Filmmaker Spotlight: Dickie Hearts

Filmmaker Spotlight: Dickie Hearts

Dickie Smile copyPassengers Poster-1

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Filmmaker Spotlight: SAD MOTIVATOR

Filmmaker Spotlight: SAD MOTIVATOR

Sad Motivator

We all have it, that devil on our shoulders, opposite of the moral angel, urging us to say and do, but just have a hard time acting on and vocalizing the dark matter that we resist, for some that dark matter is just a little darker or is possibly green. For Timothy Ryan Cole and Nathan Alan Bunker they personify just that with Mark, a green blob that is a mouthpiece for Kevin’s deepest, darkest most inner thoughts, that only the conduit can hear and see in the web series SAD MOTIVATOR.

In SAD MOTIVATOR the series follows Kevin, a newly single guy living in Los Angeles who enters the dating world with the help of his sidekick/navigator, Mark, a green blob that pushes the boundaries and forces Kevin into interesting, and sometimes, dangerous situations. We got to know the creator, writer, director and star of the web series presented by Funny or Die: SAD MOTIVATOR. Nathan and Timothy share with us how the flubber-like blob, Mark, voiced by Nathan, came to be from the mind of the main character, Kevin, played by Timothy and what is to come in Season 2.

Tell me a little about yourselves:

Timothy: I started acting in school plays when I was 9 and in 2001 I moved to New York to study acting at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. I moved to Los Angeles in 2007 and started working on a lot of commercials. Mostly known for the recent GEICO campaign “Happier Than..” where the two musicians Jimmy and Ronnie play guitar and mandolin on stage. I met Nathan through Andrea Rueda, the casting director for this project and many others. Nathan had an awesome, creepy, inappropriate dark comedy piece and invited me to join in on the fun – after reading the script, I knew I wanted to dive right in and start creating. He rocked the finished product and created something that people can’t seem to get enough of – I think a lot of film festivals and the audience sees this and just can’t turn away – no matter how awkward, creepy or inappropriate. Nathan does a great job of walking (and crossing) that thin line to keep everything interesting.

 

Nathan: I’m the writer/director of SAD MOTIVATOR, a 7 episode web series shown at HollyShorts. I am also the voice of Mark in the series. I grew up in Michigan and made my way out here when I was 20. Went to school for Film at Columbia College Hollywood and have been working in the industry in some capacity or another for the last 7 years. This is my first real project I’ve put out in the world and have been pretty happy with the reception so far, especially being able to say I showed it at HollyShorts.

How did you two meet?

Nathan: Tim and the producer/casting director Andrea Rueda have known each other for a couple years and we’ve seen each other here and there in different areas. We were able to kind of really get to know each other when we talked about the project. So you could say the project really brought us together.

 

Where did you get your start in the industry?

Nathan: The very first industry job I got was as a camera assistant on a Power Rangers-type show called ‘Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight‘. It was fantastic. I was the 2nd AC and had no idea what I was doing, being only 3 months removed from college graduation, and the only reason I got the job was because I had just bought the camera they were going to shoot on. I didn’t know how to use it, but I owned it and that was good enough for them I guess. Met a lot of cool people I still keep in touch with today and it was a great learning experience.

Kevin and Mary

Kevin and Mark

Tell me about your short that brought you to HollyShorts:

Nathan: The project that brought us to HollyShorts was a web series called SAD MOTIVATOR. It’s a creepy love story about a heartsick 20-something, played by Tim, who tries to navigate through life with the help of his best Mark, voiced by myself, who is an animated green blob. It’s pretty dark and we are trying to blur the lines of funny and disturbing but not going overboard. I think that’s the difficult part of making this project; trying to justify what crosses the line and what would be acceptable. Mark never swears in the series, which we thought was necessary to his character and would go overboard if he had. Meanwhile, Tim takes his penis out in a park and we all thought that was appropriate.

Mark

Kevin

Did a particular person spark Mark into existence?  

Nathan: There wasn’t a particular person who brought this on, it was more his voice. I used to try to make my girlfriend laugh uncomfortably by walking around our apartment talking in Mark’s voice. The majority of it came from saying things creepy old men may say like ‘Give me some sugar’ or ‘Come sit on my lap’ but in Mark’s voice. It made her laugh and pretty weirded out so we both agreed this should be a character.

 

Where did the idea come from to animate your ‘id’ and make a web series about it?  

Making Mark animated came about because we didn’t think a live person could pull off the comedy. If someone dressed up really funny and sat across from Kevin, saying the things Mark says, it just didn’t really feel right. Seemed a little too easy and didn’t impact the scene as much as we wanted. So we knew it would have to be something not of this world. We thought of a puppet, but that seemed a little too playful and would hinder what we could accomplish on set and in post. So animation was clearly the best option.

Sasha

How did the female blob come about?

There was a big discussion on how we would end the first season. I knew I didn’t want to have Sasha be the typical girl in distress who was getting “caught up with the wrong guy but didn’t know it”. It was typical and we wanted to break from that. So, after beating around a couple ideas Andrea mentioned that Sasha should have a blob as well. Everything just kind of clicked from there and made sense. Giving Sasha a blob made her more mysterious and made her seem a little darker than what you may have expected. And it opened the world up for Season 2 where we can explore how a girl deals with her little blob.

 

How did you go about casting?

Casting went smoothly, mainly because we are friends with just about the entire cast. Andrea Rueda, casting director and producer, knew Tim from prior projects she cast him in and they became pretty solid friends. She thought he would be perfect and I agreed. Tim makes it easy to sell the weird horror/thriller aspect of the comedy. On set, he played it pretty calm, as if he was in a drama, but would tweak it slightly every now and again to show the humor. We were very much on the same page on-set and it worked out well. Ben Begley (Detective Grumble) and Renee Dorian (Mary/Connie) have been dear friends for years and were easy choices for their characters. The three of us have worked on each other’s projects for years and are comfortable with each other and know what each can bring to the table. So it was easy to trust them on set. The only casting came with Amanda Bauer (Sasha) and there wasn’t even auditions for it or anything. Andrea had auditioned Amanda in past projects and brought her to my attention. Amanda turned out great since she was able to show a lot of the innocence we were looking for in the role, but she has a little dark side everyone hasn’t seen yet. But you will in Season 2!

Where is the series headed next? Does Mark have any boundaries? Are we going to be looking at a female narrative coming up?

We have a lot in store for the second season. Sasha and Connie’s relationship, as well as the relationship between Sasha and Kevin and Sasha and Detective Grumble will be the main focuses. The female narrative will be very potent this coming season and we’re pretty excited to explore Sasha’s darker side. Not to say Kevin and Mark are taking a back seat, but Sasha will be taking on a slightly different role than she did in the first season.

 

What other films, shorts or features, do you have in the works?

I’ve been working on a couple projects, mainly focusing on writing a comedy/thriller feature that will be done in the next month or so.

 

Will Mark morph into a more flubber-like aesthetic? How did you come up with the look of Mark?

The idea of Mark was a result of whittling down what would be the funniest for Kevin to play off of. We went from an inanimate object all the way to an actual live person until we thought a fat little green blob would be best. We had the voice picked out first so the blob fit best in that category as well. As for now Mark will stay Mark, but I’m definitely open to see what this little blob can do. We showed off a little of his “magical skills” in the first season, most notably controlling Kevin’s hand to touch Sasha’s privates, but it’s going to be nice to see what this little blob is capable of.

 

Will you have more projects to feature on Funny or Die?

As of right now SAD MOTIVATOR is the only project I am concentrating on for the web. SAD MOTIVATOR was a little unique for me projectwise. I tend to write features and shorts based more for cinema, but this project worked best as a web series. So I don’t know if there’s another project for the web coming up, but I’m definitely open to the idea.

Timothy Cole and Nathan BunkerNathan Bunker, Amanda Bauer, Timothy Cole

Emmy Award-Winning Producer Stephanie Laing talks about making the leap to directing

Emmy Award-Winning Producer Stephanie Laing talks about making the leap to directing

TATSD-Crew-Stephanie.jpg

For Emmy Award-Winning Producer Stephanie Laing her road to the industry began from behind the glass, as a bank teller, in Cincinnati, Ohio when she was presented with an opportunity to work on The Public Eye as a Production Assistant. From there she has graduated to producing Eastbound and DownLittle Britain USABanshee and Veep.

Today, Stephanie has ordained a new role; directing. For her directorial debut, she adapted Patrick Somerville’s ‘Trouble & the Shadowy Deathblow’ starring Tony Hale as Jim Funkle, a man who has trouble with feeling mediocre. Recently, Laing has directed an episode of HBO’s Veep and doesn’t plan on stopping there. In her downtime, she also writes on her blog Put Your Pretty On, about being a parent, the duality of producing and directing, and all of the gritty moments in-between.

Tell me about how you got your start:

I’m from Cincinnati, when I was in college I was a bank teller. One of my customers was a Business Manager for a commercial production company. I was going to college for journalism, she ended up hiring me to be a production assistant on commercials such as the Cincinnati Bengals commercials, Cincinnati Red commercials that’s how I got started.

A film came into town The Public Eye with Joe Pesci in 1991. I had a little bit of experience they hired me to be the film apprentice on the film. Since the unit photographer was taking prop photos in Cincinnati, Chicago, and Los Angeles I ended up going with them and I basically left Cincinnati and didn’t go back. From there we went to Chicago for 6 weeks and then I moved to Los Angeles. I was making about 200 dollars a week, but I stayed in Los Angeles and worked as a Production Assistant and eventually made it as an assistant to a producer and director. From there I ended up production coordinating for the HBO Network.

Tracey Ullman was really who made me a producer on her TV series in the 90’s. I won an Emmy with that show in 1997. It was a complete surprise, everyone in the audience was like “what the hell is this show?” I stayed with Tracey for 10 years, I got married, had three kids and I kept my foot in the door by doing comedy specials once a year and went back full time once my youngest was a year old and I started producing comedy series once again. I produced the American version of Little Britain and I produced Eastbound and Down. During my third season of producing Eastbound I directed an episode of Veep. That is when I started looking into directing. We had additional materials to do for the second unit and that meant going to D.C. There is a lot of car work, because obviously Veep is a show about the Vice President. I learned that I like it and at season four of Eastbound and Down I remember turning to David Gordon Green and saying I think I want to direct a short film. This is what led me to direct Trouble & the Shadowy Deathblow.

Stephanie Laing

Stephanie Laing and Tony Hale

So you said that you initially majored in Journalism how did that lead to the film industry?

For me, I always wanted to be a writer. I always wanted to write for Rolling Stone. I knew I wanted to do entertainment and I knew I would have to move to New York or Los Angeles. Now, 20 years later I’ve lived in both places. At the time when I was living in Cincinnati I was just thinking about how I could get into television or film. It wasn’t a direct path.

How did you go about casting for your short? Your Son makes an appearance in it, how was it directing your son?

I auctioned the short story by Patrick Somerville. He wrote it 7 years ago and I auctioned the story 4 years ago, at the time I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. Actually, the short story ends in a completely different way. We added a scene in the end, we only did for the short. I was attracted to it because it was dark, a little twisted, and it’s about mediocrity. Male or female we all feel mediocre at times, I liked that character. Tony Hale was always in my mind for Jim Funkle. Luckily, when I asked him to do it, he said yes straight away. I got very lucky because of my relationship with him from Veep.

At first I was very excited and then I thought ‘oh god I’m going to throw up, now I have to make it.’ I got really lucky because the cast I have a relationship with. Everyone I asked said yes. My son is also in it. He really wanted to be in it, he did a great job, I’m very proud of him.

Mark Wootton, I produced a show for him on Showtime. I produced an episode of Banshee and that’s how I know Frankie Faison and Andy Buckley he’s been in a ton of movies, he came in to guest star. Honestly, Mark Wootton told me I should be directing and when I called him and told him to be in the short I reminded him that he inspired me to direct so now he has to be in my short.

Tell me about what led you to take the leap from producing to directing:

I just directed an episode of Veep. IT has been a tremendous opportunity, I’m very grateful we have very talented writers and directors and obviously Julia Louis-Dreyfus, I think we have the best cast on television.

I never thought I wanted to direct, I wasn’t setting out to direct I love producing and I’ve been doing it for so long. Honestly, on the Veep pilot I thought I will just try it and I was doing cars so I didn’t have to worry about eye line so that was easy and from there no one told me to stop so I kept doing second unit. When I went to do the short I said to David Gordon Green “if nothing else, I will be a better producer, maybe I will hate directing maybe I won’t maybe I will be good or maybe I will suck, but if nothing else I will be better at my job as a producer”

Trouble & The Shadowy Death Blow
Trouble & The Shadowy Deathblow
Trouble & The Shadowy Death Blow
Trouble & The Shadowy Deathblow

How did your background with producing impact your role as a director? What was similar, different, which one do you find more challenging?

I think being a producer for so long enriches my role as a director. Since I’ve been producing for so long I understand from a producer’s standpoint. What to say when a line producer is coming toward you. It’s also made me pretty resourceful. I also think when I’m directing that I know if I’m being bullshitted because I produced for so long. I think it enhances it but it uses a completely different side of my brain. You know you can’t worry about parking or the location you just have to close that off, and that the crew is being fed and know that someone is doing that job and you can just focus on getting the story captured.

After having been in both roles, which do you prefer?

I love producing, but I’m sure I will continue to do that, but I know I will also continue to direct. Directing is still new to me and challenging I’m just excited to expand that side of my career and I will never stop producing.

What is next for you? More directing for Veep?

Not sure what’s next. I’m working on editing the episode and then I will go back to producing the series. I’m going to executive produce a new series starring Danny McBride called Vice Principal. We start filming next April. Vice Principal is set at a high school so you set Danny McBride and other comedians together and it will be good. Really looking forward to that. I would like to direct an independent feature. Right now, I’m open to whatever comes my way.

How do you go about finding feature material?

My agent said it best:” shop for a script like you would a wedding dress” I’m looking for that right now. I’m not exactly sure what it will be.

Since your Son acted in Trouble & The Shadowy Deathblow will he be making an appearance in more of your upcoming projects? What about your other children are they pursuing acting as well?

My youngest son plays drums, my oldest son acts, and my daughter who is 9 we just got done writing a book together called ‘Girls Don’t Burp’ were hoping to get that publish. Next would be Girl’s Don’t Do Math, Girls Don’t Do Science. Obviously the point is that they do.

What advice do you have to your fellow filmmakers?

Enjoy the process and explore doors that open. I don’t think that there is a direct path anymore, I don’t think maybe there ever was. A to B isn’t so specific. There are a lot of different channels for filmmakers and people who want to be filmmakers, writers, directors, I think it’s an amazing time to have your own material, but you can’t lose sight of the path that you’re on. Enjoy the path to where you are and where you want to be. The one thing I would say to directors, which comes up for me, is ‘don’t give up your shot and go with your instincts, if you want it you fight for the edit and if you don’t you’ll be mad you didn’t’ get it.”

Trouble & The Shadowy Death Blow
Trouble & The Shadowy Deathblow
Trouble & The Shadowy Death Blow
Trouble & The Shadowy Deathblow

 

Gallery

Filmmaker Spotlight: Edoardo Ponti

HollyShorts 10th Anniversary Opening Night Gala - Red Carpet

by Chelsea Fung

@CineChel

 

A woman who suspects her lover of losing interest in the relationship, and moving on to another, fights through her suspicions and emotions to keep him in her life, and on the phone. In Edoardo Ponti’s Human Voice, derived from Jean Cocteau’s play Human Voice, he casts his Mother, Sophia Loren, center stage to play the role of a woman enduring a heartbreaking phone call.

 

Originally set in France, Edoardo sets his stage in Naples in 1950 and adds another woman to the mix, Angela’s housekeeper, along with a couple language incongruities. These minor language obstacles serve as a glimpse into the character’s backgrounds and shed light on the relationship discrepancies.

 

It has always been a dream of his mother’s to star in Human Voice and Edoardo graciously makes that dream come true, while incorporating his extensive experience from all angles of the camera. Edoardo is also graciously spreading his wealth of knowledge, which will be available online in 2015 through takehollywood.com where he has spent nearly a decade interviewing film industry professionals.

 

 

Edoardo you’ve acted, written and directed, which would you say are you drawn to the most?

Directing is my passion. I think acting definitely informs that part of me that is a director. In order to be a complete 360 degree director it is very important to know all aspects, especially to know how vulnerable the position is, but also how to understand how a director can truly help an actor. I think that a problem as a director is that they like to hear them speak very often what they say can be totally useless to an actor. They have what they want in their own head and sometimes it’s the simplest of instructions that can help an actor.

Sometimes no instruction at all, maybe just a certain look. There are many other things an actor might need.

If you do act and you’re fortunate enough to act you grow to be more in-tune to what that means. As far as writing is concerned, even though I don’t write everything I do, I think that writing is important because as you write you can see the scene in your mind. It’s a great way into the scene. What is dangerous and the risk you run is that if you write everything you direct you become a writer who directs, as opposed to a director, and they’re two different things. When writer ends up directing a film the best version of the film is what they’ve written. When in fact the best version of the film more often than not is not what is written. It’s the combination of the script and the blueprint. But everything that happens set with the actors, with design, with the camera moves, that contributes, enriches and elevates what is on the page.

Often when you write the script, it becomes too precious about what you’ve written. You’re trying to replicate that. The role of the director is to take it, what is written, and digest it and make it into real life, that action elevates it.

 

 

How did you digest Jean Cocteau’s Human Voice and make it your own?

It’s a very complex answer because it addresses all of the changes and concerns I had going in. On the level of the text and my initial concern about how to present this piece before a contemporary audience and especially to a contemporary female audience, it was very important to me to present the woman who in the original text, from the get go she has resigned herself she will never go back with this man. What that tends to do is create a monotonous kind of a feeling because the character is stuck and spinning her own wheels in the pain and suffering, but it’s not going anywhere.

The first thing that I did was delay a sense of resignation and show a character who is going through a hard time with her man, clearly her man had left her but she was going to find a way to get him back. It’s only half way through the film in our version that the relationship crumbles and gives way to the pain, disappointment and resignation in the end.

The invention and introduction to the housekeeper is something that doesn’t exist in Jean Cocteau’s play. Associated with that, the important thing was to translate from French to Neapolitan Italian. It lends itself to a certain fragility. Changing the language, it totally strengthens the woman. Language plays a big part in this version, the two lovers are from a different part of the country, she’s Neapolitan and he’s from the north very often he doesn’t understand what he’s saying. Not only are they not in sync emotionally, they’re not in sync linguistically. It creates a dynamic almost where she is in superiority because she’s teaching him words he doesn’t even understand which creates a dynamic that isn’t even in Jean Cocteau’s original play.

The other aspect that was important was that the play takes 30 minutes in real time. Thirty minutes in the life of the woman. Here, in my version, in order to diversify stylistically but also lighting wise the experience of the conversation this conversation takes place over four and a half hours where we begin when she is still trying to fight for him in this golden romantic sort of hue where the fishers start to show and the disappointment starts to emerge the sun is set and you have this blueish light when the affair emerges so does the night. So you have this expressionistic feel of what is happening inside of her also in the room. This in a way Roberto Rossellini made a film version of this, which is one of the most famous versions, but it was a filmed version of the play. This was the first version of adapting, shaping and modifying it for the medium of film. Hence, the flashbacks and we’ve all been in these conversations where people break up with you. Whether you like it or not your mind throws you images of happier times from the heart. Those flashbacks, six frames, three seconds, are the happy times that infiltrate her mind as she is having this conversation.

 

 

What was your initial inspiration to do Human Voice, why now?

Human Voice was a text that my mother always wanted to do. The initiative to do it now, like this, in Naples in 1950 under those terms were mine. This happened because of the success of another short I did in Italy: The Night Shift Belongs To The Stars. It did well critically and commercially.

One of the reasons why my mother didn’t do Human Voice in her career was because it was only 30 minutes, so it would either have to be developed into a feature or add two other shorter pieces to it; both of these alternatives didn’t do it justice because they don’t serve the original text. After my success, I told my mother lets do it the way that it was intended, as a short. For me, a short is not a stepping stone to a feature. It’s what it is, a beginning, a middle and an end. Like a play is a play, a novel is a novel and a short story is a short story. Filmmakers can do both. That doesn’t mean that one leads to another. One is different from another and all of my career, I will be doing both.

 

 

Directing your Mother, Sophia Loren, as the lead and having to see her break down as the phone call goes on did you have any reservations?

We shot the film in 11 days and we rehearsed prior for 6 weeks. The process of finding the character, the voice, the emotionality is a process that took a long time, which what is great working with an actor like my mother, she’s a racehorse, you set obstacles and you set high obstacles and see if she can reach that high.

For example, the moment where she throws the vanity is a moment that I created in rehearsal. I told her one of the traps of the Human Voice is to have a woman who is sniveling from the beginning. I told her from the beginning ‘if you want to get him back the last thing that the man wants to hear on the phone is her crying because he will just hang up and say “okay this is over,”’ you have to fight crying. Of course you are emotional and we have the privilege of seeing you, but over the phone, the voice, you have to be strong.

That’s why we’re more emotional watching her because she’s fighting. As an audience, because of this holding it in, I felt that the dam needed to break. It’s a spike of energy. I told her to try to do that, lose control for two seconds, so we can see exactly emotionally where you are. I told her theoretically, I showed her how to wipe everything, she didn’t do it until we were actually shooting and the powder flying everywhere this is an homage to Dangerous Liaison in Glenn Close, she also hit makeup and it goes all over the place. A small homage, because I didn’t want it to go too far.

 

What are you working on now?

I don’t like to go into what I’m working on now because it is a bit of a secret garden.


I can understand that, tell me about your style of filmmaking. Did your upbringing contribute to that at all?

I think that the most important thing that I’ve learned is that my parents are never fully integrated into the film industry, they’ve always been a little on the outside looking in. I didn’t grow up on sets. I grew up at school, we had as much as possible a normal upbringing, which is a blessing.

If we did meet people, what stayed with me, what’s important, is that one tends to beautify people due to their achievements the truth is that they’re just people. What we have in common is that we’re on the same path of creativity. The only difference is that they made be ahead of you, but we’re on the same path and if we know that then it gives people who are starting the dream of achieving. The road that you’re walking on today is the same that someone was walking ten years ago, that is what I learned being raised around it.


What is your advice to your fellow filmmakers?

One thing I’ve been doing for the past 8 years is takehollywood.com, which launches in January I personally interviewed close to 100 actors, directors, casting directors, agents all about the craft of acting, which will all be available online. That is my way of sharing my understanding of the craft in the industry.

 







Filmmaker Spotlight: Anya Leta

Filmmaker Spotlight: Anya Leta

Anya Leta
Anya Leta

In Points of Origin a couple who cannot conceive must replace a birth announcement with a plane ticket, a baby shower with doctor’s appointments, and an American womb with an Indian one. RJ, an Indian radio host played by Ankur Vikal, and his wife, Rosemary, played by Tessa Thompson, face ethical dilemmas as they outsource their pregnancy to India, hoping that the in vitro process will endure as well as their relationship.

When thinking of outsourcing a service one’s mind doesn’t immediately think of outsourcing a pregnancy, but for Anya Leta’s main characters it’s the not just on their mind, it’s their reality. Writer and Director Anya Leta brings two worlds together divided by culture and circumstance and joined by one commonality: life.

As Rosemary attempts to relate to her surrogate she is blinded by the nucleus of her own grounding and deficient to see the circumstances of the cultivation that the surrogate faces.

RJ faces scrutiny as he addresses the controversial topic of outsourcing surrogacy on his radio show, and is rapidly put in the hot seat when callers ask heavy questions that force RJ to surface his fears and doubts about the procedure.

 

Tessa, Ankur, Denzil

Points of Origin Synopsis:

Points of Origin is a fictional short film exploring the emotional conflicts an American couple experiences while attempting to have a baby with a female surrogate in India.

 

Anya, tell me a little bit about where you grew up and where you studied filmmaking:

I grew up in a small town in Iowa called Fairfield. Where the Transcendental Meditation (TM) headquarters are. I have roots of visiting India since I was 14 years old. So shooting a film there wasn’t such a foreign idea to me.

I did my undergraduate in Film at UCLA and got my graduate degree from NYU Tisch Asia at the campus in Singapore. What I loved about the program is that focus was making films and production in Asia.

India is like a second home to me and I’ve always been drawn to it. After I attended NYU I went to India with the intention of making a film. Being a foreigner over there I also encountered other foreigners and the reasons why they were there. I found that many were there for medical tourism, as after the financial crash in 2009, it was more affordable for Americans to do medical procedures at state of the art facilities in India rather than the US.

 

What lead you to tell the story of ‘Points of Origin’

When I started finding out that people were going to India for surrogacy. You’re taking your genes and implanting them into another woman, to me that was the most intense form of medical tourism that there is. You think about outsourcing being outsourcing jobs, but this is outsourcing life. All of this emotional and personal implications that usually involves two people and you’re starting to involve a third person and you’re involving doctors and nurses and this whole exploitation that runs under it. That was the inspiration for the story. Specifically I wanted to tell the story through the point of view of the husband. There are often documentary stories told about American couples who go there and they have no idea what’s going on. I specifically wanted the husband to be Indian and understand the culture. So he would give the audience a very personal look at what was going on. He understands what’s going on, he understands the language. Then I chose to have an American wife who was very much on the outside. And the conflict between the two people.

The plot of the film is surrogacy, but for me it’s about the relationship and what happens between two people in the conflict of this situation. Often they’re sitting throughout the film waiting to go to the doctor’s office, waiting to meet the surrogate, facing forward, but by the end of the film they’re literally facing each other. When you want something so badly and you’re going forward, going forward and finally you get that moment to realize and reevaluate what they want in the face of this circumstance.

 

In a way, you’re including a piece of your American side and a piece of your side that grew in India into the film:

Some people say ‘you make movies about yourself’ and people say “well you must be the wife,” actually I feel like the husband. But, I have some qualities of the wife. Even though I’ve been to India many times and I’ve lived there for two years I’ve been treated like such an outsider. I know how it feels to be the minority and for me it was a very eye-opening experience.

I feel that I brought a sense of that discomfort from those experiences of being a minority in India into the film. Even though I had a great time there I also experienced some assumptions people had because I don’t look like I’m from India.

 

Points of Origin’ was shot internationally what was it like to have a crew internationally and filming in India?

Our lead actor is from and resides in India, our lead actress is from Los Angeles, our composer is from Madrid, the Director of Photography is from Tokyo, our producer is from Portland–our crew is from all over the world. Everyone is scattered all over the globe.

It is very difficult to get filming permits in India. Because the subject is sensitive that added this whole other element where people would ask what it is about and I would respond: it’s a love story. If I accomplished anything at the end of the day I felt good about it because of the challenges I faced filming in India. It makes shooting in the US easier. Filming in Los Angeles vs. India is very different, the lighting and grip team were incredible. They’re the hardest working people I’ve ever seen. I was blown away about how cool they were and how they could work with so little. I remember one day a lamp broke on set and they were so innovative they just made a new one on the spot.

We had a local production team that helped us get our permission for the location we shot at which was essential.

 

Where did you get the funds to film internationally?

I got the funds through Kickstarter. I was thinking about how do I make a quality film, and where is that money going to come from? Thanks to my producer, Erin Galey, we raised $25,000 dollars. Without her I wouldn’t have gotten there. Approaching how to pitch Points of Origin I took into account that I didn’t want my pitch video to be “help me, please!” I wanted to talk about the story.

I think crowd funding is tricky because the campaigns I get turned off from are the ones that come off as desperate, but if you tell me this project is amazing and here is why and here is why you should be a part of it I’m like okay, yes. So that was the approach that we took: we are doing an international shoot we have great actors and you want to be part of it!

The dream of Kickstarter is that there is someone in the world that gives you a bunch of money because your story is so great and it started out that people from my hometown were donating and then at the very end we had this major donor from India who just really connected with the subject and donated thousands of dollars. I feel like I got the miracle of Kickstarter. What’s amazing about crowd funding is that you connect with people you would never know any other way.

My producer, Erin, helped me with great incentives and we used her successful kickstarter for her film Sahasi Chori (Brave Girl) as a model. Some donors aren’t in the film industry and it’s important to make them feel like they’re coming on a journey with you and they’re part of it all. I feel like I didn’t do it well enough after the film was shot– you really have to stay in touch with the people, they need updates, and that’s a struggled for me and Erin because we are keeping so many projects afloat. It’s almost like customer service, because you have to reassure people along the way that they’re going to get what they paid for. I’m happy to do it and I’m so grateful for all who donated, I just wish we could have been better about being in touch!

 

How did you go about casting the characters?

Our main actress, Tessa Thompson, loved the script. It’s important that they connect with the script because I don’t know her, she doesn’t know me, what you can sell is the story. I showed her some of my previous films so she got a sense of my visual style. I went through a casting director to bring her on board. I saw Tessa’s work and she had a bit of vulnerability that came across on-screen and that is what I was looking for. The main character was in a vulnerable state being injected with hormones, she’s in a different country, as a woman she can’t give birth. I wanted the audience to empathize with her rather than thinking about her as a woman who goes to India and colonizes a woman’s body. I thought Tessa was a great fit because she was attracted to the script and she had what I was looking for. She really jumped in to the culture, she loved the food and she would travel around and converse with the crew and that elevated the story because she not only loved the script, but she was really an outsider coming in to the culture.

The actor who played the doctor, Denzil Smith, also connected with the material. Even though he had such a small role he wanted to be part of the story. It’s humbling when you get people like that who are part of your film.

 

 

What are you working on right now?

Points of Origin is touring festivals right now so I can relax a little. Right now I’m working with this brilliant screenwriter named Ron Nyswaner he wrote Philadelphia, he’s one of the writers on Ray Donovan. I saw Philadelphia when I was really young and I never thought I would get to work with someone like him and we’re working together on some of his television projects. He’s a great mentor and I love having a mentor that has so much experience. I’m also working with Erin and her production company In The Flicker. I’m also developing Points of Origin into a feature. Right now it’s only twenty-four hours before they implant the embryo and there is so much more to the story, the pregnancy, the family dynamics. I’m also approaching the surrogacy topic and turning it into a television series. The topic of biological colonization is interesting and I want to touch on the dark side of it,  trade that goes on as well. There is a really dark side that isn’t explored in my film and I want to do that in a long format and in television you can expand stories out even more. Points of Origin is a look into the filmmaking I’m interested in I want to touch on the tension between the two cultures and ultimately between two people.

 

Do you have any advice to fellow filmmakers?

I feel like I’m not qualified to give advice at this time because I’m at the beginning of my career. I think it’s important to do good casting, work with good actors, and I think that all comes from the story. Your script needs to be right, it’s the foundation to your film. Once you have a story that’s working I feel like I’m embellishing it and working it, and when you bring the actors in they contribute to the script.

Anya with ActorsTessa Thompson

Filmmaker Spotlight: Bad Weather Films

Filmmaker Spotlight: Bad Weather Films

bad weather films photo

Chi-town class clowns to sketch comedy channel artists Sam Milman and Peter Vass push the limits of comedy and some comfort zones. These creators, writers and directors of Bad Weather Films have made us laugh, cry (from laughing) and subscribe to the comical concoctions that come from the Bad Weather Films Channel every week.

Last year the duo brought Tennessee Luke, a peculiar and eccentric comedian, from the streets of Hollywood to the HollyShorts Screen in their TV Pilot short ‘Project Tennessee.’ Today the pair is working on comedic movie trailers such as: Tinder, The Movie, Street Spelling, 8 Mile Parody Trailer, and Scarface 2: YouTube Power.

Where did you two meet?

We both joined a TV production class in high school where we made short films and worked on live TV broadcasts. We realized we had the same comedic sensibilities and made a short film together for our final project that became a bit of a hit in our high school.

What sort of short films did you make in high school? What was the beginning of Bad Weather Films because it was conceived?

Our first short film we made in high school was called Badminton: A Rivalry is Born. It was a Napoleon Dynamite meets Dodgeball; we acted as the two main characters as well as wrote and directed it. It became a bit of a phenomenon at our high school since we had a TV channel there and everyone would watch it. We even had people quoting us in the hallways and Sam even sold a couple of bootleg copies during school.

Where did you go to school to pursue film?

Sam went to Columbia Chicago and Peter went to The University of Iowa. Both of us studied film.

How did Bad Weather Films come to be?

After we graduated from college, we decided to move to Los Angeles together to pursue writing and directing comedy. We shot some sketches before moving out and decided to give a name to what we were doing and we came up with Bad Weather Films (which is based on of a voicemail Peter’s grandma left for his brother Nick). We uploaded a few videos on YouTube and the channel started growing from there.

How do you come up with what short to do next? Where did you get your fuel to your funny bone?

We keep notes and ideas in our phones when we think of them. Inspiration for comedy will come randomly and we make sure to make note of it to expand later. Then we put the ideas in a Google Doc and start writing the ones we want to shoot next. That depends on who we are collaborating with and the logistics of shooting the video.

In terms of influences, sketch shows like Chappelle Show, Key and Peele, and SNL gets us excited to think of ideas. YouTube sketch groups like Good Neighbor Stuff and The Lonely Island are inspirational as well, given what they accomplished starting out digital and making it to SNL.

 

Who is your favorite character to play?

Peter: Bruce is my favorite character to play because of how ridiculous he is and how awkward things can get when I interview people.

Sam: Barry is my favorite character to play because he doesn’t give an F about anything and he’ll say whatever is on his mind.

 

If you could stay in character all day, which character would you be?

Peter: If I could stay in character all day it would have to be ‘Joey the Park Ranger.’ I draw a lot of inspiration from nerdy dads, including my own, and feel like the character is believable enough that people sometimes don’t know I’m acting when I approach them in public.

Sam: ‘Yannick’ from The Most Best Talk Show because his accent is funny. Also, I like to wear fedoras.

What sort of awkward situations have you two gotten yourselves into while doing a sketch or staying in character?

We had guns drawn on us before by two police officers while filming a sketch in an alley, and then got padded down. In the sketch Sam was holding a fake gun to Peter’s head while he was pleading for his life, in a jean jacket and jeans, and that alarmed neighbors enough to call the police. Fortunately, they let us finish filming. Close second is getting kicked out of the Century City Mall for filming a music video, dressed up as girls.

What is your process like putting together a cast for your shorts?

Most of the time we are casting actors we already know and work with. We try to collaborate with other YouTubers in every video so a lot of our casting is through YouTube collaborations. Occasionally we will reach out to Upright Citizens Brigade and Groundlings members as well.

What else are you two working on? What will you submit next to HollyShorts or any other film festival?

We have a few TV ideas that we have been developing, shot a sizzle for one of them that we are currently pitching to networks, outlining our next feature film while also releasing YouTube videos every week!

 

Tennessee Luke and Adam Ray
Tennessee Luke and Adam Ray

Last year at HollyShorts your short ‘Project Tennessee’ screened: about an oddball hand model teaming up with a talent agent.

Tell me about how you met ‘Tennessee Luke’ and how you created a short from there:

We met Tennessee Luke on the street, literally. Peter was interviewing people in character in Hollywood outside of the Oscars back in 2012 when we came across an older man in a tuxedo ‘networking,’ and we had such a blast interviewing him we looked him up when we got home and realized we had recognized him from Tim and Eric Awesome Show sketches, it’s been love ever since.

Peter has a web series called ‘A Guy Walks Into A Bar’ and the third season starred Adam Ray as the lead bartender. Tennessee Luke was in an episode and their chemistry was so hilarious we decided to create a pilot and TV concept around them co-existing and that became Project Tennessee.

 

Tell me about the television projects you’re working on: Who do you have in mind for these television projects?

We have a few TV show ideas we have been developing them, one in particular called Club Temperature we shot a sizzle for that stars Adam Ray as the club promoter Stu Temperature and also features comedians Brad Williams, Whitney Rice, Melissa Villasenor, Scott Blair, and Peter Gilroy. We are also in the outline stage of writing our second feature film while continuing to upload videos weekly on our Bad Weather Films YouTube channel.

Peter as BruceSam as Barry

Filmmaker Spotlight: United Film House

Filmmaker Spotlight: United Film House

Camille Profile PicBlake directing what a lifeblakemilleBlake and Camille with Phil LaMarr

Could love at first sight be real, or possibly love at first interview? For award-nominated director, producer and Founders of United Film House Blake West and Camille LaBry’s story is nothing short of Kismet, a Nora Ephron script would draw inspiration.

While Blake was looking for a producer for his film Ride the 9, he found more than a highly competent co-worker in Camille, he found his wife. Ever since then the couple has collaborated on numerous projects and together they birthed their brain child: United Film House. Making them ‘Blakemille’ or ‘West’s’ of the filmmaking industry. Today the power couple team up on features, commercials, music videos, and their short  Alone Together, written by Camille and directed by Blake. 

So lets go back before you two met, Where did you two grow up and how did you get into the industry?

Camille: I was born and raised in Austin, Texas, I first started performing at six years old. I moved to Los Angeles in 2004, and have loved every minute of it!  I’m passionate about collaborations, sustainable relationships, and telling a good story – one of the most wonderful feelings is to be with an audience who is watching our work, and going on the ride together.

Blake:

I was raised on a Navajo Reservation, where my parents were teachers on the reservation.

My start in the entertainment industry began when worked as an extra on a Budweiser commercial in Phoenix.  I asked the crew how they got to do what they do and was told about the film program at Scottsdale Community College. I quickly dropped the business program at Arizona State University and went to SCC.  Interestingly, I was classmates with Bill Hader – who has done some amazing and funny work!!  He was always a really cool guy.

From there I luckily landed editing work for the HBO Network and moved to Los Angeles in 1998. From there I parlayed my editing experience to directing and often claims that fixing other people’s mistakes for years was the best teacher ever. Some highlights of my work include a Grammy nomination, the Oscar Shortlist, and the Weinstein’s and Quentin Tarantino produced film, Hell Ride.

Tell me about how you two met:

Blake and I met on a teaser / trailer that was filmed New Orleans for a feature in development called Ride the 9.

Blake’s producing partner on the film, Jordan Marder, put an ad on Mandy.com, which I answered.  They interviewed me, and during the interview Blake told Jordan to call the other candidates because they had found their producer.  At our wedding in New Orleans, Jordan was our best man.  The first words of his toast: “Camille, you had him at ‘hello.'”

 

How do you two collaborate together? Any tips? Tell me about your process together.

We have an excellent collaboration together, like two sides of the same brain. We’ve both said on many occasions that this is the best collaborative partner, we’ve ever had – we’re like the Coen brothers. But married. And not related…

 

Whose idea was it to start a business together? How did United Film House come to be?

For years Blake had the vision that he wanted to be in business with someone he was close friends or involved with – we just happened to work together before we were involved instead of the other way around. Which worked out great for us, having that trust, friendship, understanding, and work ethic first – the love simply blossomed out of fertile ground. We were back and forth with a million names – Blake knew he wanted “house” in the title because we do feel it’s important to truly collaborate with people and it’s not about competition. There’s plenty for everyone, and all success is good for everyone. That’s when we thought “united”, and the rest is history!

It’s also a nod to United Artists, founded by Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith.

Your short, Alone Together, was at HollyShorts this year, tell me a little bit about it and how you decided to cast your actors:

Alone Together is an 8 minute film without dialogue about a man struggling with his past, only to realize, like many of us, that it is his present and inescapable future.

We were inspired by Ryan Coogler’s short film Locks. His film is without dialogue and leads the audience to believe they are headed towards an expected outcome, then has a fantastic twist at the end.  The visual storytelling is so impeccable, we knew we wanted to do our own take.  Ryan – great work man!

We felt it was very important to have a film without dialogue, especially for Camille in the beginning stages. Our main character, Louis Mandylor (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) brought so much to the character– his pain is truly tangible, and his performance is mesmerizing because of the work he put in.

Casting was interesting; we knew we wanted Louis right away and we were thrilled he responded to the material. Brooke Newton was actually a last minute addition who Louis brought in- we lost our original actress on the first day of shooting and it ended up costing us about a half a day of filming.

We’re very grateful that to have Brooke added to the film in the end…she worked out fantastically.  And in a wonderful twist – her physicality actually added a dimension to the film that was unexpected.  Perhaps we had a higher power looking out for us?

 

Camille, tell me about your early start as a performer:

I loved performing! I started out with stage, literally telling my mom at the age of 4 I was going to be an actress in the movies. I ended up doing a bit of singing, soloist at Carnegie Hall at age 17, and voice overs, anime, foreign films, video games, etc. In my early 20’s I was also a Project Manager for a number one Fortune 500 company in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles. I was also a makeup artist for a few years before rolling all that knowledge into where I truly feel like I am now meant to be – writing and producing.

 

Blake, tell me how growing up on a reservation has influenced your filmmaking style:

The Navajo reservation and the experiences growing up there lent a unique understanding of Native culture. It definitely influenced my style as well, I’m fascinated by Southwestern folklore, the landscapes, and the wild west.  We actually have a project we are currently packaging that takes place in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona – Superstition, based on a legendary cursed gold mine called The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.  My spec work on Hell Ride actually gained the interest of Quentin Tarantino & the Weinsteins, since it has a raw and dreamy Southwestern aesthetic.  I was Editor and 2nd Unit Director on the film and I directed the Peyote Trip.

 

 

Blake, your work has been recognized for some Grammy and Oscar awards. Tell me about those nominations:

Yes, a couple projects I edited were recognized:  Grammy nominated for Johnny Cash’s America (directed by Academy Award-winner Morgan Neville) and the Oscar Shortlist for Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh, where I worked with Friends co-creator, Marta Kauffman.

What will come out of the works next from United Film House?

We have many projects in the works. Right now Blake is directing, casting, and packaging The Flyer Hold Up, a 1930’s surreal comedy mystery. He’s also directing, casting, and packaging a thriller/horror that I wrote, Superstition. We’re also about to start casting and packaging Ride the 9 a contemporary pool hustle film.

We have many projects in the works. Right now Blake is directing, casting, and packaging The Flyer Hold Up, a 1930’s surreal comedy mystery. He’s also directing, casting, and packaging a thriller/horror that I wrote, Superstition. We’re also about to start casting and packaging Ride the 9 a contemporary pool hustle film in the vein of The Color of Money.

We just completed shooting a comedy television pilot presentation called, That Guy, starring Kelly PerineMaya StojanBrooke NewtonShondrella AveryKevin Weisman and Phil LaMarr.

About United Film House:

The Name of the Game is Connection.

Our intention is to build sustainable relationships, provide a quality experience for everyone who shares involvement in our films, and to tell stories that inspire positive transformation.

At United Film House, we consistently evolve our business, and ourselves – sharpening proven tools, and gathering new ones along the way.

We are developers, contributors, and collaborators with a foundation built from integrity and inspiration.

Who Are We?

May Our Work Speak for itself.

AloneTogether_keyart_022514 Alone Together_HS pic

Filmmaker Spotlight: Ben Caird

Filmmaker Spotlight: Ben Caird



Ben CairdHalfway Poster Halfway Location Still

 

Born and raised in England half American and half English filmmaker Ben Caird imports his own style of storytelling from the United Kingdom to Los Angeles in his upcoming film Halfway starring Quinton Aaron. Ben also talks with us about Halfway inspiration, the cultural differences between his hometown and his new homestead and we’re not just talking tea vs coffee.

Where did you get your start?

My family is very artistic.  That definitely helped me in my pursuit of a life in the arts.  My start in filmmaking came from shooting music videos for heavy metal bands in the UK.  Though I knew nothing about metal, that all coming from my partner’s close relationships in the industry, it gave us the opportunity to experiment with visual styles with the total freedom that comes from trusting collaborations.  Though I always looked completely out-of-place at gigs and video recordings, arms and body clean of tattoos, there was a feeling of mutual exhaustion, respect and excitement when we’d finished a take.  This marrying of effort and passion in front of and behind the camera was what drove me further into wanting to tell narrative stories in film.

To cross over at an industry level, I worked as a PA at a development company and then on film productions before taking the general consensus from those in positions above that if I wanted to be a director I should attend a film school.  My three years at The London Film School gave me the opportunity to establish a style which, for me, is the most important thing for a director.  Each mistake made on a film during the course felt catastrophic at the time.  But what film school gives you is the opportunity to make that myriad of mistakes in order to not repeat them.  On every piece of work I make new mistakes, but getting the first few thousand out-of-the-way is important.


Tell me about your first film:

I produced my first film last summer in the UK, a dark love story entitled Long Forgotten Fields, which saw returning collaborations from many LFS alumni.  As well as directing, I regularly work as a 1st AD in Los Angeles.  Because of my accent, I don’t really have to shout, a lot of the cast and crew enchanted with the idea of a James Bond accent running the set.  That usually wears off after a few hours, though as everyone uses me to try out their British accent, which more often than not are woefully poor!

Filmmaking is a career that used to be the sole reason for my earliest waking days.  That has changed since I moved to Los Angeles and regularly rise at 4am to watch my beloved Arsenal make or break my week in the English Premier League.

 

Tell me about your move from the UK to the US:

What are some of the differences working in the UK vs working in LA? Was it a bit of a culture shock coming to Los Angeles?

I can’t claim to be an authority on this, there are of course many filmmakers more qualified than I in this respect, but I have noticed differences in working in the UK and the US.  My observations also come from being half British and half American, my mother being from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My mother would always talk about the wrongful assumption of there being only a few cultural differences between the two countries.  To her there were many, and we’re not talking just about tea and coffee.

“England and America are two countries divided by a common language”. This is never truer than on a film set.  I may as well have been on a Bollywood set with the number of blank stares I got from cast and crew alike on day one of my first Los Angeles 1st AD gig.

However, I can’t think that there are specific reasons why one is better than the other. In the UK we do have far fewer opportunities to work on the content as the industry is that much smaller than the US. However, we do have government subsidized support such as the British Film Institute and the Creative Agencies, which we don’t have in the US, so there are tradeoffs either side of the pond.

We are after all talking about an industry that, given our common history, culture and language is next to impossible to look at as being solely British or American. UK sound stages host US TV shows and films as often as US studios produce almost entirely British productions.

An American friend once told me why he thought the UK was so perfect for the huge productions that are regularly set there.  In his eyes, there was something magical about the history of Britain and that the Harry Potter, Narnia or Middle Earth stories could never be set in America.  Given that the authors were inspired by specific British locations, it’s hard to detach them from the country.  However, it did make me think about how Britain is viewed as a setting in storytelling.

In relation to Halfway, though almost all of our cast and crew are American, my producer, Jonny Paterson, is a Scot whom I met here in Los Angeles.  Educated at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, but with his Edinburgh based production company, JP International Productions, he too has his finger in European and US productions.  Brits and Yanks have created a real synergy in the film industry and it’s certainly useful for me being able to draw on both sides of my cultural heritage for this.

Though I am half American, moving here in 2012 was the first time I’d ever lived in the States.  Loving London as I do, I thought I was going to hate Los Angeles for every difference.  However, Los Angeles has much more culture, history and natural beauty than I ever imagined.  Culture shock aversion comes in the way of hearing British accents every single day as well as the ease at which I can watch football (yeah that’s right, the game where players kick the ball with their feet) on TV.

 

Right now you’re in production for your film ‘Halfway’ what has that been like?

Halfway is the story of a recently released convict, Byron, who faces the conflict of enduring ties to his old criminal world while struggling to adapt to life on probation as the only black man in a conservative white farm town. With this film we hope to highlight the critical problem in the prison system, specifically, the high recidivism (incarceration for similar offenses) rate in America, especially in young black men. Halfway seeks to comment on both the problem and solution, research indicating job opportunity playing a tremendous role.

 

Why did you feel compelled to tell a story about Byron and his predicament?

Although I was born and raised in London, UK, my mother is from Wisconsin, so as a child I would spend summers in the States seeing family.  With fond memories of playing on my family’s Wisconsin dairy farm, I always felt like an outsider through my inability, even as a child, to do the things my farm-raised cousin could.

As an adult revisiting the farm I found the chores performed incredibly hypnotic and calming to watch.  Farms are a place of tremendous upheaval and mechanical power, but also of baseness, of simplistic physical duty.

Farms are so little understood by the urban dweller, of which our society is becoming increasingly dominated by.  By, in essence, sending my protagonist to a farm to cleanse him, I want to show an American Dream story of social movement and the rejection of his past transgressed through physical hard work in this new and alien environment.

The outsider element at the core of the film is race.  I find perception and discrimination due to race fascinating.  Clearly the United States still has a problem with race relations in many parts of the country, and whilst I cannot try to tackle everything in this film, I certainly wish to pose some important social questions.  On top of this is the key theme of recidivism.

Statistics show that in 2008 1 in 100 Americans was behind bars and between 1973 – 2009 the nation’s prison population grew by 705%. Among state prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 about two-thirds (67.8%) were arrested for a new crime within 3 years, and three-quarters (76.6%) were re-arrested within 5 years. It’s crystal clear to see there is a serious systematic failure within the prison system, where a lack of opportunity for those who have transgressed in their past seems to guarantee a lasting future behind bars. Halfway seeks to explore the harsh truth about decisions that need to be made when someone is given a second chance, in a new and unfamiliar surroundings.

 

Who is part of your team for Halfway?

My producer, Jonny Paterson and I knew we wanted Quinton Aaron to play the lead from early on in our development of the project together.  One of our EP’s, Tommy Oliver (who made history this summer when he became the youngest ever African-American producer of a studio movie on The Perfect Guy for Sony) had worked with Quinton on another film of his, 1982.  We sat down together and it was quickly very apparent that Quinton wanted to play the role as much as we wanted him to.  With a story and message that struck a strong a chord with Q, Jonny invited him to be an EP on the film with a view to allowing him to represent the project to his network in a more formal capacity.  With his experience and passion he gave us something to really build on.  We’re currently casting around Quinton with our fantastic casting director Matthew Lessall (CSA).

Something that my producer and I recognized as fundamentally important from early on was to surround ourselves with people more experienced than us. That has led to us building a very solid behind-the-scenes team including EPs Tommy Oliver and Jonathan Baker and Matthew as well who has almost 100 projects behind him.

At the start of the year we chose a date in the fall that made sense to start shooting and we just drew a production timeline around that.  Coming from making shorts for no money and producing a feature last summer in the UK for much less than we’re making this, I have a good grasp of what I need as a director to deliver my style.  Though we’re a small production, I believe we know how to display our value as best as possible on-screen.  Well, we’ll find out very soon in fact.

In Halfway we think we have a story that people can really get behind from both a casual perspective coupled with a strong narrative platform.  I’ve been truly honored to have so many great people want to be involved in the project I don’t take anyone’s keenest for granted.  As I director I simply hope to be able to make this film and then be allowed to make another one day.  Though it’s difficult to ever feel content with anything as there’s always something else to be getting on with, the whole process so far has been a dream come true and I hope to be able to repay everyone’s trust in me by delivering this story as best I can.

Filmmaker Spotlight: Tom Van Avermaet

Filmmaker Spotlight: Tom Van Avermaet

Tom Van Avermaet

Death of a Shadow Death of a Shadow Death of a Shadow Death of a Shadow Death of a Shadow Death of a Shadow Death of a Shadow Death of a Shadow

Oscar nominated filmmaker Tom Van Avermaet’s dreams became reality when he transformed his quixotic thesis, ‘Dreamtime’ into a reality which brought his short ‘Death of a Shadow‘ to life, and death, and to the attention of ‘The Academy.’

Avermaet shares with us the inception to his dreamy films, spreading the verve to conserve, getting past the eminent ‘writer’s block’, and advice for fellow filmmakers.

Tell me about your Oscar nominated short ‘Death of a Shadow’

Death of a Shadow is my first professional short film, I did a thesis film before at the Belgian film school ‘Rits’ called ‘Dreamtime’. The film tells the story of a deceased soldier, Nathan Rijckx, who’s stuck in a kind of limbo between life and death. In this world of darkness and shades, he has to collect shadows of people at the moment that they die, this for a strange collector of said shadows. He does this because he himself is already part of the collection and he’s been promised a deal, if he can get one shadow for each day that he lived, he will get a second chance at life. Nathan wants to use this second chance to revisit a girl he fell in love with the moment before he died, a girl’s whose small act of kindness became a big and life changing moment for him. But then he discovers something that shakes his world completely.

The film was a co-production between Belgium and France, starring a rising European and Belgian acting star called Matthias Schoenaerts, also the male lead in Bullhead and ‘Rust & Bone’.

 

Any more dreams coming true/ or to film? What’s next?

I working on a couple of feature film projects, two are originated from own ideas and I’m writing on those myself and will probably pair up with some writers. Others are more adaptations of existing things. At the moment I can’t be a lot more concrete, but hopefully in the coming months things will get into the next gear. Ideally, I hope to be shooting my first feature next year, but it depends on a lot of factors.

 

How did you get your start in the film industry?

I went to the RITS film school in Belgium, where I completed my Masters in Audio-Visual Arts and ended up directing my thesis film ‘Dreamtime’, which toured festivals around the world and helped me get some of the financing for ‘Death of a shadow’. Film has always been a big passion of mine and it’s always been a dream to be part of the audiovisual cinema world as a storyteller.
How did the theme and idea of Death of a Shadow come to you? Any specific experiences that ignited the creation?

The idea of ‘Death of a Shadow’ got started with me wanting to give my own interpretation of the metaphysical figure of death. I wanted to do this in a way that I felt was original and after much thinking this led to me making death like an art collector, where instead of paintings and sculptures this figure collects moments of death. As I always loved to work with light and shadow in an expressionistic way and because I was looking for a very visual way to represent these deaths, I thought, why not have him collect the shadows of people at the moment that they die. The shadow also seemed an ideal link to something like the soul.

I then felt that this figure, this collector, wouldn’t go out and collect the ‘pieces’ to his gallery himself and I considered what alternatives there could be. The one that felt right was where he would grant a second chance to someone in exchange for one work or one shadow for each day that person would have lived. That led to the figure of Nathan, the main character of the story.

 

When transferring your writing from page to screen how much change do you allow? How much do you compromise?

You always have to make some compromises, especially on the level of budget. In an earlier version of the story, there was actually a big scene in the trenches of world war 1. This would have meant constructing a whole WWI location and that unfortunately wasn’t possible, so I had to adapt this scene to fit in with the locations we did have. I sometimes scratched some dialogue, mostly in editing though. I think you always have to be open to let your script go if the changes are for the better, but you have to defend with tooth and nail to prevent changes that will make the story or the film less.

 

What are your tips and tools to getting through the tough spots with writing?

I don’t think anyone can really cure writer’s block, I think you always have to go back to the essentials, try to think what it is you want to tell, show or portray and if you have a hard time finding it, also don’t be afraid to shelve a project for a while and try to work on something else. Also getting personal stuff, how painful it might be, into your screenplay in some form or another might actually help you find new ideas, but it’s a hard process as writing always is.

 

What fuels your writing? Is there a specific process to your writing?

I think it’s a mix of my personal thoughts on the world, a certain concept or idea I love to work with, a world I want to create. With the characters, I always try to put something of myself in them, how small or how big, as this helps me to relate to them even at a small level. If I’m creating a world, I always like to explore the logic behind that world, what makes that world tick. Writing is very hard sometimes, especially because you can’t really keep a distance sometimes and you pour yourself into something, making it a very confronting process. But for me most of all, I need to fall in love with the story I’m creating, with the characters, with the worlds, no matter how grim or hard these might be and try to create something that makes people feel something, experience something, when it would actually be made into a film.

 

Who do you share your writing with first?

I have a couple of friends who are screenwriters and producers, whose honest feedback I trust, they usually are the first to see stuff appear, although I don’t always share a lot till I’m myself somewhat pleased with the material I have.

 

Have you filmed anywhere besides France or Belgium?

I’ve only filmed fiction in Belgium and France, commercials I shot in Bulgaria and Ukraine as well. For Belgium and France, especially for short film, there’s a big support and opportunities to get some state funding for your projects. There are also tax rebates in place in Belgium that can also be applied to short film. The level of quality of the technical crew is high as well, but I think you can find talented people everywhere.  The advantage of shooting in Europe is also the great wealth of rich historical settings and exciting architectural marvels that can be used in films. All of Death of a Shadow was shot on location, if we had to build all those sets, the film would have been impossible to get funded, so it’s definitely an asset to be able to go scout and find good locations that actually exist already.

 

What do you consider the most important break or opportunity in your career that has allowed you to achieve your level of success in your field?

I think the biggest opportunity for me to build my career on was my thesis film at film school. I invested quite a lot of my own money in that, which I earned by working student jobs and with the help of the school and some experienced professionals willing to work for nothing, I was able to make the thesis film ‘Dreamtime‘, which led to selections and awards on the festival circuit, one of which allowed me to build towards my second short film, Death of a Shadow. I think you have to be lucky with the right people most of all and not wait for your ‘break’ to come, because no-one’s really just waiting with a big check for you to come along. You always have to fight and be ready to fight for your projects and I think that in the end, if it’s the right projects of course, will lead to success.

 

Will you be using crowd funding resources for your next films?

It’s definitely an interesting way of getting funding together, perhaps at some points when people can actually be real investors in the film it will even be a better option. Maybe a combination with regular funding would be an option, you have to keep all possibilities open.

 

Do you have any advice for fellow filmmakers out there?

Spread your energy on different projects, sometimes it won’t be the right time for one film when it’s an excellent time for another, it also helps you spread the risk as have multiple irons in the fire also means you’ll have more chance of one of the films actually being made. And if you really believe in something and you know something will make a good movie, try to fight for it and don’t give up. I’m not saying being foolish about it and you have to be very self-critical, but if you think you have something special, it’s up to you to get it made.