Tag Archives: Canadian Talent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Actor Tony Nash shows off boxing skills in ‘Petrol’

Tony Nash believes that his responsibility as an actor is to find the soul of his character and take on their essence. And for this Canadian actor, he believes that the soul of every character has its seed within his own. The seed of some character’s souls sometimes closely resemble him, and others differ greatly, but the differences are always a result of a difference of choices and environment, not the substance of the soul itself. His soul and every other soul out there are made of the same stuff. This is what makes great acting possible. The potential to take on another’s soul through a character and live and breathe as him is limitless, and for that reason, Nash knew acting was the only path for him.

From the 2015 horror/comedy Secret Santa to the upcoming Audience network series Condor, Nash has shown audiences everywhere that he is not only a talented actor, but extremely versatile as well. Whether he is playing a supportive friend, like in the acclaimed movie Saving Dreams or a complicated, bilingual police officer, which he did in the film Meet the Parents, Nash remains completely committed to his characters. He not only portrays them, he becomes them, and this could not be more evident than with his work on the television show Petrol in 2016.

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Petrol is an action/drama series following five reckless drivers who all work for a mysterious Employer. In the show, Nash plays Jason, an ex-military veteran and boxer who is commissioned by a mysterious figure known as The Employer to plan and execute a gold heist. When it goes wrong and his partner is killed, a plan to execute revenge on the all-powerful and elusive Employer is born.

“I was really excited about Petrol because not only would I be able to let loose with my boxing training on set, but also execute a meticulous and brutal gold heist; every actor’s dream. It sounded really exciting to me because I enjoy playing the mysterious bad guy. It comes naturally to me and I knew this would be really fun. I wanted to experience working on a high-paced action project and I knew this would be different than anything else I had done in the past,” said Nash.

The character of Jason was a very skilled boxer who would go on and lead a heist. As an ex-military commander, he knew how to think on his feet and stay composed in any situation. When the heist goes wrong and his friend gets shot in all the action, Nash’s Jason had to compartmentalize his emotions and complete the mission despite losing his comrade. It was a dramatic loss, but he had to push through to the end. He was brave and extremely determined, able to think fast of imminent danger. Nash was ready for the complex role and executed it to perfection.

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“I worked with Tony on the television show Petrol, where he performed the critical role of Jason the Boxer. Tony’s character is a trained boxer and there are several long scenes in which Jason was to realistically fight an opponent, which provided something of a challenge to the actor who would portray him. On top of that, Jason is also a complicated character who must display the emotions of one whose friend is killed, leading him to desire revenge. I am proud to say that Tony performed beyond my wildest expectations. As a trained boxer, he portrayed Jason’s technique and savagery in the ring perfectly. Not only that, but he was also a fantastic, nuanced actor, bringing the emotional depth of the character to life. His performance enhanced the quality of the entire show. I was extremely impressed with his work,” said Reza Sholeh, Writer and Director of Petrol.

When Sholeh approached Nash about taking on a role as a boxer, Nash was excited about the opportunity and would not let anything get in the way of his delivering a great performance. He was eager to put to use a whole slew of other skills in addition to acting, to take on this explosive role. This is not common, and Nash says that he feels lucky to be able to play such a character. He immediately began training. He had previous experience in boxing, but to be a realistic professional boxer, he wanted to look completely natural. Having already understood many techniques from his previous boxing training, he quickly became an expert for the part, training at the Toronto Boxing Academy in Toronto. It was challenging, training for hours every day, there was a lot of sweat and exhaustion, but Nash knew the importance of the work. He used the long hours spent in the gym to get into the mood and mindset of his character. In one particular boxing scene, Nash steals the show and truly looks like a professional boxer.

“I love boxing and it is one of my favorite sports that I continue to practice even now, years after filming Petrol. I have many inspirations such as Mohammed Ali and Mike Tyson. I studied their techniques and skill and compared them to many other boxers to understand the secret to their incredible success. The day of the shoot for that particular scene, I came in early to warm up and really get into it and focus not only on the technique, but to give the character his own personality as a boxer. I hope I can once again shine in a role not only through acting, but through my other skills and hobbies as well,” said Nash.

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Nash’s work was essential to Petrol and the episodes featuring Jason the Boxer. He was able to bring both his skills as a boxer and talent as an actor to the screen. It is sometimes difficult for actors to be able to do both naturally and simultaneously, but Nash did so flawlessly. He practiced and perfected both boxing and his lines, not forgetting to take the time to understand the character’s mind by finding his soul within him.

“I really liked the fast pace action of this story. I usually opt for deeper and more complex characters, but I loved how my character shared this bond with his friend through boxing and how he was suddenly taken away from him in the heist. I think that is important to portray because it shows both sides of a character. On the outside my character looked tough and intimidating and was willing to put his life at stake in a high-risk situation, but he also had another side of him. That’s important to show because it allows people to understand that there’s more to a tough guy than the way they look on the surface,” he said.

Petrol was released in February 2016 and went on to win several awards including Best Mystery at the Vancouver Webfest and Best Action Adventure at Hollywebfest.

 

By Sean Desouza

Ashley Bruzas is Veronika Stealz, Internet Sensation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Photo by Tyler Lord

Brett Morris sheds insight into his journey from Young Magneto to seasoned producer

Human beings are known to set limits and work within them. With that, we understand and evaluate the world through binary opposites like black versus white, up versus down, in versus out, and so on. Then, sometimes, positive disrupters emerge and they challenge us to read between the lines; to understand the world’s wonders along spectrums rather than within extremes. They empower us to test the limits that we set for ourselves and to determine alternative understandings of our world that we might not have otherwise considered. More often than not, these disrupters are known as artists, innovators, and pioneers. In the case of Brett Morris, however, titles like “cinematographer,” “editor,” “director,” and “producer” come to mind. For the highly sought-after creative, there are no lengths that he will not go to in order to stimulate the minds of his audiences and allow them to wander into worlds that they have never explored before.

“What I love about producing, in particular, is that, when challenged to produce something, you’re only limited by your own resourcefulness. Not your resources. If there is a will, there is a way and I love being able to solve a multitude of problems. My job is to make the day go as smoothly as possible and appear as if there was never a challenge in the first place,” said Morris.

Having kick started his career as a child actor, Morris has built himself from the ground up, experimenting with just about every role involved in the creation and production of a film or television show. As such, he has earned a certain understanding and appreciation of the intricacies of his art form that other artists may never fully experience. At the age of 12, Morris landed himself the role of Young Magneto in the hit film, X-Men, and was inspired by talented actors like Ian McKellen and Hugh Jackman. What he hadn’t anticipated; however, was how fascinated he became by the role of the director. He was determined to become a part of the directing community and today, he can be credited with producing and directing fan-favorites like Big Brother Canada, Hockey Wives, So You Think You Can Dance, and many more. 

In 2016, Insight Productions were looking to re-boot the widely adored series, Top Chef, for a fifth season with an added “all-star” twist. Top Chef Canada is a Canadian reality competition television series airing on Food Network Canada. Each week, chef contestants compete against each other in culinary challenges and are subsequently judged by a panel of professional food and wine gurus. At the end of each week, one or more contestants are eliminated in order to determine who Canada’s “Top Chef” will be.

For Top Chef Canada All-Star, the show’s production team was intent on finding a field producer with the skill and expertise necessary to take it to the next level without sacrificing any of the elements that made their show the success it is today. Essentially, a field producer is responsible for handling all in-field directing, as well as conducting on-camera competitor interviews. The role typically involves juggling technical in-field directing abilities with achieving optimal story beats in order to effectively craft each episode during post-production. Fortunately for Morris, the decision to select a field producer landed in the hands of a former co-worker and member of Top Chef’s production team, Eric Abboud, who knew that Morris was the ideal candidate for the job. Abboud approached Morris about the opportunity to work alongside the show’s story team, including talented writer, Jennifer Pratt, and highly skilled story-editor, Liam Colle. For Morris, joining such a high performing team acted as further motivation to show Food Network lovers everywhere just what he is capable of.

From the outside looking in, it is easy to see how intense and pressure-ridden each Top Chef competition can be for contestants, whether or not you’re watching a regular season or an all-star edition. What is more difficult to imagine, therefore, is the type of demand that places on a production crew to capture each and every moment as authentically as possible. Morris recalls episodes being shot in the span of two days, across multiple locations. When the chefs were cooking, Morris was behind the camera crew, prompting them to speak loudly about their creative process and having to break their heavy focus in order to heighten the drama-filled, entertainment factors of the show. Other times, while chefs were navigating their weekly budget to shop for groceries, Morris was directing crews of six camera operators and three audio engineers in order to effectively capture all of the suspense. Then, for each episode, he was tasked with keeping track of every action-packed second of filming in order to know which content to probe the chefs about during their interview segments afterward. Despite the demanding nature of this role, Morris loved every moment. Particularly, he enjoyed the unique chance he had to interact with all of the chefs up close and personally.

“These chefs are true all-stars, restaurant owners, and at the top of their field. Any time you get to immerse yourself into the world of an expert, it is exciting. From the way they prepared their ingredients, to the meticulousness of cleaning their work stations, everything was like a rehearsed dance to them. It was exhilarating to watch. I found that I became a “foodie” by proximity and I took that learning with me every time I order at a restaurant or prepare a dish at home. It was an unbelievable experience,” recalled Morris.

Ironically, while Morris found himself fascinated by the opportunity to witness these culinary experts in their element, his co-workers, like Colle, were experiencing similar sentiments while watching him at work. According to Colle, working with Morris was a learning experience in itself and he enjoyed the distinct pleasure he had to learn Morris’ approaches and techniques for his own use. When asked what makes him so great at what he does, Colle had the following to say:

“I’ve never come across anyone else with the skill set and talent of Brett Morris. He is whip-smart, with an uncanny ability to tell compelling stories and deliver polished and professional productions. I think a big part of what makes him so good at what he does is that he’s got the perfect mix of creativity and analytics. Whether it’s in the edit suite or on set, his instincts are always on point and the finished product is never less than impressive,” told Colle.

Despite the fact that Top Chef Canada All-Star was breaking the show’s three-year hiatus from Food Network Canada, the result was better than ever. Canadian audiences still felt a deep connection with the show and Morris’ work was extremely well received. In fact, with the help of Morris, the show earned the green light to be renewed for a sixth season which will air in 2018.

“The fact that the audience loved it and it got picked up for another season means that not only did we do our job well, we were successful. It is always satisfying to see your hard work pay off,” he concluded.

 

Top photo by David Leyes

Canadian star Dewshane Williams recalls ‘Dogpound’ and why he went into acting

From the time Dewshane Williams was a child, he always had one passion: film. He spent his earliest years watching movies and television shows as much as possible. As he grew, he started to see himself as an actor. After his first performance, when he was just a schoolboy, he was hooked. He began to immerse himself in musical theatre, writing, choreographing, and acting in productions. He never envisioned himself doing anything else, and today, he is one of the best actors to recently come from Canada.

Williams has spent most of his life in Canada, and has taken the country’s film industry by storm. He has starred in hit television shows, such as The Expanse and Defiance, as well as critically-acclaimed films like The Story of Luke and Home Again.

Williams’ first true taste of international success came in 2010 from his work on the film Dogpound. Georges Bermann, the Executive Producer of the film, credits Dogpound of launching a number of careers, including Williams’. His convincing portrayal of Frank the inmate was spot on and accurate, and Berrmann was incredibly impressed with the, at the time, not well-known actor.

“I noticed that Dewshane is the type of actor that focuses entirely on creating the best work. Watching him channel the teenage angst associated with juvenile distress made our director’s job easy. He’s a joy to work with. Dewshane’s generosity and focus are admirable qualities. I think his performance in our film speaks for itself; hard work goes a long way,” said Bermann.

 Dogpound tells the story of 17-year-old Butch, who is sent to the Enola Vale Youth Correctional Center in Montana for blinding an abusive correctional officer. He brings with him a deep-seated intolerance for injustices and a penchant for meting out retributions on his own. He becomes friends with two other inmates at the correctional facility, where they encounter gang violence, death, and harassment from staff and other inmates.

“This film is important because it’s a cautionary tale. It’s social commentary. If you look closely enough, it’s an opportunity to show anyone who’s going down the wrong path where they’ll end up. Particularly young people who might not have any idea what that kind of world is like,” said Williams.

In Dogpound, Williams played Frank. He was a juvenile inmate who worked as an enforcer. Frank starts a riot that involves everyone in the jail. His character has an important arc, as Frank appears to be an immoral character, but ultimately has a heart. Due to an injustice perpetrated against another inmate, he takes it upon himself to act, which was surprisingly selfless for the character. Williams is now known for taking on roles that will impact audiences, and at the time, this is exactly what he did.

Dogpound premiered in June 2010 in Paris, France, and later was an Official Selection at the Tribeca Film Festival. The director, Kim Chapiron, won the coveted “Best New Narrative Director” at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film impacted audiences and impressed critics all over the world, and skyrocketed Williams’ name in the Canadian film industry.

“The thought that anyone would pay me to do what I loved was a dream come true, it really was,” Williams recalled.

Dogpound was Williams’ first feature film. At the time, the entire concept of being on set and shooting a movie seemed unreal to the young actor. He auditioned for the role just dreaming he would get the part, but his raw talent eclipsed any lack of experience he may have had at the time. He greatly impressed the casting director, and won the role.

“It’s a standard thing to hear, but actors almost always have to audition for a part. Before getting to revel in whom you might be working with, you’ve got to compete. You’ve got to show everyone why you’d be able to bring something to the character. I studied for hours, trained with my acting coach, and left school early that day. I can remember being in Character the whole day, maybe that helped,” said Williams.

Once earning the role, a lot of research was required for Williams to truly understand his character. He read articles, watched films, and a number of documentaries. He credits a docuseries titled Scared Straight as being great source material for him to understand the juvenile delinquent correctional system.

“The film was a co-production between Canada, USA, and France. Most of our film crew had flown in from Paris, so I had to be a great listener on that set. English wasn’t our director’s first language, so I picked up a bit of French while shooting. I loved our crew; they really wanted to create a good film – I could tell, and that was infectious,” said Williams.

Now that Williams has become such a successful actor, it may be easy to forget that feeling of what it was like to be young and struggling, just dreaming of becoming what he now is. However, Williams remains humble, and Dogpound still holds a special place in his heart.

“You never forget your first film, and this one was mine. To this day, complete strangers come up to me and say ‘that film was so realistic, I would never want to end up in there.’ That’s the point, you don’t want to end up in Juvie,” Williams concluded.

 

 

Victor Gilbert reminds the world that a kiss should just be a kiss

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Victor Gilbert

From the time he was a baby, Victor Gilbert has been immersed into a world of full of films, acting, and make believe. Given the fact that his mother is a cinematographer, Gilbert has played child roles in several of her films and he has had the unique opportunity to test his acting skills against a number of different storylines and plots. Like most children, Gilbert loves to play pretend and he finds himself energized by the ability to play pretend for more than just enjoyment, but as a career. Playing a wide range of emotions interests him, and he thrives on the chance to explore playing different versions of “happy,” “sad,” or “mad.” For Gilbert, acting is all he’s ever known. It is a part of his family. He has grown with it and he wishes to continue to let acting grow with him for the rest of his life.

As he has aged, Gilbert has slowly branched away from filming with his mother and has begun working with esteemed production companies, directors, actors, and more. At the mere age of 10, Gilbert is taking the entertainment industry by storm and having earned such great success so early on in his life, it is intriguing to wonder where his talents will carry him next. One of his most notable works was for Netflix’s Hell on Wheels, where Gilbert played the son of a railroad worker called Jeff Strobridge, played by Reg Rogers. In this role, Gilbert had the chance to act alongside Rogers, Anson Mount, the series’ lead actor, as well as several other experienced professionals. It was a great way to expose himself to various acting styles and techniques, and since he was a recurring character, he had the opportunity to develop his character throughout each episode he acted in. Gilbert thoroughly enjoyed learning from the individuals he acted with, and submerged himself into the film’s extravagant, western-themed set. To this day, he considers it one of the highlights of his career.

Another of Gilbert’s more enjoyable projects evolved over the summer of 2016 when he aced the audition for, and won the role of Peter in the influential film, The Kiss. The Kiss tells the emotional story of a young boy, played by Gilbert, kisses another young boy at school. It is set in the 1950’s and unpacks a controversial dilemma for a mother who tries to understand what her child is going through. With the tag line, “a kiss should just be a kiss,” the film explores deep themes of love and homosexuality, and is gaining a substantial amount of praise from film festivals around the world. Being only 8 years old at the time of filming, Gilbert was unfamiliar with the emotional nature of the plot line and didn’t realize the importance of the topic in today’s society. Upon learning of meaning behind the film’s premise, Gilbert was eager to play such an impactful role. In fact, Gilbert’s character was pivotal to the The Kiss’ storyline and he set the tone for the entire film.

Gilbert credits his role in The Kiss as being the toughest he had ever played. Having to travel back in time to the 1950’s through the film’s costumes and set design was unlike anything Gilbert had ever done before. When filming, he had to act out emotionally charged scenes involving kissing another boy, being scolded by his mother, and portray feelings of fear, sorrow, and intimidation. Fortunately, Gilbert excels in any environment where he has to sell different emotions for the better of his character’s storyline. He has a remarkable ability to play multi-dimensional emotions and despite his age, he never struggled to explore a new emotion when asked. David Emmanuel, who both produced and acted in The Kiss, has nothing but respect for Gilbert’s natural affinity to play his characters as realistically and organically as possible. He was astonished to see an actor as young as Gilbert displaying qualities that even some of the most established professionals have not yet mastered.

“Victor had a very, – I cannot stress it enough – very difficult scene to act at such a young age. He had to pretend to have kissed a boy in school, to dress up, to wear lipstick, and more. Still, he did an amazing job and was so right for the role. He was extremely patient and open-minded for this movie. Not to mention, he was very professional on set for such a young age. He listened to the director very well and was open to giving his input whenever he didn’t feel comfortable,” noted Emmanuel.

If you ask Gilbert, however, the film simply helped him tell an important story to the world and he was happy to have had the opportunity. Even he himself was moved by his character’s strength and determination. To play such an integral character at such a young age is a rare feat for any child actor and he hopes to be able to do so again in future.

“I think the story of this film is important because there are tons of people who are still too shy to love another person of the same gender. I think these kinds of films help these people come forward. It is so important to respect people for who they are. Films have a big impact on people and they can influence generations,” told Gilbert.

Upon wrapping The Kiss, it made its way to several prestigious film festivals in Orlando, Los Angeles, Brazil, Cannes, Germany, Sweden, and many more. Gilbert, along with everyone else involved in the film, are excited to see where else The Kiss will go and how many more lives they can touch with this incredible story.

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

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Photo by Kevin McIntyre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A with leading Canadian actor Darren Eisnor

Originally from a small town in Ontario, Canada, Darren Eisnor did not grow up aspiring to be an actor. It came to him suddenly, in an epiphany of sorts, and since that moment, he has never wanted anything else. Now, he is one of Canada’s top young actors, and he is quickly taking the globe by storm.

In many captivating performances, such as the films Holiday Joy and Early Release, as well as the acclaimed television show Anne with an E, Eisnor has gained fans from all over the world., and audiences are looking forward to his performance in the upcoming Syfy horror flick Never Knock. Currently, he is starring in the popular Blackpills series Skal, an enthralling story about the water disappearing across the planet overnight. To read more about the series, Eisnor’s career, and his life, check out the interview below!

IFR: What do you like about being an actor?

 DE: I get to be super cool. When people ask me what I do, and I say that I’m an actor as a career, they automatically assume I’m a cool guy. So that’s pretty cool. Really though, if you can get some lucky breaks and manage to carve a career out of the whole thespian thing, it is a ton of fun and incredibly liberating in a few ways. I’m the kind of guy who bounces around from friend group to friend group, and I’m always diving headfirst into new interests, as I like to keep things fresh and experience as much as possible in this life. Acting meshes rather well with that state of mind, because I get to become all sorts of different people in all sorts of different lives, and if I convince the right people that I’m really like those people – then I get paid for it!

It can be a great life experience for me to look at the world through all these different perspectives, even if it’s just for an audition or two and I don’t end up getting the part. We humans are such interesting and multi-faceted creatures, but I don’t think everyone gets the chance or has the courage to explore all their dimensions. Of course, there are some dark and dangerous sides to us as well, that are probably best left for the actors (and the Mixed Martial Artists). It really is a privilege to even have the opportunity to compete for all these roles that I go out for, and I am grateful for that.

When I first started training as an actor, it actually helped me in a therapeutic way. I didn’t realize how many emotional walls I had built up over the years, and I think this is especially prevalent among young men, and even more so for young men like me who were competitive athletes for most of their life. I actually think there is a fair argument for the building of these walls, because life is almost always very hard to tackle, and the battlefield of life can be easier to navigate if you are able to have a firm grip on your emotions. However, acting is a forum for the human condition to express itself, and to be successful and great at this profession, it seems to me that one must truly elevate emotional intelligence to a higher level of understanding and vulnerability.

IFR: Why did you want to work on Skal?

DE: Skal piqued my interest with its post-apocalyptic world, something that’s fascinated me in stories like The Walking Dead, or the Fallout video game series. At first, I auditioned for the role of Arthur, the outright leading role of the series. Arthur is a bit of a nerd, but he’s charismatic enough to operate a YouTube channel with three million subscribers. I submitted a tape that I really nailed down in terms of performance, and was really excited. The scenes they requested for the audition helped a lot in that regard, ranging from comical and cool, to raging and teary-eyed. I got a callback for it – but for the role of “Ylane”, which was a soon-to be-changed French name from the original French short film the series is based on. The character is Arthur’s best friend and manager, and an integral character within the series.

My agent set up a Skype session with the writer/director who is from France, Benjamin Cappelletti, who explained to me that my original audition was great, but I didn’t look enough like his vision of Arthur. He went on to say that I looked like a great “Ylane.” Luckily, I was able to flesh out this character into someone with some dark humanity, and they casted me! They even renamed the character “Darren” which was pretty cool, since I’m not sure if I’ll get the chance to play my own name again.

IFR: What was it like working on Skal?

DE: Working on Skal was an outstanding career experience for me. Living in Montreal for about a month during this shoot really made me feel a sense of independence. Of course, it came with the great responsibility of carrying a lot of the burden of the show’s success on my shoulders, which was more than welcome on my end. This was exactly what I’d be looking forward to, and I wasn’t about to back down now that it was staring me down.

Darren was an interesting character to play. In the first episode, before the apocalyptic world is born, Darren is a bit of an arrogant showman, talking all sorts of big game to the hottest girls in the room. That said, he felt relatively happy and content in his materialistic world. But when all the bodies of water in the world dry up, he immediately adapts a “kill or be killed” mindset. While it’s easy to condemn that sort of regression, it’s easy for me to understand why someone would fall into that way of thinking in that sort of world. Although there are times when it seems Darren is being overly aggressive, often it’s hard to disagree with his sentiment in a world where you can’t trust anyone, or take any chances.

Every villain is a hero in the story of their mind, and that’s how I took ownership of Darren when he makes decisions that may seem wrong on the surface. There is one particular part of the series where I wish Darren were a little more heroic, but I remained entirely understanding of his motive of self-preservation. I think there’s also an automatic connection with a character when he has the same name as you – and when the other characters address me as “Darren” there is an added element of personalization.

I also tried to get into character for one particular series of events by going without food for a day or so. It was definitely tough turning down lunch that day on set, but at least the last meal I had before all that was a delicious all-you-can-eat sushi brunch!

IFR: What was your character like?

DE: The role of Darren is important to the story, firstly as Arthur’s best friend and Emma’s romantic interest. There’s an awkward love triangle going on where Arthur lusts for Emma, but never makes any moves on her. Darren is far from low on confidence, so him and Emma have been going at it for a while, and it really irritates Arthur – even after all the water dries up, and the apocalypse creeps on in. After survival mode kicks in, Darren and Emma clash often. Emma has an empathetic desire to help as many people as she can, but Darren understands that there is too much danger to risk the group, especially after they come across a huge stash of water bottles that could keep them alive long enough to figure out what the hell’s going on in the world.

The group runs into two other people named Frank (a police officer) and Malika (a nurse). Frank misleads the group when he comes into first contact with them, and Darren never trusts him again after that. There are many fiery exchanges while they try to escape the dangerous city, but as the season crosses the halfway point, tragedy strikes, and the pack is split up. Darren becomes a prisoner of a violent gang of brutal men. With his life fully in jeopardy, his every action has extremely high weight to it. In season two, I think I will be exploring an even darker side of Darren if we keep the fun rolling.

IFR: What was it like working with such an all-star cast?

DE: It’s important for there to be a good chemistry between cast members, especially when a group forms in the show and your characters spend a lot of time interacting with each other. Everyone got along really well, and really put their best foot forward with their performances in Skal.

In terms of performance, it was superb. Evan Marsh (who plays Arthur) was a consistent rock in the center of the production, and there’s one particularly powerful scene where we really pushed each other to emotional peaks. Oliva Scriven (Emma) managed to tolerate an intense make out scene with me, so kudos to her for that. She’s very popular on social media for her role on Degrassi, so it was nice to have her bring some viewers on board with that. Trevor Hayes (Frank) and Mariah Inger (Malika) were playing characters that “Darren” viewed as outsiders, and didn’t trust, and there were some great heated interactions between us on screen – especially Frank, the hard-nosed cop who doesn’t take too kindly to Darren’s big mouth.

Shawn Baichoo played a late-season villain named Pablo, who is a leader of a violent gang. I only got to work with him for a short period of time, but he really brought his A-game and played a convincing madman. They gave him a contact lens that made it look like he had a white “dead eye”, which added to the aura of evil. We had some intense scenes that he totally owned and showed a possession of confident power. I should also mention that little Chelsea Goldwater, who played a young child prisoner, helped add to the creepiness of the scenes.

This project was Benjamin Cappelletti’s “baby”. He’d been pushing this story for a while as a young filmmaker in France, and it was great to help bring his vision to life. His passion for Skal was evident, and even though there were a few moments of language barriers, we were able to communicate together and get the scenes done to his satisfaction.

IFR: The series premieres on the streaming app Blackpills. How do you think streaming websites have opened the doors for actors such as yourself?

DE: Well, obviously there is more opportunity than ever for an actor with all these new avenues of distribution. In the past, films were limited to festivals and cinema, while television series were limited to cable and satellite subscriptions. Now there are all sorts of streaming avenues out there for episodic series and films alike, and the opportunity to get quality productions made has never been greater.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have a leading role in Skal, and it will be interesting to see how Blackpills performs overall as a company. It seems they are aiming to get a firm grip on the mobile-streaming game, as their app is currently only available for mobile devices as opposed to TVs. I haven’t had the chance to observe many of the other shows on their app, but they have already granted out several second season renewals for some of them, so there is certainly a chance for us to get back at it. At the very least, the show is of high-quality and makes for solid demo footage to show other productions what I can do with a meaty role.

Blackpills also stands out with the brevity of each of their shows’ episodes; the average runtime for an episode of Skal was about nine minutes long. Today’s generation operate very much from an extreme lack of attention span, so this format is designed quite well with that in mind. Here’s hoping it works out!

Canada’s Cassie Friedman found intriguing stories for Global TV

Cassie Friedman says being a producer is synonymous with being a storyteller. Sometimes she will become bogged down with logistics – coordinating schedules, booking locations, finding potential characters, etc. But when all those pieces come together, she is telling a story. As a producer, she ensures every part of a production is in order, and at the same time finds the most compelling stories to keep her audience engaged.

Now, Friedman is an internationally sought-after development producer, working with the independent production company Studio Lambert in both London and Los Angeles. Before that, however, she was working with one of Canada’s largest broadcasters, Global Television. Not only did she help produce The Morning Show, The News at Noon, and the station’s ‘Child Safety Awareness Week’, but she also greatly contributed to various other newsroom projects.

“Global is one of the major networks in Canada and I’d been watching Channel 3 my whole life. Global’s reputation was already top tier for me. It was a no-brainer for me to try to start my career there,” said Friedman.

Global Television is a privately-owned, Canadian English-language broadcast television network, now owned by Corus Entertainment. Friedman worked on many projects for the network, like the bi-weekly Making a Difference segment, the Ontario General Election in 2011 and covering Canada’s National Ballet School’s Assemblee Internationale in 2013. Her responsibilities included researching, shot listing, booking stories, and assisting cameramen on shoots.

The Global Toronto Newsroom was always abuzz and working there always felt like you were right where the action was. I was always driven to do my absolute best, because I was surrounded by the best journalists in one of Canada’s most respected newsrooms. So, I took extra care working on major projects. I used my research skills to tell a great story and ensure there were no errors,” she said.

Friedman’s contributions were essential to the newsroom’s success on a daily basis. During her time there, Global News won the 2013 Edward R. Murrow award for Overall News Excellence in Network Television, and Global Toronto won four RTDNA Edward R. Murrow awards in 2013, including the Bert Cannings Award – Best Newscast. For Friedman, the acclaim was absolutely fantastic.

“I always felt so lucky to be part of such an iconic, respected newsroom and working with a smart, committed team. It was so rewarding to be recognized for all the hard work we all put in day in and day out. I don’t think any of us did it for the recognition, so to be acknowledged, it definitely made me feel more appreciated. And confident that what we were doing was having an impact,” she said.

For a large part of her time at Global news, Friedman worked on anchor Susan Hay’s Making a Difference segment, where Hay would showcase inspiring people in the community who were doing charitable acts and helping others. Hay had been at Global for more than 20 years, and served as an inspiration for a 21-year-old Friedman. Friedman booked shoots, worked in the field and helped with scripts. On one occasion, when Friedman thought she may not find a story in time, she found out about a woman in the community who offered yoga programs for the elderly, and it ended up being one of the show’s best segments.

“What makes Cassie incredible to work with is her positive attitude. That goes a long way in the news industry. She was always full of energy, ideas, and willing to help. Her determination and passion for creativity has placed her where she is today – which is far ahead of many of her peers,” said Susan Hay, TV Host and Journalist.

Working on the show also allowed Friedman to discover new passions. While covering the provincial election, she found she had an affinity for politics. She looked at every riding, who might win, who’d won previously, which ridings swung in the federal election. She ended up choosing two Conservative and two Liberal locations. She also had to choose one for the New Democratic Party, and chose a seemingly random riding north of Toronto because it had swung NDP in the federal election. Her instincts proved fruitful.

“After lots of research, I had a feeling it would swing NDP again. I sent our cameras to the NDP candidate’s event, and low and behold, that candidate won and had a huge celebration with music and dancing. It made for great television and showcased a community that had never really been seen before. It was very exciting and what I took away from it was that digging deep into research pays off,” said Friedman.

There is no doubt that Friedman is an extraordinary producer, with natural instincts and a complete commitment to her craft. She will continue to bring success to whatever she works on, and audiences will enjoy watching her do it.