Filmmaker Spotlight: Anna Akana

Filmmaker Spotlight: Anna Akana

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By Chelsea Fung

Twitter: @CineChel

At the tender age of 19 Anna Akana was entering bars before she was of age, to perform stand-up, and dropped out of college to become a pupil of film school taught by the silver screen lit up by her shadowy influences: Tim Burton, Stephen King, and Joe Hill.

 

Today, Anna runs her brilliant, spunky, raw YouTube Channel that stands up against social stigmas, challenges the men who proclaim they have a case of ‘yellow fever,’ and writes, directs and stars in out-of-this-world short videos such as Pregnapocalypse, Here She Is, and her newest cosmic short, Miss Earth and she may possibly be a super hero, by night.

 

Where did you get your start in the industry?

I started doing stand up when I was 19. Because I was underage at the time, at certain clubs I would be forced to wait outside until it was my time to go on stage. Then I would do my set, walk off, and be kicked out again.

Stand up is such a unique experience that I absolutely loved, but I realized I wanted to pursue acting. My focus since then has primarily been in film. I’ve done a ton of web projects and short films, and I finally feel confident and capable enough to tackle a feature in 2015.

Where do you get inspiration to fuel your shorts and projects?

Honestly, it all comes from boredom induced by strict deadlines. I’m always working on something, whether that be sketch or a vlog or a short film. When you hold yourself to deadlines, you create a ton of content (with a focus on improvement). The more you create, the more ambitious you become with your projects. Short films were a direct result of over 200 web series sketches and vlogs. After you create enough 2 minute videos, you start to wonder what else there is. Deadlines and discipline and quantity with a focus on quality have always been what keeps me going.

And of course, it’s all very fun. Hard work, but still fun.

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A few quirks or interesting characteristics about yourself:

I’m a very quiet person. I like to sit back and watch everyone talk and interact. I don’t say much unless there’s something I can add to the conversation. I can “turn on” the confidence and charm and be talkative if I have to, but if the social situation doesn’t call for it, I’m very reserved and observant.

I believe that an abundant amount of cats are the perfect form of birth control. Haha.

If you were officially a superhero, what would your superhero name be and what would be your superpower?

Gah, I’ve been pondering this question for like 20 years. Still don’t have an answer. If I could only have one power, it would be teleportation. No more traffic for me!

Did you go to school to study acting and directing?

I dropped out of community college two years in. The most education I have with acting is attending various classes in Los Angeles in Meisner, scene study, cold reading, etc. As far as directing goes, my experience is solely my self-produced projects. However, I do treat the short films of this year as a film school. It definitely is a learning process.

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Tell me about assembling your team and cast for your shorts:

My shorts have had virtually the same cast and crew for the entire year. We got into a work flow and an environment that we all knew and loved, so I kept bringing the same people back. Megan Rosati, a good friend and an insanely talented actress, has been in almost every single project I’ve ever done. From So Fetch Sketch to Miss Earth, I’ve brought Megan back not only because she’s a joy to have on set, but because she’s passionate about her job and isn’t afraid to speak up when she has an idea or suggestion.

I hope to work with a more diverse crew and cast in the future. For the feature, I definitely want to do traditional casting. I have certain people in mind for various supporting roles, but I would love to have the leads be star names.
What is fueling your future feature? Any details you would like to share about it yet?

As of right now I’m taking meetings with investors. If I can’t raise my desired budget, my last resort would be crowd and self-funding. I don’t feel comfortable releasing any details, just yet, but it’s a romantic comedy written by two very funny women I know.

What inspired you to pursue film?

The process itself is so rewarding and fun. I started out as an actor, but that mostly means hurry up and wait. Once I started developing my own content, I fell in love with being on set and bringing it all together.

 

Your shorts, such as, Afflicted Inc., Here She Is, and Hallucination, have a swarthy tone throughout. What/who has influenced this style of filmmaking?

I attribute the black tones in my films to Stephen King, Tim Burton, Joe Hill and Richard Matheson. However, most of my writing is influenced by mental health. I’m incredibly passionate about shedding light on the stigmas associated with mental illnesses. When our bodies are sick and people extend their sympathy, bring us soup, offer up solutions. When our minds are sick people tend to shy away from you, be afraid, or call you outright crazy. I’m fascinated by the way society and individuals view mental illness, and most of my shorts comment on that.

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Do you have a specific character you like to play the most?

I love acting in other people’s projects honestly, haha. I’m a huge fan of comedy, although I have a killer scream of anguish/anger in my tool belt.

 

If you have to stay in one character for a whole day; who would it be and why?

Probably my school girl character. That Japanese accent never gets old.

Tell me about your feline entourage:

Lily, Jimmy, Abby and Congress are my furry children. At times they can be difficult to deal with (especially during feeding time), but I love them! They’ve taught me a crazy sense of responsibility and bring a meaningfulness to my life that I imagine only children really can.

When will they be making their social media debuts?

Ha! I have trouble keeping up my own social media, much less having Instagrams devoted to them!

In the spirit of Halloween, I’m curious, what’s your biggest fear in life?

That I won’t sufficiently live. I am a workaholic, and sometimes I sacrifice experiences in order to be productive. I hope I don’t end up imbalanced and regretting these decisions when I’m older.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment?

Miss Earth, which released on October 16th, is a science fiction comedy that I wrote, directed, and starred in. It was in collaboration with New Form Digital, who pitched in some money, and the rest I funded with my life savings. It’s the longest piece of content I’ve done so far, and definitely the most ambitious.

Who is your favorite director and why?

It changes, but right now my favorite director is James Gunn. Guardians of the Galaxy is the epitome of what I want to do with my life. There’s not enough science fiction comedy with heart in it, and he nailed that one on the head. My favorite directors are always writers as well, because directing is just that last draft.

Any advice to your fellow filmmakers?

Create, create, create. The only way to get better at anything is to do it all the time.

Any advice specifically to female filmmakers?

Keep going. Sometimes you’ll doubt yourself, certain people will make you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, others will discourage you or objectify you or tell you you don’t deserve to be where you are in life, but just as many other people will encourage and be inspired by your work. Keep your audience in mind, but always do it for yourself.

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Filmmaker Spotlight: Christiano Dias

Filmmaker Spotlight: Christiano Dias

Filmmaker Spotlight: Christiano Dias

Christiano DiasChristiano Dias

By Chelsea Fung

Twitter: @chelcmei

In a single shot, a nine-year-old girl activates her boiling imagination to fend off a cloaked monster created by her parent’s underlying feud, which can only be conquered by the resolution of family love in Monster in a House by Christiano Dias.

Brazilian born, Texas raised writer and director, Christiano Dias brings his endless imagination and creativity to every film he creates, especially when it is in a single shot. In Dias’ recent short, Monster, he brings back some familiar faces from his eminently creative short King Eternal, which also revels in the elusive imagination of an adolescent to escape a difficult reality. Dias’ talks with us about building his dream cast, keys to crowd funding, writing through the blocks and what is in store next.


 

Where did you get your start in the industry?

Texas. I was a 19 years old when I started an internship with The Studios at Las Colinas in Irving, TX. Everyday I would drive about an hour round trip to the studios to help with famed Film Coach, Dr. Don Jackson’s acting workshops. I would film the classes, edit them, and over time – occasionally – lead some of the workshops with the younger actors. I later befriended the Studio Chief, Justin K. Muller who managed the company that ran the studios at the time – Muller Entertainment. That was when I got to work on some commercials there as a PA and also Studio Grip on shows like Prison Break and America’s Got Talent. I ended up interning there for four years and just two months after I started, Justin Muller was already helping produce one of my short films. In those years, Justin ended up producing a handful of other short films of mine and an indie feature that I also DP’ed. In 2012, I moved to Los Angeles to get my Masters in Filmmaking at New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus. I’m currently writing a feature, have two films in the festival circuit, and am in post on a third episode of comedic web series.

Tell me about your short, King Eternal, that brought you to HollyShorts.

My short film, King Eternal is about a young boy that uses his hyper-active imagination to cope with his parents’ divorce. It’s told in a magical realism style, blending reality with childhood imagination. It’s a film that is very dear to my heart, as I dealt with some of the same themes growing up. It also stars Golden Globe winner Joseph Bottoms and actress Lisa Roumain (Jersey Girl, Avatar) and I’m grateful to say that I’ve made a lifetime friendship with both of them. So much, that my most recent short film also stars both of them and another very wonderfully talented young actress, Kitana Turnbull. It’s called Monster in a House and is 14 minute single moving shot and, I’m obviously biased but, I think it’s a doozy! I’m just fortunate to have worked with such immensely talented people from Composer – Daniel James Chan and Director of Photography – Michael Helenek. To me, it’s all about building a family that you work well with, believe in, and are “sharp as a knife” focused on telling a story.

 

 

Who has been an inspiration to you in the industry?

Well, every filmmaker has their favorite filmmaker. Or at least I would hope. But no one beats Kubrick in my mind; he’s totally untouchable. Of course, I admire many others, but every filmmaker is influenced by him in one way or another, that Kubrick is sort of the all-encompassing person for me. I also think the way Austinites, Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater got started are powerfully inspirational. It tends to give us newcomers a fighting chance!

 

 

You write and direct and edit, how do you fuel all of these contributions that go into your films? How does the story change from page to screen? Which is your favorite to do?

I would say that I take them one at a time, so my head doesn’t explode. Writing is inherently insulated, safe (generally), and something that can be changed, even on set. I mostly encourage the actors to bring their ideas and I’ve been privileged to work with some masterful ones, so they’re my safety net as much as I’m theirs. Directing is an organized chaos. No other way to put it for me, we change things on the spot and adapt and take some losses and some wins and in the end it’s getting as close to the script as we can. The story will always be there as long as we don’t veer into oblivion, so it’s just keeping in mind the things that keep your story grounded and not forgetting it; we can have fun and be chaotic and try things as long as we have at least one foot on the ground to bring us home, if that makes sense. And, editing is just scary. It’s sort of like completing the circle and you’re writing all over again – in that cave that no one enters until you have something. And not really knowing what you have until you can sit down and look more closely, and knowing you can totally screw it all up too. This sounds awful, but editing is not all that bad, it is equally as fun as it is scary. Maybe that’s all of filmmaking…

 

 

If you could tell your younger self something, what would you say?

Hearing and listening are two very different things. Don’t forget to listen.

 

 

Tell me about your recent short, Monster in a House:

I’m very proud to say that I just finished my latest short film. It’s a story about a husband and wife’s broken relationship that manifests itself as a monster that only their daughter can see, and only they can defeat. It’s the most challenging film I’ve ever made. We shot it all to feel like a single shot and I think we wildly succeeded at that, it was just a technical whirlwind of a film that really reflected the theme. Which is about not running away from your problems or “monsters” and facing them head on, so cutting felt like running away. I’m also happy to say we completely crowd funded it on Indiegogo, so it’s good to know we have some fans right out of the gate. I’m dying to show it! Right now, I’m currently writing my first feature and having a blast doing so.

 

 

What fuels your writing? How do you get past any blocks or troughs while writing?

I try to write something every day. Even if it’s just a sentence or anything. I open the Notes app on my iPhone daily and write something that comes to mind: a character’s name, a situation that happens at lunch that’s funny, a daydream, whatever it is. It’s amazing because it’s all saved there. I have notes from 2009 that I sometimes dig up and see if it’s usable or if it just plain sucked, unfortunately it’s sometimes the latter. Then there’s the blocks. I like to write from the heart, picking stories and things that happened to me or that I’m afraid of or love to do, or always wanted to do. I feel like you really have to love it if you’re going to write it and spend so much time with it. So “write what you know” has sort of been my mantra. I like to think I get over the writing blocks by hitting them over the head with an 800 pound bowling ball; you sometimes have to just battle yourself! I heard the Coens like to write themselves into a corner, then write themselves out. I think I’d like to try that someday.

 

 

How did you go about casting your shorts?

I’ve always cast all my films myself with a trusted fellow filmmaker and another to run the camera. That’s really been the whole process. Then you take the footage and sit down with a few more filmmakers and get their opinions, but at the end of the day, it’s really how that audition made you feel. I remember when Joseph Bottoms came into the audition for King Eternal and it was towards the end of the day and I hadn’t done much research, but knew he looked the part and by the time he showed up, we ended up talking for about 20 minutes before he even did any sides. Thinking about it now, I feel like I cast him before he even sat down and before you go screaming bloody murder about it, it is a huge thing to really get along with your actors and have a relationship. I cherish my relationships with every single actor I’ve worked with greatly. A good vibe’s a good vibe. I suppose that’s been my biggest lesson about casting and making films, “go with your gut.”

 

 

What advice do you have to fellow crowd funders?

My humble opinion for crowd funding is to tell your story as simply as you can, explain why it needs to be made or what makes it important – and it helps if you have others attached already that can speak on your behalf too, and then give some decent perks; do it all in a well made three to four-minute video and you’re halfway there. With films, the perks that really matter are the big dollar Producer credits. I was lucky enough to successfully crowd fund two of my shorts in two years and our backers are scattered literally all over the world. What helped us was that Joseph Bottoms happened to have some very enthusiastic and generous fans from Russia that massively funded each of our films together and I’ll forever grateful to them. Lisa Roumain and Joseph both really helped me promote the story in the campaign video and we’re just over the moon with how supportive people were. Make phone calls, write letters, email until your fingers bleed, and do anything you can to get the word out!

 

 

What advice do you have to your fellow filmmakers?

I’m not sure what I’d say, I mean, I’m still learning myself. I don’t think we ever really stop. But maybe I’d say the same thing I would to the younger self question, “Don’t forget to listen.” And by that I mean that filmmaking is collaborative and not just one person’s film; listen to your actors and collaborators, but only take the ones that will help you tell a better story. Because at the end of the day, the story is king. But if they’re filmmakers, then they don’t need my advice, they’re already making films – that’s the best thing there is.

Monster in a House Poster copyMonster in a House

Read more about Monster in a House in the reviews below:

EPIC podquest film review

Red Carpet Crash Film Review

Forest City Short Film Review: Monster in a House

Stay connected!

Facebook: facebook.com/monsterinahouse

Twitter: twitter.com/monsterinahouse

Website: www.monsterinahouse.com

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/99810872

Filmmaker Spotlight: Bonnie Bower and John Wynn

Filmmaker Spotlight: Bonnie Bower and John Wynn

Bonnie Bower
Bonnie Bower
John Wynn
John Wynn

In the future there is a fierce, female force to be reckoned with; who fights to protect the young and innocent, while defying the weighty dictatorial society swathing around her. Luckily today such a strong female character isn’t such a foreign and futuristic idea, especially with badass heroines being brought to the screen like Eve in Bonnie Bower and John Wynn’s Escape. In this week’s Filmmaker Spotlight we got to know the heroine herself, Bonnie Bower, and Writer/Director of Escape, John Wynn.



Where did you two get your start in the industry?

Bonnie: My background is in Theatre. From a very young age, I was performing ’40s era show tunes in talent shows. My dad was very much the inspiration there. I went on to get my B.F.A. in Music Theatre. I knew about halfway through college that I wanted to focus on acting and transition to film and television. A month after graduation, I flew to La La land with two suitcases and $250…the classic bumpkin going to Hollywood story.

John: I started out as an actor, doing guest stars on TV and a lot of commercials. A few years ago, I produced a film I was starring in and one thing led to another and I soon realized my calling was as a director. I loved my time as an actor. It was creatively and financially rewarding, but for me it came down to what excited me when I woke up in the morning. I just love with all my heart, directing and producing. I’m obsessed with it. The biggest challenge in making the switch was the time commitment. As an actor, you become the role and you give it everything you have, but once you wrap, you’re done. At least until you have to do press. You don’t have to worry about distribution and color timing and DCP’s and sound mix. You get to refresh and charge back up and tackle a new role. Behind the camera, when you finish principal photography that’s just the start of a very long road to release the film. But that’s also the most rewarding part of being behind the camera: you’re actively involved in what happens in the film, or at the least, you have some idea of what’s happening.  For me, the switch has been the best decision I could have made.

 

 

Tell me about your short ‘Escape’ that brought you to HollyShorts

John: Escape is a wonderful showcase for both Bonnie and me. For her, she did a fantastic job co-producing it and her performance in it is stellar. Everyone is just star struck by her presence on-screen. I’ve had a wonderful history with the HollyShorts Film Festival, having won honorable mention back in 2011 with my first short Pillow Talk.  I wanted the next film that I screened at HollyShorts to be even more of an eye opener. Escape was something I felt could be that.  The world in Pillow Talk was small and intimate. Escape is immense and wide in scope with almost every frame of the film augmented by VFX.  It was a huge undertaking to make it all appear seamless and organic, but I think we pulled it off.  Again, none of that matters, though if the story isn’t engaging and the characters endearing, so it was very validating to have the audience at HollyShorts love the film.

 

Where did the idea come from to tell the story of such a badass heroine?

John: The idea was born out of a talk Bonnie and I had about an action sequence I wanted to shoot.  I don’t want to give away all the details because I still want to make it, but basically, I asked her opinion about this scene where a woman has to protect a child during a very violent confrontation. I’ve always been drawn to strong, complex female leads and really wanted to explore the maternal instinct to protect one’s young. From there, our talk evolved into a better idea of what the character of Eve might be. Bonnie had some really great suggestions that I was able to incorporate and once I figured out the rest of the story we were good to go.

 

Bonnie, as a female lead how did it feel being such a kick ass heroine? Did you have any specific heroines that you were channelling in your role as Eve?

Bonnie: Um, it was awesome! I have played roles with a similar emotional range to Eve, but I have never played a role with this type of physical action. I grew up dancing and with sisters, so needless to say I was not a scrappy kid by any means. Getting in touch with that part of myself was an exhilarating and freeing experience. There were so many film heroines performances that inspired me to get into the right physical and mental place. Sigourney Weaver in Alien, Angelina Jolie in everything, Kate Beckinsale, to name a few.

What are some words of wisdom that you have for actresses/women in the industry?

Bonnie: Be true to who you are. Listen to yourself. The self you were when you moved to Los Angeles or New York or Toronto or London. I have grown in amazing ways, but I know this is just the beginning for me and I have to remember that Bonnie that moved to Los Angeles right from college with a little extra cheek chub and 250 bucks. Perspective.

Bonnie, you did some crowd funding for Escape, tell me about the process of your experience with crowd funding.

Bonnie: John and I had talked about doing the project and he wrote it literally in an afternoon. John Wynn is a busy man so I had to coerce him a bit to do another short film. I thought, what the heck, I’ll just go ahead and raise the money and then he will have to do it. I asked him how much he thought he needed and he threw out $5,000.  I made a super fun campaign video, with the help of our amazing friends Nathan Moore and Lana Moore, who have a huge presence on YouTube. I used the crowd funding site Indiegogo and that video to spread the word. Well, I’ll be damned, I was determined and it paid off. We surpassed the goal I set.  I was completely overwhelmed by the support from friends and family everywhere. The key to crowd funding, in my experience, is learning how to phrase “Give me your money” in a way that doesn’t make everyone ignore every single post you make to social media. It’s also an art in knowing how often to make those posts.

 

What tips do you have for indie filmmakers and their crowd funding campaign?

Bonnie: Make a short, fun campaign video in the beginning and make sure to have little updates and videos all through the process. It’s important once you raise the money to keep everyone who contributed in the loop too! They are all investing in you, so as the filmmaker you should give back by sharing your process and making your campaign in your individual voice.

Do you have plans to make this short into a web series or perhaps a feature?

John: Escape is being set up as a feature. We cracked the logic for the extended story and are very excited at what the full length version of it is going to look like.  Stay tuned.  We should have details soon!

Bonnie Bower
Bonnie Bower
Bonnie Bower and John Wynn
Bonnie Bower and John Wynn
John Wynn
John Wynn
Sideways 10th Anniversary

Sideways 10th Anniversary

The Crest

Last night at The Crest in Westwood a group of cinephiles gathered to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Sideways followed by a Q&A with novelist Rex Pickett, director Alexander Payne and star Virginia Madsen.  The audience was privileged to have Rex and Alexander there to talk about how Sideways made it from being an unpublished manuscript to screen and celebrating it ten years later. 

Life is full of moments when the glass is less than half full, and sometimes hardly enough for a serving for even a taste. For Rex, he bares all on-screen of his life as at a time where he was at his bottom, rock bottom.  Against the odds and unsavory opinions Rex puts his grittiest moments in life on the page and last night, on-screen. 

Rex: The book is incredibly personal. When I found out my ex-wife was getting remarried, when I found out she was pregnant and realizing it was over, that’s me, not exactly how it was with Miles, but that’s me. We made two feature films together, she produced my films, we spent ten years together, and we gave our lives to the movies. I had a drinking problem back then. That’s me stumbling out of The Hitching Post II; I’m watching myself on-screen. It wasn’t easy to do it, but the acclamation, the laughter from the audience, that’s validation that I went somewhere deep and I fileted my soul and I joke many times that if I could afford a gun back then…

Alexander: Rex’s ability to have a wide variety of experience from the darkest to the lightest and to share that with an audience that’s the sort of material I need for a film. When I read material which could be adapted to a film I’m looking for is lived in and known experience, not so much a story invented out of someone’s head. I find my observation looking back at the lived emotions felt and actual experience.

Rex: I was in such a state of despair…only way to sell this story was to make it funny. The only way I can sell despair is with humor. 

Alexander: I’m sure you’ve skated on the thin ice of depression, many times and your humor saves you. You’re a charming fellow and you’re funny…and talented.

Virginia: Did you really drink that bucket of wine spit?

Rex: At a high-end tasting, I didn’t have any money back in those days. They were pouring wine back in and I sat and I sipped. It was a wine tasting we went to every Saturday and they talked about that for months. I was like ‘well that’s going in the book’; Alexander read every single draft that I wrote. Alexander is unbelievable. What looks so simple on that screen he meticulously to detail. There are also some things he did in post production that truly blew me away. The way he montages through the dinner scene. That’s not even in the novel and it’s not even in the screenplay. It looks effortless, but the directing is truly brilliant.


Alexander goes into detail about his initial attraction to the then unpublished manuscript and how after just a few pages he was hooked and hoped that the main character would make it in the end, and luckily, he does.

Q&A

Virginia Madsen and Alexander Payne

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.

Filmmaker Spotlight: Shalako Gordon

Filmmaker Spotlight: Shalako Gordon

Shalako Gordon

This past weekend families celebrated the father figures in their lives; giving gifts, writing sentimental cards, and gathering to honor the fathers who have embossed us with the morals and character that shape us today. Imagine a world where Fathers taught their descendent a set of non-traditional values–in Shalako Gordon’s short story series Father and Sons the father-son dynamic is deadly.

New York based director, gamer and “nerd” Gordon got his start in New York City at the NBC Page program and has gone on to create BlackFeet Films Inc, which hosts his two Award Winning shorts One Word and The Truth About Lies, and a new video game website Dustycartridges.com

 

Tell me a little about yourself:

My name is Shalako L. Gordon, I am originally from Baltimore, MD. I currently live in New York, I have two kids and I have been working in the entertainment industry for nearly sixteen years. I am a director, editor and producer. I am also the owner and director for the production company, BlackFeet Films Inc. and I run a video game website Dustycartridges.com.

 

What is an interesting characteristic about yourself:

Well I am a self described nerd…actually everyone thinks I’m a nerd and it’s fine by me! I’m a huge comic book fan, with a collection of nearly 4000 books. I also collect statues ,or what some people would call toys, and I’m a gamer, which lead me to create dustycartridges.com bringing together my two passions film and video games.

As for my characteristics, I have been described as passionate, hard working, focused and creative…at least those are my favorite descriptions of me.

 

Where did it all begin for you?

I started in the entertainment industry pretty much right out of college. My first job was as an NBC Page. The Page Program is a highly competitive program where you’re responsible for giving tours of the NBC studios, but you also receive assignments to work for various departments and shows throughout NBC. It’s through that program I was able to work for such prestigious shows like ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ‘Late Night with Conan O’Brien‘ and ‘Nightly News with Tom Brokaw.’ Although being a Page was great simply working in television was not my goal when I moved to New York. I wanted to become a director, I took steps toward that by studying and also learning how to edit. Because I believe editors make the best directors. As of today I have made four films, editing hundreds of programs, promos and news features and working on two web series.

 

Your short films The Truth About Lies, Father and Sons, A Good Day, aren’t particularly “nerdy” have you thought about making a short or a feature of one of your favorite comic books?

You’re right these films aren’t nerdy at all. As a filmmaker, I believe I can make any film, but I have always been drawn to thrillers, drama and films about intrigue. If I could make a comic book film, I have an X-Men film in mind that I would love to do, but since most of the big named comic book characters already have films, I would like to do a Dr. Strange movie starring Johnny Depp!

 

About The Truth About Lies, the story is romantic and tragic in the same sense that Romeo and Juliet is romantic and tragic, is your web series Fathers and Sons going to reflect similar themes throughout?

Fathers and Sons was written originally as a feature film. I decided to take an element from that film which was the tragic love story and turn that into a short film, The Truth About Lies. The Fathers and Sons web series will be more tragic, but still include elements of love and romance. ‘Fathers and Sons’ is the story of one man’s fight for freedom from a life of crime and servitude. The story unfolds through the eyes of Victor, an intense young man (20s) who struggles to live his own life, separate of that of his “brothers.” Compounding his problem, he begins to fall for a young girl, which is completely forbidden. He reluctantly leads a group of young men known as the “The Sons.” Orphaned or kidnapped at an early age, they were raised and trained for one purpose, to be obediently efficient assassins for their handlers, “The Fathers.” More than a thriller full of edgy excitement, intense drama, action and villains, ‘Fathers and Sons’ explores the struggle to control ones own life and the dangers it brings to themselves and others.

I actually had the idea for this film in High School, I was inspired to write the story because I was fascinated with the idea of kid hit men and what that world would look like.

 

Sounds like you have a love for New York. Tell me about shooting in New York City:

I do have a lot of love for New York City. New York is filled with characters, people from every walk of life. The city itself is visually stimulating. It has so much character that the locations take on a life of their own. They began to feel like “characters” in your film. Also, in New York City, it doesn’t matter your budget or the size of your crew it’s very easy to film here. The city is very encouraging and accommodating for filmmakers. I did a film with a 10k budget, but since I had permits, I still had police protection and streets blocked off while I was filming! That’s awesome!

 

Have you thought about shooting elsewhere?

Yes, I have considered Baltimore, DC, Atlanta and Los Angeles.

 

Does New York Film provide any subsidies for your shorts or films in the works?

To the best of my knowledge, they do not provide subsidies for short films. There are programs that can assist the filmmaker like the MADE IN NEW YORK program, which gives film and television productions tax breaks and discounts. They also sponsor the Production Assistant Training Program.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m working on several projects at the moment. I’m in pre-production on two short films, one is a remake of one of my early films A Good Day and the other a heavy themed thriller/drama.

I’m also running my media company, Black Feet Films Inc. and a video game website Dustycartridges.com, where we just launched a weekly program, ‘Gamer’s Life.’

And this summer we will shoot a scripted web series that will accompany this site. And finally, I’m working on a pitch package for ‘Fathers and Sons.’

 

What films have you submitted to HollyShorts Film Festival?

I have submitted The Truth About Lies starring Ser’Darius Blain and Lamorne Morris, we won the Audience Choice at the Monthly Screening Series earning a spot in the festival where we had a successful screening. I also screened the teaser film for ‘Fathers and Sons.’ Going forward I will submit every short or web series I do to the HollyShorts Film Festival!

 

Advice for filmmakers in New York? Filmmakers in general?

The only advice I can offer any filmmaker is to keep creating and keep believing. Also, keep studying, watch EVERY genre of film from every era not just what’s “popular.” Lastly, get yourself a DSLR, some lens with a cheaper editing software and go and write, write, write! Don’t be afraid to fail, stay focused and you’ll be fine!