All posts by Nicole Sim

Experienced Journalist.

“Promised” star Daniel Berini on authentic storytelling

In an industry that claims to be constantly innovating and chasing the latest trend, it’s always refreshing to encounter actors and creatives who maintain a solid grounding that renders them eternally appealing no matter what age or what the marketplace is like. Australian actor Daniel Berini has built a firm footing in his niche as a profoundly heartfelt actor who transcends time and place. Indeed, there’s a recurring trend in Daniel’s recent work of him being cast in projects set in the mid-20th century, the most obvious of which is the feature film “Promised”, co-starring “Strictly Ballroom” legend Paul Mercurio and famed-performer Tina Arena.

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Daniel Berini as shot by Marnya Rothe

“Promised” concerns two young Italians in 1970s Australia dealing with the terms of their arranged marriage as negotiated by their fathers when they were born. Set against the backdrop of an Australia that was becoming increasingly liberal alongside fading traditions, “Promised” hails from “Hippocratic Oath” filmmaker Nathan Primmer and writer/director Nick Conidi.

A celebrated and impressive roster of filmmakers might make one expect there were clashing egos on set, but Daniel attests to how the production became something of a family during shooting.

As Daniel explains, “[a]s an Italian myself, I was able to appreciate and understand the world of Promised, which made the whole experience so very rewarding. Rocking up on set everyday felt like rocking up to Christmas lunch at my Nonna’s house, surrounded by cousins that you didn’t realise you had, and enough good food to feed an army. There was a sense of family around the production; family being the central tenet of the story.”

The story, which quite literally revolves around Robert, is a heartfelt one that resonates with audiences around the world despite the specificity of its time and place setting.

As Daniel explains, “[i]t was quite refreshing to read a script that celebrated Italian culture in Australia but didn’t make fun of it. This is a story that follows two people from two Italian families in Melbourne, but it doesn’t feature Italian cliches that are so often presented in film. There are no ‘lounge suites wrapped in plastic’, ‘concrete backyards’, or colourful depictions of ‘sauce day’ and stuff like that.”

Put more distinctly, Daniel highlights why he thinks viewers relate to the story and therefore why the film is an acclaimed one. “Promised is a story about relationships, that comments on Italian culture and the changing times, but ultimately it’s about Robert and Angela. This is a love story,…audiences…relish in its ornate simplicity.”

Daniel, who’s also known for his roles in TV in shows like “The Secret Daughter” and “Black Comedy”, has been affiliated with period pieces before. Notably, he appeared in the 1970s set Logie-award winning show “Love Child” in a key role as a part of the most recent season.

“Love Child is one of Australia’s most-loved television shows, and joining the final season was a real privilege,” Daniel beams.

Daniel’s experience on family-oriented shoots like “Promised” probably serves him well in an industry that can oftentimes be intimidating. With an acclaimed career like Daniel’s however, it’s unsurprising that he’s an actor who can not only ingratiate himself into a period TV show effortlessly, but also the cast and crew that makes it happen.

“I must admit, it was a bit intimidating arriving on set amidst a show at the tail end of its run,” Daniel concedes.

“You feel like you’re intruding on a family affair in a way, everybody there has been working together for years now and are all very comfortable. However, the cast and crew of Love Child could not have been more accommodating towards me and very quickly made me feel like I was also apart of the family.”

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Daniel Berini alongside “Doctor Doctor” star Chloe Bayliss and AACTA-winner Mandy McElhinney in a scene from “Love Child”

Daniel served critical moments in the emotional arc of “Love Child”s story. His truly honest portrayal of a young man nervous about the birth of his first child was both memorable and refreshingly authentic. Daniel’s unique look, incredibly befitting of the show’s 1970s setting, proved him irreplaceable within a production that prides itself on portraying the period as authentically as possible – an element that no doubt has led to “Love Child’s” numerous award-wins. This, coupled with the fact that he shared screen-time with AACTA-nominee Andrew Ryan and “Doctor Doctor” star Chloe Bayliss as his wife, both Australian household names, firmly cements Daniel as an actor working at the top level of his field.

This aside, Daniel’s clearly committed to character and serving the story, a testament to his dedication to authenticity and artistic integrity.

“It can be really good fun diving into a ‘period piece’ as an actor. There’s a weight to your choices, as you’re not only representing a person, but you are also representing the views of a time period, and you want that to come across as genuine as possible. It goes far deeper than tone and costume. It’s about finding the truth of your world, and then allowing it to influence your motivations as that character. I feel very privileged that I’ve had this opportunity on numerous occasions.”

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Daniel Berini in a scene from the 1970s Channel Nine show, “Love Child”

‘THE NUTRACKER’ actor Alexander Loxton on acting, dancing and staying humble

Birmingham native Alexander Loxton is a rare breed: accomplished not only as an actor, the heartthrob is also a revered dancer, having originally trained at the Royal Ballet School where was school mates with the renowned Sergei Polunin and actress Sonoya Mizuno. This heritage laid a solid foundation for his current status as a British export taking Hollywood by storm, having recently been cast in a US feature film and currently appearing in cinemas around the world in Disney’s “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.”

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Acting and dancing British sensation Alexander Loxton at the BAFTA awards in Los Angeles.  

Alexander’s thoughts about his role in the movie reveal a modesty often displayed by performers working at the top of their field, demonstrative of the important notion that successful entertainers need only to prioritise craft and skill above fame and work will come.

“Being a dance movie it was central to the production to have the highest calibre dancers in the world to represent “The Nutcracker” suitably and working alongside artists such as Misty Copeland displays that.”

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Alexander spent meaningful time on the same set as Oscar-nominee, Keira Knightley, in ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’.

In the movie, Alexander shares the silver screen with Oscar-nominated A-lister Keira Knightly, and in doing so cements his status as one of the leading young British actors working today, having carved out a phenomenal niche for himself as a dashing Brit who often plays a charming foil to American or narcissistic characters. In College Humor series “The Britishes,” for instance, Alexander was credited as Lord Harry, while he also is listed as a series regular in hilarious comedy “Bro-Dum” where he played the suitably-British role of ‘Rupert.’

“I’m very lucky I get to use my national heritage in all of my performances, as it’s an important part of my identity that I want to share with the world. And that’s why I’m a performer.”

“Outside of dance lessons I was a typical young lad from the midlands, I was in fights at school, in detention and was more comfortable in a tracksuit than anything else. My parents were not at all artistic.”

Despite the reservations Alexander had to dancing as a child, which was the pathway that eventually lead to acting, he found himself drawn to the discipline and craftsmanship that dancing afforded him.

“I started training at a local school from the age of 8 as a tap dancer and then was persuaded into trying classical ballet and started to reluctantly find myself enjoying it. I would later train at a run down sportshall and whilst groups of men would bustle into the changing room to play football I was pulling up my tights ready to dance.”

This keen awareness of his surroundings, and the humility with which he treated his artistic pursuits, clearly forms a core part of his intuition as a performer. Such a unique curiosity about life and perspective on people is a crucial tenet of Alexander’s one-of-a-kind talents as an artist.

“I can’t help but feel pulled towards the arts – I think now more than ever we have a responsibility to keep people filled with joy, and the easiest way to do that is through moving forms of entertainment.”

When asked about Alexander’s talents, co-star Jayden Fowora-Knight sung the Brit’s praises. “Alexander is definitely a one-of-a-kind talent – he’s so charming but he’s always willing to be vulnerable, and that’s crucial for a performer. Whether he’s acting on screen, or performing on stage – he draws you in because he’s so intently focused on the present.”

Alex had to remain tight-lipped about his upcoming project. “All I can say is that I’m really excited – that I’ve been given the opportunity to work as an actor in an American feature film is the culmination of many years of hard work. I can’t wait to start!”

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Alexander mid-dance from one of his many highly regarded performances. 

From Ukraine to Hollywood: Costume Designer Viktoriia Vlasenko

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Costume Designer Viktoriia Vlasenko

Now an in-demand global costume designer, Ukraine-born Viktoriia Vlasenko first discovered her love and innate talent for her craft when she was just 8 years old. Vlasenko used her spare time to make party clothes for herself, her mother and her dolls, she even designed to suit her younger brother wore to his graduation.

Keen to continue her love of costume design, Vlasenko completed a Bachelor’s degree in fashion design at the Milan Institute of Design IED (Istituto Europeo di Design) which is among the top 7 universities in the world which specialize in fashion design.

After she graduated from the prestigious university, Vlasenko went full speed ahead and participated in a number of fashion shows and causes. She showed a collection at the Fashion Show 2015 New Talents Vogue Milan for young designers, and even participated in the No War project. The No War project was something very close to her heart, as it allowed her to protest against the war in Ukraine. Her impressive creative contributions to the project were also published in the “No War” book, which sold over 100,000 copies.

Viktoriia Vlasenko is a global sensation, as her work goes a lot further than simply Milan and her home country of Ukraine. Some of her work includes creating costumes for high-profile theatre productions, philharmonic societies, music videos and more. Among her many highlights as a costume designer is creating the breathtaking wardrobe for the cast of the production of “Alice in Wonderland” directed by Dmitriy Obednokov, which was held at the Ukraine Philharmonic with musical support from the chamber choir.

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Actors from “Alice in Wonderland” in costumes designed by Viktoriia Vlasenko

She has dressed stars such as Latin-Grammy-nominated singer and actress Natalia Oreiro for the red carpet, and has designed for SaM (Samvel Arzumanov) and his Freedom International label.

Vlasenko also designed dazzling costumes that singer Olga Pechko, the winner of the All-Ukrainian competition, wore during her performances earlier this year while on tour across Ukraine. Pechko discovered Vlasenko’s unique style after stumbling upon one of the designer’s doll collections, an area of design that she has become increasingly well known for over the years.

“She saw my Forged Iron Dummies collection and envisioned them as garments for her show and then asked me to design her costumes,” recalls Vlasenko.

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Forged Iron Dummy by Viktoriia Vlasenko

In addition to designing countless theatrical productions and costumes for the stars, Vlasenko has been tapped as the costume designer on an impressive list of films including multi-award winning director Catharine Lin’s (“Twenty Years After”) romantic film “Mr. Heart” starring Greyson Todd (“Mind, Body and Bullshit,” “Let Me Go”) and Ivan Sharudo (“The Lincoln”). As every project is unique in itself and requires something completely different to take it the next level, Vlasenko’s creative process understandably varies from project to project.

When it comes to designing costumes for the cast of a film production, like that of the upcoming Ukrainian film “Unworld,” Vlasenko says, “I read the scenario; then I learn the subject of costume and film epoch.. Then I think over the ideas, calculate the production and how much time it will take, then start to draw the design, select fabric and materials. After this – purchase of materials and the costume production itself after agreement of the design with the film director.”

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Costume for “Unworld” designed by Viktoriia Vlasenko

As the costume designer on “Unworld,” an upcoming urban fantasy film directed by Mykhailo Andriiets, Vlasenko created a series of highly-technical costumes. While “Unworld” depicts a war between futuristic robots equipped with powerful digital technology and the mythical monsters of yore, the dystopian film has an underlying message of unity. In the midst of an all out war, the film’s seemingly disadvantaged human characters band together and use the robot’s digital technology in order to bring down the established order.

Bringing to mind images of films like “V for Vendetta” and “Blade Runner,” but placing her own unique spin on things, Vlasenko’s costumes for “Unworld” are incredibly stylized; and they’re a key in transporting the audience into such a far-out world. You can get a sneak peak into Vlasenko’s designs for the film from the clip below.

“Viktoriia created the concept images, designed the costumes, coordinated accessories and worked out the technical elements for the costumes to work for the actors performances, she pretty much did the work of a concept artist, costume designer, technologist, seamstress, and prop master,” says Ukrainian director Mykhailo Andriiets.

“Working with Viktoriia is inspiring… you can not see where the boundaries of her talent and optimism ends. She is a great professional because of her boundless imagination and diligence… She believes in success and does everything possible to achieve it.”

Though Vlasenko has made a strong name for herself in Ukraine, her unique skill as a costume designer has also attracted the attention of filmmakers in the US, such as Avi Agarwal (“Pieces”) who tapped Vlasenko as the costume designer on his 2016 dramatic comedy film “Loose Ends” starring Justine An from the film “A World of Contradictions.” Awarded at the 2016 Hollywood Boulevard film Festival, “Loose Ends”  depicts a young collegiate partier who’s potential futures flash before his eyes during different encounters over the course of the film, with the most rattling outcome being one of total vagrancy.

In stark contrast to her work on “Unworld,” Vlasenko’s task as the costume designer on “Loose Ends” required her to err on the side of minimalism to create a more realistic wardrobe in support of the story.

Vlasenko says, “I watched the vagrants and homeless people around Los Angeles, taking note of how they behaved and what they wore, as well as that of  prisoners. This project was actually very simple for me, but this is exactly what the film director wanted, it was his vision of the project.”

Always working in support of the story– that is the true role of the costume designer, as well as for anyone else working on a film crew, something Vlasenko knows all about. While her wildly outrageous designs for films like “Unworld” reveal her capacity as a creative, her ability to let the story guide the way is tantamount to the success of the films she works on.

“I can work with various materials, which some other costume designers tend to be afraid to work with,” Vlasenko says. “I can invent, implement and realize my designs, using my own hands to bring them life, I can make a more cost-effective costume design budget when I have to.”

“Small Town Hackers” star Caris Eves on her thriving career

“Small Town Hackers” actor Caris Eves has had an interesting journey as an actor, globe-trotting between the US, UK and Australia on various projects. For now, the blonde-beauty is firmly rooted at the top of the Australian entertainment industry with her recent starring turn in an award-winning comedy series from acclaimed production company, Mad Kids. “Small Town Hackers” was most recently nominated for Best Online Series at Australia’s answer to the Emmys and Oscars, the AACTAs. It’s an achievement befitting of one of the busiest actresses in Australia.

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Caris Eves in a shot by Chris Huzzard.

“Working on ‘Small Town Hackers’ was the most fun I could ever imagine having on a film set!” she enthusiastically exclaims.

Caris elaborates on the significance of her character to the plot of the series.

“My character Lucy Boddington as an homage to Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks. The comedy series is set in a small country town of Durran and revolves around the death of Lucy.”

The fun has continued, it seems, as the doe-eyed thespian recently joined the cast of new ABC-show The Heights in an important recurring role.

Jumping between projects like this might cause any actor a bit of stress, but Caris takes it all in her stride.

“It’s what I love to do,” she thoughtfully adds.

“Mad Kids production were an amazing team to work for and are incredibly supportive and generous so I was very thankful to be part of it.”

Caris’ unique talents as an actor is incredibly rare to find in a statuesque and elegant package like hers: the comic timing and vulnerability required of her role in Small Town Hackers demanded an emotional agility that is only seen by actresses working in the top echelon of the industry.

Caris delivered a compelling performance that has commanded viewers’ attention since the series’ debut. It confirms her reputation as a performer who is not soon forgotten by viewers, as her fierceness and sensitivity as an actor allows her an ability to be relatable, while also domineering on screen. It is this combination that makes Caris the epitome of a leading actor.

In one moment, Caris had to deliver a look to another character that was captured by CCTV footage, letting the other characters in on an important clue to the mystery to her character’s disappearance.

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Caris in a still from ‘Small Town Hackers’, a series revolving around the disappearance of her character that industry insiders have labelled a comedic homage to ‘Twin Peaks’. Many of Caris’ key scenes took the form of a flashback.

Caris also tells us about other experiences she’s had as an actor which have motivated her to continue to challenge herself as an artist.

“One of the most powerful acting experiences I have had links back to one of the first film productions I was ever In. It was an awareness campaign for people struggling with mental health Issues and at that time my best friend had taken her life. I didn’t tell anyone on set that only days prior my friend had taken her life, as I didn’t want to be treated any differently. I wanted to represent something that was honest and raw, and captured the feelings and thoughts going through the minds of the people in these emotional states. It was challenging because I so deeply understood her decisions and at the same time was confronted by the choice she made and wondered if I could have done anything to change the outcome. I’ve grown a lot as a person and as an actor as a result of It. You don’t always have to feel comfortable to achieve the right take.  I never had an experience that I felt so personally connected to or could relate to.”

Like most great actors, Caris’ skills and care for her craft such as what was proven on that early filming experience, were actually honed on stage in the beginning stages of her her career. Caris performed a leading role in a production of Red Cross by Sam Shephard, written while the acclaimed playwright was dating Patti Smith. It was experiences like these that grounded Caris in a deeply committed appreciation of her craft, as she developed a sophisticated understanding of her voice, talent and emotional range in order to service characters across a wide range of genres.

Aside from working with a distinguished company like Mad Kids, “Small Town Hackers” enjoyed an awards success when it won for best directing of an online comedy project at the recent Director’s Guild of Australia awards – one of the nation’s highest honours for screen content. Adding to the list of the series’ accomplishments is its international online distribution with Saturday Night Live online multi-channel network, Above Average.

“It’s attracted over 400k viewers since the release late last year!” Caris proudly adds, also pointing to how she shared screen time with “OtherLife” and “Parallax” actor, Luke Hewitt.

“Luke was great to work with!”

Aside from her critical roles across TV and online projects, the profile of Caris’ acting career has led to her endorsing some impressive companies for national commercials. In a recent road-safety campaign for RAC, Caris worked on a set that had a budget of $5 million, and flew its director in from the UK. She explains the challenge of acting on a fast-paced commercial set, one that was very different from her earlier experiences as an acclaimed stage actor.

“The director worked in a high intensity environment and was focused on achieving the perfect shot. He had me changing my emotional states very quickly in order to achieve the desired results, which saw me crying one moment to laughing hysterically the next. It was an exciting project to be part because of the pace, expectation and importance of the campaign.”

Adding to the experience of filming itself, the campaign’s success and millions of views it has received online since its release confirm Caris as being at the centre of a powerful social campaign.

Up next for the accomplished actress? “I’m excited to be joining the cast of some really cool projects – unfortunately I can’t quite say what they are yet, but my agents and manager and I are all very excited!”

AUSTRALIAN FILMMAKER ADRIAN PROSPERO TELLS THE STORIES OF CHANNEL NINE’S SUCCESS

In recent news of NBL’s 3-year partnership with Channel Nine, we sat down with the man behind Nine’s innumerable advertisement campaigns, Australian-born filmmaker Adrian Prospero to discuss his crucial role within the groundbreaking network and how his contributions have shaped Channel Nine to be Australia’s largest commercial free-to-air television network to date.

“It was an absolute honour to work with Channel Nine, and I am thrilled that the network has been skyrocketing in their success.” 

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Award-winning Director Adrian Prospero working with actors on set.

Adrian Prospero has been a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment world for the past decade having distinguished himself as a versatile filmmaker with over a 100  credits to his name as a Writer, Director, and Producer on various media platforms including television commercials, narrative films, and documentary films.

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Some of Adrian’s impressive award-winning narrative and documentary films.

We asked Prospero about his great passion for filmmaking and the many hats that he wears as a filmmaker.

“I love all aspects of filmmaking, but I would consider myself first and foremost a director.”

While the entertainment industry is known to be excruciatingly difficult to break into with thousands of filmmakers competing to get their foot in the door, Adrian Prospero has impressed many esteemed filmmakers with his success as he managed to conquer the narrative and documentary world while also making himself indispensable in the commercial and corporate world. Since the beginning of his career over a decade ago, Adrian has since been involved in dozens of advertising campaigns in the capacity of a Writer and Director for multi-billion dollar companies such as REIWA and Australia’s prominent WIN Television Network.

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Most notably, Prospero has undertaken a crucial role in the growth and success of Channel Nine. The network is equivalent to America’s paramount television networks namely ABC, CBS, and NBC.

Prospero’s skills as an extraordinary filmmaker combined with an extensive knowledge in marketing allowed him to contribute to the network primarily through cultivating client relationships, which consequently magnified the company’s revenue and strengthened the reputation of Channel Nine. In 2017, Nine reported a revenue of $720 million. During his time at the network, Adrian raked in millions of views for numerous affluent clients such as the global upscale hotel brand Novotel and the renowned multi-billion dollar real estate company, Mirvac.

In a reflection of how far Adrian has come as a director, and proving how sought after he is, Prospero can now earn up to $1570 an hour as a director. A source from Channel Nine joked “not a bad jump considering most directors are only paid about $75 an hour, and Adrian’s humble beginnings in Perth!”.

Despite his vast experience and success in the industry, Prospero remains modest when asked about his success in the commercial and corporate world.

“I am thankful to Channel Nine for entrusting me with each campaign and for allowing me the creative freedom towards these commercials.”

[above: some of the above companies who have gained millions of views for their films and commercials made by Adrian Prospero]. 

Prospero has been regarded as a terrific collaborator across all platforms. Therefore, it is no surprise that numerous companies and artists seek to work with him. His versatility in storytelling have led him to working with Songwriter and Rapper Bill Marri and Australia’s beloved electro-pop band, The Arsonist. His work on their music videos have gained these artists legions of fans globally.  

The prominent Writer and Director shares “Music videos are so much fun to work with, but what I love about it is the integration of two mediums (music and visuals) to create something powerful. You are often allowed so much creative freedom in music videos so it can be challenging in getting the balance right between the two, but when you find that balance where the two complements each other, the results are extraordinary”.

More recently, Prospero challenged himself in taking on several roles on a workplace comedy miniseries in which he wrote, produced, directed, and edited. The miniseries, Unrealty, was shot in Australia with actors Chris Buckley (Sons of Soldiers, Badgirl) and James Broadhurst (Reflection, Derelict). Adding to his great acclaim, Prospero picked up an award for the series from the Accolade Global Film Competition.

“It was really fun to shoot a comedy series. I’d definitely love to do it again.”

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Comedy miniseries written, directed, produced, and edited by acclaimed filmmaker Adrian Prospero.

Prospero was also previously awarded the Accolade Global Film Competition Award for his 2016 dramatic film The Hunt starring award-winning actor Robert Hartburn and David Pragnell. The prestigious film festival has successfully been running for 14 years, and recent winners of the competition include the films Money (starring Jesse Williams from Grey’s Anatomy) and Riley Wood (starring the James Bond and Wild Things actress Denise Richards).

“It is incredibly humbling to be recognized by renowned festivals for doing what I feel most passionately about”.

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Recognized by Movie Maker Magazine as one of the “Top 25 Festivals” in its category.

From commercial and corporate work to music videos and narrative films, Adrian Prospero is regarded as amongst the best in his field. He takes incredible pride in everything that he does which in effect produces outstanding films, and we are confident that this extraordinary filmmaker will continue to conquer the entertainment industry.

 

 

 

Captivating Producer and Director Federico Torrado Tobón on Filmmaking

Radiator Behind The Scenes by David Liu
Producer and Director Federico Torrado Tobón shot by David Liu

Fresh off premiering his latest film “The Plague” at the Oscar-qualifying LA Shorts Fest, visionary filmmaker Federico Torrado Tobón is one filmmaker in Hollywood we should all take note of. Now in its 22nd year, LA Shorts is the first and longest running short film festival in Los Angeles. The festival attracts Hollywood industry professionals, and is one of many eminent groups shining a light on Federico’s critically acclaimed work. The multi-hyphenate, who has experience as a writer, director and producer, speaks about his work with the grounded authority of someone who’s gained a great deal of knowledge since beginning his work in the industry nearly a decade ago.

Federico’s unique style is distinguished from other filmmakers by way of his innovative incorporation of surreal and fantastic elements into conventional narratives, an exceptionally difficult task that he continues to explore with finesse through an array of complex film projects.

“I’m a big fan of magical realism,” Federico explains. “I love stories that are grounded in reality but that have one element that doesn’t belong to this world.”

The Colombian native, who has been featured in his country’s most circulated newspaper, El Tiempo, for his achievements as a filmmaker, is clear on his artistic intentions for his career.

“I hope to create strong emotions in the viewers and produce unique feelings and atmospheres, like when you look at a painting and you don’t know exactly what’s going on yet it still manages to creates a very specific feeling.”

These intentions are clearly apparent in all of his work, and they are especially obvious when looking at his films “The Plague” and “Wytches.”


Federico, who also directed the compelling and award-winning music video for the popular band Spaceface’s song ‘Radiator,’ which has been featured on the popular site Lost at E Minor and the prolific IndieWire, talks in earnest when asked about visuals.

He explains, “When directing a project I start with the visuals. I start pulling images and sounds, atmospheres of how I want the project to look and feel. After having that clear, I start to find the colleagues that I think are going to elevate the project…to me everything lies on the cast and crew that you bring in as a director and producer.”

Indeed, Federico has had the opportunity to direct and produce applauded projects with incredibly talented individuals in the industry today. Spaceface member Jake Ingalls is also a member of the three-time Grammy Award winning band, The Flaming Lips. When the music video Federico directed for “Radiator” won Best Music Video at New York’s Lower East Side Film Festival, the judging panel included “Sin City” and “Men in Black II” star Rosario Dawson and “Lady Bird” cinematographer, Sam Levy. Adding to this long list of endorsements for the project itself was its selection to screen at the recent 2018 LA Music Video Awards, the 2018 Bellingham Music Film Festival, which is considered to be one of the Top 50 Music Video Festivals by Radar Music Creatives, and HollyShorts, an Oscar-qualifying event that showcases only the best and brightest films from around the globe.

The instrumental role Federico plays in his projects as a director and producer shows through his capacity to assemble a top-tier cast and crew, another aspect that is apparent when looking at “The Plague.” In the film, which screened all over the world at festivals such as the LA Shorts Fest, L’Étrange Festival in Paris, and the 2017 Aesthetic Short Film Festival in York, England, Federico had the pleasure of working with some A-list talent. Dylan Riley Snyder of AMC’s “Better Call Saul” and Disney fame played the leading role of Julian, while ABC’s “The Middle” actor Casey Burke played the leading role of Julie.

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Still of Casey Burke as Julie in “The Plague”

“Federico brought a unique perspective to my experience on the set and to the project itself. Both writer and director, Federico managed to create and explore a world outside just a ‘horror’ or ‘dystopian disaster’ genre,” says actress Casey Burke. “From an extensive rehearsal period to valuable personal moments with each actor on set to ensure unbreakable connections in the portrayal of complicated characters in a unfortunate world, Fed’s passion for storytelling was obvious from the beginning until the end.”

Federico is humble but proud when asked about his team. The reassuring aspect of Federico’s attitude is that he is clearly invested in his career because he loves the craft, and the joys of being on set and collaborating with the talented creatives it affords him. In the case of “The Plague” and its numerous prestigious festival selections, Federico’s project bypassed some stringent criteria but he still emphasizes the experiences of shooting and collaborating with a great crew as its highlight.

“What made the project special to me was the people that worked on it. I had the chance to collaborate with a great cast and crew that made the whole experience amazing.”

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Still of Dylan Riley Snyder (left) and Casey Burke (right) in “The Plague”

When asked about the story, which concerns teenage siblings who take refuge in a secluded forest cabin to avoid becoming infected by a mysterious and deadly plague, Federico’s answer points to the mysterious and remarkable way by which a gifted filmmaker like himself formulates an idea.

“The story came about from an image I saw of a set of female twins looking into the camera wearing the same outfit,” Federico excitedly explains.

“That desire of telling something dual and aesthetically parallel and balanced is what motivated me to make the plague. Usually when I write something the idea comes from just a picture or a photo. That image is what fuels the rest of the script.”

While Federico might stress his enjoyment in the creative process, it’s nevertheless worth emphasizing the significance of his achievements in having his films selected and screened by such esteemed organizations like the NewFilmmakers Los Angeles (NFMLA). NFLMA is cost-hosted in partnership with The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and will screen Federico’s work at The Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills this September.

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Poster for “The Plague”

“I’m very happy that The Plague is doing well in its festival circuit,” Federico adds. “Winning best short film and having the opportunity to screen with in The New Filmmaker’s LA In Focus Latinx at Hispanic cinema exhibit at the Academy Goldwyn theater means a lot to me.”

The heightened level that Federico’s career has reached is not simply a consequence of his skills as a director. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Federico is most definitely a multi-hyphenate, a creative who enjoys working across many fields, especially the combination of directing and producing.

“My work as a producer came from the necessity to make the stories I wanted to direct,” he attests. “When I started there was no chance of having a big team so I had to be thinking about producing it as well. Since that moment I started to produce everything I was directing.”

Elaborating with conviction Federico says, “To me a perfect production is one where the producer is fully synced with the director…What makes me capable of handling these two different roles is that I think about both simultaneously.”

Federico also exercised his diversity as a filmmaker in terms of genre with the film “Wytches,” a horror about a woman learning about her mysterious powers while staying at a strange hotel with her aunt.

“Wytches was my first attempt at making horror. The goal was to explore the genre and… find a way to tell a story by collaborating with two other directors…Three minds creating one piece.”

For Federico, the experience was both humbling and gratifying. “I learned a lot from their skills and their storytelling,” he claims. “And we all learned from each other.”

The experience has paid off, as the film was selected for competition at the Calgary Horror Con, one of the world’s best horror film festivals, as well as the first and largest convention in Canada dedicated to Horror, not to mention one that is notorious for its tough competition in terms of the films it accepts. In other exciting news, it also screened at the Midnight series at the celebrated Dances with Films festival, which was described by IndieWire as being “widely recognized as the premiere showcase of innovative cinema in the U.S.” and considered LA’s best indie film festival by the Huffington post.

While Federico’s bustling schedule keeps him quite busy as he continues to balance his work as a producer and director, his passion and motivation to share his work audiences is one of the reasons we got lucky enough to nail him down for an interview and we couldn’t be more thrilled. He’s definitely inspired us, and we hope his story will do the same for you.

  

Working at Both Ends of the Spectrum: Acclaimed Music Producer Dragi Ivanov

Deondre Jones (ShotsbyDre)
Producer and engineer Dragi Ivanov shot by Deondre Jones

Dragi Ivanov has long been known as a producer aware of how to tailor his skills to a musician’s needs, while bringing his own sense of practical artistry to any track he produces.

As the producer of Terrell Hines’ hit song ‘$3.99 (model1)’ Ivanov’s seasoned skill as a recording engineer proved imperative to capturing the song’s crisp sound quality. His ability to expertly wear many hats was reflected in how he wrote, produced, recorded and mixed the song for one of music’s most promising artists today.

Hines, who is also in the hugely popular band Wake Child, attested to the critical role Ivanov played in shaping the song’s sound from its inception and how they both wanted to create something that was compelling from the get-go.

Hines says, “As creatives we were pushing the envelope, so we started gathering our ideas and organizing them and Dragi produced, mixed and mastered…3.99.”

Hines further points to the collaborative nature of the song-making process, and the respect Ivanov grants the artists he works with and to the listeners of their music.

“We both love music and are intrigued by sound so we wanted to see if we could get music out in a way not normal to the ears but relatable to the ears spreading positive informative messages to society.”

Ivanov echoes Hines’ assertion that each of the cognoscenti wished to make a song that was edgy and create a new standard of music.

“Both of us always wanted to push the envelope and just create something that is crazy and innovative,” Ivanov explains. “We just wanted to make something that we hadn’t done before and that was exciting for us, we didn’t set out to do anything specific we just wanted to see what we can do and how well we can do it.”

It’s clear that Ivanov achieved his goal of producing a song that was edgy and compelling in a really subversive way, a rarity in a crowded market where every other producer is trying to push musicians to make a statement.

With Ivanov though, he’s the real deal. Combined with Hines’ writing, with it’s biblical references that are simultaneously respectful of spirituality but not condescendingly preachy to a listener, the producer and artist break new ground. The result is an edgy and compelling rap track that offers an incisive social commentary on the way unbridled greed has compromised the moral fabric of humanity, detailing the extreme lengths people go to for things worth $3.99. Listening to the song itself on an instinctual level leaves a listener conscious of a darkness, an effect countered with hip beats that get the body moving in a manner reminiscent of Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’ but with an even more potent punch.    

Elaborating on the uniqueness of Ivanov’s approach, highlighting how the man is as interested in the process of making the music as the end result, Hines says, “Working with Dragi is therapeutic,” Hines astutely claims. “He can form any color and structure through music. When it comes to music and just sound in general he definitely has his own unique aesthetic.”

Adding his crucial creative input and mastery as a producer into the mix, Ivanov played a key role in the song’s composition, of course bouncing the ideas back and forth with Hines while producing, recording and mixing the song. He explains, “Everything you hear from the drums and bass, to the synths and the pads as well as the guitar parts and the way the whole song sounds is what I did. I created all the interesting sound design elements such as the clicky percussion parts, 808 bass, the menacing synthesizers, sound effects and vocal effects and treatment is what I did as part of the production process.”

The uniqueness of Ivanov’s skills as a music producer are reflected in the imaginative ways Hines describes Ivanov’s approach, pointing to a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ that effectively highlights the Macedonian native’s creative magic.

For instance, the song invokes Black church and gospel music style through the use of organs and tambourines, grounding it in a sense of history that is both culturally specific, and universally resonant.

In a more obvious reflection of Ivanov’s significant success within his field, it also helps to understand that the musicians Ivanov works with always enjoy a loyal and fervent fan base, ensuring that his songs reaches huge numbers of ardent listeners around the world. That, and his producing skills have equally come to be known within the industry as a secret weapon which can make an artist’s career.

Hines additionally points to the adaptability of Ivanov’s specialized skill-set as a producer who can jump between genres while also maintaining the artist’s sensibility and integrity.

“Dragi understands music from many different perspectives. He also knows what he is doing on the production side whether it is production or mastering, which I could trust him to execute every time creatively and professionally.”  

The most obvious manifestation of Ivanov’s versatility is in the work he’s done with the band Wake Child. The incredibly popular Californian group, frequently known for invoking psychedelic 60s sounds with their own unique millennial bent, clearly owe some of their success to the producing prowess of Ivanov.  

For the track ‘Hangup Blues,’ Ivanov talks about how he and the band “wanted to make a seemingly Lo-Fi sounding record but also have it be epic.”

The product is a filmic and moving track which has received over 60,000 streams on online and been promoted by multiple blogs and Spotify playlists. It’s clear that fans of Wake Child and Ivanov recognize how the song manages to expertly use vocals and guitars in a symbiotic manner that builds towards a rough and tumble crescendo that grabs a listener by the collar and pulls them into a collective, and at once, individual experience.

In essence, it proves how Ivanov – who produced, recorded and mixed the song for Wake Child – tells a story with music in a way that only the most celebrated and iconic music producers are able.

He speaks with authority with the how the song is constructed, indicative of how Ivanov is deeply connected to helping produce music that tells a story and effects emotional change within a listener.

“The song starts very small with only a Rhodes piano and vocals it eventually builds up to the first chorus which is very interesting because the relationships between the instruments change in a way that the chorus feels a lot bigger than the actual verse.”

The humble manner with which Ivanov explains how his personable nature lends him an advantage when dealing with different musicians is equally interesting and endearing.

“Another thing is [because I’m an] introvert I don’t necessarily talk too much and I am very sensitive to situations that I know how to stay away or step in when I need to and that way I am able to meet people feel comfortable in the studio and give their best performance.”

“Hangup Blues” consequently manages to be romantic and solemn at the same, echoing a deeply felt sense of love that is truly poetic. When the song hits a beat change half-way through, it shifts a listener into an aural experience that really affecting.

Producing the song itself represented a significant challenge, which Ivanov embraced with gusto

“This project was different because it was the first project where I had to produce a full band,” Ivanov clarifies.

“[I] usually work with only an artist and my job is to create the music behind the artist, whereas with this project I had to learn how to step away from being a the musician and focus on more technical and managerial side of things.”

In closing remarks, Ivanov adeptly sums up the authentic approach to his work that highlights his genuine and specialized creative spirit.

“For me I would say is that I want the music to be exciting and feel effortless.”

 

Australia’s Young Leading Man: Cooper van Grootel

Australian actor Cooper van Grootel has long been regarded as a leader of his generation. A working child actor for the past decade, who has recently wrapped filming a lead role in See Pictures’ feature film Go Karts, there’s no doubt that this young lad is reminiscent of the Australian men who paved the way before him: think Hollywood hunks Chris and Liam Hemsworth, and Avatar star Sam Worthington.

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Cooper van Grootel as photographed by Deanna Whyte

What sets Cooper apart however is not just his machismo, but also his access to an old soul that is more reminiscent of Emmy-winner Ben Mendehlson, who didn’t hit it big until his late 40s. The difference with Cooper however, and what sets him apart from all of these actors, is that he’s still only a teenager, but he’s already made it.

The award-winning teen, who was honoured by Media Super for Outstanding Commitment and Achievement in the industry, has carved out a niche as a true-blue Aussie with roles in prestige mini-series Mystery Road, audience favourite Jasper Jones, and films like Red Dirt and Absent that both challenge and explore the Australian identity. One exciting project in particular is the feature film, Go Karts.  

For that film, Cooper was up against thousands of other actors, so it’s safe to say his hard work is paying off.

Go Karts hails from the same producers as Golden-Globe winner Simon Baker’s Breath, Netflix film OtherLife and Kylie Minogue and Guy Pearce hit, Swinging Safari. In the film, Cooper was blessed with a starring role of Dean, the film’s antagonist. In the character, Cooper relished playing the bad guy – a force to be reckoned with on and off the race track.

“Many directors and producers have remarked on Cooper’s professionalism and high standard of work ethic,” says his agent, Hallie McKeig from Film Bites in Perth.

There’s nothing arrogant about this surfer though, as many are quick to attest to Cooper’s affable nature. “They’ve also said how easy Cooper is to get along with, and how down-to-earth he is,” Hallie elaborates.

Qualities like these are infrequently found in the industry. Cooper’s American manager Karli Doumanis, of KDM, substantiates this view.

“It is really rare to find young male actors like Cooper who have a high level of confidence, self-awareness and charisma – he’s also really highly accomplished because of the number of projects he’s worked on and who he’s worked with – the American industry has already fallen in love with him.”

One of Cooper’s earlier roles was in the film project, Red Dirt, in which he played the lead role of Benny.

Cooper smiles when recalling the filming process.

“Waking up very early and watching the sun rise over the vast landscape of outback Western Australia, that was a highlight.”

Red Dirt gave Cooper the opportunity to literally play the leader of the pack. As Benny, Cooper was the alpha male to a group of boys in a small town that an older man encounters after his car breaks down.

“Myself and the other boy actors searched for gold with metal detectors,” Cooper elaborates. “That was great fun.”

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Cooper, second from left, on the red carpet for the premiere of his film, Red Dirt with Neighbours actor Troy Coward.

Cooper also showed his chops as an actor of true range in Absent, a film from celebrated director Iain Appleyard. In that compelling film, Cooper played a mental handicapped boy at the centre of the film’s drama about a father who abandons his daughter after he accidentally kills Cooper’s character. Cooper brought the role to life with conviction, receiving praise from industry professionals in the process for his deep commitment to performing the role authentically and with respect to people with disabilities.

“Working with Cooper and watching him bring his character to life was…a highlight…for me,” Iain told our publication. “He repeatedly impressed everyone with his professionalism in a difficult role showing dedication well beyond his years.”

He articulates further. “I am proud not only of the work that I have done, but also of the skills I have acquired.”

It’s this focus on his craft and skills that is clearly keeping the screen star grounded, even while he might be sharing the screen with Golden-Globe nominated actors and household names.

“Richard Roxburgh is a man with a great sense of humour and uses that skill and applies it to improvising bits here and there during scenes,” Cooper says when asks about his fellow famous co-stars. “That was cool to watch.”

Up next for this acclaimed actor – who, like any other teenage boy also loves Aussie rules football and skateboarding – is a second season of the Funny or Die hit, Unverified where he’ll resume his leading role of Jackson.

“I really just love jumping between roles – I’m really grateful that I’ve got my family and agents and a manager who have supported my journey.”

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Cooper van Grootel is “grateful” for his acting success. Photographed by Deanna Whyte. 

 

Award-winning ‘Horizon’ actor Alistair Cooke on character work

“The stories I have been able to tell are the reason I’m an actor. Being able to give audiences the insight into the lives of other people, the experiences those characters have, is the most rewarding part of the job.”

And so begins our in-depth phone interview with Alistair Cooke, an award winning Australian actor who has built a reputation for crafting characters that layer both deep intensity and a boyish innocence.   

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Alistair Cooke, photographed by Johnny Nicolaidis.

When speaking with the young Australian, it’s apparent that he’s genuinely motivated by craft and possesses a rare capacity to simultaneously transform himself to serve a character and text, but also retain his unique, one-of-a-kind personality. An extrovert and an introvert, an artist and businessman, Alistair is full of contradictions in the way that only the most deep and provocative artists are.   

He elaborated on his chameleon like nature when we asked about it in our chat.

“My ability to take on any accent, mimic body language and have an understanding of human nature… allows me to transform into any character. The key is believing…once you’ve mastered the technicalities of people from voice, body and of course their mental state… you can’t fail.”

Perhaps best known for his award-winning performance in the acclaimed online series, “The Horizon,” Alistair is perceived as a star but has the reputation of a craftsman in the entertainment industry with an extensive repertoire of diverse challenging characters.

In that series, Alistair played the leading role of Jake, the series’ protagonist in this fish-out of water tale about an innocent small-town boy moving to the big city to embrace a progressive community.

“This character had the challenges that many people in the LGBTQI community face and being able to share this with an audience outside that community truly felt like an important part of the job.”

“The Horizon” had the benefit of not only enjoying audience numbers that exceed 63,000,000 but also claims the title of the most successful online series ever produced in Australia. Alistair has taken the success in his stride though, as the associated fame has not meant he has rested on his laurels.

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Alistair on the red carpet. While he may enjoy a high-profile as an actor, he’s not resting on his laurels.

“Sharing the experiences of ‘Jake’ in the series ‘The Horizon’ is something I am most proud of.  This character had challenges that many people in the LGBTQI community face and being able to share this with an audience outside that community truly felt like an important part of the job.”

The Perth-native also had the privilege of working with prolific and acclaimed writer Boaz Stark on “The Horizon”, himself known for producing the highest rating episode of Australian television ever for the award-winning series, “Always Greener” (Seven Network).

And the best distinction of Alistair’s role in the critical and audience favourite? Alistair was awarded “Most Outstanding Actor’ for his role in “The Horizon” from the Los Angeles Web Festival, described by Filmmaker Magazine as the “granddaddy of all webfests.”

“That was definitely the icing on the cake,” Alistair offered with a humble smile.  

When pressed for further details, Alistair was reticent but eventually forthcoming.

“It was a shock that’s for sure! I was overseas on a shoot when I received the news and didn’t believe it at first. The Los Angeles Web Festival is one of the best in the world and it was such an honour to even be nominated! But to win, was incredible! It’s a warming feeling to know that this character and my interpretation of the role was so well received, it means I did my job, and that’s’ all I could ask for.”

“The Horizon” was also bolstered by the prominent role played by Daniel Nemes, well known for his work on SyFy hit “The Magicians” and “Unusual Suspect.”

Alistair recalled sharing the screen with the former “Home and Away” star, Nemes.

“Daniel is an absolute star…he and I had actually worked together previously, on a film “Twice Shy”…He is so easy to work with, he is open and supportive to all cast and crew.”

While Alistair might sound like his expectations for his career are fairly simple, the body of work he has built says otherwise.

The young leading man has also been prominently featured in sci-fi flick “Crawlspace” co-starring “CSI: Miami” actor Amber Clayton and “The Originals” star Peta Sergeant and action feature “John Doe: Vigilante,” in which he shared the screen with award-winning “Battlestar Galactica” actor Jamie Bamber. Cooke has won the lead in many films including ‘Memories’ alongside Mia Challis as well as Richies Shift, where he plays ‘Richie’.

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Alistair in character mode for one of his many film projects.

In addition, Cooke has carved out an impressive track record on stage, ensuring his craft has a solid foundation, having ‘treaded the boards’ (as insiders call it) for many years. Indeed, Alistair received critical acclaim for his leading stage performances in “Ladders by the Sea,” a role performed under the direction of Ron Hadeley.

“I ultimately need to be able to serve any character on a whim – it’s a hard job, but I love it.”

Millie Samuels: Film and TV and Everything in Between

Millie Samuels is the first to admit that she’s busy, constantly criss-crossing between different projects and characters. Indeed, what’s perhaps most notable about this young Australian is that she has built an excellent standing for being able to work as an actor across film, television, stage and online content.

“Acting is acting whether for theatre or the screen! The process is the same it is simply understanding how close your audience is. These days people are watching content so closely on their lap tops and are demanding utter truth and transparency which is really exciting to explore as an actor.”

We’re chatting over the phone, and she continues rapid fire. “I’ve been quite lucky that creatives and companies seem to want to work with me again and again. We Aussie’s are a loyal bunch” the blonde actress adds with a touch of Australian wit.

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Millie Samuels, as shot by Imogen Grist.

One example of a successful creative partnership is the inextricable role she has played with Peter Andrikidis’ company Zenmost. Andrikidis’, possibly Australia’s most prolific and successful screen directors, cast Millie in the critical role of Mary in Catching Milat, and then again offered her the role of Clare in critically acclaimed feature film Alex and Eve. Peter’s belief in Millie’s ability to deliver an outstanding performance for the latter was so great that he offered her the role without even having to audition her.

“I’ve said this before: I’m really blessed,” Millie reiterates.

In Alex and Eve, Millie shared the screen with fellow Australian actors Andrea Demetriades and Richard Brancatisano – who, like Millie, are well-known as Australians who have reached the top of their profession by playing leading roles in American series. In their case, CBS drama Murder and ABC Family show Chasing Life, respectively. Filming with Peter Andrikidis on a second occasion was only one part in a series of highlights in her journey as a cast member in the fan-favourite feature. The romantic comedy, which currently screens on Foxtel Movies, was one of the most popular films at the Santa Barbara Film Festival in the US in 2016 and also screened at the Cannes Film Festival Cannes Cinéphiles.

A source advised us, “It was a sell out having to turn away more than a hundred patrons!”

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Millie in “Alex and Eve,” where she played Claire.

Millie explains why she thinks Peter has forged this creative partnership. “Peter appreciated my versality as an actor and recognised that I had strengths in drama and well as comedy. I have also been asked to help facilitate his Masterclasses with Australian Film Television and Radio School which was also an honour.”

Multiple-award-winning actor Simon Elrahi, who played the role of Bassam in Alex and Eve, offered nothing but praise when asked about Millie’s role in the film and why her command of her craft leaves her constantly in demand for acting projects.

“After working with Millie on Alex and Eve I knew I had to cast her in my own (award winning) short film Flow. She is a brave actor with incredible intuitions,” Simon adeptly explains. “I needed Millie’s vivacious energy as part of the cast; the story is very dark and full of tension and Millie was able to bring such great light and ease to balance the dynamics of the film. It was an absolute privilege to work with her.”

Aside from the enjoyable challenge that comes from being able to work with top-tier television talent, Millie relished the commercial and critical acclaim that came with being a part of Andrikidis’ Catching Milat as it enjoyed the highest ratings for free-to-air Australian TV in 2015. It’s no surprise given that the mini-series covered the life of one of Australia’s most notorious serial killers Ivan Milat, with Millie playing the critical role of one of Milat’s first victims, Mary.

“Mary and her friend Therese were the only victims of Milat’s who were able to get away from their kidnapper. My performance was used for the promotion of the series and played an integral part in drawing in a large audience and eventually lead to over 1.4 million views in Australia.” This writer acknowledges that such numbers are unheard of in the Australia market, as the land down-under only has a population of 24 million.

Network Seven no doubt loved the numbers that came from the show, as it helped them take up nearly 28 per cent of all Australian audiences.

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Millie had a prominent role in Channel Seven’s ‘Catching Milat’ and was featured across all of the television marketing.

While it’s clear though that Millie’s role at Andrikidis’ company will continue to be a lucrative one, her relationship with MetroScreen is a testament to her commitment to her artistry and willingness to challenge herself in grittier independent projects.

MetroScreen, a company that was instrumental in developing community access to video and television production through training, productions and capital investment in equipment and facilities, cast the two-time Heath Ledger Scholarship finalist in two esteemed films: The Passenger and Three Heart. 

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Millie at the Heath Ledger Scholarship Awards, for which she has been twice nominated.

When asked about the development process, Millie confidently sheds light on the topic. “The films were green lit as a result of my involvement due to my professional credentials. The films required a lead actor with enough credits and experience to be able to push it into film festivals.”

Her casting clearly paid off for the MetroScreen and the producers, as Three Hearts was nominated for an award at the highly-regarded Dances With Films festival and enjoyed a world premiere at the Chinese Theatres in Hollywood, while The Passenger premiered on the ABC network in 2014. The latter added to the strong connection Millie also boasts with the ABC network.

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Millie’s acting has led to a very strong relationship with Australia’s ABC network.

In her closing remarks, Millie is articulate and thoughtful. “As an actor regardless of the medium or the genre I know there is importance in the work we do. As the world becomes increasingly disembodied and dehumanised by fear and greed it is through our work that can bring change. I am able to remind the world of our humanity through the many characters and stories I am so grateful to be apart of.”

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Imogen Grist Photography