Filmmaker Spotlight: Dickie Hearts

Filmmaker Spotlight: Dickie Hearts

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Given only 48-hours to create a short Dickie Hearts, delivers an endearing, driven short, ‘Passengers’. Hearts brings his heart, soul, and unique perspective to the narrative as the driver behind it all as the writer, director, and actor. He is paving the road and inspiring all artists and not just from the ASL community. He talks with us about his process and inspiration. We can’t wait to see what he does next!

 

Tell me about yourself:

I was born in Queens, New York, then moved to Newport News, Virginia, at the age of four when my parents found better job opportunities there. They were immigrants from Guyana, South America. I grew up attending public schools with ASL (American Sign Language) interpreters throughout my entire education. It’s called being mainstreamed. Then I enrolled at Gallaudet University, the world’s only liberal arts university for the deaf and hard of hearing (AKA the Deaf Mecca). I graduated from there in 2009 and two years later, when I heard about Switched at Birth, a show that cast actual and real deaf actors, I decided that was it— I just had to move to Los Angeles to chase after my acting dreams that I’ve always had since much younger than I can ever remember. So I drove across America.

 

Did you go to school to become a filmmaker?

Well, Gallaudet University isn’t exactly New York Film Academy, but I still took filmmaking courses there. I just knew that I had a strong, innate passion for making movies; it was something I truly absolutely loved to bleed, sweat and break tears over. Thus, I just took all the film classes provided there. Most of my skills come from a lot of hands-on filmmaking that I did outside of class.

 

Being a deaf actor, writer, and director how has that influenced your storytelling?

It’s influenced me hugely. It’s a great, huge part of who I am every day in my life. I know I have a unique perspective, a way of different experiences throughout life, which definitely allows me to bring out storytelling not only as a deaf but as well as a multi-racial and gay person. Everyone has a story to tell. I know I do. I’d love nothing more than to see my story told on film and hopefully, people out there will be like, “Oh, my god, yes! I can totally relate!” Love, pain, loneliness, sadness, and happiness— those are all universal experiences we share, regardless of our backgrounds and who we are.

   

What has been the biggest challenge and misconception about you in the industry?

Get ready for a loaded answer, sorry not sorry. The biggest challenge in the industry, I have to say, is booking constant work as a deaf, ethnic actor. Generally, it’s pretty hard for all the actors in the industry, but to be an actor with a disability— be it deaf, blind, paraplegic, short, you name it— it’s super-duper bajillion times harder than you can imagine. We’re talking about an industry that highly cherishes near-perfection and able-bodiedness more than anything else. What truly bothers me is to see those able-bodied actors take on roles that actual actors with disabilities could do. We’re looking for work, we really are. Those roles only come for us, like once a year or something like that (sadly).

For instance, hearing actors taking on deaf roles is a huge, huge disappointment and letdown to me as a deaf actor. It’s not just taking away the opportunity from us, but also failing to bring 100% authenticity to the role. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen hearing actors, no matter how hard they try to study deaf people or try to learn their language in a certain amount of prep time when they act deaf— I can’t help but just cringe or cover my eyes. Like, no. That is not how we do it.

 

While the experiences are completely different, it’s very much similar to whitewashing or a cisgender actor taking on a transgender role. The list goes on.

Biggest misconception? That we’re often suited only for roles that are defined by our characteristics. Say, there’s a written TV character named Will, and he’s the deaf guy. Do I want to be Will, the ‘deaf guy’? No. I want to be Will, who happens to be deaf. Major difference. I audition for hearing roles even though I’m deaf. I still do.

 

Who has been your inspiration in the industry/life?

I would have to say, growing up, deaf Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin. Every time she was on TV, I just got too excited. I’d point and say, “See? Deaf people can be on TV, too! Wait till I get on there!” Now? I would have to say, Mindy Kaling. That girl is hilarious. And a pioneer, truly. Ryan Murphy as well, who’s seriously paved the way for LGBT on TV and also Shonda Rhimes— wow, her work, I just can’t. I would die to work with any of them. Truly. Oh, one more, Sarah Michelle Gellar!

 

What drove (pun intended) you to write your short ‘Passengers’ ?

Love punny. I took on being a Lyft driver to make extra money on the side (who doesn’t these days). And there were a lot of interesting experiences. One of the most memorable ones was picking up this absolutely gorgeous, handsome guy and I was just like, oh…my…god. And I have to tell you, I am a huge hopeless, romantic sap. I still cry at badly-written, super predictable rom-coms and so of course, this entered my mind— what if in a rom-com film, my character, and his character from two completely different worlds actually connected? What if it went further and developed into a budding, romantic relationship? How would it work out between those two? And it wasn’t just that, but I wanted to tell the story of a deaf person who’s driving around to make extra money while he wants to become a star— that’s something universal that people can relate to.

But then I shelved the idea away…Until the 48-hours Disability Film Challenge came up in an SAG-AFTRA mass email!

 

You shot your short in 48 hours! What was the biggest challenge shooting in such a short time period?

That was insanity. I’m not going ever do that again. Actually. That’s a lie. I probably will. I’ll just keep denying it until the very last-minute to enter. Biggest challenge? Directing and acting at the same time. It wasn’t even 48 hours. We shot in like, in one day. My brain was overloading. I was thinking 100 different things at the same time, planning ahead for the next scene while trying to focus on my character in this scene. Not to mention we were racing against the sunset.

I take acting very seriously. So, all I’m going to say, would I direct and act at the same time again? I don’t really want to, but I probably will, only because I want to learn and get better each time I do something. I don’t know how actors were able to act and direct at the same time. Kudos to you, Ben Affleck.

Oh yeah, I never slept. My 8-year old MacBook Pro crashed on me, after all, that overnight editing.

 

How did you go about casting?

I quickly cast all of my friends, who were natural actors. And they were all deaf too, each from different backgrounds (i.e. deaf schooled, mainstreamed, etc) and varying levels of ASL fluency. One crew member actually had to join the cast the last-minute as himself because he had a great ethnic look— I know, but I always to strive to increase diversity whenever possible (because you know, that’s just a reflection of real life). I also searched for a hearing actor for the role of the love interest, but I’m actually really pleased with the final casting and how it all came together. I’m really happy and I would not replace anyone, were we to do it all over again. They were really talented and they contributed hugely to the project. It was a great, wonderful artist collaboration. I’m super thankful for not only the cast but the crew as well, who happened to be deaf. So yes, it was an all-deaf cast and crew production, which I’m so proud of.

 

What are you working on next?

I’m working on an action short film that’ll involve characters with disabilities requiring them to save the world (or day haha) one way or another.

 

What advice do you have to your fellow filmmakers?

Originally my advice was this– keep hammering away at your next filmmaking goal until it gets done. I still say that, but I much more strongly resonate with this more:

Keep learning and keep collaborating. Keep talking with other filmmakers and artists alike. Just whatever you do, don’t stop learning and don’t stop talking with other filmmakers. You learn and gain so much that way. Collaboration is really the key today.

 

 

 

 

 

Catching Up With ‘Outlaws and Angels’ Director JT Mollner As He Heads For Sundance

Catching Up With ‘Outlaws and Angels’ Director JT Mollner As He Heads For Sundance

5 Questions with ‘Outlaws and Angels’ Director J.T. Mollner

We catch up with our very first Filmmaker Spotlight subject, J.T. Mollner, as he prepares to premiere his independent western Outlaws and Angels at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, coming to the Midnight block on January 25th. J.T. talks with us about his undying love for film and how it enhanced the western world he created for his first feature.

Outlaws and Angels: When Outlaws on the lam invade the home of an unsuspecting, seemingly innocent, frontier family to hide out for the night, an unexpected game of cat and mouse ensues, leading to seduction, role reversal, and ultimately, bloody revenge.

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Tell me about your feature, ‘Outlaws and Angels’, which will be debuting at Sundance this year:

The Sundance acceptance was a huge surprise as well as a dream come true. I wasn’t ready to show them the film when the deadline hit. We had no choice but to send them an overlong, rough cut with no sound mix or color timing and I was sure we were going to get bad news.  Then we got the news. Wow. We owe so much to those programmers out there. I really couldn’t imagine a more perfect place for this film to premiere. Midnight, Monday the 25th, Sundance Film Festival. Love how that sounds. And the most exciting part about it is that we will be screening our premiere at the library theater on a 35mm film print, something that didn’t happen at all at Sundance last year. We’re proud to be bringing Kodak back to Sundance.

I’ve always wanted to make a western – mainly so I could do all the things with it that I thought were missing from most of the westerns. It’s a revisionist western. A home invasion thriller that has derivations in story from films like Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, Polanksi’s Cul-De-Sac, and Kubrick’s Lolita. It has the traditional western elements, but we break them down, and I like to think It plays more like a gangster film. Another thing I wanted to focus on was authenticity. Most westerns are too clean. We spent hours dirtying actors up, sweating them up, and rotting their teeth. Fluoride toothpastes weren’t being used on the frontier.

In our first interview, you referenced some filmmakers that inspire you such as Polanski, Bergman, Fellini as and described them as ‘outlaw filmmakers’. Now you having written, produced, and directed your new feature ‘Outlaws and Angels’ how has their work as ‘outlaws’ played a role in your feature if at all:

Their work hasn’t just influenced me, the film very simply would never have been made if it weren’t for those masters. And I certainly wouldn’t have dared go to the dark places in the script if it weren’t for the influence of the “Outlaw” elements of story in films like “Cries and Whispers”, “Repulsion”, and “La Strada”. There’s plenty of post-modern European cinema influence in this picture. It’s all there. Although my Director of Photography Matt Irving and I found our own look for the movie, our starting place was “McCabe and Mrs. Miller”, in my opinion Altman’s best flick and heavily influenced by European cinema as well. It’s because of Altman that I fell in love with the zoom lens, rarely used today as heavily as we used it in our film. But then we incorporated new things – hand-held in certain spots, for instance, something I’d never seen in a western. It gave us our own unique look. Matt and I decided to do long takes and minimal standard coverage. There is one 10-minute single take and the actors really nailed it. I was working with people who had tremendous talent and it made this very specific, visual style possible.  

Being such a lover of FILM how did that provide an advantage or disadvantage making ‘Outlaws and Angels’

Did I mention that we didn’t just shoot on film, we are projecting on a film print at our Sundance premiere?! It’s so incredible that Kodak has made this possible.

Okay, back to shooting on film. It was never an option for me not to shoot this on film. I have a deep commitment to film as I think it represents more than just a certain look, it represents the very nature of cinema. Many filmmakers put too little importance on format. I think it wasChristopher Nolan (God bless him) who was asked by a studio head if story should trump all else, including format, and he said something like “No, if that were the case we’d be making radio shows. They are much cheaper”. Absolutely brilliant and totally right on! As filmmakers, we owe something to celluloid. We need to go to battle for it or it will go away. I could have made “Outlaws” a few years earlier if I had been willing to shoot digital but I stood my ground and it was worth the wait. I had to fight for it every step of the way, but to me it was just too important to compromise.  We shot on Kodak 35mm film and Panavision cameras on the 2 perf format. It was heaven. Lorette Bayle from Kodak and Jim Roudebush from Panavision really got behind us. We wanted grain and we wanted texture. We shot with a package of all vintage Zeiss and Cooke lenses from the early 60’s. We got exactly what we wanted and it wouldn’t be the same film without the rustic, “old-photograph” look we were going for. There were challenges, like shipping back to labs in LA when you’re on location, and not having full resolution playback, but who cares? The benefits FAR outweigh the disadvantages. Film is king.

Tell me about how you assembled your team for ‘Outlaws and Angels’

Chris Ivan Cevic was the first Producer I brought on because we’ve been partners on shorts and commercials for nearly 10 years. He was involved from the very beginning, putting together our package so we could hit the streets. Chris and I aren’t just partners, we are friends, so we really complimented each other from the beginning. I like writing and directing, but I can’t stand the other shit associated with getting a film made. He likes the other shit, and he supports my vision but also isn’t afraid to give me his opinion when I’m going astray so we have always been a good fit. Then Rosanne Korenberg (“Half Nelson”, “Hard Candy”) read the script and flattered us by agreeing to come aboard and Produce, even though she had been hired as a VP at Miramax and wasn’t really interested in producing indies anymore. She helped us lock the first half of the financing and then we were ready to go out and get the thing greenlit. That’s where Luke Daniels at Tunnel Post came in. He’s hungry – he’s a go-getter. He really was the final piece we needed to make the film real. He got us the rest of the funding but it was contingent on a certain level of talent being attached, so we hired Chadwick Struck, an amazing Casting Director and spent about a year pitching the film to agencies and trying to get everything to line up. It all finally came together and we went to make a movie.Chad Michael Murray was an unlikely choice for the role of the seasoned outlaw, Henry. Gersh pushed for a meeting and I just fell in love with the guy when we met. He was so passionate, wanted to do something different than he had before, and it really translated to the screen. Francesca Eastwood auditioned for us, and then we had a great meeting as well. She’s just a natural born movie star so much charisma, such great instincts. You really can’t take your eyes off her when you watch the film. Both of them just gave that crazy level of commitment on set that directors dream about and they are so talented. All the other cast came together quickly. Ben Browder and Teri Polo were brought in by Gersh, who were so helpful and had a deep belief in the film. They are both brilliant actors and gave 110 percent as well. Then the other pieces just fell into place last minute, Madison Beatty, who auditioned for us and I was already a fan of because of her role in “The Master” came into play Charlotte and knocked it out of the park. Keith Loneker and Nathan Russel provide the much needed comic relief and really nailed it. Frances Fisher jumped in to play a supporting role last minute and just blew us all away. We were so lucky to get her. And then, of course, Luke Wilson was one of the last guys cast. Great guy. He really bought in, totally trusted my vision, and was a pleasure to work with. The whole cast really brought it, took it seriously, and had a sense we were doing something special. I feel grateful.

The cinematographer was an interesting thing because I’ve always worked with the same guy,Gavin Kelly, until this project. Gavin and I were a great team, but he had another project scheduled at the same time and I was not looking forward to working with someone new on the first feature. Our Line Producer Mykel Denis, turned me on to this guy Matt Irving. I was a fan of a film he shot years back called “Groove” and also liked his most popular film “Waitress”, however, I was concerned his signature look wouldn’t fit what I was going for. We got on a 2-hour long film-geek call where we talked movies and I knew he was the right guy. Matt’s a genius. We spoke each other’s language. Couldn’t have gone smoother on set. He bought into the vision and we almost always wanted the same thing for each shot. He knew exactly what type of film we were making and it shows when you watch the footage.

Now that you’ve completed your first feature are you going to turn your short ‘Flowers of December’ into a feature? What’s next?

The easy answer is yes. Now that we’ve got a distributor for “Outlaws” and we are getting the theatrical release that was so important to me, I’m already thinking about the next project. It’s contemporary, takes place in West Texas, and is titled “18 Wheels and a Dozen Roses”. It’s a dark love story, somewhere between “Leaving Las Vegas” and “Midnight Cowboy”. “Flowers in December” is a different story but takes place in the same world.

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Francesca Eastwood in ‘Outlaws and Angels’

Source: No Remake Pictures

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JT Mollner and Duke Mollner on the set of ‘Outlaws and Angels’

Source: No Remake Pictures

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Luke Wilson and Steven Michael Quezada

Source: No Remake Pictures

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Chad Michael Murray

Source: No Remake Pictures

Filmmaker Spotlight: Jamie Donoughue

Filmmaker Spotlight: Jamie Donoughue

Writer and Director of the HollyShorts Best Short Winner, Jamie Donoughue shares with us about the natural disaster that led to the submergence into Kosovo’s history and to his short: Shok. Shok is a story about a friendship between two boys that is tested by the atrocities of the Kosovo war.

Where did you study film?

I went to University in Salford, Manchester in UK. However my practical knowledge came from working in the industry. At 18 I trained as a camera assistant and then moved up to Operator and then Director. My background for years was in music videos where I ran a production company ‘Left Eye Blind’. A couple of years ago I left the company to pursue my love of drama as a freelance director.

What drew you to tell the story of Shok?

I visited Kosovo for a few days back in 2010. Then the Icelandic volcano erupted. I was stuck in the country for 5 weeks and during that time began to learn the history and the atrocities that had happened. Meeting my producer Eshref he taught me about life in Kosovo and growing up during the war. I could not believe that these events had happened less than 15 years ago and felt as a filmmaker I could create an opportunity for these stories to be heard.

Was there a language barrier?

Yes of course, directing in a different language does present obvious challenges. However, I’m a strong believer that you can tell a good performance in an actor no matter what language they are speaking. I studied Albanian in order to direct the film, however I also had translators with me.

What was it like to work with children especially who speak another language?

I can honestly say that both Lum Veseli (Petrit) and Andi Bajgora (Oki) were two of the most professional actors I have ever worked with. Andi had had some experience, but it was Lum’s first time acting. We worked hard in rehearsal and used those lessons as a reference point on set. Both are natural born actors and took notes very well which was a major reason why I cast them. Luckily both had learned to speak good English, which made my job a lot easier. I can thank the Harry Potter movies for that!

While you were in Kosovo how did you go about exploring the culture and learning about the history?

It took a long time to fully understand the history and culture of Kosovo and I’m still learning. You can read as many books as you like but the only way to truly understand is to speak directly with the people and to spend time with them. I researched for over four years before writing the film. In this time I visited the entire country and stayed with families, hearing their stories of growing up and their experiences during the war. I also spent a lot of time in Albanian. Most of my research was done over a good traditional family meal and a few raki’s (the local drink).

Is Shok the first short you’ve written?

Yes. I mainly script edit and I also write voiceovers for commercials but Shok was my first solo writing project.

Are you thinking about developing Shok into a feature?

I’m not specifically thinking of developing Shok, I feel it’s a very self contained story. I am however working on a developing number of other stories from the region.

You wrote and directed Shok, which role do you prefer and what do you plan to do more of?

Definitely directing. I enjoyed the writing process but it came more out of necessity than choice. For me satisfaction comes from collaboration and there is no better feeling than being on set.

What are you working on next? Any features?

I’m in talks with a number of different companies/producers about developing features so hopefully this is something I can look to do in the future. I also have a huge love for TV drama, especially in the USA, so I’d be keen to branch into that.

Have you shown your short to the people you’ve met (in Kosovo) throughout this project? If so, what was their reaction?

Originally very few people, apart from the producers, had seen the film in Kosovo. We decided to do a national screening at DokuFest, the Kosovo film festival. Out of all my screenings to date this was the most nerve racking. However the response was fantastic. As hard as it was for many people to watch we were complimented on how realistic and accurate the film was and there was a genuine appreciation that we had decided to tackle the subject and bring these events to light.

What advice do you have to your fellow filmmakers?

Only people who have made a film can truly understand what is involved and the stresses and challenges that come with it. For me my biggest lesson I learnt was persistence. For every success you have there is disappointment, and vice versa. There are always dark times and, especially with this film, there were times when it felt it would never get made. You have to keep focused and keep going no matter what. Look at setbacks as creative challenges, keep positive and determined. Also understand that everyone has a different view and opinion. Be open to advice but stick to what you believe is right.

Behind The Silver Screen: My Alien & Artistic Encounter

Behind The Silver Screen: My Alien & Artistic Encounter

This summer I had the pleasure and opportunity to meet an iconic influence in the film industry and a talented artist who accents the world of film: Matt Winston.

I was first starstruck when I saw a familiar face in the crowd while I was waiting for a dinner reservation. Some how I knew this man without ever having met him. I had subconsciously remembered him from a few films that I had seen and couldn’t shake the familiar feeling until I confirmed that it was the man who I thought he was. Indeed my gut feeling served me right. The man I had recognized was Matt Winston. If you have seen Fight Club, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, or Little Miss Sunshine then you may be able to distinguish him in a crowd as well. Over dinner I got to know Matt and his family, Matt shared some insight about his screenplay and how he is keeping his father’s dream alive.

But what makes this man and his father so iconic? Any attendant to a science-fiction, horror, or action film in the past twenty years would subconsciously recognize Stan Winston’s work. Stan was the innovator and creator of Jurassic Park‘s prehistoric animatronic dinosaurs, AlienA.I. Artificial Intelligence, and many more creatures featured in film. In other words, Stan is responsible for the monsters, aliens, and robots we’ve come to know, love, and fear. Stan’s work has been awarded by Oscars, Emmys, and many more along with a copious amount of nominations.

Outside of acting and screen writing Matt is keeping his father’s dream and success alive through the Stan Winston School of Character Arts. This high definition media based school teaches a range of film aspects from Hollywood’s most talented and recognized.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Metin Bereketli, a famous, charitable artist who has blessed the film world with his paintings. Metin is known for his art that made its way on to the screen in shows such as FriendsE.R.Gilmore Girls, and many more recognizable television shows. Metin’s style is unique because of the minute detail that characterizes his artwork. When I visited his gallery he handed me a magnified glass and truly showed me the magnitude of his artwork. Metin has received a bevy of appreciation from many celebrities throughout the years and uses his fame to raise money for several charitable causes.

I hope I get to meet even more influences and icons in the industry that light up the silver screen and inspire so many people.

Stan Winston & Alien model

Matt Winston

Metin Bereketli