Category Archives: Canadian Star

Actress Claire Stollery stars in upcoming film ‘Must Kill Karl’

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The cast of the upcoming film Must Kill Karl

When Claire Stollery was in Junior Kindergarten, her teacher asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She had two answers, an actress or a storyteller. At even four years old, she had that sense of self already to know what she was destined to do. Now, over twenty years later, her answers still remain the same, for actors and storytellers are one in the same.

Stollery’s comedic prowess is remarkable. She has won her country over with her acting in television shows like True Dating Stories and Man Seeking Woman, and the hilarious films Who is Hannah and Love in the Age of Like. She is a force to be reckoned with.

“I’ve always enjoyed making people laugh. My parents were really funny, and if I could make them laugh I knew I was doing good. They were tough critics. Comedy is tough, but also great because it’s subjective! What is funny to me may not be funny to you. There are so many times I’ve seen a film and thought, ‘What? People weren’t supposed to laugh there.’ But that’s great! We didn’t plan for that moment, but now it’s there,” said Stollery.

Audiences will soon be able to again see what makes Stollery so great in the upcoming film Must Kill Karl. The film is about that “friend” that everyone has, the one who shows up uninvited, drinks all your booze, and hits on your girlfriend – who we all secretly hate and wish would just go away; one night, a group of friends decide enough is enough and there’s only one way to get rid of him for good: they must kill Karl.

“The film is really smart and funny. Everyone has that friend like Karl that ruins every party and you can’t even remember why you were friends with them in the first place. But I love the spin Karen Moore, one of the writers, put on it where the finger is actually pointed at Karl’s friends. It’s a good message. Sometimes you’re so busy judging other people you forget to look at yourself. That is what is so great about Karen’s writing. Even when it’s hilarious she makes you stop and think,” Stollery described.

Stollery plays Alyson, the sarcastic one of the group. On the surface, it appears like she hates all her friends, especially Karl, but deep down she just wants to be accepted as part of the group, which is like all people with a tough exterior. Her character is one of the few single ones. She gets repulsed by the other couple’s affection. Alyson, Stollery says, stands in the back and observes while silently hating everything.

“There was a lot to work off of because everyone’s characters were so different from each other and seemingly shouldn’t get along, but they all share the same hatred for Karl,” she described.

Must Kill Karl was written by the Producer of the film, Karen Moore, and the Director Joe Kicak. Stollery had always wanted to work with the pair, and when Kicak came to Stollery’s house at 11 one night to pitch her the story, she was immediately on board.

“My favorite thing is watching Joe pitch an idea. He could make lighting yourself on fire while being stung by a thousand bees sound exciting. He’s the most excitable guy you will ever meet. When he came over to my house to tell me about Must Kill Karl, it was the most entertained I’ve ever been at 11 pm drinking tea,” said Stollery.

The feeling was mutual; Kicak was highly impressed with Stollery from the moment she stepped on set. Having known each other before, but never worked together, there were high expectations, and Stollery did not disappoint.

“Claire brings so much subtlety to a scene that her performance continues to surprise me in the cut. Her reactions are so wonderful that you find yourself cutting back to her constantly. She possesses a calming force that arouses other actors around her to a natural state,” said Joe Kicak.

Despite their comradery, the film still required extremely talented actors and filmmakers to overcome some of the challenges that came when shooting. It was shot entirely at night, and therefore required 5 pm to 5 am shoots, which as Stollery says, upset a neighbor so much that they decided to play loud music to prevent the filming. Futhermore, the majority of the film was shot outside, and one night, there was a large thunderstorm. A tarp was placed over the actors’ heads, but the rain was so loud that it again made it difficult to hear. The actors kept their cool, and this was no problem for Stollery, who says despite everything, the experience was so fun that it felt like a summer camp.

“The joke was we all said we knew what Karen and Joe really thought of us based on how they cast us in the film. Jamie Spilchuk was the preppy but kinky husband, Sara Power and Peter Mooney were the annoyingly in love couple, Scott Cavalheiro was the secret psychopath and I was the bitchy single friend. I always seem to play the bitchy friend! I don’t know what that says about me,” she joked.

The role was not a walk in the park, however, as Stollery was faced with an unexpected challenge. That being said, she ended up finding it easier to get over than she may have once thought.

“In the film I had to be repulsed by my fiancé, Scott, who was playing the weirdo in the group. He’s extremely handsome in real life, but they didn’t want his character to be, so they gave him a terrible haircut. Just the greasiest hairdo you’ve ever seen. Combine that with this accent he had for the film and his wardrobe… let’s just say their mission was accomplished,” Stollery concluded.

Must Kill Karl will premiere on Bravo in January and then CBC in February of 2018.

Canada’s Olivia Scriven talks ‘Degrassi’ and becoming Maya Matlin

Acting is more than just portraying a character. It is embodying another person and becoming someone else. It is about connecting to a part of you that may have always been there, or discovering a new aspect of yourself. Canadian actress Olivia Scriven understands the nuances to the craft. She knows what it is to transform on stage or in front of a camera, creating a sincere connection with her character that captivates audiences.

At twenty years old, Scriven has soared to the top of the Canadian film and television industry. Her portrayal of Patti in the HBO film The Yard six years ago introduced the world to the outstanding talent she is, and the role earned her a Young Artist Award nomination with the rest of the cast for Outstanding Young Ensemble in a TV series. Shortly after this, she played Bailey Martel in the Hallmark Christmas film Mistletoe Over Manhattan, where she secured yet another Young Artist Award nomination, this time singled out for Best Performance in a TV Movie, Miniseries or Special – Supporting Young Artist. At the time, she was only fourteen, but she understood exactly what it was to act.

“I think that when you are doing it, acting that is, that it is just part of who you become, or maybe who you always were. I think what resonates with me, with actors that I am drawn to, and in my own performances, is honesty. I strive to make a character real. Humans are so wonderfully complicated and layered and as an actress, I feel that my performances reflect that. I want to embody beauty and lightness and at the same time be able to draw on the darker, more troubled aspects of my nature, to create characters that are full and complex, and thus, real,” said Scriven.

After her tremendous success in The Yard and Mistletoe Over Manhattan, Scriven’s reputation made her one of Canada’s most sought-after young actresses, something that remains true to this day. It was only a matter of time before she was cast on the hit show Degrassi: The Next Generation. The Degrassi series is arguably one of the most successful Canadian television shows of all time, leading to the fame of artists such as Drake and Nina Dobrev, making it the goal for many young actors in the country.

Degrassi is iconic. It really has been, for a while, one of the only coming of age television shows that merges drama with comedy in a very real way, to talk about major social and psychological issues that go on within a high school, all while using real teenagers to portray the characters. because of this, I felt it was a very important project for a Canadian teen actor to be a part of,” she said.

Working on Degrassi: The Next Generation for four years, until it ended in 2015, Scriven’s character of Maya Matlin became a fan favorite. Yet again, her talent did not go unnoticed. She was nominated for multiple Young Artist Awards her role in Degrassi: The Next Generation in the Best Performance in a TV Series (Comedy or Drama) – Leading Young Actress for two consecutive years. Despite such success, the actress remains humble, crediting the writers for giving her a character with a lot of depth.

“It was an invaluable learning experience working on Degrassi. I am so appreciative of the opportunities the writers and directors gave me within the show. My character goes through so many changes, she has so many terrible experiences and so many wonderful happy ones, and I really got to challenge and demonstrate my range as an actor thanks to them,” she said. “I also got to work with some really inspiring directors. In my opinion, directors can really make or a break an actor’s performance, and I have been blessed to have made such a good connection with those who I worked with on this show. With directors like Bruce McDonald, Phil Earnshaw, and Eleanor Lindo, I was given the freedom and confidence to make both bold and subtle choices. I have the entire crew and cast mates to thank for things like award nominations and praise, and the knowledge that I have gained along the way.”

As Maya, Scriven says the role allowed her to explore different things that she had never done in any other role before. She had to break down in tears, sing and play guitar and cello, and kiss passionately on-screen. Such experiences allowed her to become a mature actress even at a young age, giving her the skills that many years older than her do not possess. It is one thing for an actress to portray their character, it is another thing for them to become it, and this is exactly what Scriven achieved.

“I worked many days on set, and the writing for Maya’s character was very undeviating, so as soon as the words were coming out of my mouth, I felt like Maya. She is this very, dedicated, emotional person, who cares so much about things to the point that it causes her anxiety, so there was this tune she had that I would always try to tap into. Physically, I feel like she always has this strained look of stress, an intensity even in her voice, which tends to pitch higher than mine does in real life. She is different from who I am and what my personality is like as a whole, but we do bear some similarities. I definitely brought a bit of myself into the role partly because as a young actor, it was the first time that I was required to portray such charged emotions, and it needed to come from someplace genuine in order for me to reach the desired performance,” Scriven described.

When Degrassi: The Next Generation came to an end, its popularity did not. The saga returned to Netflix and Canada’s Family Channel with a new series titled Degrassi: Next Class last year. Once again, Scriven stepped into Maya’s shoes, and continues to do so with new episodes. The fourth season hit Netflix earlier this month.

Her portrayal caught the eye of Philip Kalen-Hadju, a Canadian Screen Award nominated producer and writer. He has worked in various capacities since 1997 and has produced, line produced, and associate produced on features, TV, and award winning digital series for many Canadian and international companies, including Oxygen Media (NBCUniversal), Canal Evasion, Radio-Canada (CBC), and his most recently produced feature is getting its world premiere at the SXSW 2017 Film Festival. He worked with Scriven on the new series Skal. The show recently premiered on the new mobile platform Blackpills, which is currently working with stars such as James Franco, and filmmakers such as Luc Besson. Kalen-Hadju was impressed with the Degrassi actress’ abilities from the very beginning.

“In order for Skal to shine, we wanted to ensure that our series would have only top talent. We auditioned dozens of women for the role of Emma, but none held a candle to Olivia’s interpretation of the character. The second our executive producers saw her, the reaction was unanimous and fast: she was the only choice for the role. There wasn’t even a close second,” said Kalen Hadju. “Olivia delivered a nuanced and personal performance and was a professional in every respect. While still young, she has vast experience. She learned her trade from years being the star of Degrassi, and she brings this knowledge to every part she plays. She lights up the camera and draws in the audience. She makes subtle and smart choices and she brings her characters to life. It was a pleasure to watch her make Emma real; the director and I could not have been more pleased.”

No matter what she is working on or the continued accolades she receives, Scriven stays entirely committed to what she does best: acting. With such an established career already behind her, audiences around the world can continue to watch out for what is ahead for this extraordinary young talent. There was never a question for her about what she wanted to do, and evidently, her passion led to enormous success.

“At a young age, I knew that I couldn’t wait until I was an adult for my chance to begin my career. I loved the stage and the immediacy of performing live, but it is film, with its magical ability to create whole worlds within which the exchange between actors is integrated, that has always by far been my passion,” she concluded. “For me, it has always felt so natural and satisfying to slip into the mode of another person, to be able to convincingly act as someone other than yourself was and still is a thrill.”

IS PHIL LUZI THE SUPERHERO GENRE’S FRENEMY OR BFF?

There’s no being lukewarm when it comes to superhero movies. It’s either love them or mock them. If you’re not standing in line to see the newest Marvel or DC Batman vs. Superman vs. King Kong vs the Crab Legged Prestidigitator film, then you’re likely mocking those standing in line. Wrong; in fact, wrong bigtime! A group of very funny and very talented comedy actors/singers showed their affinity for these films while also pointing out some of their shortcomings in the appropriately titled Man of Steel Song. If you recall the Dean Martin Roasts (the present incarnation of which is the Comedy Central Roast), then you understand that the purpose is to show love and also keep someone aware of their fallibility. The combination of superheroes, comedy, and singing was the triple crown for Canada’s Phil Luzi. Luzi is an instantly recognizable name in Canada’s improv scene as well as on comedy series (such as CBC’s “Terrific Women”) and feature films (The Devil’s Tail), and is vigilant in his search for different ways to display his talent and sensibilities. Truth be told, Phil was beyond being a pushover when Melissa D’Agostino (Writer and Star of Man of Steel Song) asked him to join the cast. Luzi confesses, “I was so excited when I was invited to play Green Lantern in the super hero parody Man of Steel Song, which went on to be a huge success. Not only did I get to perform as Green Lantern, but I was also the lead male voice on the soundtrack! That’s something that’s been on my bucket list forever. I love playing and singing with Melissa, not to mention with other cast members who are absolute dynamos. We were given the opportunity by our director, Matthew Campagna, to improvise and play, and I believe that’s what makes the short so, so good!”

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Man of Steel Song became an internet sensation, and went on to be featured and recognized in many film festivals. It satirizes the disposability of franchise film-making that is rampant in the superhero genre, namely between DC and Marvel. In the short film, superheroes gather in a church to mourn any shot they may have had at a big screen feature. Luzi plays The Green Lantern, made famous by Ryan Reynolds. While D’Agostino’s Wonder Woman has reason to feel upbeat these days, Phil’s character comes to terms with the likelihood that his shot at anything more might be over too since it was a box office flop; all thanks to the overexposure of the golden children of the comic world, Batman and Superman. The superfluous drama in which the actual superheroes are immersed exacerbates the implied and stated comedy of Man of Steel Song. Perhaps the only thing funnier than someone who isn’t in on the joke is an individual who simply doesn’t have a comedic thought or expression. Phil states, “I think any grown person wearing a cape in tights and makeup is hilarious. Also, I love wearing a cape in tights and makeup. Green Lantern, specifically is hilarious to me because, if anything, I’m a Superman fan. The Green Lantern is MAYBE in my top 5 and even then, I don’t really know if that would be the case if his lantern was another color. Truthfully, I don’t really follow superhero movies as an adult like I did as a child. As with the tooth fairy and Santa, there just came a time when I stopped believing. I lost interest somewhere along the way when the novelty of it wore off and superhero movies became a dime a dozen.”

The ironic thing about Phil’s involvement in this production is that it reminded him of his real life superpower as well as realizing a dream of his own. While a blemish faced teenage Peter Parker became bitten by that radioactive spider or an adolescent Bruce Wayne began his training to become the world’s greatest detective, it was his natural inclination to easily elicit laughter that set a young Phil Luzi apart from his classmates and peers. He recalls, “Being comedic is the first talent that made itself apparent to me while I was growing up. Friends would say ‘you’re so funny!’ or ask me to say something funny! For a while, I took it offensively like I was a clown or something. Like they were laughing AT me and I didn’t know why; like the Joe Pesci scene in Goodfellas when he freaks out on Ray Liotta. But now I love the idea of making someone laugh. It’s the best sound in the world. It means someone is watching, that I have an audience. I guess I prefer comedy more because I love laughing so much myself. The sound of it means I’m doing something good…that something I’m doing is making someone’s day better or more memorable.”

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In the short film, Melissa D’Agostino rewrote the lyrics to the famous Crash Test Dummies hit “Superman’s Song.” Luzi sings the male part in this duet and delivers it with impressive facility and presence. One almost wonders if he lip synced to a professional vocalist performance but he is adamant that the male singing was all him. “Singing on the soundtrack was without question my favorite part! It has always been a goal of mine to be on the soundtrack of a film, whether it was an animation or a musical. Man of Steel Song gave me that first opportunity. I love singing, and it’s actually been a while since I’ve done a musical. After I started Second City, that part of my life sort of dwindled. The only time I get into a sound booth now is for commercial or animation voice gigs, so this was a real treat. This was my chance to bring that part of my performance abilities back to the surface, and now I want to do it more!” comments Luzi.

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As Phil did in his younger days, the makers of these superhero franchises might misconstrue the intention of Man of Steel Song if they hear of it secondhand or don’t truly pay attention when viewing it. They would make a serious mistake if they took it as ill-natured mocking. It is the most affectionate type of comedy; that which says you are loved and we feel close enough to you that we can say it is funny when you stumble on a pebble in the road. Luzi is an ideal messenger for this. His leading man looks, his comic timing, and his singing ability just might place him in contention for an actual superhero role and, more than anyone, Phil Luzi finds that incredibly amusing.

Anja Ellam is truly awesome with AwesomenessTV

Growing up in Toronto, Canada, Anja Ellam always wanted to entertain people. Although she had loved being on stage, making people truly feel the emotions of a character, it wasn’t until later when she realized her passion for writing. That was a fateful decision, as she is now not only an internationally recognized actress and successful influencer, but a celebrated writer.

Ellam now has shown the world why she is one of the best. Her film The Woods that she wrote went on to receive praise at many international film festivals. She worked with Verizon’s Go90 app and has written and hosted several of their top videos. The viral video What Girls Do in Cars on DangMattSmith’s YouTube channel that she co-wrote has over 1.4 million views. Working with ArsenicTV as a writer and host for their Snapchat story gets over 500,000 views a day. There is nothing this versatile writer, actress, and influencer cannot achieve.

“I’ve had a very successful career for someone my age but I like to think that this is only the very beginning. I’m very lucky to be in the place that I am, but it’s because I work incredibly hard,” said Ellam.

Ellam’s continued work with AwesomenessTV has helped make the channel what it is. As a writer for the Hollywood department, she writes for their many segments that come out on their channel daily. Her job as a host and influencer allows her to work on a wider variety of shows for the network.

“Me being an influencer helps me connect more to our audience and see what they’re interested in at the moment, which lets me write scripts that relate to them. My online presence helps me to stay connected and stay relevant on topics that relate to AwesomenessTV and entertainment news,” she said.

Without almost twenty-thousand followers on Instagram, Ellam has an impact all over the world. While promoting AwesomenessTV using social media, she has helped the videos viewership, ranging from 100,000 to over a million views.

“Anja and I worked together on AwesomenessTV’s Hollywood team where Anja wrote scripts and pitched ideas for daily episodes. She would always come prepared and would always be willing to step up when needed. I always enjoyed working with Anja and loved that she expressed her ideas and contributed to a team atmosphere. She definitely takes direction and has a good eye for what is trending and in the news. She knows what is relatable to our audience. She is super creative and always had input for stories to write and pitch ideas for stories,” said writer, host, and producer Hunter March.

Ellam writes a lot of AwesomenessTV’s daily entertainment news segments, which are targeted at teens and young adults. She says from the moment she first started working there, she fell in love, and quickly moved up due to her talent and commitment.

“Everyone was so welcoming and the company was so rapidly growing I knew that’s where I wanted to be. They’re definitely leading the way in digital media,” said Ellam. “I like that I can be open with my ideas and that even though we’re a big company, we’re still a small company where everyone knows each other. I like that my job allows me to be creative and that we reach such a large audience.”

Ellam does a lot of test shoots, but she also often appears as the main talent for the videos, hosting shows like Third Wheel and Dream Date with Brent Rivera. Their audience is drawn in by social media followers which is why having influencers on the channel are so important.

“The first time I hosted was very nerve racking because you’re in the office with everyone around you and you don’t want to mess up or take too long. But it always runs smoothly and the crew is amazing and very reassuring,” said Ellam. “It’s a good feeling because everything we put out is positive and it’s something I’m very proud of. I’m especially proud when a topic that I pick ends up with very high views because it’s something I was trusted to do and I was successful at it.”

Ellam’s followers are always eager to view her videos that she hosts or writes for Awesomeness, and she says it allows her to truly be connected with her audience.

“When I host or I’m a talent on the show I think it helps a lot because I can promote it on my social media platforms. I’m closer to our demographic and my followers are also the same demographic,” she concluded.

You can check out the Awesomeness TV channel here.

Director and producer Ron Grebler is the real deal while showcasing real food

Ron Grebler is a storyteller. He is a creator. He is a filmmaker. He uses his creativity and imagination to transport others to different places and times. Grebler uses his talent to captivate audiences. As both a Director and Producer from Toronto, Ontario, Ron Grebler has done it all.

With fans around the world, Grebler’s work has been appreciated by many. Just last year, his promotional video for the immensely popular Netflix series Stranger Things went viral, building up anticipation for the show. He has directed and produced several successful commercials, including the innovative campaign for Axe Hair Products on Canada’s MuchMusic, and commercials for Belair Direct, Fuji Instax, and We Day.

“I would like to think that I strive for ‘quiet storytelling’, letting the idea unfold in visual images rather than be heavily driven by dialogue or voice over narration. This is the path more rarely travelled in the heavily direct messaging style of the commercial world, and often embraced by branded content. Visually, there’s something fascinating to me about extreme close-ups with limited depth of field. That perspective can take the subject and add a dimensionality to it that’s almost abstract, which I believe connects with viewers. Given that I work in the commercial world, it’s not often that I can use shots like these, but at the right moment, they can really make a spot pop. I’m very cognizant of color and contrast. There is high pressure when creating a commercial because ultimately, it’s about ‘selling’ and for many viewers there is a reticence to that. That’s why I always try to layer a spot with cues for the unconscious mind to find them entertaining, engaging and if possible, playful,” said Grebler, describing his style of directing.

With such a commitment to his craft and an appreciation of the nuances, it is no doubt as to why Grebler is considered one of the best. When working on a promotional video series for Thermador, Grebler showed his abilities to go beyond what is typical, and create something revolutionary. Real Food with Thermador was a four-part web series that was an early foray into the world of online branded content video featuring celebrity chef Jamie Kennedy.

“There was a very unique approach in the development of this project as it was meant to truly be branded content, meaning we weren’t pushing the ‘hard sell’ of Thermador products,” said Grebler. “It was really meant to focus on passion for locally grown seasonal ingredients, especially as perceived through the eyes of celebrated chef Jamie Kennedy.”

The series was shot similarly to an HGTV show or a Food Network program, educating viewers as well as entertaining. Acting as both producer and director for the project, Grebler’s vision was imperative to its success. Mike Codner, former Studio Manager with DDB Canada , sought-out Grebler to be the director and producer, knowing of his creativity, work ethic and passion for the job.

“Ron has a flexible approach to production, whether it’s a big budget or small, he treats it with the same respect. He’s a director and producer first, but he sees the big picture in terms of the clients’ needs and the reality of working within budgetary constraints. He’s passionately engaged in the process, from pre-production through the shoot and will sit in on all post production too. He takes ownership of all that he does,” said Codner.

The campaign was very successful and won both the International Association of Business Communicators Gold Quill Award and Ovation Award, the Canadian Marketing Association Award, and the Canadian Public Relations ACE Award. Grebler says he didn’t even consider awards while making the video, he just wanted to focus on the client’s goals while making something visually outstanding.

“Honestly it felt odd at first. I was told we were nominated and I kind of shrugged my shoulders. The agency told me that it was a bigger deal than I realized and when we won I was quite proud. Maybe I was naïve but I had no idea how important it was to win awards,” Grebler laughed.

Taking on the vital roles of director and producer, Grebler was responsible for implementing his vision. By making the videos appear like a television show it helped connect the audience to the product in a way that other commercials couldn’t. The videos were made in 2008, and in those early days of branded content, it was essential that the video not feel like a commercial. By giving viewers compelling content, great visuals and passionate discussion about the topic of real food, Grebler knew they’d be engaged. When the chef ended up describing some of the specific Thermador products, it was part of the flow of the show and made sense, not just like a ‘stop-and-sell-the-product’ moment.

“It was flattering to be selected to work on this kind of programming. After the scripts were written, it was less about thinking and more about doing. We had a lot of locations to cover in only a few days, so it was about maximizing our time and getting the most powerful content. It wasn’t until the edit that I really grasped how seamlessly everything cut together and that it really flowed like a segment for a TV show, nothing at all like a commercial,” Grebler described.

Grebler also succeeded in making the videos a work of art. Shooting in picturesque Prince Edward County, venturing from Jamie Kennedy’s to an artisanal cheese factory, he set up each shot to have stunning imagery. The outdoor shots showcased the perfect late summer weather, from the golden light over a tomato farm to mouth-watering close-ups of prepared dishes. The passion and depth of knowledge shown by on-camera talent Jamie Kennedy and those he would speak with also shone through.

“It was a great pleasure working on this because it was as much an on-the-fly learning process about local foods and farming and food production as much as it was the logistics of video production. We had a small and very talented crew and we had to think on our feet quickly because of limited access and time at the locations as well as working with real people. I trusted them completely and the visuals and content we got was quite captivating while engaging in passionate conversations about food with local farmers and artisanal cheesemakers,” he described.

Working with a celebrity chef and farmers was initially concerning for the director and producer, however, as he was concerned about their ability to articulate in a way that would connect with audiences. Grebler eventually learned a valuable lesson that he carries with him today.

“Find someone’s passion when you’re speaking with them and they will give you gold,” Grebler concluded.

Watch Grebler’s work on the first episode of Real Food with Thermador here.

BRIAR NOLET HAS TAKEN “THE NEXT STEP”

While the entertainment industry is for the most part based around youth, it’s rare that we see someone truly grow up on camera. Ron Howard, Drew Barrymore, and a select few have come into their own and lasted in the business. In what would appear to be the most recent individual to fill this template is Canadian Briar Nolet. An artist of impressive dance and acting skills, Nolet appears on Temple Street Productions “The Next Step” about a group of young dancers. The Canadian program is equal parts astounding dance and a (fictionalized) depiction of the lives of the characters. As the youngest cast member of this program, Briar began as a member of J Troupe (the in-training group) but was so skilled that she was quickly was moved up to A Troupe and cast on the show. Throughout the several seasons of “The Next Step”, fans from across the globe have seen Briar grow from a young girl into a woman, mirroring the evolution of her acting and dance abilities. As a fan favorite, Nolet has traversed the planet with the live performances that “The Next Step” has toured with including; the UK, Australia, Europe, Canada, and many other destinations.

“The Next Step” has won many awards (Canadian Cinema Editors Award, BAFTRA, Canadian Screen Award, etc.) and received numerous nominations, but that’s not what made the show an international success. Fans from different cultures connected with the young cast members, the stories, and their struggles to pursue their dream. Frank Van Keekan (Creator of “The Next Step”) confirms that Briar was a focal point of this reaction and the show’s success. He states, “Briar Nolet burst onto the scene of The Next Step as a member of J-Troupe. J-Troupe was the junior troupe in the dance studio. We specifically designed J-Troupe to be a training ground for new actors, getting them ready to move into A-Troupe once they were old enough and if they showed enough talent. Briar was one of the few actors that made it through the ‘system’. Her dancing and acro abilities were unparalleled. We were continually gob-smacked by her performances. After a couple of seasons, we quickly had plans to grow her into one of the main cast members. As soon as she arrived there, Briar excelled, becoming one of the show’s regular cast members. During that time, and with very little effort, she grew a massive fan base and quickly became one of the stars of The Next Step. She has gone on the live tours which travel the world over. Briar is easily one of the show’s most beloved cast members and one of the show’s most in-demand characters. It’s been amazing to see how she has gone from a young J-Troupe member, to being one of the show’s stars. It’s all due to her amazing work ethic, her immense talent, and her star quality.”

Briar’s role on “The Next Step” is Richelle, a feisty and talented dancer who is singularly focused to become the greatest dancer she can. Possessing more attitude than friends, she exemplifies determination. Nolet describes, “Playing Richelle on The Next Step, really grew my skills as an actress. I have similar characteristics to Richelle; however, she does have an edge that I don’t really share with her. In saying this, it’s fun to experiment and portray emotions that are different than how I [as Briar] would react to certain things.” It is notable that one of the reasons Richelle has become such a favorite to fans of the show is for this unique personality. Richelle doesn’t fit the mold of the status quo, which many of the show’s admirers appreciate in both the character and Briar’s portrayal.

Something that Nolet does share with her character is the sacrifices which a dancer must make to pursue this passion. The life of a dancer, whether real or fictional, is one of giving up time with family and friends to hone your craft. The same cause and effect applied to Briar’s work as an actress. Richelle was perhaps communicated so well by this actress because she could completely empathize with the character.

The immense talent of Briar’s dance abilities is well documented and displayed on “The Next Step.” Pushing the limits of where dance stops and acrobatics begin, her performances on screen were often unbelievable. Briar is more than amused to share as she states, “I would say something that sets me apart from everybody else is that I have no fear. As a dancer, I will always take risks and try different things that sometimes nobody could even think was possible. It’s a shock to everyone that such a little body can do that. I also have a crazy amount of energy and determination and I think that helps separate me from other people. I am one to of course be safe but at the same time just go for things. Sometimes I honestly throw my body somewhere and hope that I find my feet. Ha. A lot of my tricks that not many people can do come from just trying the impossible. These are moves I have been doing for a long time and am very comfortable with, to the point that sometimes I don’t even have to think about it. The difficulty level is the same no matter where I do them. Obviously, on camera they can edit if I mess up a trick they can make it look like I didn’t but,  on stage you can’t do that so you’ve just gotta go for it. I get super pumped up and excited when I am doing these things, I absolutely love it.”

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Briar’s fans will be happy to know that the upcoming season of “The Next Step” shows Nolet (as Richelle) to be one of most focused upon leads for the new storyline. As Briar Nolet’s star continues to rise, admirers of her acting and dancing can be certain that this talented young woman will be pushing herself to the surprise of all who watch.

Writer Sarah Stunt tells inspiring and impactful story in award-winning film ‘Girl Unbound’

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Actress/writer Sarah Stunt, photos by Alexis Dickey

Growing up, Sarah Stunt always loved stories. The Toronto native was always a big reader, reading her first novel, Little Women, at just nine years old. She loved the history and romantic setting, drawing her to the visual, and she was immediately taken by the characters, seeing herself in the passionate and independent writer Jo March. At the time, the only way she could describe the feelings the book gave her was on paper. It was something that changed her life. Now, her talent communicating through the written word, and that passion that started at just nine-years-old, has propelled Stunt’s career, and she is recognized around the world as an outstanding writer.

 

Stunt’s work has impressed international audiences for many years, but it was writing the impactful documentary Girl Unbound that she considers the highlight of her career. The film is about an exceptionally brave girl living in Waziristan, Pakistan, “one of the most dangerous places on earth.” Maria Toorpakai defies the Taliban, disguising herself as a boy, so she can play sports freely, something the Taliban strictly prohibits girls from doing. However, when she becomes a rising squash star, her true identity is revealed.

“I love working on documentaries as a writer. It’s always a long-term, nurturing relationship that changes and grows as time goes on. The lives of the characters are real. You don’t have to envision the conflicts, the inciting incidents or arcs, they evolve naturally on their own. Being able to capture it on the page is where the magic before the magic takes place, because in a matter of pages, your essence of the film presents itself and sets the stage moving forward. Being able to create some sort of affect, as the subject matter is usually from a human-interest point-of-view, is always the greatest outcome. You learn to champion your characters and unlike fiction, their stories continue to evolve after production is complete. It has a long-lasting affect,” said Stunt.

As the film’s writer, Sarah worked closely with the Producer, Cassandra Sanford-Rosenthal, to develop the film’s basic concept, and from those initial ideas, she wrote the film’s script. Rosenthal says without Stunt, the film could never have been possible.

“Sarah is an exquisite writer whose skill and talent for her craft is obvious. Girl Unbound could not have been made without her guidance and her amazing abilities. The fantastic record of success the film had could not have been achieved if not for Sarah’s prodigious talents,” said Sanford-Rosenthal.

After being asked to premiere at the world-renowned Toronto International Film Festival last year, Girl Unbound received rave reviews from such top industry publications as The Hollywood Reporter and screened at more major international film festivals such as the DOC NYC (where the film was nominated for the festival’s Grand Jury Prize), Cleveland International Film Festival (where the film was nominated for Best Documentary), Athena Film Festival, and the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

“I am so proud that the film has done so well. So much work, dedication and time went into the making of this film. With all the ups and down, everything from capturing the characters and their lives to the struggles of filmmaking in general, the final film is beautiful and powerful and executed in a way that will continue to generate a conversation after the film has been screened. This, in my opinion, is the true purpose of documentary film,” said Stunt.

With experience in writing for documentary, which for obvious reasons does not have scripted lines but requires a strict outline, Stunt was asked to join the film. The filmmakers knew they needed an experienced and skilled writer to properly tell such an important and captivating story. Originally, Stunt came to work on the film for a short time, but ended up as the lead writer, watching over the process from start to finish.

“The messaging is inspiring. The themes are varied with a focus on human rights, girls in sport, the right to education, and identity, but the courage of this one girl and the support of her family to use their platforms to inspire and make change is why it’s so important. Our main subject Maria is a force to be reckoned with, and if she can win and continue to do so, then it spreads the message of hope for others to do the same,” said Stunt. “The story was so strong and ever evolving. It took a lot of risk, courage and strength for all involved to actualize the final product and it inspired me to do my part as a writer, even though I wasn’t on the ‘frontlines’ of it all.”

In a world with a growing stereotype towards the Middle East, the story of Girl Unbound is of increasing importance. For Stunt, working on the film was not about the many awards and recognition both she and the film received, but about educating the viewers and inspiring audiences through Maria’s story.

“I loved working on this project. It took on many lives but the story that is out is the one that needs to be told. It has so much heart and invites viewers into a world that is both complicated and beautiful. It expels Western notions of Pakistan, sheds light on the lives of many but especially women and children and challenges old world notions that this generation of youths are trying to identify with and evolve from,” she concluded.