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.






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.



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.


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

Filmmaker Spotlight: Kim Garland

Filmmaker Spotlight: Kim Garland

Image Some flirt with the line between life and death, but for Kim Garland; she embraces it and injects it into her filmmaking. As a writer and director Kim has developed her filmmaking style around the congregation of those who celebrate life and mourn death, having grown up above her family’s funeral home in New York City. In Kim’s supernatural shorts trilogy she utilizes the space to challenge her characters with the idea of life and the act of death.

Kim Garland biography:

Kim Garland is a screenwriter and director from Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. She is a co-owner of City Kid Films, a co-founder of Scriptchat, and a columnist for Script magazine. At Script, she covers her ongoing experience writing and directing her first films in the column, Write, Direct, Repeat. Kim graduated from Columbia University with a degree in Creative Writing and began her career in book publishing at Random House while continuing to write fiction. She studied screenwriting at The New School University in NYC and transitioned to the film industry through her work in literary acquisition at Braven Films, a production company headed by Producer Frida Torresblanco (Pan’s Labyrinth). Kim made her directing debut in 2012 with the award-winning short film Vivienne Again, a supernatural thriller she shot in her parents’ Manhattan funeral home. Shortly after, she directed her second short film, Deal Travis In, a supernatural thriller starring Nick Sandow (Boardwalk Empire, Orange is the New Black). Films written and directed by Kim Garland have screened at numerous film festivals, including Fantasia International Film Festival, HollyShorts, Dragon*Con, New York International Short Film Festival, Flyway, NewFilmmakers New York, FilmColumbia Festival, and the Big Apple Film Festival.

Tell me a quirk about yourself:

I guess the big quirk about me would be that my family is in the funeral home business and that I grew up in the brownstone building above my family’s funeral home in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. Probably as a result, I’ve always been fascinated by that thin line between life and death and you can definitely see that in my work today. When I decided to direct my first short film, I started by getting permission to shoot in our funeral home and then came up with the story idea. I knew having a free and unique location was my greatest asset going into my first film so I built everything around that prime resource.

Tell me about your column for Script magazine:

I write a monthly column for Script magazine called Write, Direct, Repeat. It’s geared to screenwriters who want to learn about directing their own work, but the type of content I cover also applies to directors in the early stages of their careers. I’ve covered a variety of topics so far, including a hands-on project that takes you through the steps of directing a scene for the first time and another piece on selecting your first film to direct. I’ve also covered script development, table reads,lookbooks, film festivals and lots more. Coming out in early June, my next article will be on marketing your short film.

Where you are in your trilogy of shorts?

I’m two-thirds of the way through creating a trilogy of supernatural shorts, that are set in a covert world in NYC where people can resurrect from the dead. The films in my Resurrection Trilogy (as I’ve been calling it) are stand-alone, each with their own stories and characters, and offer a glimpse into this world through the people trying to survive in it. The first two films of the trilogy are complete: VIVIENNE AGAIN (2012) and DEAL TRAVIS IN (2013). And both films had their west coast premieres at HollyShorts! Before diving back in for the third film, I needed to take a step back and develop this world much more completely to see where it was heading beyond the shorts. My goal is to share a more in-depth story about the people in this world, either as a feature film or as a serialized story, so while I’m writing the third short, I’m also developing this into a much larger world. You can watch the first two films of the trilogy online at my website.

What are you working on right now?

I’m developing two new short films. The first is a science fiction short I plan to shoot this year and the second is the final film of my Resurrection Trilogy. In addition, I’m working on two new feature scripts. One is a supernatural thriller — a ghost story with a twist — and the other is a horror film I’m writing with Brad Johnson. Brad is also a columnist for Script magazine and this is our first script as collaborators. All of these projects are in different stages of development ,but I’m very excited about each of them. I absolutely love genre films and each of these projects will give me a chance to try something new as I continue to develop my filmmaker’s voice and visual style.


If you had an unlimited budget and time to create your next film what would you make?

I don’t think an unlimited budget would change the type of stories I would tell, so I would continue to move forward with the projects I am already planning, but it would probably change the scale with which I could tell those stories. As a genre filmmaker, I would always love access to more tools to create believable, fantastical worlds, whether that’s using practical or in-camera or visual effects to create something surprising and transporting. Visual and special effects are definitely areas where a bigger budget could bring in a lot more choices. I would also want to spend more time in prep working closely with key cast and crew to find the best solutions to all of the challenges we’ve set out for ourselves with the film. If I could throw money at prep and buy more time to really work out the details with every department before getting on set, then I think that would be money well spent.

Who is your dream team to work with? (dead or alive)

I currently work with some very talented people who I would want to continue working with. My dream team would include my most trusted collaborators plus the hires they each felt would help them to do their absolute best work. But in the end, I would love to work with my usual collaborators no matter what the budget. They bring original ideas to the table and work diligently to achieve them. They have impeccable taste and refuse to settle. That’s my kind of team!

Tell me about what it is like to be a woman in the film industry:

The stats are daunting, no doubt, and as much as I would love to be viewed as a filmmaker, and not separated out as a “female filmmaker,” the reality is that day hasn’t come yet. The old guard does not share power without revolution and one way or another revolution has to come.

Who has been your inspiration in the film industry?

I’m most inspired by the other independent screenwriters and filmmakers in the trenches with me. These filmmakers have day jobs and families and school loans to repay. The world isn’t waiting with bated breath to watch the next film or read the next script they produce, but hell if they don’t get up every day and pursue filmmaking with an obsessive passion that is a hallmark of the arts. In my filmmaking circles, every day someone gets a win and someone gets a loss. But the winner doesn’t just disappear and move up to a better class of friends and the loser isn’t kicked out and ostracized. Instead, we pat ourselves on our backs or lick our wounds, but either way, we never stop pushing forward. I am most inspired when I see someone just like me refuse to take no for an answer. If they can do it, then I can do it, too.