Guest Review: I, Daniel Blake (2016)

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Directed By: Ken Loach
Written By: Paul Laverty
Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy
Runtime: 1 hr 40 minutes

If film is a mirror on society then the sheer volume of recent movies about the ugliness of the post-GFC world is a reflection of the scale of devastation it has caused. Most are essays in poverty that explore the loss of humanity for ordinary people. The film I, Daniel Blake (2016) is another in this genre. It is an intense portrait of an ordinary man who struggles to retain dignity in an Orwellian world. Far from entertaining, it is gritty, raw, and unrelenting.

Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a rough-speaking but likable 59-year-old tradesman in Newcastle, England. He is recovering from a serious heart attack and lives alone. Unable to work, he does what thousands like him do in such circumstances: he applies for support allowance so he can pay his bills until health returns. What happens next is not the point, rather it is how it happens that will make you cringe. Form-filling becomes an obstacle course for preventing people like Daniel from getting help and the staff who process him absolve themselves of responsibility through constant referral to the “decision-maker” who is never there. Denied support allowance, he must apply for a job-seeker benefit that requires 35 hours a week of documented job hunting. His protestations are officially sanctioned and he loses all support.

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In the midst of his own inhuman treatment by a soul-less bureaucracy Daniel tries to help a single mother with two young children who is also crushed by the system. Katie (Hayley Squires) has moved from a homeless hostel and is living on food handouts because her benefits have been stopped. She finds ‘affordable accommodation’ that Daniel offers to repair and he becomes a father figure. Still unable to buy shoes for her children, Katie finds the kind of work that shocks Daniel but is the last resort for many abandoned by a social welfare system with gaping holes in its safety net. Desperate to help her, Daniel vents his frustration through graffiti on the welfare office wall and briefly becomes an urban hero.

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This is a disturbing film that many audiences will find confronting, particularly those who think they live in a caring society that supports people in need. The pace is slow and the dialogue often terse, but that’s how life is at the bottom. The subdued cinematography and colour palette accentuates the drabness of life for the dispossessed. Perfectly cast, the two main actors fill their roles with an authentic voice for countless ordinary people who fall on hard times. There is no joy in this film and whatever humour you find is there to make the story bearable. But in a world that moves inexorably towards a hard-right social conscience, it is a film that cries out to be seen and heard.

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cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘I, Daniel Blake’? Well, what did you think? 

Quick thoughts on Oscars 2017… and that crazy Best Picture mixup!

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Well this is the first year where the Oscars almost escaped me… It’s funny, there’s a line that my lead character said in my Hearts Want script, ‘I don’t give a f*** about the Oscars…’ Well, it seems his um, lack of enthusiasm seems to have rubbed off on me a bit. Suffice to say, I’ve just been so preoccupied w/ prepping my short film that I really couldn’t be bothered. In fact I stayed past 1:30 Saturday night making updates to the script. But y’know what, though I’m exhausted I don’t feel tired, I pretty much operate on adrenaline rush these days.

Before I posted about my thoughts on the Oscars though… what a sad news 😦

Ok just a few comments on the red carpet stuff…

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These three massively talented actors slay ’em at the red carpet!


Well, I think overall the ceremony is pretty boring… and Jimmy Kimmel is annoying generally. I did enjoy that whole bit about bringing a tour bus full of unsuspecting tourists to the Oscars. Especially these moments…

The expressions on these tourists faces are priceless… go Gary from Chicago!!

And can Sunny Pawar host the Oscars with Dev Patel next year?

Ah Taraji… she’s too freakin’ adorable!!

As for the winners…

The Oscars got it right w/ the first acting award of the night…

And finally… a classy, crazy talented lady gets her overdue moment to shine…

Beautiful, emotive lyrics too… so yeah I wish the Audition song instead of City Of Stars had won instead.

Haven’t seen Manchester By the Sea… can’t say I’m all that enthused about it.

Lest we forget…

Yep Denzel… I SO share your sentiment!

Emma’s performance in the Audition scene made me cry… so yeah, I have no problem w/ her winning. And her speech felt real and sweet. Leo presenting her the Oscar made me wonder why they haven’t worked together though.

As for the award of the night…

WOW, you’d never guess what happened!! I mean I saw it w/ my own eyes and I still couldn’t believe it!! Warren Beatty is the new Steve Harvey!!

WHOA!!! Seriously this was the craziest thing I’ve seen at the Oscars… or live TV for that matter! Well, I guess you could say the night ended with a BANG…

But yaaaaasssss!!!! I had always been #TeamMoonlight all award season…

I gotta say though, the La La Land producers, esp. Jordan Horowitz, was a good sport about the whole ordeal. I mean it must’ve been so devastating, not to mention embarrassing, to have started a speech and be told someone else had won!! But hey… in the end the Oscar voters got it right when it comes to Best Picture 😀

Yep, me too Mr. Jenkins. Me too!!


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Well, I’m glad I tuned in to the Oscars tonight after all… otherwise I wouldn’t have witnessed the battiest Oscar moment in history on LIVE TV!

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Spotlight on BBC One’s miniseries SS-GB + Interview with actor Maximilian Dirr

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This past Sunday, BBC One finally aired one of my most anticipated series (well it’s a 5-part miniseries) starring my fave Yorkshireman Sam Riley. I’ve mentioned the project several times, including here and here.

Naturally it’ll make you think of Amazon’s Man in the High Castle but set in London. Based on the 1978 novel by Len Deighton, SS-GB is a dystopian thriller set in an alternative 1940s London, where the Germans have won the Battle of Britain, and the capital is under Nazi occupation. Sam Riley stars as Douglas Archer, a Scotland Yard detective who’s torn between co-operating with the SS or joining the resistance. He becomes embroiled in a sinister underworld while investigating what appears to be a simple black-market murder.

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Joining Riley is Kate Bosworth, as American journalist Barbara Barga, who finds herself linked to the case Archer is working on. SS-GB is written by James Bond movie writers Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, and other cast members include Jason Flemyng, James Cosmo, Aneurin Barnard, Maeve Dermody.


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Well, recently I got to chat with one of SS-GB’s supporting cast member Maximilian Dirr, a Munich-born actor who spent his childhood in both Germany and Italy, speaking both languages fluently. Check out my interview with the talented International actor on his work on SS-GB, as well as his next project in The Crown season 2.

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Q: It seems that you have a stage background following your studies at National Theatre Academy, but you’ve been doing various TV and film work. Which medium do you prefer and most comfortable with?

I’ve started working on the stage very early so I’m more comfortable with it but in the last years I made many experiences also on TV and movies. The languages are very different and I think both can learn from each other. At the moment I’m working more on film and I must admit that I really love it.

Q: What’s your first film role and how did you get cast in that project?

My first film role and experience was a short film in Genua. I was studying at the National Theater Academy and a casting director came to cast this short film. I had a lot of fun during the audition and they chose me for an northern Italian guy. From there on I definitely knew that I wanted to do more film projects.

Q: What was your role in The Best Offer and how was it working with Geoffrey Rush?

In The Best Offer (directed by Cinema Paradiso‘s Giuseppe Tornatore) I played an assistant of Geoffrey Rush and it was wonderful working with him. Even only from watching him you can learn so many things. It was also one of my first roles in a feature film.

Q: Now, as for SS-GB, could you tell us a bit about your role in that BBC miniseries? You said you had a scene with Sam Riley, can you tell us a bit about how your filming day went and your experience working with him?

In SS-GB I´m a Patrol Commander. I have a very nice scene with Sam Riley where I threatened him because he is with a girl who doesn’t have a passport with her. We had a lot of fun playing this scene also because at one point he also had to speak german and he wondered how much you can hear his accent. Sam has a very nice British accent when he speaks German.

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Maximilian in a still from SS-GB

Q: It’s such a bummer that The Vatican pilot didn’t get picked up as I’m a big fan of that cast and it looks like an intriguing series. How was it working with Ridley Scott and/or any of the cast members?

Yes, it’s a bummer that the series didn’t get picked up. I had a lovely part in it and played a swiss guard who was very close to the Pope played by Bruno Ganz. My part would have been very big in the series as I was the right hand of the antagonist. But sometimes when one door closes another one opens. So who knows what´s up next. Working with Ridley was awesome. He trusts his actors very much and respects them. It was my most amazing experience until now. I met great actors and lovely people.

Q: How difficult is it to work with German/ Italy/ English productions? There must be quite a different process for each country as well as the inherent cultural distinctions. How do you manage to overcome some of the challenges?

I love to work on the international market so it’s a pleasure for me coming to shoot in London or wherever. Having said that, of course the process in every country is very different. To be honest with you I prefer the English/American Film market and also the German Films. I have the impression that they risk more. I’m based in Berlin and Rome, and travel a lot for work. Nowadays you make many self-tapes so it’s not so important where you stay. You have to be flexible.

Q: What’s next for you? Feel free to elaborate about your future projects.

Last Summer I completed a feature film called Maria Mafiosi directed by Jule Ronstedt. It’s a German comedy about the Italian mafia and I have a very funny role. I also just finished shooting for The Crown season 2, directed by Stephen Daldry. I’ve a nice small part in one episode. Recently I’ve also finished an international feature film called Sobibor directed by Russian filmmaker Andrey Malyukov where I’m in the main cast. We shot in Lithuania and the film is about the escape from the Camp Sobibor. A true story.

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Next week I’ll start shooting in a leading role for an episode of Non Uccidere for Rai/Netflix. Also many different films will be released soon so we’ll see what’s next.

THANK YOU Maximilian for chatting with me!


Guest Review: The Great Wall (2017)

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Directed By: Yimou Zhang
Written By: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy
Runtime: 1 hr 43 minutes

I’m so happy they cast Matt Damon as the lead in The Great Wall. Middle-aged white men are dangerously underrepresented in Hollywood nowadays, and giving recognition to a criminally underused actor was such a brave, progressive decision by the filmmakers.

Am I being too subtle in my sarcasm? I might be laying it on a little too thin. In all seriousness, I won’t make this entire review about whitewashing in Hollywood (although, obviously, it will be addressed), since A) there would be too much to talk about for one post and B) this movie had other problems in addition to casting a white actor as the main character in a movie set around a Chinese landmark…like the fact that it’s in 3D. Oh, boy.

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In The Great Wall, two European soldiers named William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are searching China for gunpowder and stumble upon the eponymous structure in the midst of an attack by a horde of massive reptilian beasts that have been plaguing the country every sixty years. The men assist the soldiers, led by Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing), in attempting to defeat the monsters once and for all.

One of my biggest questions during this movie was “What nationality is Matt Damon supposed to be?” Saying he half-asses whatever accent he’s attempting is generous; he quarter-asses it. It sounds like a lazy blend of Irish and Scottish, although at one point when he responded to a question Tovar asked him in Spanish, I thought for one glorious moment he was supposed to be from Spain and was going for an imitation of Sean Connery in Highlander before we eventually find out the character’s name is William.

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Seriously, there is no good reason to have a European character as the lead in this movie. William and Tovar could easily be completely removed from the film without affecting the plot. They try to make it out like William is this big hero, a huge asset to the Chinese army’s cause (because obviously what this massive, finely-tuned army really needs is one white dude with a bow and arrow to save the day), but the only role William and Tovar serve is exposition, clueless foreigners for the Chinese army to explain why there are lizard-dog monsters attacking the Great Wall. At best, they provide some comedic relief, but it ranges from cliché to cringe-worthy, including an especially stupid moment where Tovar grabs a bright red cape from a fallen soldier and waves it, toreador-like, at one of the creatures; apparently the writers took some of their comedy cues from old Bugs Bunny cartoons.

On the subject of Tovar, I do love Pedro Pascal, especially after seeing him in Game of Thrones a couple seasons ago (R.I.P., Oberyn), and he does a good job with what little he’s given, managing a balance of being humorous and a little menacing. I really hope to see him in more major films, just not any that are…like this.

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While the writing and casting of this movie are problematic, it still is visually stunning. The costumes are especially beautiful, with the brightly-colored armor vibrant against the gritty background. The soundtrack is lovely. A lot of the battle action is really cool to watch, with some incredibly well choreographed moments. There are some breathtaking wide shots of the scenery, marred only when they do running close-ups of the wall and cheesy CGI arrows as an excuse for 3D. While there is a lot that is fun to look at, there is no reason for it to be in 3D, and the shots that are clearly in the movie for the 3D are so forced.

If you just want to see some pretty scenes and creative monsters, check this out. Otherwise, I’d recommend avoiding this hour and a half of stupidity.

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Have you seen ‘The Great Wall’? Well, what did you think? 

‘Project Eden Vol.1’ Premiere Recap + Interview with filmmakers Ashlee Jensen & Terrance Young

Last week had been quite a whirlwind… but in the most wonderful way. Last Wednesday 2/15, my hubby and I attended the premiere of Project Eden Vol. I, part of Twin Cities Film Fest’ Insider Series event, with the cast and crew. It was a fun, festive night. It was lovely to chat a bit with the lovely lead actress Emily Fradenburgh, who arrived early to the event in a gorgeous dress, as I didn’t get to interview her in person. Everyone looked red-carpet ready, including the Twin Cities-based male lead actor Peter Christian Hansen, who was his usual charming self.

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I had met the duo filmmakers Terrance Young and Ashlee Jensen just hours before for our interview at Nina’s Coffee House. The screening ended with a fun Q&A with the cast and crew.


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Quick Thoughts on the film:

Well, the first part of Project Eden got off to a strong start. The sci-fi thriller deservedly won Best Vision at the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival just a week prior. It’s an intriguing sci-fi that played more like a conspiracy theory, set in a familiar world like ours, but with a few twists. I have to say the visuals looked amazing, shot by Twin Cities based DP Christopher Lange. It looked more expensive than it was, which is always a feat for indie films. The film’s is quite enigmatic and made you ponder about what’s really going on, but that’s to be expected as we haven’t seen the whole story yet.

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The two leads Evelyn and Ethan (played by Emily Fradenburgh and Peter Hansen) are definitely the strongest performers of the film. We’re not sure just how their worlds are connected, but we’re given just enough to care about their journey. It’s always interesting when we’re not sure if the protagonist is a good guy or not, and Ethan definitely keeps you guessing. Evelyn and the mystery surrounding her catatonic son is the focal point of the story, and her exchange with Erick Avari’s mysterious character in the third act leads to a massive cliffhanger!

I do have a few quibbles, such as the stock characters and their hackneyed dialogue. There are also odd situations that don’t quite add up, which you could refer to as plot holes or continuity problems. But overall, it’s a pretty thrilling set-up that made me eager to see Volume II!

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I met the duo filmmakers Terrance and Ashlee at another charming St. Paul coffee house called Nina’s. There’s a bit of logistical challenge trying to set up a time to meet, as they were only in town for a few days so no doubt their schedule is jam packed. But it was well worth the effort as they’re one of the nicest people you ever had the privilege to meet! They’re both from Sunshine Coast, Australia, and they certainly had such a sunny outlook on life. By the time I got there, Terrance had stepped out for a bit so I got to chat with Ashlee first.

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How did the concept/story idea of Project Eden first come about for you?

Ashlee: Terrance actually had the concept of the ending, this amazing grand ending, about ten years ago. And we’ve known each other for 11 years, so we talked about it back and forth throughout that time, but of course we ended up doing other things, including 500 Miles (Ashlee’s directorial debut that Terrance produced). Then we went on our separate ways, we did a bit of study and other projects in between. It wasn’t until we stopped here in Minneapolis on our way to Palm Beach for 500 Miles and we walked through the Stone Arch Bridge. And from one side of the bridge to the other we talked out the whole story of Project Eden.

Terrance: So the beginning and the end were always there. For some reason, I don’t know if it was a dream or something. So the idea was there but it’s a concept that was going to cost a lot of money so we put it off. I just weren’t at a point in my career yet [to make this]. So Ashlee and I did 500 Miles together in 2014, then a few years later we were here in Minneapolis and we came up with the whole story and started writing it. As we had the beginning and the end, we sort of weaved everything together. Then we decided to do it in two volumes as we know that if we’re trying to do it as one feature we wouldn’t have gotten the budget. It’d be too ambitious. But by doing part I, it opened up a franchise opportunity and we’re able to make Part I with a decent amount of money.

So are you saying the birth of the project is right here in Minneapolis?

Ashlee: Yes. It’s really interesting because when we had our final filming blocked, so this was a year and a half blocked in three different countries (Australia, New Zealand and the US), the very final scene that we shot was the one that happened at the Stone Arch Bridge.

You said you talked through the whole project as you both were walking in Stone Arch Bridge. Did you envision it to be multiple films instead of just one feature?

Ashlee: No, at the time, obviously we fell in love with the city, it has the right vibe and we’re like, ‘oh we have to film it here, it’s amazing.’ At the time we were hoping to get it into one story, but by the time it came down to to writing it all out and then of course being indie filmmakers, all the other things came into place. We didn’t have unlimited budget and all these political, behind-the-scenes stuff came up. But we knew in our hearts if we wanted to do justice to the story then we needed to separate it into two volumes. So the first one you’re really setting up the world of Project Eden and getting to know the characters in such a deep level, seeing all their flaws and the journey they’re about to embark on. But we ended it right at the point where things are about to kick off. It’s a massive cliffhanger.

You said Terrance had this grand ending idea initially, but did you have the characters in mind at the time? Or is it more about the concept?

Ashlee: We didn’t have the name but we knew the central core of the story is a young woman and her son who’s in a catatonic state.

In the concept video, both of you said that the world seems to think that spirituality and science are two separate things while you think it’s one and the same. Would you expand a bit on that thought?

Ashlee: Sure. Of course these are our personal perspectives how we view reality.. But we see time and time again where there’s always this opposing views that you’re either spiritual or you have this scientific belief. While we’re like, well why can’t it be combined? Because anything that is scientific has a spiritual element and vice versa. The nature of the universe and everything that we’re even sitting in today is so overwhelmingly vast and amazing, I don’t think you can pinpoint it down to just science. There is always this grander allusion of spirituality so we feel that the two are so complexly and deeply intertwined that it’s one and the same.

Terrance: I feel like our world today is governed by religion to the point of our detriment. We’re killing each other because of religion. At the end of the day everyone has a spiritual side, but we can still have science without discounting spirituality. That’s what we’re trying to do, with our science fiction [story], we do deal with science but there’s a spiritual element to it ‘cause I think that’s how the world is, physics and spirituality goes together. That’s our belief and people put in what they believe in into their own projects.

So did this film start out as a short film?

Ashlee: No, it’s a short film that Terrance and I did maybe about four years ago that has the same name. There are a few little themes that are similar to this feature film but it’s really more of a stand-alone story. If we’re ever going to expand on that little short, it’ll be more of a series. So no, this film didn’t originate as a short.

How about the financing aspect of this film? Did you go through crowdfunding route or did you talk to a bunch of financiers for this?

Terrance: Yeah, for the last film we did the crowdfunding route. It worked all right. But we knew we’d never raise the amount of money needed to make Project Eden. But we knew a guy who wanted to invest in our last film but the timing wasn’t right, so we went to him and he put in a bit of money. We also found a couple other investors so we’re able to put together some money to go and shoot the first half of the movie.

Ashlee: Yeah it’s a bit of an unorthodox approach. So we got a small pool of money and we knew it’s a catch 22. We need more money but we wouldn’t get more money until they see what we could do. So we took a massive risk. We came here [to the US] then came home with the first 20 minutes of the film.

Terrance: We had some money from investors but it was only like 50 grand here, 50 grand there, so we had about $150K all together to do the initial shoot. It’s totally unusual and a huge risk, because normally you don’t shoot the first 20 minutes in order. Then we presented that to the investors and showed them what it would look like. So we got more financing and went back to shoot the rest of movie in New Zealand and then back to Minnesota.

So in which country did you shoot the first 20 minutes?

Terrance & Ashlee: Here in Minnesota.

Wow, there’s a lot of Minnesota connection.

Terrance: Yes, we basically shot half the movie here in MN and half in New Zealand and a little bit in Australia.

The filmmakers w/ Twin Cities-based DP Christopher Lange + Helsinki-based Mark Hobson Source: Project Eden FB
The filmmakers w/ Twin Cities-based DP Christopher Lange + Helsinki-based Mark Hobson – Source: Project Eden FB

What made you decide to collaborate and co-direct this film?

Ashlee: This one is a huge… the premise of this concept is big, and there’s all these intricacies that work up to the grand ending. So for us, to make sure that we always have one another’s back that no one would fall behind, we’re always on the same page. Since we wrote this together, we decided to direct this together as well. We’ll do the same for volume 2, but this project is the only one we’ll do it like this.

Terrance: It was so ambitious that we knew that one of us could not just go and direct this. Ashlee is so great about working with actors and getting the performance out of them. My background is in post production so I’m more on the technical side. So we’ve got two different viewpoints but because we were on the same page when we wrote it, there was never any sort of clashes of creative ideas.

Yes, Peter mentioned that it was seamless collaboration that if it wasn’t the case, then you guys did a good job in shielding it from him and the other actors.

Terrance: Yes we sort of had this agreement that if they had questions about characters then they’d go to Ashlee. If they had other questions such as the logistical stuff then I can handle those. Of course there were times that we chimed in together, but for the most part I’d handle the business if you will, how we’d get everybody to New Zealand and all that. But yeah we both learned from each other.

So how was the experience of collaborating? Do you want to keep doing this, directing together again?

Terrance: Look, we’ll definitely would do this together for volume 2 but after that I think we’d go back to directing and producing as we have two different skill set. But I am looking forward to working together again for the next film.

Ashlee: It strengthened our relationship as well. I think the reason why we seemed like this united pair because at the end of the day, we’re always like ‘y’know what, we have respect one another, we listen to one another’s perspectives and we have trust in one another. Because we were the leaders, whatever energy between us would filter down, so we have to make sure everything’s good.

What has been the most challenging aspect about making this film, apart from the financing?

Terrance: Having not gone the film school route and being told about how to do things. There were certain things that I personally learned the hard way. Even though sometimes it’s the best way to learn, it was very stressful and there were times we thought the movie just wouldn’t get done. Because we had invested so much, so much of our personal lives and also financially and professionally. But of course there’s always the belief that we’d never not finish what we’d started, so definitely there has been a ton of great life lessons and next time we’ll know what to do. I mean there will be a new set of problems but hopefully then we’d know more what to do.

Any snafus/mishaps during filming that stood out to you?

Ashlee: Well, we came over to America and learned about the politics of how films are run here. Then we went over to New Zealand. It’s like it’s same same, but also totally different. So we learned a little thing the hard way. We did have one incident in NZ. I mean it happens but for us, it was the first big things that happened and we’re like, whoa! We were filming in this little place called Waipu, it’s in the middle of nowhere, about 2.5 hours drive [from Auckland] and in order to get there is this long mountain tracks, all gravel road. Then this generator truck pulled to the side of the road to let a car pass and after all the rain and everything the road gave way and the whole truck rolled four times down the side of the mountain. Fortunately the makeup artist who was in the truck only had this cut on his nose and that was it!

Terrance: I know, he could’ve died!

Ashlee: Yep, 50 meters off the road and he would’ve fallen into a massive canyon and it would’ve been completely different situation.

Terrance: Because of that we only had limited power so our unit base like catering and so on could only have limited power just to have the lights on to keep the schedule going. The thing is, we didn’t really have money for contingency days, so if the lights didn’t work for the shoot, we would be a day behind and we wouldn’t have the money to facilitate that. So it was bad, but we were lucky as nobody got killed. But yeah, the generator was gone, we had to have another one brought in from Auckland.

Peter Hansen, Ashlee Jensen, Paul O'Brien, Emily Fradenburgh prepare to step onto set on Day 1 – Source: Project Eden FB
Peter Hansen, Ashlee Jensen, Paul O’Brien, Emily Fradenburgh on set on Day 1 – Source: Project Eden FB

So about casting. How did you cast those sci-fi actors like Mike Dohpud, Cliff Simmons, etc as well as the Twin Cities actors like Peter and Emily?

Terrance: So Ashlee dealt with the casting of the Minnesota people, and I dealt with the agents of Mike Dohpud, Cliff Simmons, etc.

Ashlee: With the hierarchy of films, as we get further in our careers, casting directors would cast a lot of the actors. But I personally love the audition process, love it. Not obviously for the smaller, background extras but the key people, we want to be a part of that. So when it came to the leads, we’ve got this little tradition that we’re always going to continue doing because we believe in supporting emerging creatives. So we always wanted our leads to be up and comers rather than established actors. So when it comes to casting here, we did a round of auditions and then everyone we liked we’ve got call backs and we did a few little read throughs. I think the crux of it, and there were a lot of talents, but there were a set of people that we really liked so we just sat down and had a conversation with them. Because when you worked with in such a small level, the people you work with became your family. So you want to know that they’re good people, that you like them, and they’re true collaborators. Emily and Peter just hands down just stand out, they’re both just all around good people.

Terrance: And we saw a lot of people so it’s not like we just picked them because they were presented to us. Like for Emily we must’ve seen about fifteen people and I think Peter too, there were probably similar amount.

Ashlee: And people were sending tapes to us too, so there were quite a lot.

Terrance: One of our producers, Sallyanne Ryan, she connected us with a photographer named Dennis Alick [spelling?] who’s very connected with the sci-fi channel world. He’s friends with Mike Dohpud. And we actually initially talked with an actor by the name of Robert Knepper, he played the character T-Bag in Prison Break. He’s very well known for that. But then he ended up not being a good fit for us, so we said we wanted to speak to Mike. So I spoke to his agent and did the deal. He said the reason he wanted to do it was because he loved the script. And then, because of that, see I grew up watching Stargate-SG1 and I love Cliff Simon who’d be great for the Russian.

Erick Avari in 'Project Eden Vol. I'
Erick Avari in ‘Project Eden Vol. I’

Then we looked at Erick Avari who’s just perfect for the role of the Shepherd. So for the most part we dealt with their agents but I contacted Erick Avari on Facebook. I asked him, ‘I’d love to send you a script so who’s your agent?’ He said, ‘I don’t have an agent at the moment as I’m trying to retire from Hollywood but you never know what’s going to happen, so send me the script.’ So we did and he wrote back saying, ‘well I got to say you’ve got an ambitious script here and I’m sick of mediocrity.’

Ashlee: Yeah he said ‘I’d rather put my time and energy into something like this than mediocrity chasing mediocrity.’

Terrance: So we had a chat together, we had Skype sessions, we did hours and hours working on the script. We worked on the dialog, he got really heavily involved. He came to New Zealand and he shot his scenes. So I’d say those three guys (Mike, Cliff and Erick), who I called the Stargate alumni, really brought a whole extra layer, dimension to the cast. So we’ve got these emerging actors from Minnesota surrounded by veteran International cast. Mike is Canadian, Cliff was born in South Africa but now lives in L.A. and Erick is of Indian descent but lives in the US.

So this is Volume I. So have you set up a time for Volume II?

Terrance: Yes it’s in development. We’re already working on the treatment, we’re already working on the script and we want to head to it straight away.

Ashlee: Exactly. Ideally we’d like to shoot this in 12 – 18 months.

Is it going to be set in the same location or are you thinking of finding another spot?

Ashlee: A little bit the same but we’re thinking of diversifying the locations, so maybe Peru…

Terrance: It’s definitely still in North or South America, we’re not going outside of that.

And the same cast, too?

Terrance: Well, the thing is we don’t want to say yes, because then you spoil the movie as then you know who dies in the first film. We don’t want to give anything away.

Yeah I know, but I really want the MN cast to be in this again, they’re such good talents.

Ashlee: But let’s just say we would be very happy to work with them again.

Terrance: One thing we want to reiterate is that we purposely marketed this as Volume I. Because we felt that if we just call this Project Eden and they saw the movie and only saw half of the story, they might feel cheated. But if they go in knowing that this is Part I and it ends at cliffhanger, they hopefully won’t get mad about it.

Ashlee: Hopefully they’d leave feeling excited to see where it’s going.

Terrance: I know it is a risky move for an indie film [to do it as two movies] as you just don’t know. But we followed our instincts and ironically it’s sort of having an opposite effect where they want people to buy it to see part II.

How long was the shoot?

Terrance: If you add it all together, it’s only about 4-5 weeks of filming. But when we split it up, it took about 10 months if you spread it out. But from concept to the finished product [for Vol.I] it took about 2 years. As far as the number of days, about 24 days. With pick up it’s 24 days.

Ashlee: That’s the thing with indie films, we were fitting in 6-8 pages a day, where normally on a bigger set, you have the luxury of only doing 1 page a day.

One last question for you Ashlee. I’ve been a champion of female filmmakers for a long time, which I tried to do on my blog. So would you comment a bit about the lack of gender diversity in the industry?

Ashlee: It’s an interesting topic for me to talk about because I feel like, perhaps I’m just lucky but I also think it’s about the people you surround yourself with. Terrance and I, we hire people based on their skill set and nothing else. And so honestly, on most film sets that we’ve done we’ve actually got more women than men. And it just happens to turn out that way. I would love to see more women in higher up roles and I think it is slowly happening, there’s a bit more awareness there.

In fact there is a film festival recently that just had a gender blind [system] so that when people put in their submissions, there are no names nor gender attached. And within the first year, they went from 3% to 50% of female directors and producers as they base everything purely on merit, on the work themselves. Look I think it’s changing. I mean, Terrance and I, we naturally who we are, we’re pioneering for that [diversity] but we’re not seeking to stand up and put a fuss about it. We are who we are, and I think we stay true to who we are in hiring people based on their abilities then hopefully the perception will start to shift.

Terrance: Y’know I actually get angry when people go on and fuss about equality in films because I don’t even think about that. I just think, who’s good for the job, y’know. I mean somehow naturally, a lot of our crew are women. And again, that’s the way it should be. It should be based on the skill set.

Ashlee: So yeah, like Terrance said, we don’t want to make a fuss about it but we are going to be role models. Just by being who we are and doing what we do.

Terrance: So yeah, we’re not going to force it, we’re going to like count how many women we have in our crew. I think people can’t accuse us about gender discrimination. I think the proof is in the pudding.

The cast & crew of 'Project Eden' Source: Project Eden's FB
The cast & crew of the Waipu shoot of ‘Project Eden’ 
Source: Project Eden’s FB

THANK YOU so much Ashlee + Terrance
for the fun, insightful conversation!

Guest Review: FENCES (2017)

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Directed By: Denzel Washington
Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo
Runtime: 2 hrs 19 minutes

The cinema year gone by was extraordinary for the richness of offerings centred on the African-American experience. Several of these films share a world once fenced off, notably Moonlight (2016), Loving (2016), and Hidden Figures (2016). The quality of these films is remarkable and they reflect wider cultural changes that have been underway for some time. The adaptation of August Wilson’s Fences (2016) is another important contribution to this growing body of cinematic work. Its power comes from superb acting that weaves together a unique domestic narrative with themes of universal relevance.

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The sparse plot is framed around a set of domestic vignettes that are found in any family, regardless of colour. Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is a jovial, larger than life, might-have-been-famous baseball player who works at the dirty end of a garbage truck. Both his sporting ambitions and desire for promotion have been stymied by racial discrimination, so sport and work are recurring metaphors. His devoted and tolerant wife Rose (Viola Davis) is the peacemaker between Troy and his two sons.  Young Cory (Jovan Adepo) is keen to pursue his own sporting ambitions but is blocked by Troy. Older son Lyons is a musician who drops in every payday to ask Troy for money. Scenes of father and son conflict recur to the bitter end, punctuated by the impacts of Troy’s infidelity. A brain-damaged brother Gabe enters the stage regularly to speak non sequiturs with lyrical messages, like a court jester offering snippets of garbled wisdom. Troy desperately wants to assert masculine dignity but the world of the 1950s had no respect or place for people of his colour. Without respect he is just “a black man who has two strikes against you before you’re even born”. Life is stacked against men like Troy, but worse without a woman like Rose.

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It is easy to see this as a filmed play rather than a play adapted to film. The wide-frame setting turns Troy’s backyard into a place where he holds court within his kingdom, where fences are for keeping in and locking out.  The colour palette evokes an era of rich vibrant tones that reflect African-American heritage punctuated with rhythm and blues musical themes. Troy and Rose are the quintessential black American strugglers forgotten by history and ignored by the newly rising racial consciousness of the times. The generation that followed were promised better lives while they were left with the crumbs of the American dream, a dream that belonged to white people.

The two stars push their performances to the limit: Denzel doesn’t play but is angry, conflicted, unfulfilled; Viola is strong, altruistic, hopeful of a better life.  Their performance duet is a memorable tour-de-force. Troy has spent his life both building and fighting fences, but what he most craves comes too late. This film feels like live theatre with intimacy of characterisation and dense lyrical dialogue delivered with authenticity and depth. It is classic powerhouse drama.

cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘FENCES’? Well, what did you think? 

Indie Film Spotlight: ‘The Babymoon’ + Interview with writer/director Bailey Kobe & lead actress Julie McNiven

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The Babymoon was one of the terrific indie films playing at Twin Cities Film Fest last year. I had missed seeing it on the big screen, but the lovely Kate Sloate over at Double Entente Films was kind enough to send me a screener link.

Well, the film has just been released on Valentine’s Day, so it’s now available on iTunes Digital, Amazon Digital, Cable VOD. Distributed through Gravitas Ventures. There’s also a planned DVD Release on March 14th!

In the adventure-comedy The Babymoon, a husband in a fragile relationship tries to impress his pregnant wife with a luxurious and romantic babymoon vacation to the most beautiful and exotic country imaginable, which places the couple in the middle of a poorly-planned political revolution!

Featured Cast
This star studded and well known cast brings a multitude of talent and relatable emotion to the big screen.

The Babymoon features Shaun Sipos (Vampire Diaries, Melrose Place), Julie McNiven (Mad Men, Supernatural), Jessica Camacho (Sleepy Hollow, Dexter), Michael Steger (90210), Mark DeCarlo (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, Jimmy Neutron), Phillip Garcia (Telenovela, Fuller House), and Kelly Perine (Drew Carey, The Parent ‘Hood).

About the director
Double Entente Films is an international production company with offices is Paris and Los Angeles, specializing in luxury and high tech clients, with a select slate of feature films in the action and comedy genres. Innovative Los Angeles-based writer and director Bailey Kobe (Caterpillar’s Kimono featuring Ben Savage and Joey Kern) first partnered with dynamic French Producer Frédéric Imbert as classmates at The University of Southern California’s renowned Peter Stark Cinema Program. Kobe is a graduate from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts elite Peter Stark Program. He is well known for his commercial work with brands Louis Vuitton, Dior, Mini Cooper, BMW, GQ, and videos for Kanye West, French Icon Johnny Hallyday, and Marc Lavoine.

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Interview with Bailey Kobe

A look behind the scenes of our film with cast members Phillip Garcia, Julie McNiven, Kelly Perine and writer/director Bailey Kobe
A look behind the scenes of our film with cast members Phillip Garcia, Julie McNiven, Kelly Perine and writer/director Bailey Kobe

Q: So how did the concept of the film come about? Did The Babymoon idea come from a personal experience for you?

Most of my career I have adapted novels or plays, but Babymoons have been a hot concept since celebrity couples were announcing elaborate vacations, like Kanye West/ Kim Kardashian, and Prince William/ Kate Middleton, while pregnant.

I never expected to go on one until my wife informed me that we were expecting our first child. I was overjoyed at the news, but then to have this extra vacation to plan, at a time when we should be the most pragmatic, well, it sounded absurd. But after experiencing our trip together, I realized this is a trend that is growing for a reason. We ere able to get away from the daily grind and really talk – not just plan, but really get into the “why” of our plans, and it made us a stronger couple at a time when we needed be on the same page more than ever in our lives. And I wanted to share that.

Q: Would you speak a bit about the casting process? I know Julie was in your first film, but how about the others?

Shaun Sipos was the first person to walk into the casting office for Trace, and he became a high-water mark that no one else could match. Once we knew who our main couple was, we started looking at the rest of the cast, and it was surprising how many actors loved the characters in the script. Big turnouts that my casting directors Kendra Clark and Helen Geier had to manage and because we were an indie, I was lucky enough that when I begged the best actor for each role to be in it, they said yes!

The fruits of which are stunning, if you follow our main cast, you will see that most are now a regular on major TV shows or are finalists when big film castings come up. The same with my first film. Not that I have a magic touch, but I should start promoting myself to actors as the good luck charm to book a major TV series!

Julie McNiven & Shaun Shipos
Julie McNiven & Shaun Sipos

Q: It seems that you as well as other cast members were expecting when you did the film. So I presume Julie was really really pregnant in the movie?

Maybe we are all just at that time in our lives, but Julie and I met and had this idea to do the film together while we were both expecting so that both sides of the camera would have a unique attention to emotional detail that we had never seen before. Not only did that create interesting work, but I think we inspired some cast members, because immediately after filming, two cast members, Michael Steger (90210) and Elmer Tollinchi Ruiz (genius polymath who just did a TED talk), had their first children.

And yes, Julie is actually pregnant during some of the filming. We of course, did the stunts and any of the more adventurous sequences months later after baby bonding time.

Q: How was filming in Puerto Rico? What was the biggest challenge in filming all those jungle scenes?

Puerto Rico is absolutely stunning visually, but we wondered if we could find a great crew down there. Thanks to the Puerto Rico Film Commission, we were able to make initial contact with crew who have worked on major shows like Pirates of the Caribbean! And once you have a good crew that understands the challenges of heat, constant rain, dangers of the jungle, etc. you can move forward with confidence!

El Conquistador Resort, Puerto Rico
El Conquistador Resort, Puerto Rico

Q: What was the inspiration behind the political revolution and kidnapping plot?

The political revolution is meant to be simply an externalization of the turmoil in a relationship in the middle of a big life transition. Two sides have strong ideas about how things should go, and without levelheaded discussion it can turn fast!

The kidnapping plot is actually based on real stories I heard while hiking in the Amazon on a 5 day trek into the jungle to see the ruins of a lost city of gold. No joke. Called the Ciudad Perdida. I noticed some heavily armed guards along the way, and my guide regaled me with stories of how they would kidnap groups from time to time and march them around the jungle so they could never be caught. A constant camping trip that would last for months!

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Q: There seems to be a familial/parenting theme in your first two features. Coincidence or intentional?

You are right. Great observation. In the first, parenting was a metaphor for the economy. Remember we were in one of the worst recessions in history, but here we are just a short time later, ready to reduce regulation all over again. Will that father remember the consequences of his choices in the past.

And vice-versa, in The Babymoon, the revolution is a metaphor for parenting.

Q: Lastly, who are some of your favorite comedy filmmakers who’ve inspired you?

There is the usual litany of well known writer-directors, but I am particularly inspired by a lot of the TV directors who are finding long term homes on shows right now. I love Pamela Fryman (How I Met Your Mother, The McCarthys), Steven Tsuchida (Inside Amy Shumer, Jim Gaffigan Show), and Hiro Murai (Atlanta).

And of course working under a great like Anthony Russo (Community, Captain America:Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War) was completely revelatory for me.


Interview with Julie McNiven

Julie (with Shaun) in The Babymoon
Julie (with Shaun) in The Babymoon

Q: How did your experience as a mother contribute to your connection with Hanna? Do you think that the role was more or less challenging because of it?

I loved being pregnant. I didn’t have any fear or doubt about anything! I think it was the hormones. I felt blissful the entire time! Well, except when it got hard to sleep, but mostly it was amazing. Hanna on the other hand entered her pregnancy with feelings of doubt in her relationship and her ability to be a mother. Sadly, she wasn’t receiving the happy hormones that I had. Perhaps the only sort of anxiety I had was ‘when will I be able to get back to work and how will that work with Tasman being dependent on me.’ I booked my first job 10 weeks postpartum and shot ‘Babymoon’ at 6 months postpartum. Fortunately, I have a very supportive husband who brought my son to set for nursings or bottle fed him while I worked.

Q: Hanna went through a very challenging transition into parenthood with Trace. How do you think new parents can relate to and learn from this?

i imagine it’s very common to have hanna’s feelings of doubt, fear and stubbornness to think she can do it all by herself….which I’m sure she could have but, what she learned was to allow others in. To be a part of the community and help each other through everything. We could all do it by ourselves, but we would be doing ourselves and our children a disservice.

3. We’ve heard you were pregnant in the jungle. You’re amazing! What was that like?

Well, it was amazing because I loved being pregnant and I love the jungle!!

4. We’ve been hearing a lot from mothers on set who are doing a kick-ass job of being a new mom and an actress. Do you think that the industry is changing to be more accepting? What do you think Hollywood can do to improve this process for new moms?

I think it really depends on who you work with. Obviously, with Bailey it was great! He had a full understanding of what I needed…like 20 minute every 4 hours to pump in a Jeep in the jungle….or whatever 🙂

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Thanks so much Kate and Bailey!
It was lovely meeting you at TCFF last October,
hope one day our paths would cross again!

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