All posts by Scott Prewitt

Spotlight on Actress Birgit Ludemann

Birgit Ludemann
              Actress Birgit Ludemann shot by Charles Kovach

Whether on the stage or screen, there is one crucial ability that all of the most gifted and successful actors have in common. There are comedic actors, dramatic actors and those with a flair for action, but it’s those who can move from one genre to another without missing a beat who make their mark and capture the adoration of audiences. With each character she steps into, Birgit Ludemann displays that rare gift again and again.

Growing up in South Africa, Ludemann was just 12 years old when she knew that acting was to become her life’s pursuit. In the years since her first school performance in a Roald Dahl play, she’s gone on to tap into every facet of the human condition. From tragedy to comedy, the lifelike to the surreal, exhilarating to introspective, she has proven that no matter what the story is she can jump right into any role and deliver a knockout performance.

In Stay, Ludemann plays the best friend of a pregnant woman who goes into labor during her baby shower. The story turns tragic, however, when during labor the woman receives a phone call informing her that her husband has been shot and is dying. The woman is terrified, heartbroken and about to give birth, but Ludemann’s character continues to support and console her throughout the ordeal. What was already a difficult role emotionally was made even more challenging by the absence of spoken lines and the slow-motion style in which the film was shot. Ludemann’s performance had to walk the fine line between using only her movements and expressions to convey the story while being constantly aware of how each motion she made would appear when slowed down.

“There was no dialogue during the entire film, everything was purely physical,” she said. “The director wanted the finished edit to be in slow motion so I had to be very conscious of movements being too fast-paced or slow-paced. Also, as it was a heavily emotive-driven drama, portraying emotions strongly enough for them to read on camera in slow motion was different.”

Ludemann’s role as Suzanna in Fives is a huge shift from her character in Stay. Centered around an office romance, the film stars Alonso Grandio (Furious 7) as Eric and Melanie Steinmann (Mac Daddy’s Vegas Adventure, OddBall) as Eric’s love interest Meghan.

Suzanna is the “new girl” where Eric and Meghan work. She’s an attractive young woman, called a “7-out-of-10,” who catches the eyes of all the men in the office. All except Eric, who quickly hatches a scheme to use Suzanna to make Meghan jealous.

“Eric, the male lead, flirts with Suzanna in order to make another co-worker, Meghan, jealous,” explained Ludemann, whose character is by no means oblivious to the misguided plan. “Suzanna is fully aware of the situation and just plays along because she knows Eric and Meghan make a better couple than herself and Eric.”

On the surface Fives is a romantic comedy, but Ludemann chose to go deeper in her portrayal of Suzanna. She expertly conveyed Suzanna’s awareness of and confidence in her own beauty without making the character arrogant or unlikeable.

“One of the main challenges I faced playing this role was making sure the character did not come off as being cocky, narcissistic or vain,” she said.

Compared to the approach many of her peers might have taken, Ludemann went above and beyond in her commitment to preparing for the role. Both on- and off-camera, she was constantly focused on getting into the mindset of the beautiful and confident Suzanne. In order to embody the character, she learned what she could about the experiences attractive women had had working in office environments and incorporated what she learned into Suzanne’s onscreen personality.

“One of the themes this role highlights is the power women get from being good-looking, especially around the office space,” Ludemann said. “So that was one of the things I had to do some research on.”

Never one to become pegged down by genre, Ludemann is again stepping outside the familiar and pushing the boundaries of her acting experience. This time, she’s playing the role of Claudia in Mac Daddy’s Vegas Adventure, the sequel to the award-winning raucous comedy hit Mac Daddy and the Lovers (2013 Nevada International Film Festival’s Gold Reel Award). Audiences can catch Ludemann’s latest performance when Mac Daddy’s Vegas Adventure is released in spring 2016.

Actress Aleksandra Kovacevic Showcases her Talent Across Genres

Aleksandra Kovacevic
Actress Aleksandra Kovacevic shot by Travis Tanner

Hailing from Sarajevo, raised in Germany and trained in Los Angeles, trilingual star of the stage and screen Aleksandra Kovacevic has won over audiences on both sides of the Atlantic and become a mainstay in the industry.

In the play 4.48 Psychosis, Kovacevic takes on the difficult task of portraying both a therapist and the therapist’s patient. The play has a deeply tragic history, which is as important to the plot as the actual performance. 4.48 Psychosis was written by British playwright Sarah Kane who suffered from debilitating depression herself. After she completed writing the play, Kane committed suicide before its debut. The unsettling and grim context of the story makes it that much more powerful, and Kovacevic brought that sense of emotional magnitude to her performance in the play.

“The role of the patient was a paradox, like a free spirit trapped in her own prison. She suppresses her path and tries to reflect her fate on others,” Kovacevic said of the role. “She is Sarah Kane, and still can’t accept that she is ill. If she dies both of them die. My character is basically telling her not to give up on herself.”

4.48 Psychosis
Flyer for the production of “4.48 Psychosis”

Kovacevic’s work is not bound by the conventions of genre; she is as at home in comedic roles as she is in psychological dramas. In the 2015 hit Netflix Original Series Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, she plays a counselor who auditions for the Camp Talent Show. The series is directed by David Wain (Stella, They Came Together, Role Models), two-time Emmy Award-winning co-creator of the Adult Swim live-action comedy Children’s Hospital. The role sees Kovacevic act alongside an enormous all-star cast, including Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation, Saturday Night Live, They Came Together), who plays the camp counselor and brutal camp play director Susie.

In an incredible display of her talents as both an actor and a writer, Kovacevic played the lead role in Bertilda, a film she wrote herself. As the title character Bertilda, Kovacevic portrays a marionette, which serves as a symbol for the restrictions placed on women in the past and present. Throughout the film, Bertilda gradually begins to break away from those limits. Kovacevic spoke about the ways in which she planned and visualized the production from start-to-finish.

“I started thinking about the role of the female and what I could relate to,” she said. “Things like being seen as an object, being underestimated, men thinking females can’t have a position of leadership and women being seen as the weak link. The change of the female role, now and then.”

She spent countless hours studying not only the history of women’s struggles, but also the finer details like set design and of course, the style with which she would take on the role of a marionette puppet. It takes careful choreography and precise movements to perfectly embody and portray a wooden puppet whose movements are controlled and restricted by strings, and Kovacevic did so masterfully.

“I started to develop my character in her full motion when I started to practice with strings,” said Kovacevic, who actually used both bungee cords and ropes to help her become a living puppet. “To bring this project to life, I needed to practice a lot. A puppet doesn’t have a mind, her head is made out of wood.”

Everything – from the gorgeous set, painstakingly designed like an idyllic dollhouse and overflowing with symbolism to set the mood for observant viewers, to the ‘50s style of decor and wardrobe, down to the Nutcracker-esque living doll at the core of the film – are carefully and thoroughly planned and intended to create what Kovacevic calls “a fairy tale for grown-ups.”

Audiences can catch Kovacevic in the film Bertilda, and in Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp now on Netflix. Other upcoming projects include Sebudai, set to begin shooting in winter, and Animal Lovers Anonymous, a feature length mockumentary-style comedy set to begin production in 2016.

The Golden Girl of Advertising: Producer Susie Liu

Susie Liu
Advertising Producer Susie Liu shot by Robin Gaultier

Advertising ace Susie Liu knows everything there is to know about marketing. That’s because she has immense experience working hand-in-hand with clients – including titans of industry and Fortune 500 companies – to formulate strategies and campaigns specifically tailored to their needs. However, Liu has the added edge of having spent years as an artist, personally creating, drafting and implementing creative concepts to meet the needs of those clients.

“At a young age, I always gravitated towards anything visual or creative,” she said. “As I grew up, I enjoyed spending time in my own company, drawing on paper and eventually on the computer. I looked at ways to improve magazine articles and advertisements, and changed the style to my own liking by recreating visuals on the computer.”

Starting out with ZONE, a cutting-edge advertising production firm based in London, as a digital artist, her incredible talent helped her quickly move up through team leadership positions, and ultimately to the role of content advertising producer.

Prior to her work with ZONE, Liu worked with Wordsearch, a design and advertising company specializing in real estate advertising. In her time at Wordsearch, Liu applied her managerial and artistic skills to massive undertakings such as The Shard in London, One World Trade Center in Manhattan and the ambitious Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

The iconic One World Trade Center, completed in 2013, was built as a testament to American resilience after the destruction of the previous towers on September 11, 2001. However, beyond its symbolism and status as the tallest building in the western hemisphere, it is a financial and economic hub in the busiest city in the U.S., and as such it was critical that such a costly and labor-intensive project attract the maximum possible amount of renters, businesses and investors. That’s where Wordsearch and Liu came in.

“I was involved with the creative art-working as well as the management of the print production. It was imperative to be organized and have a structure from the start,” Liu said. “It was my role to organise and ascertain from the briefs how long each element would take to execute and deliver in a timely manner.”

The Shard skyscraper in London, the tallest building in the European Union at a fifth of a mile high, is another of Liu’s most monumental projects. Completed in 2012, The Shard relied on the creative mind of Liu and her team at Wordsearch to attract tenants such as Al Jazeera, Gallup, and the five star Shangri-La Hotel, who have all made the magnificent work of art-in-architecture their home.

 “The objective was to entice companies, investors and the sale of residential apartments into this new living, working and social space by demonstrating what was on offer and how it would look once complete,” Liu said. “This campaign was worked on by a team of designers, art directors, Project Managers and myself as a Production Manager, which involved the creative art-working and design of the technical brochures, as well as managing the production on all the other work.”

Liu also helped draw tenants and investors with her campaign for Masdar City, the eco-friendly metropolis currently in development and construction in Abu Dhabi. Built in the desert of the Arabian peninsula, the arcology – or “architecture/ecology” – city is founded on the principles of responsible environmental practices. Featuring a fleet of clean energy and electric vehicles in lieu of personal commuter vehicles, operating on solar and wind energy, and carefully designed with walls, streets and building meant to maximize the cooling power of the desert wind in the hostile region, Masdar City is what many climate scientists and environmentalists envision as the responsible future for humanity.

“Wordsearch was approached by the Masdar client to adapt its existing brand and produce a series of printed and digital marketing literature to entice people into this new, not yet built city. Over a period of 2 years, the requirements were to design and produce magazines, brochures, advertising, leaflets, internal forms, point of sale, exhibition stands/space (WFES), marketing suites, banners, computer generated images and a website,” she said of the intensive process. “The idea was to entice people and investors into this eco-city by demonstrating what was on offer and how it would look when the city would be finished.”

While working for Hogarth Worldwide, a multinational company that specializes in marketing implementation and centralized advertising production for clients worldwide, Liu helped ensure the success of the HTC One ad campaign.

“This was a global campaign that was rolled out to a very tight deadline and within strict security restrictions,” Liu said. “Our job included the translation and localization of all literature in up to 40 languages, and the creation of a variety of advertisements, both point of sale and signage.”

With such an impressive array of clients and projects under her belt, it’s no small surprise that Liu has become one of the most sought after players in the global advertising and marketing fields. With her immense creative and artistic talents surpassed only by her managerial skills and her ability to oversee teams working on large-scale campaigns, she is truly a master of the trade.

Born to Perform: Actor & Musician Evan Williams

Evan Williams
                                        Evan Williams shot by Elodie Cabrera

Hailing from Alberta, Canada, Evan Williams is a born entertainer whose astonishing talents have taken him around the world and back several times over. As a musician, he has gained the attention of Oscar-winners. As a stage actor he’s been in some of the best-known productions in the business. And as an actor on television and film he’s become an audience favorite for viewers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Williams recalls, “I got into acting through music, which was my first passion and continues to be a vital part of my life. I was a middle kid and always a bit of a clown, so I found myself comfortable on the stage at a young age. I sang in a choir as a kid, and when the opportunity to participate in musical theatre came my way I jumped at it and have never really looked back.”

Although his career began on stage, it has evolved to encompass virtually all aspects of performance. In the 2014 comedy Ride, directed by and starring Academy Award-winner Helen Hunt, Williams plays a surfer named Brad who meets Hunt’s character when she travels to California to find her son Angelo who dropped out of school to pursue the carefree surfer lifestyle. The film also stars Luke Wilson (Idiocracy, The Royal Tenenbaums) as Hunt’s surf instructor and love interest Ian.

“I’m always after the roles that scare me for one reason or another. I think these are the ones that an actor will do his best work on, because it becomes personal,” admits Williams. “I was attracted to Helen Hunt’s indie film ‘Ride’ because I knew I’d have to surf in the film.”

Williams, a lifelong musician, also wrote and performed the song “I’m Not Waiting” which Hunt selected to be used in the soundtrack for the film. This is by no means the only time his diverse skill set and talent as a musician were put to use in film though. In addition to playing the leading role of Mark Robertson in the film On Strike for Christmas, Williams’ original composition “You’re My Joy, Merry Christmas” was also chosen to be included on the film’s soundtrack.

On Strike for Christmas is a heartwarming family movie about Joy Robertson, played by Daphne Zuniga (Melrose Place, Spaceballs), who becomes fed up with her family when they refuse to help her prepare for the holiday festivities. Williams plays the role of Joy’s son Mark in the holiday classic.

This year, Williams played the lead role of Rodney in Fishing Naked. The film follows four friends on a camping trip playing pranks, causing mischief and generally wreaking havoc. After the group’s antics threaten the welfare of a local creature, the group tries to set things right with one last trick.

In his early days, Williams played Oliver in the theatre production of Shakespeare’s classic As You Like It. The play follows a noble girl as she escapes her uncle’s court, after the exile of her lover by his older brother, Oliver. The girl is then banished as well following a dramatic change of leadership. As You Like It, one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, examines the contrast between life for nobles and commoners in the 15th century.

In a production of the classic Broadway musical Guys and Dolls, Williams played the lead role of Sky Masterson, a gambling man on a mission to win the heart of a young girl whose dedication to her religion keep her from taking him seriously. The two ultimately fall in love, with her resolved to reform him into a proper gentleman.

Williams also recently wrapped production on Jay Lee’s film Gutter Slut, a social satire comedy horror film where he plays the role of Cooter, a mentally unstable hillbilly whose strict religious views are contradicted by his uncontrollable lust and violent acts. The actor also stars in the upcoming film Cannonball where he plays the role of Ian. Directed by Katherine Barrell, Cannonball revolves around a young woman who, on the night of her 30th birthday, struggles to move on from her past.

Williams says that the film “is an examination of the nature of endings, of relationships, of plans, and of ideas, of the push and pull of will and remorse.”

He adds, “It was a very personal and moving project to shoot, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

A master of anything involving a stage, a microphone or a camera, Williams has already won the hearts of fans everywhere; and as he lands starring role after starring role in exciting new projects, it is obvious that audiences will continue to find him an omnipresent figure in entertainment with no end in sight.

Composer Daniel Raijman Speaks to International Audiences Through Powerful Film Scores

Daniel Raijman
                                                  Film composer and guitarist Daniel Raijman shot by Fernando Stein

Guitarist and composer Daniel Raijman spent his youth growing up in Buenos Aires, the cultural hub of Argentina, has been playing music for most of his life. At age 8 he began playing piano, at 11 he picked up guitar, and at 17 he started attending the Buenos Aires School of Music where he would go on to receive a Bachelor of Music in Performance, Specializing in Guitar.

Heavily and eclectically influenced by Argentine tango, Pat Metheny and John Williams, Raijman has a hugely varied background of experience and style that he applies to his work as both a guitarist and film composer.

After touring Argentina and Uruguay for four years up until 2009, Raijman began working with Rosario Barreto, producing Barreto’s debut album Imagem Imortal. It was the first of many such projects he would work on in the following years.

Raijman, who studied film and television orchestration at the prestigious Berklee College of Music and graduated from the UCLA Extension Film Scoring Program, got his first job in Los Angeles working on An Opening to Closure. Raijman composed the soundtrack for the film, on which he also played guitar. A romantic drama, the film follows two ex-lovers who find themselves revisiting their painful past after a dinner party with mutual friends.

“There is a love scene in which there is passion but at the same time, sadness and regret. I decided to match the groove of their breathing to an electric guitar rock solo, along with programmed synths,” he said. “I increased the distortion and the effects of the guitar, and the music grows in intensity until there is clearly a feeling of sadness and loneliness. Then, by keeping the groove and letting the guitar fade out, the motif is introduced with a piano solo.”

One of his most moving projects to date, 8 Seconds: Humane Decision Making in the IDF, required Raijman to compose three different styles of backing music to match the changing mood and subject of the film. An eye-opening documentary, the film tells the story, from multiple perspectives, of the ethical training of Israeli Defense Force soldiers fighting Hamas and other threats to national survival, and the life-or-death decisions they must make on a regular basis.

“Composing three completely different cues to match the different part of the film was challenging… One of the cues had to represent the military part of the story, so it had to be very intense and fast,” said Raijman, explaining in depth the intense planning and research involved in setting the mood for the film.

“The next cue had to correlate with Israel and the authentic sounds that come from the music of the country… [so] I used a lot of Middle Eastern percussion and woodwinds like Duduk, and composed the melody around the Phrygian major 3rd mode, which is always related to Jewish music. For the last cue, I had to compose music that matched the soldiers’ feelings. I accomplished this using a lot of strings accompanied by Middle Eastern percussion played at a slow rhythm. I truly loved working on this documentary.”

In addition to scoring, Raijman also played guitar for the film, which was an official selection at the 2015 USC School of Social Work Film Festival.

The musical genius also arranged the composition for director Zack Wu’s Violet, about a young man in a new town, love at first sight, and the idea that things can often be far from what they appear, especially to someone blinded by love.

“Composing wall-to-wall music for this film with only a few days to deliver was a bit of a challenge but a great experience for me,” Raijman said. “When you see the film, you can tell from the beginning that the music is telling the story and that something isn’t right between the couple.”

When a composer does his or her job well, the audience should be able to feel the movie through the score, so much so that even with their eyes closed, they can still hear the plot, the relationships between the characters, and the anxiety in the action. Raijman has shown himself to be a natural and a consummate professional with a talent for organically conveying the filmmakers’ emotional intent through his music. He is currently working on several upcoming projects, including a solo album featuring some of his stirring instrumental music.

From Syfy’s “Lost Girl” to the miniseries “Gangland Undercover,” Actress Jessica Huras

Jessica Huras
Actress Jessica Huras shot by David Leyes

The vast array of roles played by Canadian heartthrob Jessica Huras speaks to her incredible ability to not only blend into any character, but to stand out among star-studded casts. She has become an inimitable asset to countless productions, and with more new projects lining up each day, she is certain to be a household name among audiences the world over.

In the award-winning SyFy channel original series Lost Girl, Huras’ recurring performance as a mischievous receptionist proved so impressive that she earned a role as the acting double for Anna Silk, who plays the main character of Bo in the series. Huras, as Silk’s double, took on the role of a supernatural being who fights against her insidious roots to try to become a champion for righteousness.

Her exceptional charm and talent caught the attention of the makers of the Lifetime Network’s original series Missing, on which Huras gave a stirring performance that helped to launch her career. The show follows a detective, played by MTV and BET award-winning actress Vivica A. Fox (Kill Bill Volumes I & II, Independence Day, Batman & Robin), as she searches for missing persons in Washington D.C. Huras plays a missing teen, and worked directly alongside Fox during the shoot. Huras’ character was a transgender youth, a potentially controversial challenge, which she took on with a sense of pride and personal conviction.

“This role was a ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ type of role, and I prepared intensely for the job,” said Huras, a consummate professional and equal rights advocate. “It’s an important issue and I wanted to find an honest portrayal of the struggles transgender youth face.”

Recently, Huras played the role of Natalie, the wife of a man tasked with infiltrating a criminal motorcycle club in the 2015 hit History Channel miniseries Gangland Undercover. Her husband Charles, played by Damon Runyan (On the Other Hand, Death; Cheaper by the Dozen 2), is a hardened member of the notorious Vagos biker gang. Charles, is caught by the police and made to choose between hard time in prison or turning on his former comrades and becoming an informant.

“Natalie was a wholesome young woman who got dragged into the lifestyle of her meth-operating husband,” said Huras. “Over the course of the series we see how her choice to marry Falco and get into drugs ruined her life.”

Of his time working alongside her and portraying her husband, Runyan said Huras was critical to the plotline of Gangland Undercover.

“My amazing onscreen wife, Jessica Huras, is at the heart of [the story arc],” Runyan said of their work together on the miniseries. “Tune into her fine work on Gangland Undercover.”

Huras has several exciting upcoming new projects for audiences to eagerly anticipate, including Teeth, an independent film which deals with the male-centric state of the entertainment industry in New York. A heavy-hitting examination of a perennially relevant and critical topic, Huras said she felt right at home playing the lead character.

“I felt I could heighten my current experience into a kind of surreal, somewhat psychologically broken down version of myself,” she said, “and that was fun and scary at the same time.”

Teeth is currently in post-production and will be released on the festival circuit this year, where her role will no doubt leave a lasting impact on audiences once again.

The Wizard Behind the Scenes: Reality TV Producer Tone Innset

In the world of reality television, producer Tone Innset is the wizard behind the scenes. Responsible for some of the hottest competitive and documentary series in her native Norway, Innset regularly oversees crews and cast of more than 100 people and ensures that everything goes off without a hitch. With a huge range of projects under her belt, and more on the way, Innset raises the bar for producers following in her footsteps in the industry.

Tone Innset
Producer Tone Innset shot by Mark Newton

As the producer of Unge Modre, the Norwegian counterpart to Teen Mom, Innset shows an exceptional talent for capturing the most honest, human moments of the show’s subjects on the screen.

Unge Modre is a compelling display of both her business savvy and creative vision. Her approach to working with the stars of the intimate docuseries is one of compassion, carefully treating each of the young mothers with compassion while still managing to give viewers the truth about what is often a very difficult subject matter.

“When you are making a series like Unge Modre, it’s important to be aware of and remember that you are dealing with teenagers and very young adults, and their kids and families, and take that into account,” she said.

Using a closely-guarded set of insider secrets to coax the stars into giving the most earnest interviews and relatable on-camera interactions, she has helped make Unge Modre into the dramatic and moving pieces of television that it is today.

“I like to ask questions they don’t get asked everyday in order to dig a little bit further into their lives. Then I listen and ask new questions based on what they’ve just said,” explained Innset. “Usually, the person you are interviewing will show some real feelings and tell you what they really mean.”

Much more than a world-class, detail-oriented producer, Innset is a people-person who knows the importance of being sensitive to the needs and circumstances of those people her work documents. She makes gripping television by using more than just her technical skill and business-savvy, but by knowing her subjects and recognizing that they are human beings with strengths, vulnerabilities, and stories that reach out and resonate with audiences. She describes herself as a “people-junkie,” and admits that, “producing reality TV is more a lifestyle than a job.” That passion shows in her enormous volume of work.

“You get to meet so many different kinds of people, see many different places, and hear so many different stories,” she said. “I love to meet new people and get to know them. I think unscripted reality is awesome. I mean you never know what you are going to get on tape. You don’t know what it’s going to be like until you finish editing, and that excites me.”

Innset’s people skills also make her an essential player in the casting process, which is probably the most crucial factor in determining the success of a documentary series. Through a rigorous array of methods, she finds and narrows down a huge pool of candidates and potential cast members, until a final group is ready for eager viewers to follow their figurative journey.

In the case of Charterfeber, that journey is actually quite literal. Following a group of Norwegians as they escape the frigid north and travel to an idyllic Spanish island, the show allows viewers to escape the daily grind and live vicariously through the eclectic cast of characters. As the producer for seasons eight, Innset was tasked with overseeing the casting of the show, which required a lot of networking, hours of planning and research, and many, many phone calls.

“When you have done casting for a while you get connections, and a network you can contact when you’re looking for people to do a new season or a new series,” said Innset, who knows just how important that network is to the success of a production.

“It might be you have a person you know that’s been in a series you produced earlier, so you call them and ask if they know someone [relevant]. Then they might give you some names, and then you call them up and do your research on them.”

That process, one of her many techniques, is long, intensive and very hands-on, but has yielded excellent results and made her a standout figure among her peers in the world of reality television. , With her heart, soul and utter dedication invested in every element of production, the quality of her work shines in every episode of every one of her series. Innset, who’s on call all day, every day, says she loves each second of the hectic job she refers to as her calling.

“People like to watch docuseries and reality shows because they like to peek into others’ lives,” said the unwaveringly passionate Innset. “We get a sneak peek into how other people choose to live their lives, and see people that live very different from how you do.”

Her latest production, Norges Grillmester, recently aired during a primetime slot on TV2, Norway’s biggest commercial television station. Innset’s latest season of Unge Modre is also set to premiere this fall on SBS Discovery’s FEM, and will be syndicated internationally.

Dwayne Hill Brings Our Favorite Characters to Life!

Dwayne Hill
Dwayne Hill shot by Garlande Erion

The most valuable skill an actor can possess is the ability to completely transform themselves and become so unrecognizable from one role to the next that a viewer no longer sees the actor, but the character. In doing so they bring that role to life, they immerse the audience in the story and make them forget for a while that they’re watching a work of fiction.

Dwayne Hill is one of the greats. He is the recipient of an ever-growing number of international awards and nominations, the man behind hundreds of characters in both film and television, and the voice of countless advertisements for some of the biggest companies in the world. If you’ve been within earshot of a television this week, chances are pretty good you’ve heard his inimitable voice.

In his capacity as a voice-over actor in advertising, Hill’s contributions are legion. He has done more than 1,000 commercials for innumerable businesses including Toyota, 7/11 and MasterCard. Presently, he serves as the voice of Vonage.

Hill played the fan-favorite role of Coach Carr in Mean Girls, easily the most iconic high school comedy of the 2000s and arguably since John Hughes’ films of the 80’s. His performance as Coach Carr, the hyperbolic sex education teacher with a “scared straight” approach, made him one of the film’s most quotable characters, and a source of frustration for the protagonist, played by Lindsay Lohan (Freaky Friday, The Parent Trap).

Coach Carr was exactly the kind of ridiculously outlandish teacher that exists at virtually every high school, believable in his absurdity. The screenplay for Mean Girls was written by the amazing Tina Fey (Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) whose trademark blend of dry wit and whimsical satire are apparent in the Coach Carr character, which Hill brings to life perfectly.

“I had a great time playing Coach Carr,” said Hill, praising both the role and the writing. “Tina Fey is a genius.”

Incredibly gifted as a screen actor, Hill also possesses an exceedingly rare talent for breathing life into animated characters through his amazingly varied voice-over work.

“I somewhat unconsciously become the character I play,” Hill said, describing the way a person of his talents gets in character when that character happens to be a cartoon. “I stoop my back and flail my arms; to an outsider I’m sure I look like a madman, but I really can’t help it.”

He has mastered 40 accents, and has voiced hundreds of roles in over 70 animated series. Recently, he became the voice of Cat on the PBS cartoon Peg + Cat.

“It has been the most challenging and rewarding experience of my career. It’s a show that makes math fun for kids, and it does it through songs and great stories,” Hill said. “If you’ve got kids aged two to five they’ll love it, I promise.”

Peg + Cat has been a huge hit with not only kids, but also with parents who have come to rely on the exceedingly high standards of PBS programming to supplement the early childhood education of their children. The show has won four Daytime Emmy Awards, and Hill’s vocal talents earned him a Daytime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program.

Another of Hill’s long list of star-studded credits is the wildly popular Gemini Award-winning animated television series Braceface, starring and loosely based on the life of MTV Movie Award winner and Golden Globe-nominated actress Alicia Silverstone (Clueless, Batman & Robin). Hill’s incredible voice talents earned him the role of Silverstone’s dentist on the show, which helped launch the career of Canadian Comedy Award winner Michael Cera (Juno, Superbad, Arrested Development).

Hill’s most massive television undertaking, Atomic Betty, saw him playing 26 different characters. Each of the roles he voiced in the popular Canadian animated series was a distinct individual, entirely original and with their own unique personality. His huge contributions to the show earned him the 2009 Gemini Award for Best Individual or Ensemble Performance in an Animated Program or Series.

Atomic Betty was an amazing experience,” Hill said. “Kevin Gillis, who produced the series, is one of the most supportive people I’ve ever worked with. He trusted the talent to meet every challenge, and it was truly inspiring.”

His reputation as a prolific actor with a gift for assuming any character he plays or voices has made Hill one of the most sought after names in an ever-growing business.

Alan Morell, Dwayne’s business manager at Creative Management Partners, says “Dwayne is truly one of the greats and at the tip of the iceberg for his career accomplishments current and future. His road ahead is going to be stellar.”

Spotlight: Film Composer Shaun Chasin!

Shaun Chasin
                                          Composer Shaun Chasin conducting a string orchestra at The Bridge Studio

Shaun Chasin is a prolific composer who uses his immense musical talent to write and record soundtracks for films, television programs and video games for some of the biggest production companies in the world. Through his work Chasin essentially sets the mood for entire narratives, breathing life into what would otherwise be just dialogue and silence.

Chasin recognized early on the importance of the growing video game field, and has applied his knowledge and passion for that booming sector of the entertainment economy to boost the sense of immersion. He was integral to the success of the recent game Hektor, for which he was not only the composer and sound designer, but also worked with a 40-piece orchestral band to record the soundtrack.

“Video games provide an interesting opportunity for a composer because it’s a non-linear medium,” Chasin said, explaining how unlike the score for a movie, video game soundtracks must be able to change and adapt on a moment’s notice. “The music must stick with them and be able to change based on their actions.”

Hektor is a great display of his adaptable and varied talents, but Chasin primarily works in film, where his compositions truly shine. One such film is 11 Minute Mile, the striking story of a man stuck in an airport after all flights are cancelled in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. The man tries desperately to reach his brother, a runner in the ill-fated foot race, but his attempts are in vain. Through Chasin’s careful work on the film’s score, the audience feels that frantic anxiety and emotional distress.

“This was a particularly moving project for me to work on,” said Chasin, who was a long-time resident of Boston. “I had many friends there at the time of the bombing and it occurred in an area where we all frequently would hang out. For the score, I looked to the emotional potential of synthesised sounds to try to create the feeling of the main character’s inner turmoil and worry.”

In The Sin Seer, Chasin helped compose music, which set the tone for the intense thriller. The Sin Seer stars Lisa Arrindell Anderson (Clockers, Madea’s Family Reunion) as Rose Ricard, a woman who has a special gift for sensing the lies and motives of people, which she uses to solve crimes and cold cases. The film also stars Michael Ironside (The Machinist, X-Men: First Class) and Salli Richardson (I Am Legend, Antwone Fisher).

Chasin’s exceptional musical talents and the diverse range of his skillset also made him the ideal composer for Ho Yaqeen, a series which tells the stories of six people who have strived to improve Pakistan, their home and the country they love. The series is directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, whose film Saving Face won an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2012.

“The six-part documentary series looked at the contributions of unsung heroes to world,” Chasin said. “Each episode featured a new individual. This allowed each episode to have a different and unique musical sound.”

In addition to film, television and video game compositions, his contributions to the music of international advertising campaigns are invaluable. Among his projects are two public service announcements with Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy prior to his work with her on Ho Yaqeen. He also did the music for Coca-Cola’s Crazy For Good ad campaign, the purpose of which was to encourage the commission of random acts of kindness.

With a virtuosic understanding of the power of music and sound, and an innate ability to apply them in a way that perfectly sets the mood and tone of any project on which he works, Shaun Chasin’s golden touch has made him one of the most desirable composers in the field of entertainment.

Alex Luukkonen, A Phenom of the Stage!

Alex Luukkonen
                                                          Alex Luukkonen shot by Bryan Wriggle

A great actor is more than an entertainer, more than an artist, more than the sum of their roles. A great actor has a rare form of empathy—he or she is a student of humanity, a philosopher who uses their understanding of the world and the people in it to become somebody else, even it is only for a little while. Originally from Finland, actor Alex Luukkonen has spent his entire life traveling the world, meeting people from Scandinavia to Japan, China to L.A., Poland to London. He has used his worldly experience to become a master of his craft, and in so doing he has worked alongside visionaries of both stage and screen.

In Slavs!, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America), Luukkonen plays the lead role of Yegor Tremens Rodent. Set during the collapse of the Soviet Union, Slavs! explores love and loss in a rapidly crumbling empire, examining the lives of characters who are suffering from radiation poisoning caused by the USSR’s nuclear programs. Rodent (Alex Lukkonen) is a bureaucrat dispatched to Siberia, where he bears witness to the agony of a family torn apart by the effects of the radioactive waste left behind by the brutal communist regime, which has neither the resources nor the will to protect its own people.

In the Clifford Odets’ 1935 classic Waiting for Lefty, Luukkonen took on the role of Miller, a lab assistant who grapples with the moral issues of a promotion he is asked to accept. The new job would see Miller working with, and secretly spying on, a chemist who is designing a new chemical weapon for the imminent war in Europe. Having lost family in World War I, Miller refuses to become involved in what he views as a wholly unethical project. The production of Waiting for Lefty was directed by Academy Award-winning director Milton Justice (Down and Out in America) and staged in Los Angeles.

“In Lefty, I played Miller, an honest to-a-fault researcher who loses his job due to refusing to compromise on his principles,” Luukkonen said, lending his personal insight to a character with whom he became intimately familiar.

Out of all his work though, Luukkonen’s stage presence shined through with unseen magnetism during his performance as Inspector Ruffing, the lead in Ravenscroft, written by Don Nigro and directed by May Quigley (Murder C.O.D., Picture Perfect). The play, which was adapted into the 1999 hit The Manor, is an Agatha Christie-esque comedic mystery. Luukkonen’s character is dispatched to the Ravenscroft manor to investigate a murder at the secluded mansion.

“Inspector Ruffing is a sure-of-himself Sherlock Holmes-type detective who comes to the Ravenscroft manor to investigate an apparent murder,” Luukkonen said of the character, joking that the character’s impressive investigatory skills are dulled by drinking as the play unfolds. “Throughout the investigation, his sureness in his own instincts slips from him at the same rate as his sobriety does.”

After his arrival at the Ravenscroft manor, Ruffing begins to examine the mysterious death of a man who suspiciously fell headfirst down a flight of stairs. Surrounded by a group of five femme fatales, each of whom is a suspect in the death with their own motives, Ruffing begins to dig through the facts in a story that leaves the audience in suspense until the very last minute.

The intercontinental phenom’s talents on stage are just one facet of his incredibly diverse creative skillset, and his ever-growing repertoire of roles has ensured his place in the zeitgeist across cultural and national boundaries.