Category Archives: Intetnational Films

Q & A with Dazzling UK Actor Rob McLoughlin

Suspect13 (2)
Rob McLoughlin as DCI Mills in the film “Suspect 13”

 

We already know through his powerful leading performances in films like “Suspect 13” and “Bio Killer,” that English actor Rob McLoughlin’s dramatic disposition and captivating on screen presence have made quite an impression on audiences.

Early on in his career McLoughlin established himself as a diversely talented actor capable of holding his own alongside industry greats such as Golden Globe nominee Martin Freeman, who McLoughlin acted alongside in one of his first projects on the big screen, the BBC’s “Micro Men.”

Aside from being an extraordinarily talented performer, McLoughlin has the added bonus of being drop dead gorgeous by anyone’s standards. What’s more is the fact that, regardless of whether he’s playing a bad boy criminal like his character in the film “The Fry Up” or a debonair stud, which he portrayed in a recent commercial for Audi (which you can check out below), McLoughlin is a gifted chameleon who is able to easily adapt his look to fit the role.  

 

In one of his most recent films, “Il Sonnambulo,” he applies his remarkable artistry to the horror genre for the first time. His expressive and self-aware nature is serving him well for this new challenge, as the psychological horror featuring a murderous Venetian “Boogey Man” has already won several impressive awards including Vancouver Web Fest’s Best Horror and Seattle Web Fest’s Best Cinematography and Best Director.

With his belief in the power of creativity, his trust in the writing and his engagement in the development of his characters, McLoughlin is a director’s dream. He worked closely with award-winning “Il Sonnambulo” director Doug Rath to create the dynamic character of Roberto Aurelio; an accomplished and somewhat arrogant journalist looking for a big break.

For the recent and first time dad, McLoughlin says, “The subject matter was challenging…although it was so much fun, it was really really dark too.”

It takes a certain positive attitude and passion to cultivate fun on the set of an intense and  murderous horror film, read McLoughlin’s interview below to see how he does just that!

Hi Rob, thanks for joining us! Can you tell our audience where you are from? 

RM: I’m from Liverpool but London has been my home for the past 14 years. It’s a great, fun and  creative city.

When and how did you first get into acting?

RM: When I first came to London I was working as a model. I got into acting that way.  I just got to help out on a couple of unpaid short films. Couple of lines here and there. That sort of thing. I got hooked immediately. I love being on set. I love the process of it all. It’s just so much fun and it is really absorbing to get into the heads of the characters and to tell their stories.

Can you tell us a little bit about the storyline of the film “Il Sonnambulo”?

RM: “Il Sonnambulo” translates as “The Sleepwalker” in Italian. He’s a Venetian ‘Boogey Man’. He is a character that people would warn their kids about, “Be good or Il Sonnambulo will get you.” That kind of thing. He’s really bloody horrible! He kills kids and adults; he mutilates them in fact!

So it begins with a very famous photographer, Atticus Hurst, whose daughter vanished 20 years ago and he’s been taunted by someone claiming to be Il Sonnambulo ever since. This has lead him to many gruesome murder scenes, but his pain of loss and over exposure to the gore has lead him to be somewhat desensitized to it all. Then he teams up with a ‘gonzo’ style journalist, who has forced his way on to the trail of Il Sonnambulo. Things take a very different turn for both of them after that.

How does your character Roberto fit into the story?

RM: I play the journalist, Roberto Aurelio.  He’s a good guy. Was successful in the past winning loads of awards for his war stories when he managed to sneak into Syria to report on the conflict, but the past few years have been quiet for him.  Getting an interview with Atticus Hurst is his big break back into the big time. And oh boy, does he want to exploit that.  Roberto is a fun character.  He’s a chancer, you know? He takes loads of risks. He’s cheeky and arrogant but somehow still remains likable.

How did you approach developing this character for the screen?

RM: I actually sat down with the director, Doug Rath and his wife Hanna and invented Roberto’s back story.  He’s not a million miles away from me personality wise. He definitely looks like me for sure.  I wanted him to be vulnerable but arrogant at the same time.  He has to show balls but he’s scared shitless. And that’s confusing because he thinks Atticus is completely mad, that this is all some spooky crap that Atticus has made up after too many absinthes. However, it’s all too enticing and could get him back on track professionally. I mean, who knows that feeling better than an actor right? Pretty much everything we do is a shot in the dark. Maybe I’m closer to Roberto than I thought. Interesting.

Did you face any challenges along the way?

RM: The subject matter was challenging, I had never done an outright horror film before, and although it was so much fun it was really really dark too. It’s a psychological horror. I think I could have dealt with gore easier. The fact that we were dealing with the horrible murders of babies is what did it, as I had just become a dad for the first time and now I had to put these thoughts in my head.  Yeah, it was really tough, as you can imagine. In fact don’t imagine, I have imagined it for you.

What were some of you most memorable moments during the production?

RM: I broke my nose. All by myself. Actually, I rebroke it.

We were waiting in the green room on set to do a scene at night to be shot in the back of a black cab and I was a bit fidgety. Doug has this cane that he got off a set in Chicago, it was an antique wooden stick with a heavy solid silver bulldog handle. Apparently it belonged to some nasty East End gangster in Victorian London. It was also supposedly cursed. I started spinning the thing around and sure enough I wack myself in the exact place where my nose had been broken 2 months before. I looked around the room and luckily no one had noticed until the makeup girl pointed out there was blood pouring from the bridge of my nose. We were just about to film a scene, man, not good timing.

Has “Il Sonnambulo” had its world premiere yet?

RM: It was shown on the productions own website at Halloween; IlSonnambulo.com. It’s now doing rounds at film festivals and gaining interest from several networks in the States to be shot as a series. It has a lot of legs and the story needs to be pushed on. We left it at one hell of an amazing cliffhanger, so all our fingers are crossed.

Does the film have any upcoming screenings that you can share with us?

RM: It’s been shown at the “Vancouver Web Fest” where it won for Best Horror. It also won Best Cinematography and Best Director at Seattle Web Fest. Its showing in Buenos Aires and Toronto, New Media Film Fest and Montreal Web Fest too. There’s more to be confirmed at this point.

Can you tell us about some of the other film projects you’ve done over the course of your career?

RM: I’ve done quite a few films. My first big film was on a BBC production called “Micro Men” starring Martin Freeman. It’s a true story about Clive Sinclair (Alexander Armstrong) who invented ZX Spectrum home computer and Chris Curry (Freeman), who invented the BBC micro computer which was used in almost every school in the UK. I played one of Curry’s technicians, Nick Toop. The BBC didn’t credit me with the role as I was a late casting, but I’m on the poster! Something I’m still trying to put right 10 years later.

“Suspect 13” was also a highlight in my acting career. Set in a high class private members bar in the city, I played a gangster, who sticks the place up taking all 13 witnesses hostage, and the investigating officer, who accuses all 13 of committing the crime.  It was amazing fun to play 2 characters at the same time. Playing the bad guy is always fun. Written and directed by Sam Walker and produced by his company BloomBox, this was his first film. It was shot in black and white for a very noir feel. Sam has become a good friend since we worked together.

Can you tell us about some of the notable people you’ve worked with over the years?

RM: I spent eight years working at the Royal Opera House in London doing stage combat and stunt work. Working with Placido Domingo on Cyrano De Bergerac and Simon Boccanegra was awesome! I’ve worked with world renowned director David McVicar many times. One of the things I worked with him on was Le Nozze Di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) which won several awards. We actually devised an opening scene during the overture which has never been done in the two hundred years of its production so there’s a little bit of history there.

Going from there to films, back and forth has always kept things fresh for me. Working with Martin Freeman on “Micro Men” was great. He’s a super friendly guy. I also told him he was going to play the Hobbit after reading it in Empire Magazine. Something he knew nothing about at the time. I take full credit for that by the way!

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

RM: That is simple; fun! That’s why I do what I do. I love my job. Love it! I get to make pretend like we did when we were kids, but now I do it for a living. I hope that shows in my performances. One day I’m sword fighting on stage in front of two thousand people and the next I’m on set with fifty people who’ve all shown up because they believe in this script we’ve all read. It’s amazing! That’s the power of it. Everything we do, we believe is the best thing ever. That’s exciting!

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

RM: The story for a start. The experience I will get and what I will learn from it. I’m not financially motivated at all. I leave that to other people. I’ve worked on many things for very little to no money because I believed in the story. You just know when you read the script, “I want to do this!” Everything is in the writing.

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

RM: No, not really. I’ve probably played a version of the same character more than once but not that I’ve really noticed. Any similarities in roles I have played have always been far apart enough for me not to notice. So no, I don’t feel typecast in any way.

Out of all of the projects you’ve been in to date, what has been your favorite project, or projects, and why?

RM: Working at the Royal Opera House was amazing fun! I love doing the stunts and training hard. I even went and got a personal trainer qualification off the back of it.

“Suspect 13” was amazing! Pulling off a heist in the middle of the financial centre in London was brilliant. We nearly got arrested by the CID when we began filming as they didn’t realize we had permission to film in the area. Especially dressed in suits with balaclavas carrying baseball bats and concealed guns. That was a memorable moment!

I did a six week run in theatre playing the role of Jean in “Miss Julie.” That was a real eye-opener for me. I hadn’t done much theatre before then so playing the lead in a classic such as that brought it’s own challenges. I learned so much in those 6 weeks. On the last performance, a matinee on a Sunday afternoon, we did a performance for a school. When the curtain went down at the finale a 16 year old kid in the front row said to his friend (not too quietly either), “Thank f*** for that!” “Yep,” I said, “Thank f*** for that!”

What has been your most challenging role?

RM: Erm,…. a couple I think.  I played an abusive husband in “The Loving Brutality.” That was tough as I had to get my head around someone who beats his wife. I had to find some sympathy for the character as that’s the only way you can play it. He’s a bully, a horrible guy, but of course, he doesn’t know he’s bully. It was dark. The role made me feel very weird, I don’t do bullies.

“Il Sonnambulo” was tough, again because of the subject matter. As a new dad, I didn’t expect I would be imagining horrific things happening to babies as part of my job. It was extremely challenging. Doug (the director) felt the same. He had a model made of a dismembered baby for one of the scenes. We couldn’t even look at it. Up close it didn’t even look that realistic but we kept it covered until it was needed. I don’t think it even made the final cut. It was too much.

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

RM: Saying all that, I really liked doing the horror thing. We all get a thrill from being scared or creeped out. I’m lucky I got to make one. I would definitely do another one. I also love comedy. It’s so bloody hard to get that right. People always tell me the way to play comedy is to play it straight and I agree on the most part but America loves slapstick. You can’t play that straight. That needs to be amped up. Laughter is the best medicine they say.

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

RM: I’m me. I don’t look at others and wish I was them. I’m just me. I don’t really blow my own trumpet, I believe I have good qualities though. I have good acting chops! I know I can switch from drama to comedy. Sometimes in the same sentence. We’re particularly good at that in the north of England, and that’s how life is most of the time, isn’t it? I can scrub up ok, don a suit or scruff up quite easily for a role. My normal style is jeans and a t-shirt. I’m witty, I’m intelligent; I was given a good brain and I like to use it. I’m relaxed. Maybe too much sometimes but I’m also professional. I do my job to the best of my abilities every time.

Have you been in any commercials or music videos?

RM: Yes, I’ve done a few commercials. Last year I did a six-part Mark’s and Spencer ad for Valentine’s Day. It was based on an internet date that goes really well thanks to M&S. I also did a commercial for Audi recently. We filmed in Spain and I was strapped to the top of their new cars being driven down an airport runway at 80 mph. That was so much fun. I wanted to do it all week. The hardest part was I was meant to be reading a newspaper and looking really relaxed. Not so easy when the wind is pushing the paper into your face. We used a cardboard one in the end. It was like 100 degrees and I got totally burnt but I really enjoyed it.

What projects do you have coming up?

RM: So, apart from the interest in “Il Sonnambulo,” I’m currently attached to a film called “Betrayal,” written by my friend Malcolm Davies. It’s a really well written gangster drama. It’s in pre-production at the moment but there’s a few big names attached already. I’m set to play the co-lead in this. There’s such a nice twist in this story which sets it apart from the mainstream British gangster film, which usually gets centered around football for some reason.  I’m really looking forward to getting started on it.

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

RM: I love working. I just want to work. I’m ambitious, I want to carve out a successful career.  I can see myself directing at some point. I would love to write, direct and star in something one day. It’s the life less ordinary, isn’t it?

My family and friends have always supported me and my partner is a rock. I owe it to them to be successful.

Why is acting your passion and chosen profession?

RM: I studied fine art in college. My dad is an artist, my whole family is quite creative actually. We have lots of musicians and singers. It was a natural progression for me. I’ve always been obsessed with movies and I’ve always wanted to make them. I hope I can be behind the camera at some point, but for the moment I’m really enjoying working in front of it. I must be mad!

 

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Haisu Wang: From China’s Base-FX to Becoming a Leading Art Director in the U.S.

 

Tian-ran QIn
Art Director Haisu Wang shot by Tian-ran Qin

No matter how skilled the cast and director are, how polished the script is or how astronomical the budget may be, a film will never reach its full potential without an art director capable of bringing its visual essence to life. Haisu Wang has dedicated years to becoming one of the best in the industry, and has an incredible list of credits under his belt earned while working at some of the most prestigious firms in the world.

Wang, while in China, was an integral part of the Emmy award-winning BASE-FX visual effects production company. BASE-FX has worked with every major studio in the U.S. to produce some of the most stunning and revolutionary CGI effects in 21st century film and television. Wang worked on two of the three projects for which BASE-FX earned Emmy wins. The first was HBO’s gripping World War II series The Pacific, produced by Academy Award winners Tom Hanks (Best Actor – Forrest Gump, Philadelphia) and Steven Spielberg (Best Director – Saving Private Ryan, Best Picture – Schindler’s List). The Pacific won eight Primetime Emmys; the effects work done by Wang and the BASE-FX team was recognized with the 2010 Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Television Miniseries.

The second, Boardwalk Empire, is the critically-acclaimed HBO crime drama starring Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Reservoir Dogs, The Big Lebowski). Boardwalk Empire was nominated for 57 Primetime Emmys and won a total of 20 in an array of categories between 2011 and 2015. For its visual production work on the series, BASE-FX won the 2011 Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Television Series.

After two immensely successful years at BASE-FX, Wang moved to Los Angeles and was accepted into the prestigious Production Design program at the world renowned American Film Institute. It was there that he further honed his already sharp talent for visual production and established his reputation as an extraordinary art director.

In 2014, he was the art director for two films – Contrapelo and Day One – which were both honored with a long list of accolades and critical praise. Both Contrapelo and Day One also caught the attention of Academy Awards judges and were on the top-10 shortlist of nominees for the 2015 Best Live Action Short Film award.

Thanks in no small part to Wang’s position as art director, Contrapelo has taken the festival circuit by storm. It won the Phoenix Film Festival’s award for Best Live Action Short Film and was nominated for Best Overall Short Film at both the Calgary International and Oldenburg Film Festivals. At its core, Contrapelo is a philosophical film about the gray areas of morality. When he discovers that the man in his chair is a cartel boss, a Mexican barber grapples with his desire and opportunity to kill the vile man responsible for innumerable deaths and heinous crimes.

“Because the story is set in a small town in Mexico in the 1990s, the main challenge was recreating the Mexican barbershop interior and the abandoned travel agent office – the hideout used by the leader of the drug cartel – in a soundstage in L.A.,” Wang said. “My personal challenge was designing these two main sets in a short amount of time, and also quickly gathering a really effective construction team to build them in one-and-a-half weeks.”

With his extensive 3D computer design skills, Wang was quickly able to create a digital mock-up of the sets. This enabled the director to visualize blocking and plan shots in earnest, and allowed the crew to prepare camera and rigging placements to meet those demands. Construction crews used Wang’s designs to begin building the sets while all of the planning was being done simultaneously using the same shared computer layouts. Rather than having to wait until the sets were completed, Wang’s quick thinking shaved weeks off of the tight production schedule.

Day One, the emotional true story of an American interpreter in Afghanistan, was also a top-10 Academy Award contender for Best Live Action Short Film. Though the film was set in the Afghan desert, it was filmed in the desert outside Los Angeles. The terrain proved a significant hurdle for the production, but once again Wang was able to apply his high-tech know-how to navigate the situation with ease.

“One of the main challenges of this set build was the uneven ground condition in the desert,” Wang said, describing another instance where his technical expertise proved essential to a production’s success. “I was able to use my digital skills to analyze the topography of the desert location, and I created a 3D model of the real location. I then helped the designer create the set in my 3D replica model.”

A huge critical success, Day One centers around a recently divorced woman joins the military and is deployed to Afghanistan as an interpreter. On her first day in the country she encounters a terrorist bomb-maker and his wife, who has just gone into labor. Her life is forever changed when she must help the woman deliver the child. At the 2015 Academy of Television Arts and Sciences College Television Awards, Day One received Emmys for both Best Drama and Best Directing. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Los Angeles (BAFTA/LA) also awarded the film’s director, Henry Hughes, with the 2015 award for Best Director.

Hughes says, “Haisu’s vision and rare skill using digital software to create some of the most challenging sets for ‘Day One’ was invaluable to our production, especially considering the geographic challenges of the location. Without his contributions it would have been nearly impossible to construct these sets in the amount of time and within the allotted budget. He is definitely a huge asset to the film industry.”

Wang’s skill, experience and qualifications put him in the same class as many lifelong industry veterans. A person with Wang’s talent and drive is a rare and precious asset in this business, and his awe-inspiring list of credits and accolades continues to grow every day. He is a master of the craft, gifted with an instinctive ability to visualize and execute both the subtle and the overt artistic and creative nuances of a film. A film is only as good as its art director, and when a film calls for the very best Haisu Wang is will be there to surpass even the highest expectations.

Q & A with Leading Canadian Actor Ian Fisher

Fans of the hour-long action-packed crime series Covert Affairs will probably recognize Canadian actor Ian Fisher immediately from his recurring role as Patrick on the fifth and final season of the Golden Globe nominated series, which aired internationally on USA Network last year.

While Fisher undoubtedly displays his capacity for drama in the fast-paced series, an aspect of his craft that he has shown through his performances in multiple other high-profile productions as well, the actor is also equipped with an unparalleled sense of humor and incredible comedic timing—something that easily shines through the text over the course of the interview below.

Last year Fisher both co-wrote and starred in the acclaimed production of “World Pride and Prejudice,” which ran during the 2014 World Pride Festival in Toronto at The Second City. He also recently wrapped production on the film Glory River directed by Black McWilliam, who produced the film The Little Deputy, which was nominated for awards at the Sundance Film Festival and SXSW Film Festival earlier this year.

Fisher’s unique upbringing, which he reveals in the interview, has allowed him to understand some of the most challenging characters and bring them to life on both the stage and screen with seamless precision. To find out more about this dazzling star, make sure to read below!

You can also find out more about his work through his IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3965339/?ref_=fn_al_nm_2

 

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

IF: I’m originally from Vernon, a small town in the mountains of British Columbia. I’ve lived in Toronto for the last six years though.

I was always a pretty big dreamer. When I was a kid, I wanted to do it all. I wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, a spy, even being a jewel thief looked pretty intriguing. I was pretty disheartened when I learned that even in a best-case scenario I’d likely have to pick only one of those things to dedicate my life to, since pursuing any of them would take so much time. So I decided if I wouldn’t be alive long enough to do everything, why not just pretend to do everything. Plus I didn’t really know what any of those jobs really entailed outside of what I saw on TV, so I guess the answer was in front of my face the whole time.

My father died when I was three. He was this local legend in terms of athletics; he was one of those guys who was good at any sport he played. We had tons of photos of him skateboarding, surfing, skiing, playing baseball, and that’s pretty much all we knew of him, so growing up, my younger brother and I had this desire to become that in a way. And my brother was, he was the best natural athlete I’d ever seen but unfortunately for me, I wasn’t. I really had to work hard to get good at things. Eventually, by persistently practicing I got decent enough at most of them that I could compete but on the way up I was on a lot of losing teams, if I even made the teams at all. In university, during a pick up game of basketball or something, I heard someone describe me as a natural athlete–I kind of scoffed at that. None of it was “natural.” It was all hard work. I was never really a natural anything until I started acting.

I’d always done voices and accents for as long as I can remember, and once I started doing plays, it started to all come together. I finally knew what it felt like to stand out in something. I quit the high school basketball team to do a play and since I’m not 6’8, I haven’t really looked back.

I booked my first paid job in 2009, the first TV audition I ever went to, and within a few years I was working consistently, so I guess that’s when I became a professional technically.

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

IF: My most prominent role was a recurring role on the fifth and final season of Covert Affairs where I played a young CIA agent named Patrick who was the personal assistant of the director of the Domestic Protection Division, Calder Michaels (played by Hill Harper from CSI: New York, Limitless.) At first I approached the role with the mentality, and I stole this line from Ocean’s Eleven, but it stuck with me: “you want him to like you, but forget you.” So I’d always enter the room with that in mind. Since there are so many classified conversations in a CIA office, I wanted to get in, and get out before I heard something above my pay grade. My main job on the show was to show up and deliver bad news.

During the later episodes, since my character was so involved in his boss’s life, I was one of the few characters who knew that Calder was having an affair with an escort. So in addition to managing a CIA director’s professional life, I was also juggling his personal one. Since so many characters get killed on that show, I was always nervous that I would get a script and it would say that my office would get blown up or a stray bullet would come through a window. Unfortunately for everyone, the show ended on a cliffhanger so we’ll never really know the fate of Patrick. But I like to think he’s out there in an alternate universe, stressed out and delivering bad news perpetually.

I’m very excited about a film I did recently called Glory River, which is about a small town obsessed with its hockey team. It’s kind of along the same lines of what Friday Night Lights did with football. The film, which is actually intended to expand into a series after the festival circuit, shows that even if you’ve been the best on your team your entire life, the odds are still so small at actually making it professionally. I play Noah Gallagher, the town’s star player who, for as long as he’s been able to walk, has been told he’s destined to make the NHL. He has the entire community’s hopes and dreams on his shoulders, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to pan out after all.

As good as he is, he’s still not good enough. It’s tough since there’s never been a back up plan for him, if he fails at this then he feels he’ll have nothing else left, which is a lot of pressure for a teenager. My character has a working class single mother whose played by Rachel Hayward, who’s sacrificed her entire life for this goal for him by working a brutal job on the oil rigs up in northern Alberta, so if he fails, he also feels like he’s failing her. She’s a drunk who’s relentless in the pressure she puts on him to succeed, so there’s also that weighing on him on top of everything else.

I had worked with the film’s director, Blake McWilliam, on another film called Camp about a year ago, and when I heard about this project I was really interested. I never actually played hockey myself, nor did I really follow it, but it’s still such a part of Canadian culture that it’s impossible to be completely removed. The fictional town, Glory River, for which the film is named after, for me that was my hometown of Vernon. I knew these people, I knew this world, even if I wasn’t directly involved in it.

I was also very interested in Noah’s relationship with his mother, since I was raised by a single mother myself, this really resonated with me. Initially there was a concern about casting me since they wanted someone who had actually played hockey, since there would also be a lot of in-game footage. Because I had this relationship with the director from our last film, I was lucky enough to have a line to talk to him. So as I was testing for the part, I was also able to talk to him about the story, and I was able to share with him my personal experience with my mom. I think that really helped me get the role, because even though hockey had never been a part of my life, I knew this character better then anyone. What he was going through was similar to what I had gone through in my own life in a way. Hockey can be learned, what it feels like to be raised with one parent cannot.

A lot of my training has been method based, and I always like to draw from my own life for my characters. This character and I shared so many similarities that I already had a head start, and I was really dying to bring him to life. After I booked the part, I actually hired an All College Hockey America player to work with me privately on my own hockey skills. I knew I’d never really be able to become a great skater or hockey player in only a few weeks, however I wanted to be able to cheat it enough in between stunt double footage that I didn’t look like a complete idiot. So I got her to make sure I was never holding a stick in a way that looked awkward, or doing things that they would never actually do. I still have a little scar on my ankle from skating in brand new skates as much as I did during those prep weeks. I’m very proud of this film and excited to see what happens with it, and if it does become a series, I would love to remain involved with it in some capacity. It’s currently playing at the Calgary International Film Festival on Sept 29th and Oct 4th.

The Epitaph is a film I co-wrote and produced with funding from the BravoFACT foundation and Bell Media. It’s directed by Kris Holden-Ried (The Tudors, Lost Girl) and will air on Bravo. The main concept of the film is: “What would you do if you knew the day you were going to die, but not the year.”

It’s a unique twist on a story about fate. This was a very cool experience because it was the first time that something I had written, was being produced and will air on a major network. Plato Fountindakis, who was an executive producer on the SyFy series Lost Girl for five seasons, came onboard early as our executive producer and was a really great mentor for me. I had produced small films and web series’ before however this was the first time I was involved in something this big.

I initially had the idea for the concept while bored at a bar one night and I turned to my friend and asked “If you could know the day you are going to die, but not the year, would you want to know?” It all grew from there. My co-writers Jason Gosbee, Scott Cavalheiro and I really started exploring that concept. Since we use a 365-day calendar, I’m fascinated by the fact that every year we pass the day that will eventually be our last without giving it a second thought. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, all these days with so much meaning, but the one that will have the most effect on us and our loved ones, remains a mystery –until it happens. Your kids or friends or family will be aware of a day that you pass blindly every year, that right now means nothing to you, but they’ll never forget. So in the universe we’ve created with our film, this day is no longer a mystery. We get to see the effect that knowledge of your own fate has on the world. Ideally, we want to expand it into a full-length feature or TV series. I do also make a cameo in the film. My own little ode to Hitchcock.

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

IF: I’m often excited to play all kinds of characters, and I’m confidant playing a range of different people. What’s harder for me is putting my ego aside and turning things down when I’m not right for it. I think as young actors we sometimes just want to be working or we feel like we can do anything, even if the character is not right for us. So sometimes I have to reevaluate a script, or a project and say, “No, I’m just not the guy,” even if I really want to be. It’s way more beneficial than trying to force something that isn’t working. A great script or a great director can be a game changer too. After Glory River, I’ll do anything Blake McWilliam wants me for. He’s truly an actor’s director and I did some my proudest work on that film because of the freedom and environment he created on set.

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

IF: The last live show I did outside of comedy clubs was a sketch show called “World Pride and Prejudice” at The Second City. We wrote and performed it over the course of a year through the Second City’s signature style of writing through improv. It ran during the World Pride festival in Toronto in 2014. That was lots of fun. Being on the same stage that John Candy, Dan Akroyd, Eugene Levy, all these great comic actors have been on, that was really an honor.

For the most part, outside of comedy, I stopped doing live theatre a few years ago. I’m such a big fan of film as a medium and the spontaneity of doing it authentically or differently take to take. Once you do it once, you don’t have to try to recreate anything, the camera’s already captured that moment, so you have room to play and try new things. I find that happens in the rehearsal process of a play, but is often lost in the performance since you might find something great once, but then you try to hit that again 8 times a week for 3 months. Too many actors make the mistake of trying to get it right again, instead of just working moment to moment. There are actors who can pull it off and love doing it but for now, I want to work with the camera.

What has been your favorite role so far and why?

IF: That’s tough. I don’t know about a favorite but right now my top 3 would be, Covert Affairs, Glory River, and Reign. All for different reasons. Playing Patrick on Covert Affairs gave me an opportunity to work with some great actors who really knew their characters. I came into that show for the final season so by the time I was there some of them had been playing these characters for four or five years, so it was really valuable to see how they would talk things over with the writers or directors. Because the nature of episodic TV, almost all of the episodes have a different director, so that gave me an opportunity to see a range of styles and work with a variety of different people. Even though we were the same characters, on the same sets, each director had their own take and vision for their episode. It was also cool because by the time I got there the crew had been making this show for five seasons so it was such a well-oiled machine. They already had a system in place, I was coming into their world and they really made me feel welcome.

I loved playing Noah in Glory River because of the personal connection I felt to him, we came from very similar worlds. We were both raised by single mothers, both from small towns and both have big goals. I knew I could do him and that story justice. It’s a story that is so engrained in the lives of Canadians, and I was really excited to be able to bring it to the screen. That was a really great set experience and it gave me a chance to see parts of the country that I had never been too before. We shot it in Red Deer, and Edmonton Alberta, two cities I had never been too prior to doing this film. It was great to work with these local crews and seeing Alberta’s film industry first hand. Working with the director Blake McWilliam and the Director of Photography Mike McLaughlin is always a lot of fun. Because we’d already done one film together in the past, it was like being on set with your friends. Both of those guys are so good at what they do; it was really great to not only have respect for them as filmmakers, but to also enjoy being around them as well. Because we know each other, and each other’s work, we already have a trust built in. We never have to doubt what the end product might look like, so it’s one less thing on the mind. That gave us all the freedom to take some risks and find some really nice stuff for this film.

Reign was a great experience because that was the first time I got to play a character from a different time period, so even on the level of costumes and accents it was unique to me. It’s not everyday that you show up to work and there are horses and castles everywhere, at least it’s not for me. I’m a big history fan and this show allowed me to go back in time for a little bit, or as close as I’ll ever get to being able to actually do that. Director Jeff Renfroe was really easy to work with, he really trusted what I prepared with for the character, which gave me the confidence to just go to work.

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

IF: Drama and comedy are my favorites; I’m lucky enough that I happen to be a strong dramatic actor, who is also funny. In a perfect world I’d love to do what Jamie Foxx or Robin William’s can do and have done. These guys are Oscar Award winning actors, who are also great stand ups and have done great comedies. You’re telling me Ray is that funny in Horrible Bosses? The fact that that’s the same guy is very impressive. Two very different skill sets and to be a master of both is incredible. I love making dramatic movies. I’m a big fan of subtlety and working with people who live as truthfully as possible under the circumstances. But comedies are also great, and they seem to stay in people’s consciousness in such a lasting way. I love going to the movies in the fall when all the Best Picture nominees are coming out, those are my favorite type of movies to watch, but comedies touch people in a different way. People from my generation still quote Anchorman, Mean Girls, or Superbad. Those are the movies people watch over and over again. So I’d love to be able to have a career in both. I’d love to be in the kind of films Paul Thomas Anderson or Wes Anderson make…maybe I just have a thing for Anderson’s…

What separates you from other actors?

IF: I’m not afraid to work for it. A lot of actors I know sit around and wait for the phone to ring. Which is so deadly. I did that for about 2 months after I got my first agent and I started to go crazy. That’s when I first started taking classes. Now I’m always training because whether or not I’ll get auditions or offers is out of my control, but if I’m always practicing, then I’m always getting better, and when those opportunities do come up, I’m even better and more prepared then I would have been. Actors are often entitled and they feel like they don’t need to work for it. If a musician never worked on their strings or a basketball player never took shots outside of games they would be awful, but often actors think they’re an exception. If I’m not shooting anything then I’m taking a class, writing or doing stand up, or producing my own stuff; but I’m never sitting around. I don’t want to look back in ten years and think that I could have done more or blame anyone else for how my career went. If I’m up against someone for a part, they better have done their homework, because I definitely did. I’m also in a smaller boat because I’m not a comic actor who also does drama, or a dramatic actor who also does comedy. It would be hard to box me into one category. It’s two separate stands for me and I’m lucky enough, or have practiced enough to be exceling at both at the moment. In a dream world, I’d love to have careers like Marlon Brando & Dave Chappelle. I guess Jamie Foxx pretty much did that…and he also sings right…that guy’s a talent.

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

IF: I’ve been told that it’s interesting watching me think. Which I think is a great compliment for an actor– that there’s lot happening behind my eyes. Whether we’re doing a comedy or a drama, if we’re doing a scene together I’m going to really be listening to you. I’m also an experienced improviser, which allows us to go off script and improvise dialogue or situations if desired. Comedy and drama are obviously different but at the same time, they aren’t, so much of it is about good listening.

What projects do you have coming up?

IF: The Netflix original series Between has been picked up for a second season, I guest starred in one of the last episodes of the first season and it looks like my character is potentially coming back for season 2. I play John, a devout Mennonite who finds out one of the lead characters, Gord (Ryan Allen) has been having an affair with my wife Hanna. (Rebecca Liddard.) My character shows up and creates quite a conflict and we haven’t seen how it’s resolved yet. It ends on a cliffhanger, and I’m very curious about what happens next and am excited about the possibility of coming back and exploring that further.

A new episode of my series The Party Show will be coming out soon. We’re always in a state of making one of those when we can.

What are your plans for the future?

IF: Planning to move to L.A for 2016, in addition to TV & films, I’d like to take some UCB classes and to start doing stand up regularly in L.A. And also surf a few times a week. It’s been awhile since I’ve surfed without a wetsuit. In-N-Out Burger, that’s on the list.

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

IF: I have some big goals, but at the end of the day I want to make the kind of movies or TV that I like watching. When I was a little kid my mom used to dress up to watch the Oscars. I would love to be able to take her there someday.

Why is acting your passion and chosen profession?

IF: Being funny is like having a super power. I was never the bravest, best looking, fastest or strongest, but I’ve always been able to make people laugh. That separated me and gave me something special. I attribute so many of the good things in my life to my sense of humor. Most of my friends or my relationships, professional and personal, wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for that. I don’t want to just be a really funny stockbroker, or the funniest guy at the party. If I don’t do something with this it seems like it’s such a waste. Quite simply, I’m good at this, I love doing it and I work very hard to be better and better. I truly believe I’m not suited better for anything else. Oh and the money.

Q & A with Chinese Producer Min Dai!

Producer Min Dai
Producer Min Dai at the Texas Black Film Festival with Festival President David Small courtesy of Selig Polyscope Company

For nearly a century Hollywood has been the one place in the world that is recognized for great filmmaking beyond all others. While Bollywood and other regions have tried to catch up to Hollywood’s annual box office results, for the most part, their efforts have paled in comparison; however, China has proven itself to be a formidable competitor for the Hollywood film industry in the last few years. According to an article published by Bloomberg.com last month, “China’s monthly box office receipts for February passed those of the U.S. for the first time.”

International Film Review recently had the opportunity to interview Chinese producer Min Dai, the producer behind the films Icebox, Device, 4 Latas, Come Wander With Me, Eat a Hot Dumpling Slowly, You Only Live Once and many others.

Last year Dai’s film Meeting Gary, which she both produced and directed, was nominated for Best Short Film and a Best Actor Award at the 2014 Texas Black Film Festival where it was chosen as an Official Selection. The film was also chosen as an Official Selection at the Action On Film International Film Festival, the San Francisco Black Film, the Arizona International Film Festival, the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival and several others.

Dai has also established herself as a leading producer in the documentary film genre bringing films like You and Me, A Trip to Tibet, Ning Xia and Momo Lee Aoi’s Wake up with Me to the screen for international audiences to enjoy.

After working as a producer on several popular television shows like Mission for Peace, The Story of Gengtian Xi, King of Silk and others back home in China, producer Min Dai transitioned into the American film industry where her ability to liaise between U.S. and Chinese productions has become an invaluable asset to a long list of productions.

To find out more about the work of producer Min Dai, and why the growing collaborative relationship between the American and Chinese film industries is imperative to the future of film, check out our interview below.

 

IFR: Where are you from? When and how did you begin working as a producer?

MD: I am from Beijing. I began working as a producer back in 2006. I started producing Chinese short films, commercials and television series; and in 2010, I studied directing in New York City and have extended my work as a producer to include American productions since then.

IFR: Can you tell me about some of your experiences in the industry as a producer?

MD: I am from a media centered family in Beijing. Growing up I had opportunities to learn from many field professionals in China, so by the time I was in high school I was already busy working on film projects. I have always been interested in the entertainment world. My mother’s production company, Beijing’s Voice of Time, has worked closely with the China Central Television (CCTV) for many years since the late 90s.

In 2006, I began producing short films directed by Chinese independent filmmakers, including my own short film, Reborn. In 2008 I was hired as the line producer for television shows, including the large-scale television series, Mission for Peace and King of Silk in 2009, which were produced by China International Television Corporation, and starred notable Chinese actors Ma Yili, Zhang Guangbei and so on.

My work was very crucial for the daily operations of each program, premiered on CCTV Channel 8’s Primetime Show. At that time I was often mistaken for being a much older producer while working on King of Silk production, until one day a young actor chatted with me and found out I was six months younger than her. Because of the trust Ma Runsheng, the Chairman of China International Television Corporation, had in me, I couldn’t afford to fail him or anyone else, so I worked extra hard each day during the shooting period. And, I have grown so much since then thanks to that experience, and countless others like it.

In 2010, I came to America to study film directing. I began to connect with many interesting people in the U.S. entertainment industry and I was fortunate to work with producer Jackie Subeck, the president of a production company located in Los Angeles called Footprint Worldwide. I began working on projects involving 30 seconds to Mars and Linkin Park during their tours in China where I was the co-producer for both of their projects handling the productions in China. In 2012, I worked with Carl Gilliard, the co-founder of the Duke Media Foundation, the partner of Bill Duke who is famous for his roles in Predator, Commando and Action Jack, on my film Meeting Gary. The film was an Official Selection at several international film festivals and was nominated for awards at the Texas Black Film Festival and San Francisco Black Film Festival. I also produced the film. I also produced the film One True Yarn.

PLM: With China making huge advances in their film industry, what is that makes you want to work in the U.S.? What differences do you see between the film industries in the two countries?

MD: China film industry has been booming lately, and it is very exciting. What’s more exciting is that between Hollywood and China there are countless collaborations going on where people that are familiar with both cultures like me can be of great service. China has a great history of producing good quality indie movies, and now we are on our way to producing big budget movies that are not only for Chinese audiences, but also for the world. We cannot achieve that without having a strong partnership with America, which continues to produce many of the greatest big budget movies in film history. From my experience I’ve learned that there are different processes in filmmaking between these two countries. It is much more flexible in terms of running a set in China than it is in America, where in China more spontaneous surprises can be captured and in America the sets are more professional and regulated. There are pros and cons in both styles and I think to incorporate the differences and learning from each other will enhance our film industries so both can make better movies for the world.

IFR: You’ve also produced several documentaries– can you tell me about them?

MD: In 2009 I produced my first travel documentary, A Trip to Tibet, directed by independent director King Zhang in China. We followed a group of city teachers from Beijing who volunteered at an elementary school for three weeks in Tibet. The school conditions were extremely poor and there was only one local teacher in the whole village. The shooting was very difficult considering many members of the crew experienced altitude sickness. We were able to finish all of the shooting on schedule within the time frame that we were there; and the film was screened at the Beijing International Film Festival in 2014, and the 2014 Shanghai International Film Festival.

In 2010 I had the opportunity to produce and direct the documentary film You and Me, which concerned the living conditions of elderly people in the Washington County Home, and documented their daily lives. The film revealed the dark side of elderly caretaking in the region, showing that many of them were abandoned and forgotten, but County Home took them in even though many of them couldn’t afford to live there. Our crew went to the home for interviews and for most of the shooting, and we spent a lot of time with the residents there, including eating and chatting with them. The film was used as the election material at the Washington County for fundraising in 2010.

IFR: What is it about producing documentary films that you are passionate about?

MD: I love documentaries because they challenge you to face reality and reveal some of the dark corners of human history. At times I find documentaries create a much stronger impact, sometimes more intense than a thriller. I think filmmakers that are interested in documentary films feel a social responsibility and want things to change for the better. I want to make things for the better and that’s why I am passionate about documentary films.

IFR: Can you tell me about some of the music videos you’ve produced?

MD: I had a couple experiences producing music videos. I found it a bit relaxing producing music videos since they are fairly short and easy to shoot based on the scale of the productions I worked on so far. But they are a great fun to work on because of the people involved. I also produced my own music film Transparent Thing, and the music video for “Chasing Happiness” by Chinese singer Kelly Cha.

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

MD: I actually like the fact that I am able to work on so many different projects. That’s the fun part of producing, you can use what you know and your ability to make so many projects happen and help so many people. It works that way in documentaries as well as in music videos.

IFR: Why are you passionate about working as a producer?

MD: I think my passion for making things happen is a great motive of being a producer. I don’t want to let people down. I have participated in most of these projects because they are honest and present an important matter that I care about. I think it is a very precious thing to produce something honest in this industry.

IFR: What production companies have you worked with in the past?

MD: In 2008 I began working with China International Television Corporation as a producer and line producer w on several of their television series. The corporation produces television shows in China nationwide. The projects I worked on ranged from 10 episodes to over 49 episodes. As an executive producer, I have also worked with King’s Film and WIN China group for their short films and commercials.

In 2010, I produced multiple projects for Footprint Worldwide and became close friends with the founder of the company, Jackie Subeck. The company works closely with Chinese productions and China related projects. I produced numerous films since 2010 in the U.S. including many award winners. In 2012, I worked with Hollywood actor Carl Gilliard on the film Meeting Gary. I have and will be working with him closely in the future.

IFR: What production companies or agencies are you currently working with?

MD: I am going to work with Gilliard Media Group founded by actor/ producer Carl Gilliard. Carl has a successful career as an actor with over 70 film credits including Inception, Coach Carter, Red Eye and hit television show 24.

Next year I will be working with Duke Media Foundation, Time Pieces founded by independent filmmaker Alice Millar, Mano a Mano Productions founded by independent filmmakers Victor Martin and Fabian Martin, as well as others.

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

MD: I’ve picked most of these projects because the project itself intrigued me, or because I thought I was capable of helping these specific projects. I have a strong feeling when someone really needs me, for example, in 2013 I helped produce a project for LA tourism that was geared towards the Chinese consumer to help boost Los Angeles tourism in the future. The project was in need of a Chinese-speaking producer who knew the market in China to guide them through, and that was where I found myself being the most helpful to the project. When the need is great and you can help, the motivation is strong.

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

MD: It’s a very hard question because I have many favorite projects. I think I am a fan of working on film projects, because it is intense and you must make sure you are making the best decisions for the cast and crew at all times.

IFR: What would you say your strongest qualities as a producer are?

MD: I’m very hardworking. I think that’s the fundamental quality of doing anything successful. I think producers must have the instinct to discover valuable materials and finding appropriate resources. So far I’m doing good on those aspects.

IFR: What projects do you have coming up?

MD: I have projects lined up including the documentary film Wake Up With Me, produced by InterMix Productions, the web series Tina, produced by Wilson Becton and other projects including feature films and TV movies with Gilliard Media Group and Duke Media Foundation. I also have an exciting documentary film coming up about dogs and human relations in China. 

IFR: What are your plans for the future?

MD: I have found myself happily working as a producer and creating stories and I want to keep doing what I love for many years to come.

IFR: What do you hope to achieve in your career?

MD: I started working in this industry at a young age and I’ve found myself growing stronger and wiser as time goes on. But most importantly I learned a lot about life and how to be a better person. My work has become my lifestyle. More than the wealth and the fame my career can bring, what I hope to do is create better and more unique projects that most people will remember and love for many years to come.

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

MD: I have a bachelor’s degree in Television & Broadcasting and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Film Directing. I have had extensive training in all aspects of production of television and film from pre-production to post-production. I also think the experience of running productions in both China and the U.S. has expanded my ability in working in different culture conditions.