explosive anger, resulting in seizures and phantom pregnancies.

Since then I’ve acted in and produced new Canadian plays with my production company The Blood Projects.

In “Little Tongues,” I played Tessa, the jaded daughter of a broken family. The production received extraordinary reviews from several outlets including Now Toronto and Mooney on Theatre.

I also played Eve in “This Is It,” a young woman navigating her way through a relationship guided by a broken heart, which received rave reviews as well.

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

SJ: My favorite role to play so far was actually in a Nightwood Theatre’s Director’s Summit Workshop. It was a short theatrical experience, but one of the most profound I’ve ever had. A group of actresses were gathered together for a workshop where a team of female directors were guided by world-renowned director and playwright Yael Farber. We explored Margaret Atwood’s play, “The Penelopiad,” Atwood’s daring response to Homer’s “The Odyssey.”

It was empowering to work with an inspiring collective of female artists, because everyone in the room was willing to take risks under the leadership and artistic genius of Yael Farber. I would love to work with her again in the future.

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

SJ: I find myself fluctuating between drama and comedy. Drama is usually my preferred genre to work in, but comedy provides a fierce challenge that I respond to as an actor because as everybody knows, it’s incredibly difficult to pull it off successfully.

PLM: What separates you from other actors?

SJ: I’m passionate about character exploration and really enjoy using different techniques to approach the work. Because I grew up with the gift and privilege of traveling to different areas of the world where my extended family resides, I developed a keen ear for dialects and accents. I really enjoy dialect work, it often opens up an entirely new inner-landscape for me to draw on as an actor, and it brings an edge to the character that I otherwise may not have found. I am also inspired by painting, singing, boxing and dancing, so I try to bring whatever alternative artistic experiences I have at the time into the project I’m working on as an actor. My goal is to continue growing, and for my work to come from a place of spontaneity and authenticity.

PLM: What projects do you have coming up?

SJ: I’m currently writing my own feature length script and am about to work on a film called Country Time with director Jonathan Bensimon and producer by Evan Landry.

PLM: What are your plans for the future?

SJ: I want to keep creating the type of theatre and film that I’m interested in. I work to write and act from a personal place. I’m currently working on a feature length script as well as a photography project about the relationship between a woman and her body.

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

SJ: I would like to play strong female characters who aren’t written as stereotyped or defined by patriarchal ideas but rather deeply human. I would like to work with Xavier Dolan, Lena Dunham, Patty Jenkins and Yael Farber. I would like to work on film and theatre that isn’t afraid to engage audience members and ask pressing questions about the nature of our humanity. Some films in recent years that have shaped me as an artist include The Tribe, Blue is the Warmest Color, and Mommy. I hope to get to a point where I can strike a balance between acting in and producing my own projects.

PLM: What kind of training have you done?

SJ: I trained in the acting department at York University and graduated with my BFA. I continued to study with David Rotenberg (pro-actors lab) and Michèle Lonsdale Smith.

PLM: Why is acting your passion and chosen profession?

SJ: I chose acting as my chosen passion and profession for selfish reasons really. It was the art form that I found most challenging and demanding in terms of self-exploration. As I grow as an individual, I also grow as an artist. It is an ever-evolving process and it’s one that keeps me asking questions, and keeps me engaged with life. I have been profoundly shaped by fellow actors, directors, writers, theatre-makers and filmmakers. It is a world where I feel the most at home, and the most alive.

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Q & A with Genius VFX Artist & Motion Graphics Designer Vitaly Verlov

Eric Roberts
Actor Eric Roberts (Left) and Filmmaker Vitaly Verlov (Right) shot by Maria Artos

Living in the modern age we are bombarded by hundreds of commercials per day. As viewers when most of these ads hit the screen we often tune out in order to deal with the overwhelming overload of these messages.

So what does it take for a commercial to stand out and strike the interest of an audience in a world oversaturated with visual sales pitches?

Well, having a seasoned motion graphics designer like Vitaly Verlov behind the screen has proven to be an integral factor in the success of campaigns for global companies like Max Factor, Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Volkswagen, Nokia, Samsung and countless others.

Over the years Verlov has amassed prodigious knowledge in terms of the technical methods involved in creating everything from multi-layered motion graphics to seamless visual effects. Beyond his technical skills though, his creative vision has made him a highly sought after talent in the industry. In fact, earlier this year he handled all of the visual effects on the upcoming film Redux, a sci-fi film starring Oscar nominee Eric Roberts from the films Inherent Vice, The Dark Knight, The Cable Guy and many more. What is even more astonishing is the fact that Verlov also wrote and directed the highly anticipated film.

His prowess as a motion graphics designer and visual effects artist have allowed him to take on projects that others in the industry who are only skilled in one of these two areas could not.

While you may not know the face of Vitaly Verlov, if you’ve ever tuned into MTV, VH1, Friday! Or Russia’s RUTV, then there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve seen his work more than once over the last decade.

To find out more about Vitaly Verlov’s captivating work make sure to check out our interview below!

You can also see some of his work through his website: http://primevalues.ru/

 

IFR: Where are you from?

VV: My name is Vitaly Verlov and I was born in the city of Novosibirsk, Russia. After graduating in 2007 I moved to Moscow to work as a motion graphics designer and visual effect artist for television and film.

IFR: How and when did you first get into doing visual effects work?

VV: In high school and university I did a lot of computer programming because I was a computer geek back then, and even before that I came across an international computer art subculture called Demoscene. Essentially it’s a community where young programmers, artists and musicians get together – for fun – to make demos: computer programs that produce audio-visual presentations in real-time. The visual side of creating a demo implies that you actually program algorithms to achieve a certain artistic effects on screen. To put it short, it’s awesome. As soon as my programming skills got up to speed, I started making graphical demos with some cool looking visual effects and showcasing them on so called “demoparties.” As a matter of fact, my thesis work was focused on developing a toolset for real-time motion graphics and visual effects production.

Later on I became more interested in non real-time photorealistic imaging and switched from computer graphics programming to producing visual effects, design and animation in a more traditional industry-applicable form and started doing broadcast motion graphics for television.

IFR: What inspired you to pursue this profession?

VV: After seeing some television channels that were neatly designed from a graphical standpoint or motion pictures packed with great visual effects, I really wanted to become a part of it.

IFR: Are there any particular artists that inspire you?

VV: In my early days I was fascinated with some of the broadcast design graphics on TV and dreamed about getting to this level of quality and impression. That’s what basically inspired me to learn, more than personalities. However after moving to Moscow, I had an opportunity to meet with some of the great guys behind those outstanding designs and work with them.

IFR: What kind of training was involved in order to become a VFX artist? How important is formal education to getting a job in the industry?

VV: I personally don’t have any special VFX related training. Nor do most of the other artists I know. Basically, to become a VFX artist or motion designer, it’s important to have a natural artistic sense and a good eye plus the ability to efficiently handle technical tools and software. On the other hand, it’s also a matter of specialty in the industry, for instance: environmental concept artists or matte painters often have a background in fine arts. One thing is true for everyone working in VFX: you don’t stop learning, no matter what your specialty is.

IFR: What is that you love about being a VFX artist?

VV: The ability to create something impressive out of nothing; and the ability to impress girls at parties, of course.

IFR: What is your specialty in the field?

VV: As a VFX artist, I consider myself a generalist which means that I can pull off a wide variety of tasks myself, including modeling, texturing, animating, rendering, compositing. There are fields that I prefer more, and there are fields I’m not involved in at all – like character modeling and rigging.

As a motion/broadcast graphics designer and art director, again, I can do a lot, starting from initial creative concept to final delivery.

IFR: What is your typical workflow like in terms of collaborating with other artists on a film?

VV: It depends on a project and/or studio. Sometimes workflow is precise, broken down into stages and compartmentalized with strict deadlines, sometimes it’s a complete mess and overnight hell. The most positive experience is of course when you focus on something specific you really like and are good at. This way of collaborating is very efficient and creative at the same time.

IFR: You also work as a motion graphics designer, can you tell us a little bit about what that entails?

VV: Sure. Essentially motion graphics design is an animation-oriented subset of graphic design. Graphic design is just a single picture. Motion design is graphic design in sequence, in motion, and you see it pretty much everywhere: opening sequences for TV shows, film titles, game console menus, or photo-realistic 3D smartphone magically spinning in mid-air in a smartphone TV or Web commercial, or even user interface animation within that smartphone. In other words, any animated piece in visual medium is a subject of motion design.

That’s what I’ve been doing for various television channels including MTV, VH1, Friday!, and others. Sometimes there is client input on the initial concept of what we’re trying to achieve, sometimes there is no input. When there is no input, I also work as a copywriter where I suggest different ideas or scripts on how an end result might look and what meanings/themes it might have behind it. When the concept is approved, we move on to actual motion design.

IFR: How does being a motion graphics editor differ from working as a VFX artist?

VV: Motion graphics is a general term. It’s something that visually can be executed in different ways and styles. It can be two-dimensional, flat design-ish/illustrated looking as well as filmic three-dimensional. I think my direction is more filmic/three-dimensional oriented, that’s why it depends substantially on the visual effects techniques. For example, for a commercial spot for Peugeot the idea was to make a realistic car driving along a stylized miniature street – stuff like that directly relies on VFX techniques because it requires 3D modeling, rendering and compositing as a part of the workflow. In a sense, for such projects VFX is a way to implement the creative idea. That’s where motion graphics and VFX come together.

On the other hand, there are motion graphics projects where VFX techniques are not required for natural reasons. For instance, I have experience making on-screen graphics as a part of graphics package for several television stations where the task was to design the look and feel of info graphic elements that pop up during a broadcast. While these elements look pretty minimalistic, they should have a thought-out motion behavior and structure that keeps the integrity of the overall design. Sometimes the way these elements pop up on screen, interact with the viewer, and disappear is hard to conceptualize. That’s where “design” in the “motion graphics design” title comes to the forefront.

IFR: How has having skills as both a VFX artist and a motion graphics designer separated you from others in the industry?

VV: I think VFX and motion graphics are storytelling devices, and I always try to approach projects from the storytelling perspective. So for me the primary task is not making a neat looking animation or effect but supporting and enhancing the context it is a part of. Motion graphics is about guiding the viewer’s attention and it’s also very important for visual effects shots. What separates me is a good understanding of these aspects which, in real life, means that a client is usually happy with the timing, pace and accents I put into designs during the early stages of production, which is cool because it eliminates the need to reiterate on that so I can spend more time perfecting the visuals.

IFR: What companies have you worked with in the industry?

VV: Since I consider myself motion graphics oriented, I have more experience working on commercials and on-air broadcast design.

As a lead designer and VFX artist, I worked for the Russian branch of MTV and VH1 Networks and nation-wide entertainment television channel Friday! As an art director and motion graphics designer, I’ve done quite a few projects for a major music television channel, RUTV. Specifically, I created motion graphics and the overall design for the RUTV 2014 annual music awards ceremony, and some pieces for its 2015 installment.

As a freelance designer and VFX artist, I’ve done a bunch of commercials for international brands, including Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Volkswagen, Max Factor, Nokia, Samsung, Eurovision, Sensation, plus a variety of Russian brands like Beeline (a major mobile operator in Russia).

As a lead VFX artist, I have several projects done for the US-based boutique postproduction company Coat of Arms. Also, I have great experience working for the international visual effects company Pixomondo (Game of Thrones) as a lead 2D effects artist.

Working for various international companies and clients gives a pretty solid understanding of how the global industry works as well as flexibility in the way you approach projects in terms of planning and workflow because the process makes the result.

IFR: Can you tell us a little bit about the television and film projects you’ve worked on; and the specific contributions you made?

VV: I’ve done a lot of TV show openers and channel idents, in a team of designers and by myself, including works for MTV Networks, nation-wide channels Friday!, and RUTV.

While working for Friday! I had a positive interaction with the broadcast design department of Les télécréateurs (Paris) who designed overall on-air look of this station. I’ve made a few show openers and extra identity pieces based on the existing visual style of the station. And for RUTV I created motion graphics and design for the RUTV 2014 annual music awards ceremony which was a pretty huge amount of work (a show opener, a set of nominees, promo spots, press materials) on a tight schedule – that’s where the ability to sit focused for 18 hours came in handy.

Also, recently I had a chance to work as a lead 2D VFX artist on a Chinese big budget sci-fi feature film called Impossible, which is scheduled to hit the market sometime this year. I came in when the postproduction was in full swing, and my job was to complete a bunch of VFX shots, mostly energy fields and portal effects.

I should mention that I’m a filmmaker myself with two sci-fi live action films already under my belt. The latest one, Redux, features the well-known Hollywood actor Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight, The Expendables). It’s a short character-driven story with the ’80s/retro-futuristic vibe to it. I wrote, directed and edited this film and did visual effects.

IFR: Why is motion graphics design important to modern filmmaking?

VV: In its pure form, motion graphics design is critical for television and Internet – that’s for sure. Filmmaking also takes advantage of it, particularly big budget sci-fi & fantasy films and movie trailers, which are a marketing device. Film credits or sleek futuristic computer interfaces you see in a sci-fi flick is a product of motion graphics design. Sometimes it enhances the narrative story of a film, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s in there. Moreover, since motion design and VFX are somewhat interrelated fields, motion graphics can be essentially found in any film featuring visual effects. That’s also a good way to save some time and money during production, which is important, especially for independent narrative filmmakers like myself. Can a modern live action film be done with no VFX and motion design? Probably yes. But if it’s a mainstream (commercial) film, there should be a marketing/ad campaign involved and that’s where motion graphics comes for you again.

IFR: What has been your favorite project so far and why? What projects do you have coming up?

VV: Not sure about all-time favorites, but I can name a couple of recent ones. I was a part of a team who made a STRAFE® promotional spot for a successful Kickstarter compaign. STRAFE® is an independent old school first-person shooter video game. On this commercial, I worked as a lead VFX/motion design artist.

And of course I loved working on my second film Redux because I think it looks pretty neat, has a coherent story and stars well-known Hollywood actors.

As to the projects to come, some of my past TV clients have a brand new music channel in the works, and while there’s not much info available at this point it looks like I will be creating an onscreen design and several VFX heavy idents shot on green screen.

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

VV: In the TV world, I would say, a show opener. When making a TV show opener, you’re actually making a focused 10-15 second piece which tells a story visually, and that’s what attracted me to the visual medium in the first place.

In film, I have a passion for working on my own films.

IFR: What would you say was your first foot in the door to the industry, and what advice would you give to aspiring artists?

VV: In 2006 I believe, I started making what I called the daily images: the goal was to make one new artistic image every day, just for fun and training, and post it on the Internet into a corresponding design community. I ended up making just a couple of images a week, but after a year of this marathon I was invited to work full-time at a prominent postproduction studio in Moscow, N3, because they liked my pictures. That’s basically how I got into this industry. So I guess my advice would be, stop being aspiring and start actually making something just for the sake of it, start the process and watch how everything unfolds.

One of Canada’s Hottest Stars: Actress Jessica Huras

Over the last decade Canadian actress Jessica Huras has established herself as a sought after talent for high profile theater productions, TV shows and award-winning films. While her versatility and capacity for seamlessly tapping into even the most challenging roles have definitely helped her create the dazzling reputation she has today, it doesn’t hurt that she is undeniably beautiful as well.

Early on in her career Huras appeared on the two-time Gemini Award winning series This Is Wonderland. Shortly after she went on to guest star on the Lifetime TV series Missing alongside multi-award winning actress Vivica A. Fox. An investigative crime series that focuses on finding missing persons, Huras played the roles of Caroline Dunn and Luke Thompson, two characters who at first appear to be separate and unrelated, but over the course of the episode are revealed to be one in the same.

When it comes to choosing one role over another, Huras says, “I look for smart scripts that feel original in some way and that have interesting and complex roles for women.”

In Missing, Huras gives a heart wrenching performance as a transgendered college student who struggles to find his identity as a man born in a woman’s body, a challenging role that only further proves the actress’s affinity for tapping into complex characters.

Audiences across the world will also recognize Huras as Leandra from the first season of the hit television show Being Erica, where she starred alongside Erin Karpluk (Rookie Blue, Reasonable Doubt, Supernatural, Saving Hope, Flashpoint) and Reagan Pasternak (Masters of Sex, Heartland, Cake).

“This was a very theatrical role, allowing me to tap into my darker side and channel my inner Goth,” explains Huras about her character on the three-time Gemini Award and Leo Award winning series.

Similar to the way that Jamie Lee Curtis has become synonymous with the horror genre through her role as Laurie Strode in Halloween, Huras has also become something of a notable “scream queen” on film.

Through films like The Deadly Pledge where she played the role of Nikki Evans alongside Gossip Girl star Leighton Meester, James Isaac’s action packed 2006 horror film Skinwalkers, and NYC: Tornado Terror, Huras has displayed a rare talent for evoking fear within audiences through her believable performances.

Although she has carved out her place as an actress in film and television productions starring alongside some of the best in the industry, the silver screen has by no means taken away from her work as a dedicated performer in the theatre.

In 2009 Huras starred alongside Sebastien Heins from the TV series The Listener, Cracked and Darknet, and Mikaela Dyke from the films Blood Boars and Sight Unseen, in the production of David Levine’s “Reflections On Giving Birth to a Squid.” The production, which opened in Montreal and toured across Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Edmonton as part of the Fringe Festival, received the Centaur Award for Outstanding Production from the Montreal Fringe Festival.

In 2010 the actress also founded Heart in Hand Theater company in Toronto – a revolving collective producing rare plays in need of a comeback, as well as developing new works of their own. Through Heart in Hand, Huras has produced “The Commune,” “Cowboy Mouth” where she played the starring role of Cavale alongside Broken Social Scene member Jason Collett, and “Trout Stanley” where she played the role of Grace Ducharme.

About what drives her to perform, Huras says, “I love telling stories and sharing the human experience. I think it’s the most palpable way of connecting and it’s never dull, not for a second. I’m forever challenged and inspired in this field.”

With each of her characters being completely different from the next, Huras’s dedication to continually pushing herself beyond her comfort zone as an actress has allowed her to amass a wide range of roles on both the stage and screen.

With an astonishing career already under her belt and several productions being released this year, it is clear that we will be seeing a whole lot more of Jessica Huras for years to come. Currently, you can check Huras out in the role of Natalie on the History Channel series Gangland Undercover, which began airing in February. She also wrapped production on the films Anxietyville and Teeth earlier this year, both of which are set to debut later this year.