Filmmaker Spotlight: Dickie Hearts

Filmmaker Spotlight: Dickie Hearts

Dickie Smile copyPassengers Poster-1

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

 

Tell me about yourself:

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

 

Did you go to school to become a filmmaker?

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

 

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

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

   

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Who has been your inspiration in the industry/life?

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

How did you go about casting?

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

 

What are you working on next?

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

 

What advice do you have to your fellow filmmakers?

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Filmmaker Spotlight: Jamie Donoughue

Filmmaker Spotlight: Jamie Donoughue

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

Where did you study film?

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

What drew you to tell the story of Shok?

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

Was there a language barrier?

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

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

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

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

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

Is Shok the first short you’ve written?

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

Are you thinking about developing Shok into a feature?

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

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

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

What are you working on next? Any features?

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

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

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

What advice do you have to your fellow filmmakers?

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

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