All posts by Seth Perlstein

Actor Ian Fisher Continues his Success after the Series “Covert Affairs”

Ian Fisher
                                           Actor Ian Fisher shot by Denise Grant

High-level CIA officials filled the room, but all he wanted to do was get in, deliver a message and get out without overhearing something above his pay grade.

This was the day-to-day experience of a CIA agent named Patrick, a popular character that Canadian actor Ian Fisher thoughtfully brought to life on the USA Network’s hit spy-action-drama show Covert Affairs.

While Fisher is no newcomer, he was much younger than many of his counterparts on the series, which included accomplished actors such as Piper Perabo (The Prestige, Looper, Coyote Ugly), Christopher Gorham (Justice League: War, Ugly Betty, Felicity) and Peter Gallagher (American Beauty, The O.C., While You Were Sleeping). However, the dynamic approach Fisher brought to his character on the series made his performances flow seamlessly in line with those of the veteran actors as though the cast had been working together for years.

When Fisher first landed his role on Covert Affairs, he decided early on during the process of developing his character that he would approach Patrick with a quote from the film Ocean’s Eleven in mind.

In Ocean’s Eleven, Rusty explained to Linus, “He’s got to like you, then forget you, the moment you’ve left his side”; and, as Fisher’s character in Covet Affairs was continually the show’s bearer of bad news, the quote was the perfect inspiration. Ironically, though Patrick was known over the course of the fifth season for bringing the kind of news that would throw a monkey wrench into the CIA’s plans, this was actually good news for Fisher as his character gained traction with fans and social media.

“My character did this so often that the writers of the show once tweeted ‘Patrick, the harbinger of doom’ during an episode broadcast,” Fisher said.

Fisher’s roles span the gamut. The actor has proven his prowess in practically every genre, but where he truly thrives is in the world of comedy and drama. Last year he guest starred on the series Reign, which received a People’s Choice Award for Favorite New TV Drama the very same year, as well as Beauty & the Beast, which won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Show that year as well.

Fisher’s impressive career has allowed him the rare opportunity to become a range of different people through his characters, but few have hit home for him like his recent role in Glory River, a film about a small town obsessed with its hockey team.

“It’s kind of along the same lines of what Friday Night Lights did with football,” Fisher said.

Fisher connected with Glory River because he grew up in the small Canadian town of Vernon, British Columbia. Vernon’s local hockey team of 17- to 20-year-olds was so popular that its players were “treated like gods,” he said.

Fisher used his experience of living in such a hockey-crazed town to his advantage for his role as the film’s star, Noah Gallagher, the town’s most-admired player with long shot hopes of someday playing professional hockey.

“I loved playing Noah in Glory River because of the personal connection I felt to him,” Fisher said. “We came from very similar worlds. We both were raised by single mothers, both from small towns, and both have big goals.”

The story of Noah has been the story of countless Canadians, Fisher said. Hockey’s deep and meaningful roots in Canadian culture was a large reason for Fisher wanting to play the part, and play it well.

“I knew I could do him and that story justice,” Fisher said. “It’s a story that is so ingrained in the lives of Canadians. I was really excited to be able to bring it to the screen.”

Glory River, which opened at the 2015 Calgary International Film Festival on September 29 and will screen again on October 4, was directed by Blake McWilliam, whose films have previously been nominated for awards at the Sundance Film Festival and SXSW Film Festival.

With Fisher’s passion for his craft, there’s no doubt that the talented actor will continue to shine for years to come, and his role in Glory River is definitely going to clinch some award nominations on the festival circuit this year.

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From Behind the Glass & On the Stage, Andrew Kesler is a Musical Swiss Army Knife

Andrew Kesler
                   Musician and Producer Andrew Kesler shot by Von Wong

Andrew Kesler’s multi-faceted skills as an instrumentalist, singer and engineer have undeniably made him a valuable asset to the Grammy Award winning producers (Al Schmitt, Tommy LiPuma) and independent artists (Milan Boronell, Justin Dunlop) he’s worked with.

The Canadian-born music producer has married art and science to become a virtual Swiss Army knife in the studio. He’s learned to play seven instruments, including bass, drums, guitar and piano, since he picked up his first, the ukulele, when he was two years old. But it’s been his ability to create music from concept to finished product that’s set him apart.

“Part of what makes me unique is my versatility and experience,” Kesler said. “I don’t think it is common to find someone who plays a lot of instruments proficiently, writes, arranges and engineers music.”

Kesler’s worked with some of the industry’s top producers such as 21-time Grammy Award winner Schmitt (Quincy Jones, Steely Dan, Natalie Cole), three-time Grammy Award winner LiPuma (Miles Davis, Joe Sample, Barbra Streisand) and Grammy Award nominee Greg Wells (Adele, Katy Perry, Aerosmith).

Because of his reputation, Kesler was brought in to be the recording engineer for Al Schmitt in a session he was producing. After the session, Schmitt urged Kesler to move to Los Angeles, where he said his skills and personality would be a “breath of fresh air.”

The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native moved to L.A. in 2015 with an already impressive portfolio under his belt, and multiple projects underway. His work with some of North America’s brightest young talents has spanned across a wide variety of genres, ranging from classical to indie-pop.

His album “Dragon Suite” with Homzy/Kesler Duo partner Aline Homzy won Best Contemporary Classical Album at the Independent Music Awards in 2013. He played on Canadian singer-songwriter Justin Dunlop’s album “Black Bay Nocturnes,” which was nominated for a Hamilton Music Award in 2015. Kesler produced Montreal native Milan Boronell’s self-titled EP, which was released in February, and is currently working on the debut album of Mario José, who was featured on NBC’s hit show “The Sing-Off.”

Boronell, an accomplished singer, songwriter and guitarist, needed the skills of an experienced producer for his EP, so he called on Kesler. The pair spent countless hours together to ensure they were on the same page before production started.

“My approach when producing is to do whatever it takes to make sure the artist’s vision is realized,” Kesler said. “It’s never about adding my footprint to their music, but rather understanding who they are, what the message is and using my skills to present it loud and clear.”

Kesler used his talents as a producer and a musician to bring their concept to life. His chemistry with Boronell was so good that he played a vastly larger-than-normal role in the EP’s production. Not only did Kesler produce, but he also played instruments, hired additional musicians, arranged parts for strings and background vocals, engineered the recording sessions and mixed tracks.

“I wouldn’t normally suggest to an artist that I be the one to fill all these roles,” Kesler said. “However, Milan’s music resonated with me and he really liked my contributions, which lead to me shouldering most of the load.”

The deep musical bond he shared with Boronell was a great example of Kesler’s approach in the studio.

“To achieve my best work as a producer, I have to find something about the artist I can invest in. I have to develop a connection with them,” Kesler said. “If I think my skills can contribute to helping them create the music they hear in their head then to me that’s a perfect fit.”

The time he spent with Boronell in pre-production was typical of his workflow. But Kesler showed his flexibility when he produced Dunlop’s latest single “Into the Cold.”

Kesler wanted to capture the roots musician’s “creative vibe” rather than record a “perfect performance,” so they spent just thirty minutes playing through the parts and crafting the song’s arrangement before recording. A few hours later they had recorded the entire song, including the vocals, overdubs and beds.

“Because I know Justin’s style, I knew what kind of contributions I could make that would be fitting for his music,” Kesler said. “Knowing this we were able to achieve a ‘live off the floor’ feeling with nuanced performances and interaction. I try to bring this approach to the pop productions I do as well.”

Along with José’s debut album, Kesler is currently producing the second album for his a cappella jazz group Accent. The group will guest-speak at the EG Conference in Monterey, California in May, and is planning to tour Germany in November. He is also producing the sophomore album for his indie-pop group Holy Oker, which is planned for release in 2016.

DJ Kiraz, Bringing Female DJs into the Spotlight

Despite electronic dance music’s quantum leap in popularity in recent years, success for female DJs in the male-dominated industry has been scarce. But Swedish-born DJ Elin Ekdahl, known to most of the world as DJ Kiraz, has successfully carved a niche for herself in the EDM “boys club.”

EDM DJ
DJ Kiraz shot by Andy Thien

DJ Kiraz has played some of the biggest venues in the world such as ageHa in Tokyo and Exchange LA in Los Angeles. Though she’s established herself in the business, the well-travelled DJ is not content with her male counterparts dominating the dance music scene.

“I love seeing other female DJs killing it on stage,” Kiraz said. “I think we need to stick together and support each other more. We need to show that we can, and that we want to, be a part of it, too.”

Music has been a part of DJ Kiraz’ life for as long as she can remember. EDM became her favorite style of music when she was 13-years-old; but it wasn’t until she saw a female DJ take the stage at Club Atom in Tokyo that she wanted to learn the craft and become a DJ as well.

“I was so excited, as it was the first female DJ I had seen there,” Kiraz said. “However, her music selection was completely different from the club format, and she seemed to have a guy helping her out in the DJ booth.”

The experience filled her with determination. She recalled, “That’s when I knew I wanted to prove that girls are equally capable of being great DJs.”

Kiraz went back to Europe to learn the art of the club DJ. She studied under some of the most successful European DJs such as Swedish DJs Mikey Mic and Havin Zagross, and U.K. DJs John Taylor and Graeme Lloyd. Two years later she was on stage at the biggest clubs in Japan including Warehouse702, Club Asia and ageHa.

The gig at ageHa, Japan’s largest nightclub, took Kiraz’ career to new heights. The club’s 2,500-people main stage had been previously played by world-renowned DJs such as Armin van Buuren and Paul van Dyk. DJ Kiraz stood in their footsteps and shined.

“It was nerve wracking, but so much fun,” Kiraz said.

Kiraz has played all kinds of EDM from deep house to hardstyle. But trance has been her true passion.

“Trance makes me happy,” Kiraz said. “It makes sad. It gives me goosebumps. It makes me feel something.”

The loyalty to her joy has clearly served Kiraz well since her move to the U.S. She’s played alongside internationally renowned DJs Simon Patterson, Sean Tyas and Headhunterz at Exchange LA in the heart of Downtown L.A.’s thriving club scene.

The similarities between L.A. and Tokyo took DJ Kiraz by surprise.

“I was told that it would be so different and that I would need to change my style of DJing,” Kiraz said. “But honestly, if we are talking electronic music crowds, I don’t think that they are all that different. They all dance, they all rage and they all have a true passion for the music.”

Kiraz’ ability to heat up the dance floor all over the world has earned her a loyal fan base, too.

“There aren’t enough female DJs out there that can play the way that Elin can,” fan Kelly Sandgren said. “She really knows how to bring great energy to a set and I haven’t seen many other DJs, male or female, who can do it as well as she can.”

But DJ Kiraz’ gender has been just a small part of her story. Her time in the genre as both a fan and DJ, and her love of and loyalty to trance has earned her spots at major league clubs on both sides of the Pacific.

“My style of music is unique, especially for a female DJ,” Kiraz said. “I have a lot of experience in the industry, and I have been able to closely observe the evolution of electronic music from three completely opposite sides of the world for the last decade.”

Outside the club, DJ Kiraz has hosted her bi-monthly podcast on SoundCloud since October, 2013 at www.soundcloud.com/kiraz-1.

Nuh Omar uses his Imagination to Create Powerful Stories

Nuh Omar
Nuh Omar shot by Khawer Jadoon Photography

The clear-plastic cup of water trembled more intensely with every step. The once-extinct Tyrannosaurus reached the pair of SUVs, came face-to-face with their inhabitants and let out a thunderous roar.

Pakistan-born Nuh Omar watched the genre-defining, blockbuster film Jurassic Park in the theater as a five-year-old and knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life – direct films. Though it wasn’t the first movie he’d seen, it was the first time it really clicked that he was watching the creative work of another person. He immediately set his sights on filmmaking, and continued to develop his talents as a screenwriter in his teens.

Omar’s first feature film as writer and director, tentatively called Untitled Imaginary Friends Project, is set for release in 2017. The film’s groundbreaking plot is about the journey of an imaginary friend, and what happens to imaginary friends when children are finished with them.

“It’s a fun, journey movie, a fantasy drama, inspired by Pixar films and E.T.,” Omar said.

Monster in the Closet, one of Omar’s earlier films, was also inspired by Pixar. Omar wrote and co-directed the live-action fantasy film about a boy fighting a monster in his closet with Rebecca Hodges (Rust, Loves Me Not, The Usual Stuff).

Omar, a toy collector, was overjoyed to see his “toy characters” come to life as humans on-screen.

But Omar’s talents have stretched well beyond the childhood-inspired portion of his deep imagination. He directed Lazy Accident, a THX 1138 and 2001: A Space Odyssey-inspired dark comedy, with Justin Graniero (A.C.O.D.) and Michael Robertson (A Measure of Faith).

“The setup for the punchline was important,” Omar said. “We knew we had to approach the film with the mindset that this was satire.”

Thematic elements have always been Omar’s key to success.

“They are fantastical, surreal and aberrant,” Omar said. “My style takes the real world and mixes in the abnormal as if it was something ordinary.”

Omar’s use of nostalgia is another way the skilled director has hooked his audiences.

“I try to make each one reach out and connect with something in the audience’s past, something we all have in common,” Omar said. “That varies from project to project, but the sense of it remains the same across.”

Omar is undoubtedly a masterful director, but he hasn’t limited his talent to just the silver screen. He also developed a comic book series called I’m Here, which is a 12-issue project about a crypto-journalist named Jonas who tells the stories of urban myths and legends from their perspective.

Thematically, the comic book is about the disappearance of American values told through the eyes of an observer who is merely a part of a larger story arc.

“It’s a scary step,” Omar said. “I’m a comic book fan, but attempting to do one is surreal. It’s a very difficult feeling. I’ve never written a comic script, so the experience was enlightening.”

Like the Tyrannosaurus in Jurassic Park, Omar learned to thrive in a new, unfamiliar world. The multi-talented director and writer has undoubtedly earned his stripes on the big screen and in the world of comics.

“I hope that someone out there gets to enjoy a story, and become inspired to do something different as I was,” Omar said.

Omar’s forthcoming Untitled Imaginary Friends Project will release in 2017, and will unquestionably break new storytelling ground with its fresh spin on the classic concept of imaginary friends.

Sought After Film Editor Andres Vergara Lends His Talents to “Stray Dog”

Andres Vergara
Film editor and VFX artist Andres Vergara

Over the past few years Andres Vergara has worked as an editor and VFX artist on some of the biggest films alongside some of the industry’s biggest names.

A citizen of both Canada and Mexico, Vergara moved to Vancouver in his youth to pursue his career as an editor and visual effects artist in the film industry. Today he has edited and produced visual effects for films featuring Academy Award winners Denzel Washington (Safehouse), Liam Neeson (Battleship) and Mickey Rourke (Immortals).

As a VFX artist, Vergara has also been tapped to lend his expertise to blockbuster titles such as Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and the 2011 prequel/reboot of John Carpenter’s classic sci-fi/horror masterpiece The Thing.

Although Vergara has clearly become a sought after talent for big budget feature films, his latest project, Stray Dog, took him back to the format that originally established his presence in the industry – documentary film.

Stray Dog is a “portrait of the life” of Vietnam veteran Ron “Stray Dog Hall, and was recently shown at the New York Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival. The film won Best Documentary at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards as well.

“The documentary makes a strong social commentary on America, and modern society, without the need to explain or narrate things to viewers,” Vergara said. “Rather, the film lets audiences draw their own conclusions about the events and gives viewers a unique opportunity to find their own angle on it.”

Vergara worked hand-in-hand with Stray Dog director Debra Granik to select shots, edit sequences and classify scenes from the hours of footage shot in Branson, Missouri and Mexico City.

“Granik was very clear on what she was trying to find, and she communicated her vision and ideas in a way that was profound enough for me to understand the core idea of the documentary,” Vergara said.

For Vergara, editing has been an especially gratifying experience.

“To me, the privilege of being the first viewer of a project, while also making substantial decisions with the director on which scenes have to stay or go, is a hugely rewarding process to be a part of,” Vergara said.

But the talented editor hasn’t married himself to a single genre. Instead, he’s fluidly moved between non-fiction (documentary) and fiction throughout his career, which has allowed him to diversify his talents and excel far beyond those who play it safe and remain in the same genre.

“My experience in both genre’s has constantly proven to me that there is a big reward, and competitive edge, to know the rules of both games, which has lead me to exciting projects and opportunities,” Vergara said.

One of those exciting projects was the gritty, action-packed film Safehouse. Directed by multi-award winning director Daniel Espinosa who is known for the films Easy Money and Child 44 (Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace), Safehouse was set in Cape Town, South Africa, and starred two-time Oscar Award winner Denzel Washington (American Gangster, The Book of Eli, Training Day) and Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Smokin’ Aces).

As a lead VFX artist for Safehouse, Vergara seamlessly added a full crowd of people into a partially empty South African soccer stadium. He used real footage instead of CGI, which added a level of excitement and a layer of realism to the sequence that CGI could not have accomplished in such a seamless manner.

Vergara also worked as a lead VFX artist on the CGI-heavy blockbuster film Immortals. Based on Greek-mythology, Immortals was directed by iconic Indian director Tarsem Singh (The Cell, Mirror Mirror, The Fall) and starred Academy Award winner Mickey Rourke and Henry Cavill (Man of Steel, Stardust).

Shot almost entirely on green screen, Immortals took full advantage of Vergara’s talents as a VFX artist to achieve the overall stunning look audiences experienced on the screen.

But Vergara’s favorite project so far has been Stray Dog.

“The narrative of the film was structured unlike few, if any, other documentaries ever done,” Vergara said.

Andres Vergara’s refined talents as an editor and VFX artist promise to keep him successfully working in the industry for years to come; and, thanks to his ability to handle diverse projects with ease, his career will continue to be one that is assuredly dynamic in scope.