All posts by Lorraine Wilder

THE PRODUCER WITH THE GOLDEN TOUCH: BOHAN GONG

United International Film Festival Red carpet

Chinese producer Bohan Gong takes great pride in the fact that he has been a force behind many successful films in his homeland, Europe, and the US. Establishing yourself as a respected producer in one country is difficult enough, cultivating that reputation and prestige on a global scale is a situation that has only presented itself in recent times. Hollywood used to be the only major player in the game but China, Bollywood, and other locations have made their presence felt. Gong is talented and multilingual by design. His credits are instantly recognizable and he makes a point to work on both huge studio productions and independent films with themes near and dear to his heart. Bohan often remarks that the story of a film is its soul and he always seeks out his connection with this story in order to give it the respect it requires. This is not the typical comment you’ll hear from producers who are more likely to refer to their part in the filmmaking process in terms of schedules and “being in the black” but this producer is not your typical producer. Many of his peers refer to his exceptional talent in screenwriting, editing, and other facets of film. Bohan is a filmmaker who produces rather than a producer who has found his way into filmmaking. The two are inseparable in his work and the success of his many productions vets him as a leader in the modern day film community.

2017’s American Made earned $139 million and is the most recent in the long successful career of Tom Cruise. While it was an immense hit in the US, this may have been eclipsed by the film’s massive attention and earnings in China. Bohan was in charge of designing and coordinating the Chinese distribution plan for American Made. Many of today’s big budget films depend on their international box office to be a key part of a film’s financial earnings. China’s love of film and huge fan base is perhaps the most important contributor of a US production’s non-domestic box office. Gong’s insight into the workings of China’s rules such as Communicating Law procedure, applying Chinese import, and Applying related licenses (such as Chinese region “Permit for Public Projection of Films) were indispensable to the achievements of American Made in the country. James H. Pang (co-executive producer of American Made) professes, “Bohan’s knowledge of the many different international business and production practices makes his a uniquely talented producer in the industry. At the same time, he has a strong understanding of the Hollywood and China film market “game” that actually gets movies made and well-distributed. Those that invest with him do it time and again because he represents the business interests so well.”

For the Hollywood blockbuster and Oscar-award winning Hacksaw Ridge, Bohan also was key in the film’s distribution in China. Communicating and coordinating between Hollywood’s Cross Creek Pictures and China for the director (Mel Gibson) and leading actors to attend publicity activities in China, Gong helped to bring exposure to the film and open the Chinese market to western celebrities. One lasting effect of the producer’s work on Hacksaw ridge was that its reputation as a Hollywood blockbuster helped Gong to build a distribution structure for American films in China’s top tier cities like, Beijing and Shanghai all the way down to small towns.

Los Angeles Kidnapping is a Chinese major studio production that was filmed in Los Angeles. As lead producer who was part of the film since its inception, Bohan’s understanding of the working of Hollywood’s film community and the tastes of China’s audiences led to his insistence that Los Angeles Kidnapping be filmed in the US. Many of the films that were US/China collaborations frustrated Gong because it was obvious to him that they were produced by an American crew with only a few shots actually taking place in China. He explains, “I wanted to do something new. I understand how the film industries of both China and Hollywood create and work. For Los Angeles Kidnapping I still used an American crew. I knew that the stylistic approach of Hollywood storytelling and the American locations would infuse this style and quality into the film, but I wanted to tell a Chinese story. There is a different sentiment to Chinese culture in film and I wanted this to be authentic. I also didn’t hire Hollywood top tier movies stars but chose actors from China whom the audience would relate to.”

In addition to his role as lead producer, Bohan found the script, wrote and revised the script, procured financing, hired the stars, key crews, and developed the Pre-Production, Production, Post-production, marketing and distribution for Los Angeles Kidnapping. His design theory for the film proved well-founded when Los Angeles Kidnapping garnered more than fourteen wins and five nominations including: Los Angeles Film Awards: Best Action (2017), London Independent Film Awards: Best Foreign Feature (2017), and others. It was released on the Iqiyi Platform and sold to China Central TV Movie Channel. To date, Los Angeles Kidnapping has earned five times the production budget.

Every true artist is passionate about some pet underdog cause and for Gong this is the environment. The air pollution in his hometown of Beijing has been alarming for quite some time and sparked the producer’s desire to influence the problem by using his personal talents to illustrate these problems. In the documentary “A Tip of Bottlebegr”, Bohan displayed the worldwide epidemic of plastic bottles and their effect on the planet. While there are many factors that negatively affect the environment, Gong felt that focusing on this singular topic would help the viewer to clearly understand the malevolent repercussions and perhaps by the catalyst to be more aware of similar trends. “A Tip of Bottlebegr” received the Grand Award for Best Picture at the Cherry Blossom Film Festival, Best Experiment Film at the Lake View International Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Awards: Honorable Mention Documentary, Festigious International Film Festival: Honorable Mention Documentary, Focus on Image Festival: The Best Picture Nomination, and a nomination for Best Film at the Atlantis Film Awards.

Bohan Gong has staked a fair portion of his career on the collaboration of artists and filmmakers of different countries. He sees it as the future and it is a future which creates more sincere and entertaining art because it brings even more perspectives and a diversity of talent to the art of filmmaking. Contemplating the work between his homeland and Hollywood he relates, “This artistic collaboration between China and the US will affect parts of each society. For example, nowadays, Artistic collaboration between China and the US have been promoting the communication and cooperation between China and America in factors of culture, economics, tourism, technology, education, etc. China loves storytelling and the Chinese film industry has established itself and matured quickly. In the end of 2016, China surpassed the United States with a total of forty-one thousand film screens. This has attracted American filmmakers to the opportunities China can offer them and this is good for both countries and their people. I could not have picked a better time in the history of film to be a producer from China with this relationship blossoming.”

United International Film Festival Red carpet and interview

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Francesca Nicassio’s Boutique Agency ‘Stars Academy Talent’ boasts a world-class roster

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Stars Academy Talent founder Francesca Nicassio shot by @annawithlove

Being naturally talented and filled with passion for one’s craft is often not enough to make it as a successful working artist in the ever-changing and incredibly competitive world of entertainment. Often times the difference between those who achieve a successful and sustained career and those who don’t comes down to having the support and guidance of an experienced agent or manager.

With offices in Toronto and Los Angeles, and a roster that includes celebrated actors, dancers, musicians and specialty acts, Francesca Nicassio’s boutique agency Stars Academy Talent (SAT), has been a driving force behind the growth and success of her clientele.

Representing a range of talent that spans the gamut, Francesca’s acting clients currently appear as series leads, principal actors and guest stars on major networks including ABC, NBC, A&E, FOX, Universal, Disney, Nickelodeon, Netflix, Amazon, PBS, YTV, Family Channel, BBC, CTV and others. The list of specialty artists she represents through SAT is equally impressive and includes Broadway stars, principal dancers, emerging musicians, Youtube sensations and social media influencers.

“My goal is always the same, to help my clients realize their dreams and further their careers,” explains Francesca. “I am passionate about each and every client no matter the stage in their career. I am intrigued and inspired by talent and superhuman work-ethic. When those two qualities come together, and we have a clear plan, then success is eminent.”

Over the years Stars Academy Talent has become a strong force in the entertainment industry, due in no small part to Francesca’s seasoned eye for recognizing talent and her passion for the process. It was that fiery passion and dedication to helping talents achieve their dreams that first led Francesca to open Stars Academy (SA) in Toronto area back in 2000. SA began as a private performing arts school offering classes in music, dance and the dramatic arts, and Francesca brought in a world-class faculty to ensure her students received the training they needed to both excel and be competitive in the industry.

While she continued to direct the academy for 15 years, Francesca moved into her role as a talent manager rather organically as more and more of the talents she trained began booking professional work and requesting she represent them personally. With an entirely devoted approach, she’s made it a point to let the needs of her clients dictate the direction of her company and services, and it was from there that SA evolved into the boutique talent agency SAT.  

“I took pride in being their backbone and part of their unwavering support system because that is vital in such a challenging industry. I felt as though I was part of their journey experiencing the highs and lows with students who I knew so well and had become like family members,” explains Francesca. “As more and more asked for representation, I knew it was my calling to focus on the agency and artist management.”

With a strong and fruitful relationship already in place, as her young clients grew into adults Francesca expanded her roster to include talents of all ages, with her youngest client today being 3-year-old Canadian Instagram star Luigi Columbo and her most mature being 80-year-old award-winning director and actress Gaylynn Baker who’s based in LA.

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Inside Francesca’s Stars Academy Talent Office. Photo by @annawithlove

Though SAT has grown exponentially, Francesca continues to run the agency with the same founding philosophy of SAT existing as more of a tight-knit family where every client, regardless of where they’re at in their career, receives the attention and support they need in order to progress.

“I now maintain a client list of around 100 artists including star names, emerging and developmental talents of all ages,” explains Francesca. “I am very hands-on and work closely with my talents to make sure they get the guidance and feedback they need to be their very best. They can always count on me to support them through thick and thin. Our roster is a family and it takes a village to become and sustain a career as a working artist. I strive to foster an environment of teamwork, collaborations and encouragement.”

In response to the growing needs of her emerging music clients, she founded the indie record label and music management company FAN ENTERTAINMENT INC., in 2016. She says, “I have been managing distribution, PR and bookings for my musician clients for years now so it was a natural progression to start the label. I have a team of the best writers, producers, video directors, consultants, legal advisors and of course some of the most talented emerging musicians out there, so it was an easy decision.”

The first act she signed was Canadian pop band The Revel Boys, who will be featured on CTV’s highly anticipated music series “The Launch” as one of Canada’s top 30 emerging musical acts. Her music clients have topped world-wide viral and trending charts, charted on iTunes, and have been added to prominent Spotify playlists including New Music Friday, Discover Weekly and many others.

In an article published by Rolling Stone about how Spotify playlists can turn an artist’s song into a hit, Steven Knopper writes, “Big names like Ed Sheeran are almost guaranteed space on prominent playlists. For smaller names, the journey takes longer.” While this is true for the most part, Francesca explains, As an indie record label, it’s all about knowing the right moment to lobby for my artists, getting booked on a music series, going viral and getting placed on any prominent playlist has become as important as radio play and the moves we make in the wake of that are vital.”

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Talent agent Francesca Nicassio shot by @annawithlove

As a strong and fearless woman working in the entertainment industry, and someone who’s successfully managed to build a boutique agency whose talents consistently work at the same level as the biggest international agencies and management firms, Francesca Nicassio is not only helping her artists achieve their dreams, but she’s using her position to support others. She is an Executive Member of Women in Film (WIF) in Los Angeles, an organization that has been working to empower women in the film industry and create an equal playing field for over four decades.

Francesca says, “It’s about women helping women in an industry where we have been statistically underrepresented and treated unfairly. I am strongly committed to equality, diversity, and inclusion in all areas of my life and career, and of course the careers of my clients,  so it is an honor to work towards this with like-minded women. “

She’s contributed to multiple other non-profits focused on arts in education, such as Artists In the Classroom, for which she’s placed professional dance and music educators in participating schools for free extra curricular music theatre arts programs for 17 years. She’s also spent the last 20 years working with local private arts educators to provide thousands of dollars in dance music and theatre training scholarships to underprivileged children and teens, and has recently focused on the anti-bullying movement by placing young stars in schools across Canada to speak to students and bring awareness to the issue. Additionally, Francesca has volunteered as an entertainment booker and director of annual events for CIBC Run for the Cure since 2000 and Toys for Tots since 2002.

 

 

 

 

 

PEELERS IS A FRIGHTENING JOY FOR PEREZ

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Edwin Perez is an actor who is able to perform very convincingly in a wide variety of roles. There are actors who seem born to play one type and are beloved for it, and then there are those like Perez who seem to adjust in a highly believable manner to just about any genre and type of character. When you seem him perform you’ll likely think “Right, that’s what he is supposed to be.” and the next performance of his will have you saying the same thing. Whether he is Romeo in the romantic comedy “Heart Felt”, the overly optimistic bard in “Standard Action”, the Tio in “Nina’s World” (animated children’s program), he is always likable and endearing. It’s probable that this is what prompted him to accept a role in the Grindhouse film “Peelers.” In the film he can be seen dealing death and very much playing against type. There’s a grin on his face when he talks about it and the reaction that the public had to his complete 180. It’s the very purpose of Perez to keep challenging himself and the audience’s perception of who he is and what he can do.

Prior to his being cast in “Peelers”, Perez had never been in a Horror film. He’s not quick to admit it but he has leading man looks, which doesn’t often transfer to being cast as a villain (unless it’s an 80’s coming of age high school story). Edwin was particularly attracted to the way he could present his character before and after his transformation with contrasting approaches to his nefarious nature. The comical fact that he gets to do so with the name Jesus in the film is not lost on the actor. The film and his character were a constant source of challenging exploration for him as he states, “I imagined Jesus as a guy who came to the country obsessed with escaping poverty but lacking the work ethic do so with honestly. He’s a ‘get rich quick with minimal effort’ kinda guy who wants the luxury with none of the responsibility. When the group thinks they have discovered oil, he’s the one who pushes for everyone to keep their mouths shut about it. I can imagine that, in a very dark moment, he’d betray the guys to get what he wants. He goes along with the Pablo’s [the boss] plan because he is technically their boss and because it doesn’t really benefit him to push back to hard. When he transforms, I imagined that all those dark base feeling were brought to the surface and he is driven by greed that as a bestial creature has turned to a violent hunger. When it comes to these situations it’s really easy to just say, well he’s evil now so he kills people. But that’s very one dimensional and it doesn’t give me as an actor very much depth to work with. It’s really important to base his motivations on something real and true to the character. In the case of Jesus, it’s his selfish nature dialed to an extreme dark place which drives him.”

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Peelers is the story of a group of workers who find what they believe to be oil but turns out to be a toxic substance which transforms them into primal and seemingly supernatural creatures. They stalk and kill the humans whom they encounter. The creatures are feral with contorting movements and emitting primal snarls and growls. Between the prosthetics and the black substance that oozes from their pores, Perez spent a great deal of time in the makeup chair. The film utilizes practical effects rather than CGI. Edwin fully embraced the opportunity to approach the physicality of the creature he transformed into. He explains, “I wanted to show that the transformation was so extreme that normal human kinetics no longer applied to the creature. In one particular scene I get shot in the head and appear to be dead, but I get up and keep attacking. I decided to twitch and contort into as much of a grotesque posture as I could push my body into while rising back up. These things would normally be done with special effects, but we were doing it with practical effects so it really was up to myself and the other actors to bring these supernatural abilities to life. I think everyone is familiar with the trope of actors in an acting class pretending to be trees or an animal, or some object. Sometimes the creature would stalk his prey like a wolf, or play with it like a cat, and attack like a hyena. A very visceral and primal nature became the foundation for my creature work. It was cardio work for certain to make sure that energy levels were up and you are pacing yourself. Stretching was the biggest part of daily preparation. Contorting yourself into a feral beast can lead to some serious cramping.” It’s an accepted trope by the public of actors in an acting class pretending to be trees or an animal but this very real exercise proved to be highly useful in this situations for Perez.

His role in Peelers allowed Edwin to perform as two very different characters; one dark and brooding with an undertone of controlled greed and the other as a wild beast moving chaotically. This fed both sides of the actor’s creative imagination and did not go unrecognized by the audience or the cast & crew. Director Sevé Schelenz declares, “An indie horror film is demanding in a number of ways. Actors in particular don’t get the posh treatment that they typically receive in a big studio production but the demands on them are just as great, maybe even greater. Edwin brought it in terms of talent and commitment and was equally exceptional in his understanding that we were there to work hard and within a limited amount of time. I know that he was physically spent while also being covered with ooze, sometimes barely able to see or move…yet he never gave less than an amazing performance and never muttered negatively about the circumstances. He’s a true professional and earned everyone’s respect.”

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For Edwin Perez the experience of making Peelers holds no negative aspects. While it may seem redundant to say, an actor’s job is to explore different characters and stories. Being physically exhausted, covered in special effects makeup, vocalizing inhuman sounds…it’s all a part of the experience that he signed on for and relishes. A romantic lead, a professional musician, or a devious man turned to beast; these are all a part of what success looks like for Edwin. Referencing the illustrious career of Christopher Lee who was known for his work in the horror genre Perez confirms, “I was able to check off playing a villain and a monster from my actor’s bucket list. It’s really great to be able to look back at how much I have accomplished professionally. I never thought I would get the kinds of opportunities I have had and I am very grateful that so many professionals whom I respect have come along and taken a chance on me. It’s also really rewarding to know that I was able to deliver high quality work in a role that I had never done before. It really makes me hungry for more opportunities like that.”

HOW YOU WILL SEE, HEAR, & FEEL “CHRISTMAS IN MISSISSIPPI”

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In the entertainment world there are those who seek the spotlight and then there are those like YuXin Boon. This sound editor prefers the work off screen creating and supporting the performers and story onscreen. It’s not a vocation for those who love attention but for the professional who finds their fulfillment in creativity and empowering the story, it’s the perfect environment. Boon’s work is always about creating the perfect environment. It often focuses on the background sound elements which, if they weren’t in the periphery, might take one out of the story because of their omission. For the Lifetime Television film “Christmas in Mississippi” she was tasked with using her abilities to draw viewers into the relaxing holiday atmosphere that supported the storyline. As the background editor, YuXin created a cheerful ambience that many of us associate with one of the happiest seasons in our year.

“Christmas in Mississippi” perfectly communicates the sentiment behind the season in modern times. Photographer Holly Logan (Jana Kramer) returns to her hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi for Christmas as the town is recovering from a terrible hurricane that devastated it years earlier. Holly finds herself working alongside her high school sweetheart, Mike (Wes Brown) who she discovers gave up his music dream to take care of his brother’s son while his brother served in the country’s military. The two are swept up in the rekindling of their feelings and the joy of the season. The production’s post-sound supervisor Eric M. Klein loved Boon’s work on ‘Enchanted Christmas’ and thought the skills and professionalism she showed on that project could help take the sound of the new project [“Christmas in Mississippi”] to a new level.

YuXin’s approach to her work as Ambience and Foley editor is something she enjoys because it is both methodical & calculated as well as highly creative. During early spotting session that displayed characters walking inside a warehouse with numerous background actors preparing props for light show, Boon divided the movements into sub groups like: present wrapping group, decoration group, and tools carrying group. She inserted the sounds of paper rustling sound for the wrapping, cable tangle sound for decoration, and metal clicking for tools, all contributions via the Foley artist on the film.  Adding ambience for another room in the warehouse in order to make them sound as if coming from the other side of the wall increased the depth and multidimensional feeling of a natural space. The essence of great sound/Foley editing is to present several perspectives of the sounds we experience in real life. YuXin’s highly detailed and though out plan for her work has made her such a sought out professional in a variety of productions. She gives a deeper insight into her mindset when creating as she explains, “I found out the recreation of warehouse ambience was the most difficult part of my work in this movie. The warehouse had a myriad of sounds happening at the same time. (Construction, decoration, paper wrapping, people talking, goods loading, fan spinning, etc.) and I wanted to cover those background movements as much as possible while keeping them balanced. Most of the construction ambiences I found in the [sound] libraries were too heavy for this movie and just didn’t match the scene. Instead of using one construction background with multiple sounds like drilling and sawing, I chose the ambience with one particular movement and combined different layers. For the scene with light construction, I added hammer, ladder, and pallet jack sound to make the scene sound busy. In this way, I provided more options to the director and supervising sound editors. It was easier for me to take out the ambience they didn’t like and keep others.”

There’s perhaps no better way to gain appreciation for those whom you work with as well as improve and excel in your own work than to experience firsthand the challenges of others. Boon was particularly excited that “Christmas in Mississippi” gave her the opportunity to work alongside Martin Quinones (ADR & Foley Recordist of ‘Christmas in Mississippi’) …literally! Because Boon was so microscopically aware of the actions of the actors/characters in the film, Quinones invited her on one of the session to do some of the actual Foley work, creating the recorded sounds that make audible movie magic, like squeezing a moist cloth to mimic the sound of straw stirring the cream in milkshake or the simple sounds of fabric rustling. While it could be easily overlooked and considered mundane, Boon felt that the simple recordings of leather and denim rubbed on a boom microphone would add to the believability of Mike (Holly’s high school sweetheart) during one particular scene, giving emphasis to his movement…which of course it did. Martin professes, “This was the second movie that ‘Wendy’ YuXin Boon and I worked on together and I was able to realize how thorough and detail oriented she is. Her laser-focus approach to sound editing, as well as her willingness to learn new methods and techniques clearly confirms that she makes the process of filmmaking better and more efficient.”

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While she works at it, YuXin readily admits that being hyper focused and detailed is simply a part of her nature. Noticing every small detail might be an irritating trait for a person to have but finding a way to use it in a beneficial manner, such as this editor has done, results in appreciation and a successful career. Using the correct tool for the job is the way that YuXin Boon approaches her work on every production she takes part in and it’s doubtless that this is the way that those who hire her view her contributions to their productions. “Christmas in Mississippi” feels like the holidays and thanks to YuXin it most definitely SOUNDS like it as well.

Australian Actor Alastair Osment The Face That Customers Trust, and a Performer that the Entertainment Industry Loves

With numerous critical roles in an impressive list of television productions behind him, Australian star Alastair Osment has well and truly confirmed his place in the international entertainment industry.

Most obviously, his leading role in national commercial campaigns for companies like EnergyAustralia is a direct reflection of his record of commercial success. The company, which supplies electricity and natural gas to more than 2.6 million residential and business customers throughout the country, is well-known for its innovative advertising campaigns since it was founded more than twenty years ago. Since fronting the campaign, Alastair joined the likes of “The Mentalist” star Simon Baker (the face of ANZ) and “Wedding Crashers” favorite Isla Fisher (spokesperson for IMG), as Australian actors who lure customers with their imitable charm and unique screen presence.

Alastair Osment attends Hollywood Unites to Fight Breast Cancer at a Cause for Entertainment on October 15, 2017 in Los Angeles, California 2 - Photo by Michael Bezjian Getty Images for
Alastair Osment attends Hollywood Unites to Fight Breast Cancer at A Cause for Entertainment on October 15, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Photo from Getty Images. 

Alastair, who is well-known for scene-stealing turns in “Deadline Gallipoli” produced by “Avatar”-star Sam Worthington and the award-winning series “Home and Away”, lead the campaign by portraying a ‘hero’ employee who visits Australian customers in a hilarious and effective series of TV spots that aired right across the country. Despite Alastair’s face and acting credits well-known amongst Australian audiences, it was his firm hold on his acting craft that lead to his hiring. The director, Matt Devine, explained that he was “amazed at the precision and dexterity [Alastair] shows on screen [and] he has an innate ability to draw you in as a viewer.”

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EnergyAustralia is Australia’s leading energy company. 

Clearly, Alastair helped draw in viewers. The company continues to generate millions in revenue, and in the year after the campaign aired, the company was Awarded ‘Most Satisfied Customers’ by Canstar Blue and Roy Morgan, Australia’s leading market research company. It’s unsurprising that Alastair played an important part in this win, as he delivered the main message. That Alastair worked with Matt, whose film work has been selected for prestigious festivals all over the world, including SXSW, the Los Angeles Music Video Festival, and the Berlin Music Video Awards, also reinforces how Alastair only works with the best in the industry.

Matt also points to the actor’s X-factor, a rarity amongst people but the defining element amongst A-list actors, which Alastair clearly holds in spades. “[Alastair] is incredibly warm and likable,” Matt explains, “qualities that are essential in a leading man.”

Aside from his significant body of work and the international recognition he has personally received for his achievements as an actor, Alastair explains to our editors that he relished “the opportunity to engage more with the Australian public” through EnergyAustralia’s marketing. “It allowed me to show off my personality, something which my grittier roles in film and TV don’t necessarily allow.”

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Alastair in one of his grittier roles from the film “Animal”, showcasing the traditional leading man and ‘rougher’ character types that he generally plays.  

Matt Devine further explains that the advertisement’s success was informed “heavily [by] Alastair’s comedic skills…to pull of the gag…which was that this family had converted their whole house into a sauna.” A hilarious premise, no doubt, but also one that gave this trained thespian opportunity to show off his “naivety and vulnerability”, that according to Matt are “talents which are unique to Alastair” that “worked to perfect effect.”

Alastair’s comedic talents, and ability to attract customers with his remarkable combination of relatability and authority, have also seen him representing global brands like KFC, and Australia’s St. George Bank, in significant advertising campaigns. “Once I was solidly a part of the industry, it seems that directors and producers wanted to keep hiring me because they know they can trust me to deliver the goods.”

The incredibly hard-working and distinctive performer’s illustrious career in Australia has put him in a strong position to continue working in leading roles. Just recently, Alastair has been cast in a new film franchise titled “Stringer” produced by Industry Entertainment Partners, the same company behind the award-winning feature “We Own The Night” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg. “I’m very excited to start filming.” As any actor would be, given the whirlwind shooting schedule that will take Alastair across the US for the next three years, playing the leading character ‘Wayne’. Regardless of the high salary he is expected to earn for the films, it’s clear this actor places more value on his craft. “My purpose is to connect humanity through story. That’s why I act. I believe that as artists we can evoke social change, through narrative we can pose questions to the greater community and ask society to question where its heading.”

A MODERN CLASSIC WITH KARLEE SQUIRES IN “SUGAR”

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In case you aren’t aware of it, vinyl outsold downloads last year and are posed to repeat the occurrence this year. That might seem counterintuitive to most readers. It’s easier to access a download and you get to pick out the specific parts that you desire rather than purchasing the entire product. What this trend tells us is that the public is beginning to realize what they forgot, that there is a difference. This same template can be applied to live theater. There is something about the experience, the sound, the energy, and obviously the momentary performances that are created by the entertainers who take part in this classic medium. While Broadway has never gone away, the plethora of touring companies that used to blanket the country and beyond have dwindled. As with vinyl, the “real” thing is starting to make a resurgence, much to the delight of an excited public. Entertainers who can do it all, such as Canadian Karlee Squires are more in demand than in decades. It takes great talent, commitment, and a love of the uncertainty of each performance that drives Squires and this new generation of talented live performers who act, dance, and sing. Even Hollywood and television is taking part in this trend as more and more productions of this kind are seen on both the big and small screens. For Karlee, this is simply more proof that the path she has chosen was well worth the effort it has taken.

“Sugar” is based on the classic comedy “Some Like It Hot” starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon in 1959. The music for “Sugar” is by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, and the book is by Peter Stone. Set in 1920’s Chicago, the story follows two unemployed musicians, Joe and Jerry, who witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre by Spats Palazzo and his gang. The boys go undercover to get out of Chicago, dressing as women and joining an all-girl band, Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopators, who are travelling to Florida. Joe takes the name Josephine and falls in love with the band’s singer, Sugar. Meanwhile, Jerry (now Daphne) catches the attention of a wealthy, elderly man named Osgood Fielding, Jr. Karlee appears as Mary Lou early in the plays as Mary Lou leaves the band, figuratively opening the door for Sugar. As proof of her talent and malleability, Squires then appears as Olga and stays in this character for the remainder of the play. In a particularly hilarious scene, while on the train to Miami for the band’s gig, Olga asks Jerry/Daphne to help her fix the bra strap that fell down her shirt. Jerry/Daphne has to reach down her shirt, fumble around until he finds it and tie it back together. It’s a featured comedy skit in Sugar and goes on for quite a few minutes. The character Olga is unaware of what’s happening, as Jerry/Daphne is having too much fun, and the audience roars with laughter. The show heats up when Spats Palazzo and his gang show up in Miami and figure out that the girls are actually boys.

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Squires performance in “Sugar” belies the curt amount of time she had to prepare. She had twenty-five hours to learn script, blocking, and choreography. The nature of theater is that it can often change at a moment’s notice which makes being a quick learner a substantial attribute. The intensity of learning so much so quickly was offset by the pleasure of being surrounded by an incredible cast and crew. Two time Tony-award-winner Robert Morse shared his stories of performing with the cast and gave direction and encouragement to Karlee during the play’s run. Producer/Production Coordinator Eileen Barnett notes, “It was hard not to notice Karlee; there she was on alongside actors from some of the biggest stages in the world, from Broadway, to the West End to national tours; some even being Tony and Drama Desk nominated, and she was enchanting. She is mature beyond her years. Karlee does all of the preparation and rehearsal that any consummate professional does but she is also always looking for a new way to add something. She has talent and drive which is an outstanding combination; one which was very evident to all of us in Sugar.”

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The method for any art form, including musical theater, to move forward is by using one’s talent to push yourself forward by learning from those before you. Karlee Squires is surrounded by her peers and those of legendary status of previous decades. Enabled with a skill set that encompasses the heart of the great musical theater tradition, she is on the forefront of the new generation that carries the torch into the modern era and its productions. As the attendees of “Sugar” can confirm, it’s going to be exciting to watch.

WRITING BOTH SIDES OF A STORY WITH SHREEKRISHNA PADHYE

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Life imitates art, art imitates life…it’s all the same thing to writer Shreekrishna Padhye. His vocation as a writer has allowed him to investigate and mix the influences of each into the other. Yes, it’s a bit like playing God when you write, but it gives back as much as it takes from humanity. What is communicated is just as much based in fact as it is in the interpretation of those receiving the information. As Padhye explains, “I have always been fascinated by the transformation a script can go through in the hands of actors. No matter how specific you try to be with tone and character motivations, an actor can fundamentally change the scene with just their performance and highlight a different side of the story. I wanted to explore that with a small film, so I wrote one with obvious conflicts and had actors play the action in two different manners. In every fight/argument both sides feel like they are right and more sympathetic.” In the film “My Way, Your Way” the writer was simultaneously studying and displaying social interaction, characters, and the actors who were themselves presenting the lines and actions. Shreekrishna Padhye might just be the most modern & entertaining version of B.F. Skinner that you’ve ever seen.

Padhye openly admits that he mines the events and interactions which he sees in real life for his writing. This is not an uncommon event for a writer. What is unusual about this writer is that he likes to entertain and diffuse the negative actions and thoughts of the characters and the viewers of his films by showing just how petty and selfish they can be, served with a very humorous tone. “My Way, Your Way” is a comedy. In the story we see the events through the eyes and emotional tint of two coworkers. What is presented is almost a form of therapy for the audience and the writer. Seeing the awfulness of people presented in the absence of condescension and finger pointing allows the recognition of our own lesser desired attributes. Humor is the conduit by which Shreekrishna delivers this. “My Way, Your Way” presents the same office workplace occurrence seen through the point of view of two separate people. In the first version, John tells his friend at work (Sean) that he has just been promoted. To John’s surprise, Sean doesn’t take the news very well. Instead of being happy for his friend’s good fortune, Sean storms out of the office. In the second version, John rubs it in Sean’s face that he is being promoted. John proceeds to humiliate Sean and takes over his office, forcing him out. Both the versions have the same dialogue, but the actors put a completely different spin on it each time.

Padhye’s character driven style has made him a favorite among actors. He specifically wrote this film with the actors in mind. Watching actors interpret his words and infuse them with different tones made him more aware of the power of these professionals to shade the message. While a writer creates the setting in both books and films, the reader’s imagination colors the world while a viewer’s is heavily dependent on the actor’s portrayal. The dual presentations of the film emphasize this aspect. The first interpretation of the story depicts John as hard-working and deserving of the promotion while his friend Sean is resentful. In the following presentation (seen through Sean’s eyes) John is a suck up who is less deserving than himself. What’s amazing about the film is that these drastically opposed perspectives are done using the same dialogue.

A self-described actor’s writer, it’s his respect for the contributions of actors that led Padhye to creating this project. A writer’s words mean nothing if actors don’t bring them to life. Shreekrishna is adamant that the spark in the process is creating great dialogue. Filtering real life experiences into an interesting story starts here as he explains, “The key to making dialogue seem realistic is to develop an ear for it. Even though we hear people talking every day, we don’t focus on their choice of words, speed, or emphasis. We usually extract relevant information and move on. My job as a writer is to study people and their behavior. The manner in which people talk is fascinating to me and I have trained a part of my brain to pay attention to words and after conversation, I usually play the interaction back in my head and reexamine it. If I hear a unique phrase or pronunciation, I make a note of it. I may not ever end up using the exact words in my script but questioning the thought process behind it helps inform my characters. Even so, a conversation in a film is very different to one in real life. Real life conversations are long and slow. If portrayed verbatim on film in this way, they would seem incredibly boring. The key to keeping dialogue interesting is to keep it short and specific to conflict at hand. Every character needs to have a distinct voice. Even if the character names were scrubbed from the script, you should be able to differentiate the lines of each character.”

The presentation of entertainment productions has transformed immensely in the last few years. Productions are created for online presentation and are used by more traditional studios and networks to find exciting new productions and artists to add to their brand. “My Way, Your Way” garnered immense attention from both the industry and the public with 100,000 views on YouTube. There was a time not so long ago that these studios and networks had a vision of entertainment that would appeal to everyone but the popularity of online formats have proven that the most unusual and creative ideas can unify a very committed fan base. In all artistic endeavors, a strong voice will find an audience. Shreekrishna embraces these opportunities and the experience commenting, “I’m lucky to have started my career right in the middle of this seismic shift the internet has brought to the entertainment industry. Streaming services have become so ubiquitous that it no longer matters what method of distribution a piece of content was originally produced for (Broadcast, Cinema, Cable or Streaming). Because of all the new outlets, content production is at an all-time high. This is great for all artists as it provides many more opportunities. The greatest strength is also the greatest obstacle as it is possible for a piece of art to get lost in a sea of great content. Even so, the viewer is always the winner.” Each film Padhye writes seems to receive more and more praise. If his goal is to create stories that stories that allow people to see themselves and their potential selves, it seems to be an idea that the world is open to contemplating.

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