Tag Archives: Comedy

Lucia Wang’s Free Ride

Free Ride

Audiences love a well-written story with twisting plots. These films are the result of layers upon layers of professionals both in front of and behind the camera. The path from the set to the silver screen is as complex as the actions and motives on screen. One of the professionals who gains the first glimpse to what “will be” is the on-set editor. Ziyang “Lucia” Wang was both editor and the on-set editor for the recently released comedy/crime film Free Ride. The fast pace of the film and its frequent use of VFX kept Wang on the edge of her seat in a manner similar to fans of this film. Even though it has barely had time to appear, Free Ride has already received awards from the Los Angeles Film Festival (Best Indie Short), the CineCina Film Festival, and the Transparent Film Festival (Best Comedy). Though not yet in wide release, Lucia offers an inside peek to the process of making this acclaimed film.

Free Ride is the type of film in which leaves you constantly guessing about who is the real danger. While transporting three dangerous mental patients to another state, the van driver loses one of them. During his search, he encounters a thief who is eluding the authorities. When the criminal offers the driver a cut off his loot, the actions and intentions of all involved parties becomes convoluted and suspect. Hot pursuit, questionable allegiances, and the X-factor of mental patients culminates in both nervous anticipation and hilarity.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the story is its constantly twisting and uncertain direction, by design. “What’s going to happen next?” is the sign of good writing and good execution in a film. This requires an incredible amount of planning and Ziyang was a part of this from the earliest of preproduction meetings. From storyboard layout to final presentation, her editing expertise was a major benefit for director Yi Qu in achieving her vision for this film. The tone of the story could be described as a sarcastic black comedy influenced by No Country for Old Men and Hell or High Water. There’s a palpable undertone which alludes to the human condition of always wanting more contributing to one’s downfall. Ziyang relates, “Free Ride is not only a tense movie but has a lot of craziness and cynical perspective to it. As a road film, it contains a lot of location changes that we needed to cover in a short amount of time. Our director was very worried about this during the pre-production but I showed her some short clips to convince her that in the world of editing, we don’t have to show every line, every sentence, and every second; jump shots work perfectly, especially in a comedic piece.” This approach is perfectly displayed when the criminal first jumps into the van. Lines of dialogue overlap and the back & forth editing perfectly complements this frantic moment. The silence that follows delivered by the punchline of the driver asking the robber to buckle his seat belt is even more gratifying because of this. Yi Qu’s confidence in Wang’s editing was so great that she even conducted a reshoot based on the editor’s input. Ziyang states, “In the original version of there is a scene in which the driver decides to strike the criminal with a taser. I felt there was a lack of drama for this peak moment in the story. I asked for a separate insert shot of the taser hidden under the driver’s seat as a POV shot. I cut it in this way: the driver hops off the van, looks down, and cut to the taser to highlight it as an important prop. Then I cut back to the driver looking up with this taser already in his hand…and now the audience knows what he’s going to do. Subtle tweaks like this are important and this shot totally increased the tension.”

In a variety of ways, Ziyang Wang proves that she’s not there simply to cut what others imagine but to reimagine ways of helping their vision be achieved. She’s not clairvoyant, she’s an editor. As a professional who is focused on making the work of others looking better, Ziyang is creating a reputation that will see much more work heading her way.

 

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Producer Ricky Cruz brings out the laughs with quirky characters in award-winning new film

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Photo by Arthur Marroquin

Ricky Cruz found his way into producing in an unconventional way. Rather than spending his early years dreaming of working behind the camera, he did the exact opposite. It was his love of acting that led him into the film industry, starring in the popular 2010 South African film Spud alongside John Cleese and Troye Sivan. It was one of the more celebrated local films and an incredible experience to be a part of. Cruz loved every second of it; he believed acting was where he could best help people, by becoming a character the audience could project themselves onto.

After Spud, Cruz found himself working in local commercial campaigns, practical joke television series and National Geographic documentary specials. It was the rewarding experience of seeing something he was a part of come together as a final product that ultimately hooked him and helped him decide that he wanted to pursue a career in entertainment and filmmaking, however, the more exposure he had to film sets, the more he realized his true passion: producing. Since that time, he has become an in-demand producer in both his home country and abroad, with a passion for what he does that translates directly into every project he takes on.

Known for films such as the documentary Improv a Saving Grace and the romance Mixed Orders, Cruz is an extremely versatile producer. Branching into the comedy genre, Cruz has another hit on his hands with the flick The Neighbor. The film tells the story of an offbeat and strange character who tries to befriend a new neighbor before finding a friend just like him. It explores friendship and the importance of being you.

The Neighbor is very much my signature tone of a quirky character in an honest situation comedy, but the deeper level of the character actually being considered an outlier by other inhabitants of the immediate world, gave the film a subtle nuance of real loneliness and rejection, which are two very powerful and very well understood emotions. The Neighbor is a comedy sketch yearning to have its message received via unconventional comedy,” said Cruz.

Currently on the festival circuit, The Neighbor has already won an Award of Merit at The indieFEST 2018, an Honorable Mention at The London International Comedy Film Festival and took part in The Battle of the Sketches 2018. It was an Official Selection at Battle of the Sketches, Portland Comedy Film Festival and Rock and Roll Film Festival Kenya. With the onscreen comedy chops of Willem van der Vegt (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and writer Zain Ashar, the comedy short has proven its appeal. It was also one of two projects produced by Cruz that was accepted and won an Award of Merit at the indieFEST 2018.

“The fact that The Neighbor has been such a success makes me consider all the other original and creative characters that have originated from things like off-screen improv comedy or jokes between friends. I think the origin of these sorts of characters has a lot to do with their ability to resonate so profoundly with people. They are an exaggerated but honest piece of someone’s personality and because of the respective truth involved in their creation, people tend to relate very strongly to the character. There are so many other interesting character creations that similarly explore different parts of our personality and with The Neighbor’s success, it makes me seriously consider the prospect of utilizing these empathetic and exaggerated characters in their own respective short films or one that explores many of the mentioned characters in an ensemble driven piece,” said Cruz.

Cruz was ready to produce such a unique comedy. As he started in acting, he has vast experience with improv, making him the ideal producer for this film, knowing just how to embrace elements of improv for a familiar character. He knew what parts of the character needed to be showcased best to get audiences to relate and support such an absurd creation as well as where the character would need to be further developed.

“The project really is a showcase to display the type of message I want to spread with the type of characters and humor I want to use. It’s an example of a stage sketch and improv character that translates really well onto screen and acts as evidence that material discovered or created off screen should be mined and explored and adapted if possible because, such comedically conflicted characters are excellent vessels to relay important information and messages in a way that people can easily understand and enjoy. This film offers the ability to escape and comfort simultaneously and those have always been my favorite kinds of films because it is effortless therapy and can help like-minded audience members through turbulent times without them even realizing it,” he concluded.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

British Actress Milanka Brooks brings on the laughs in TV Movie ‘Do Not Disturb’

As a child, Milanka Brooks found herself inspired by her late father, Harry Brooks. He was an actor, and the two would discuss theatre, film and television, and frequented the theatre together. Growing up, Milanka began seeing the theatre world as a magical space where real-time stopped and the world as she knew it only existed within the parameters of the stage. She knew from that young age that she would find herself on the same path as her father and that her future lied in acting.

Now, Brooks is an acclaimed actress, showing audiences in her home country of England and around the world just what a talent she is. Having recently starred in an episode of the popular Netflix original series Black Mirror, and the hit British television show Benidorm, the actress’ versatility is evident, and with her upcoming film Patrick being released later this year, she has no plans on slowing down.

One of Brooks’ most prolific roles was that of Svetlana in the movie Do Not Disturb. The film tells the story of Anna and John, who book into the Stratford-on-Avon hotel where they spent their honeymoon ten years earlier – separately, following Anna’s extra-marital fling, but they had paid for the room anyway. They decide to give their marriage another go but then Anna sees young Luke, the hungover best man from the previous night’s stag party, who mistakes her for a prostitute and whom she rings receptionist Sheila to get rid of. In the meantime, two real escorts arrive and assume that porter Neil is their client, to Sheila’s annoyance. Confusion arises when a blindfold Anna has sex with Luke by mistake and Neil ejects her husband John, believing him to be Luke. By the time Anna’s mother turns up there is much explaining to do.

Do Not Disturb Sian Gibson, Kierston Wareing, photo UKTV
Sian Gibson, Milanka Brooks and Kierston Wareing in Do Not Disturb, photo courtesy of UKTV

Do Not Disturb is a really fantastic romp made for audiences with a penchant for farce. Even when reading the script, I could feel the pace and energy of the film. It doesn’t shy away from being a purely energetic, entertaining spoof, full of thrills and turns that leave the audience feeling fully satiated by the end,” said Brooks.

The character of Svetlana is a very intimidating, confident and forceful escort from Russia. As one of the two escorts, Brooks’ character is hired to entertain the groom-to-be on his stag-do in a hotel in Stratford-Upon-Avon, a town that is definitely not known for this kind of behaviour. They storm in to the hotel and demand to be taken to his room. They end up entering the wrong hotel room and seducing the wrong man, which is the catalyst for the train of events to follow.

Svetlana came in to destroy what was already a fairly shattered environment, in Brooks’ opinion. The humor in the story came from a degenerate group of people, all finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Svetlana highlighted this by her stature, attitude and insolence of the whole situation.

“The men are quite paradoxically the scared characters in the story, and the women end up incredibly domineering and commanding. Sometimes I feel like this came a little too naturally,” Brooks joked.

Milanka press Do Not Disturb Catherine Tate, Miles Jupp, Steve Edge, Kierston Wareing, Dylan Edwards, Penny Ryder, Photo UKTV
Catherine Tate, Miles Jupp, Steve Edge, Kierston Wareing, Dylan Edwards, Penny Ryder, and Milanka Brooks in Do Not Disturb, photo courtesy of UKTV

Do Not Disturb also stars British icon Catherine Tate, which was the initial reason Brooks wanted to be a part of it. Working alongside such talented comedians inspired Brooks, saying the TV movie really felt like an ensemble piece from the beginning. Rehearsals consisted of a lot of improvisation and devising around the script. Writer and Executive Producer Aschlin Ditta was always open to the cast’s ideas and any amendments that complimented the story and supported the characters. This allowed the cast to really become comfortable with each other and their characters, playing off everyone’s comedic timing and creating laugh-out-loud funny scenes.

“Milanka is a very fine actress and comedienne and someone I would work with again without a second thought. As a performer she is brilliant and skilful, with a rare eye for both comedy and drama, and as a professional she is faultless. Milanka is incredibly thorough both in her preparation and execution, an exceptional talent, and while she undoubtedly delivers in performance she is also a team player who is a joy to be around. Her energy, talent, insight and humour make her an actress to grace any production,” said Aishlin Ditta, Writer and Executive Producer of Do Not Disturb.

A lot of Brooks’ performance was based on her on-screen relationship with fellow actress Kierston Wareing. The chemistry between the two, playing escorts, had to be comedic and believable to bring audiences in, so the two spent a lot of time getting to know each other outside of rehearsals and filming. The result was perfect timing between the two characters.

Working alongside such a stellar cast and crew, including Wareing, Ditta, and Tate is why Brooks enjoyed creating Do Not Disturb as much as she did. With such comedic energy all around, it was easy to see the humor of the story on set.

We ended up shooting in this beautiful country house a little outside of London. If any neighbors were watching they would have likely called the police given the absurd nature of a lot of people running in and out of rooms half dressed, but fortunately for us we were in the middle of nowhere,” she concluded.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

Top photo by Faye Thomas

“2Survive” Star Ingrid Haubert is Instagram’s Nutella Girl

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You’re scrolling through Instagram when you come across a photo of a striking blonde. She’s standing in her Buddy Holly glasses and a baby blue bowtie in front of an open cabinet filled to capacity with…um, 50 jars of Nutella? Captivated and instantly in love, you navigate to her profile, @Nutelluv, and it’s everything you’ve ever hoped for.

You quickly realize that your dream girl is off the rails beautiful, unabashedly hilarious, captivating, and seemingly in a serious relationship with this delicious hazelnut spread. She has thousands of followers and an arsenal of couple-like photos where she sits lovingly beside Nutella jars on beaches, in beds, in hospitals, and on dates downtown. But who is this passionately quirky, seemingly shameless Nutella girl?

The bombshell and brains behind @Nutelluv is none other than the unforgettable Australian-born actress Ingrid Haubert, and we had the pleasure of sitting down with her to talk art, success, movies, television, and, of course, Nutella.

Ingrid Haubert shot by Vanie Poyey
Actress Ingrid Haubert shot by Vanie Poyey

An alumni of both the Australian Academy of Performing Arts and the Australian Institute of Music, Haubert is the perfect balance of charisma, natural talent, and formal education. With a skillset ranging from horror to comedy to drama and science fiction, Haubert engages audiences globally with her authentic deliveries, impeccable timing, and her harnessed, raw emotion. From her recent appearances on MTV to films streaming on AmazonPrime, and everything in between, Haubert is undoubtedly an unstoppable force in the industry.

In “2Survive,” one of the many films she’s starred in to date, Haubert shares the screen with Golden Globe Award nominee Erik Estrada (“Finding Faith,” “CHiPs” ), Jonathan Camp ( “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “S.W.A.T.”) and Michael Laurie (“Nuclear,” “CollegeHumor Originals”) as she embodies the lead role of Amber, a tall drink of water in the middle of a scorching, death-riddled desert. A film about a reality television show that goes terribly wrong, “2Survive” follows six contestants as they face unforeseen obstacles and pull from deep within themselves as they attempt to get home alive.

The way Haubert transforms Amber from a seemingly basic beauty (with little going on in the intelligence department) and helps her grow into a woman of strength by revealing that her intelligence exists in her ability to think outside of the box, and the invaluable importance of her kindness and compassion, makes her a major highlight of the film. Haubert’s dedication to breathing life into the character with authenticity whilst adding layers to her personality were tantamount to making Amber the kind of character audiences could easily get behind.

Haubert says she was determined “not to let [Amber] just be an airhead. I wanted her to have substance, vulnerability, something to make the audience care about her and root for her.”  

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It is Haubert’s poignant instincts as an actor that make the film as compelling and relevant as it is. She excels at highlighting strong, capable women while encouraging much needed dialogue about female empowerment and heroism. Haubert finds ways to strengthen the characters she plays in every role she steps into, making her a critical staple in Hollywood today.

Not limited to just film, Haubert appears frequently in episodic television as well, engaging fans nationally with her spark and brilliance. Most recently, Haubert played a key role in MTV’s “Awkward.,” the story of a 15-year-old-nobody who is pushed into the limelight when the school mistakes a legitimate accident for a suicide attempt.Last year we got a chance to see Haubert on MTV when she guest starred on the network’s hit series “Awkward.,” which stars award-winning actress Ashley Rickards (“One Tree Hill,” “Behaving Badly”), Beau Mirchoff (“I Am Number 4,” “Scary Movie 4”) and Jillian Rose Reed (“Foursome,” “Weeds”). The Teen Choice and People’s Choice Award winning series “Awkward.” follows Rickards’ character Jenna Hamilton, an awkward teen whose high school popularity skyrockets after rumors spread that her accidental fall was really a suicide attempt.

Haubert comes into the series in season 5 episode 14 titled ‘WTF Happened Last Year?,’ which follows Jenna into college and centers largely on her crumbling relationship with her long-distance boyfriend Matty (Beau Mirchoff). Haubert plays a key role as a pompous retail stylist at a high-end clothing store who embarasses series’ lead Tamara (Jillian Rose Reed) who can’t afford the clothes she wants.

“My character was very snooty and nasty, which is the opposite of me. So it was kinda fun to let that out,” says Haubert.

However, the tables quickly turn on Haubert when Sadie (Molly Tarlov) shows up out of nowhere, slaps her credit card on the table and says to Haubert with palpable attitude, “Ring ‘em up shop bitch. Chop chop Tilda Skankton, you work retail so work it.” Haubert is immediately cut down from her pedestal with her mortified facial expressions making for great comedy. The scene is also key in the developing friendship between Sadie and Tamara, former high school rivals, as the encounter gives Sadie an opportunity to show Tamara a little kindness.

Haubert has a deep love for her craft, which gives her work a certain genuinity and passion impossible to duplicate. Haubert explains, “I love creating a new person, how they walk, talk, dress, and think, but I I’d have to say that the biggest thing for me always comes back to the story.”

So, speaking of story. What is the deal with this exceptionally ingenious, uniquely awesome Instagram page?

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Haubert is quick to answer. “@nutelluv started out as a laugh. I was joking with my friends about how I didn’t need a boyfriend because I had Nutella, and making fun of all the ridiculously sappy Instagram posts and captions that are out there. But then I started to think about it, and I thought…oh, it’s actually true. Nutella is always there when I need it, I’m always left satisfied, and plus, who doesn’t love a sweet Italian?”

“Everybody does love a sweet Italian,” I joke, but then Haubert comes back and hits me with some poetic truth. “I realised this could be a really interesting way to tell a story everyday within the confines of a photograph and short caption,” Haubert explains. “Many actors think that the work starts when you get the job, or when you get an audition. But I believe in doing something everyday towards an ultimate goal, even if it is small. I saw this Instagram idea as a potential storytelling platform where I could create my own character and stories. Plus, at the very least, it keeps my brain in the habit of refining an idea to its simplest form, which is a skill that helps in all my creative pursuits.”

Whimsical, brave, talented, motivated and committed, actress Ingrid Haubert is a shining example of everything a performer should be. With a presence undeniable, Haubert practices relentless determination and engages audiences across the globe, taking the bull by the horns, the jobs by the minute, and the Nutella by the pallet.

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Actress Claire Stollery tells her story in award-winning film ‘Who is Hannah’

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Claire Stollery as Hannah in Who is Hannah

Claire Stollery was never interested in anything other than acting. As a child growing up in Calgary, she always had this one passion. As she grew and moved around Canada, what started out as a childhood dream started to become a reality. There is no doubt that Claire Stollery was meant to be an actress, and audiences everywhere know this every time they see her on the big and small screen.

As an actor, being vulnerable is pivotal to opening yourself up to a character. Connecting with the story and allowing your experiences to come through is vital when it comes to connecting with an audience. Stollery knows this well. She starred in the award-winning film Who is Hannah, that she also co-wrote, and allowed the events in her life to guide her character, creating a cathartic experience for the actress.

“This film was very close to me. I co-wrote it with a great comedian friend of mine, John Hastings. We wanted to collaborate and create a great dark comedy, but we didn’t know what we wanted to write about. One night after a show we were sitting in my cold car, a couple days before Christmas. I told him the story of how I had met my biological father in Los Angeles when I was 21. I found his number and left him a message, lying about my identity because I wasn’t sure he’d call me back if he knew who I was. In the end I came clean and we decided to meet up. When he arrived at the coffee shop, he ended up calling me while he was standing right beside me. We had no idea what each other looked like! It was like a meet-cute you’d see in a rom-com.  John couldn’t stop laughing of the horror and awkwardness of the situation. We decided then and there we would write a film exploring that scenario and what could go wrong when you don’t know what each other look like,” Stollery described.

Who is Hannah is the awkward and unlikely tale of how one girl meets her dead dad. Stollery plays Hannah, a role that was written with her in mind. Because she helped write the film, she already had the character’s voice inside her. Hannah is a girl who just wants to belong somewhere and know where she came from. She feels lost and incomplete because she’s never known the identity of her father – only known pieces from what her mother has told her. The problem is, she discovers everything her mother has told her about her father is the plot to Indiana Jones. When she finds out that her mother completely lied to her about her father’s identity and that he’s alive and lives in the next town, she has new hope for self-completion.

“I can’t really relate to Hannah’s feeling of incompleteness because I was lucky enough to have a dad growing up. My mom met my father who raised me when I was six months old. But even then, you always wonder what that other person is like. Are you like them? Do you look like them? There are always those thoughts at the back of your mind,” Stollery described. “Everyone wants to know where they come from. We want to know our history; it’s a universal desire. For those people who are searching for their identity, we wanted a film that let them know they are not alone. Since making the film I have had a lot of people write me or come up to me after screenings telling me about their experience or a friend’s experience of meeting a biological parent. There are a lot of those stories out there, but people don’t talk about them that often. There’s a lot of shame in having parents abandon their children. For the kid, it is a terrifying journey seeking out and meeting a parent for the very first time. You’ve imagined and built up this person your entire lifetime. There’s a lot of pressure for fantasy to match reality. It was important for John and me to write a film that finds the humour in such a bizarre but impactful moment in someone’s life.”

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Behind the scenes of Who is Hannah

Because of Stollery’s deep understanding of her character, the film went on to do exceptionally well at many international film festivals. It was an Official Selection at The Atlantic Film Festival where it premiered last year, and then went on to be an Official Selection at The Hamilton Film Festival, The Toronto International Short Film Festival, Hollywood North Film Festival and The Toronto Independent Film Festival. At the Lakeshorts International Film Festival where it was also an Official Selection, Who is Hannah took home the Cinespace Jury’s Choice Award and the People’s Choice Award.

“When it finally premiered we were so happy people liked it and were laughing. Because we had been with it for so long, we had no idea if it was even funny anymore. And you start second guessing yourself and wondering, was it ever funny? Were we just delirious on set when we filmed it at 4 am?” said Stollery. “And it was amazing to receive the Jury’s Choice Award. They always have such talented and revered people on their jury, so their opinion meant a lot. I’m so tickled when anyone likes something I make. It was a great honour to receive it and even better feeling to receive the People’s Choice award. We didn’t know anyone at the screenings, and to have a room full of strangers resonate with your film was really a special moment for us. There really is nothing better than sitting in a theatre and listening to people laugh at something you wrote and eaves dropping on people saying good things about it afterwards.”

Part of what makes Stollery so good at what she does is her ability to improvise. Although this is sometimes not encouraged on set, the Director of Who is Hannah, Mark O’Brien, was all for it. He knew what Stollery was capable of, and knew what she could add to both the character and the film. His instincts were right.

“Claire is an extremely talented actress and writer. She’s a very open-minded artist who knows how to collaborate well, while at the same time making her work authentic and unique. She works hard, and that is a rarity in this business. There’s a lot of talk in the entertainment industry, but Claire goes out and gets it done. And really, that’s what you want most from someone you’re working with. And she does it well,” said O’Brien. “She’s a very natural actress, very real. Acting is a tough skill that can be improved through training, but I do believe that there must be some inherent talent in the person first. Claire has a foundation of incredible talent that will take her very far. Anyone who has the chance to work with her should count themselves lucky.”

It was more than just the story and character that Stollery could connect with, even the set meant something to her. They filmed in an old, abandoned farm house that the actress had actually grown up in, as well as a hotel that was the first place Stollery went to when she visited Toronto as a child.

“Even though the film is a comedy, it is rooted in real issues. There’s a fine line tonally with dark comedies. You don’t want to make it too comedic otherwise you lose the truth of the situations. But you don’t want to make it too dark, otherwise you lose the comedic release. It’s a balancing act doing those types of films” she said.

But the most important part of the process for Stollery was not the awards, accolades, or why she embarked on the project, it was what it turned into.

“Filming was therapeutic for me. I had just lost my father who raised me a couple years prior, we were filming in the house I grew up in, the story was loosely based on my experience with meeting my biological father. And I realized I never really talked about it with my father who raised me. I regret that I didn’t check in with him more about the whole situation and considered his feelings more. But he was great about it and knew it was something I needed to do. He didn’t interfere. Not to mention my mother wasn’t too happy I was making a film about a man who had left us, even though it was very loosely inspired by him. But that was how she saw it. So it’s safe to say there were a lot of emotions surrounding the project!” Stollery concluded.

Audiences can see Who Is Hannah at the end of this year on CBC.