Category Archives: Comedy

A FAMILY OF FRIENDS HAS MANY FORMS IN “PARKED”

There’s something romantic and endearing about a group of people coming together to support each other’s attempt to bring out the best in themselves and their dreams. It might be possible to make it on your own but when you do it with a trusted group of confidants it’s so much more enjoyable. “Parked” is a Canadian production which tells the story of five men who attempt to navigate the highs and lows of life. It’s a theme that is synonymous with the writers who created this show. In a small writers’ room, Gorrman Lee, Executive Producers Adam O. Thomas, Tracey Mack, Siobhan McCarthy, and Actor/Co-Producer David Lewis spent many long nights together writing what ultimately became a season of six full webisodes and twenty-five interstitial videos. The struggle that artists take on to test themselves, to aspire to create something which binds viewers together, it’s just as touching as the obstacles and experiences of the characters in “Parked.” Great things are achieved in life when people work together to support each other’s dreams, whether in real life or the stories which resemble it.

Here’s something that any true artist will tell you, greatness is found in the idea and the manifestation of it not necessarily in the execution of it. There’s a reason that songwriters receive a larger portion of the income generated by a song than those who perform it. Creative individuals understand that the idea itself is the keystone. The modern presentation of this is the fact that many of the productions that are presented on the web rival, and sometimes exceed, the stories presented on more traditional platforms. When writer Gorrman Lee saw the pilot for “Parked” shared on Facebook he thought “They’re doing this on the web? It’s so good!” The show’s pilot is so well produced and funny that it stands as a testament to the excellence of work being created outside the traditional system in today’s marketplace. When Lee had the chance to meet Siobhan McCarthy at a pitch event, he made it his mission to convince her that he could be of benefit to the show as one of their writers. He recalls, “I was very professional about it. I told her how much I enjoyed the pilot and asked if they were looking for people to join up; if so, I’d love to have a coffee with her to discuss. Asking people to coffee in this industry is a great, low-pressure way to get an in.” To Gorrman’s delight and the shows benefit, it worked.

Parked with EP Siobhan McCarthy

“Parked” is about a group of 30-something dads, plus their one non-father pal, struggling with their late coming of age. While at first glance the characters might seem homogenous, each one has their own story to differentiate them in the group. The same can be said for the writers. As the youngest in the writing room and the only non-parent himself, Gorrman related most to the character Josh (the burnout, non-father of the group). While Lee and Josh vary greatly in personality, being of a certain age and place in your life naturally presents a shared perspective. Josh is found to be somewhat abrasive by the audience of “Parked” but Gorrman enjoyed the exercise of finding the sympathy/concealed soft side of Josh. The dichotomy of Josh was as entertaining for Lee as a writer as it was for the viewer. In episode #5, “Waiting for Kiddo”, Josh appears insufferable as he enters the scene complaining about how lame kids’ birthday parties are and how he’d much rather spend the day getting stoned. Lee’s writing shined a light on Josh’s humanity by showing just how hard he’s willing to work to get a child to attend this party with him. It looks creepy from the outside but Josh’s unawareness of this ultimately comes off as sweet because he just wants to hang out with his friends.

In a similar way to Josh’s willingness to step out of his comfort zone to keep the group together, Gorrman took on a writing assignment for “Parked” that was well outside his wheel house. Adam O. Thomas (Executive Producer of “Parked”) notes, “Gorrman was a key member of our writing room. He helped find the humor and really had a strong handle on how to shape a scene. If we were going off on a tangent, he was always the one to help bring us back around. He also made sure we never took the easy way out. I loved him for that. We broke down episodes and then assigned each writer some. Gorrman had a couple of the toughest. One was a musical episode and the other had to dance around the theme of child abduction to find the comedy in a dislikable character…. not an easy task. When he turned in his episode, I laughed out loud. It was perfect!” The musical episode referred to was entitled “Master Baker” and required Gorrman to create a Rap video. While most people think of writers as professionals who create based on something which they already know and actors as professionals who educate themselves/research about things they don’t know, Lee’s situation with this episode seems to indicate that writers are much more like actors in their approach. He was given an outline and lyrics for the song but the rest of creating the scene was up to Gorrman. He states, “I’m not really a Rap fan, my wife is though. I’m a writer of color. I’m Chinese-Canadian. It was important to me to research enough that I wasn’t being offensive or inappropriate in satirizing rap with three white, and one Indian actor. I think we pulled it off because of how silly our characters looked. The joke was on them, and not at the expense of rap.” The writer admits to feeling a great sense of accomplishment standing on set and watching the rap video sequence being filmed with Davinder/Sean Amsing is in his hot tub alongside Jimmy Z /Colin Foo. The entire cast and crew seemed to revel in the ridiculousness of the scene which Gorrman had concocted. It was obvious to all that the cast was living out the same fantasy that their characters connected with. “Parked” actor/writer David Lewis confirms, “Gorrman’s voice was definitely a distinct one. His episodes were some of our strongest. His understanding of character and story structure was invaluable. I’ve been working in this industry for over 25 years and have seen both good and bad writing. Gorrman’s writing is very good!”

Parked at Leo awards

Part of success is accepting both achievement and disappointment with grace. “Parked” received multiple nominations at the Leo Awards (Canadian based awards) in 2016 and a win for best actor (David Lewis). It was an instance of public affirmation in the industry for this production. With equal measure Lee describes, “It was a wonderful moment for all of us. While I remember that easily, I also remember the many long days and nights churning out ideas and breaking stories. I wish we could’ve come up with a way to shoot our original idea for the season finale. It was about Josh realizing that he had drunkenly donated sperm to a local sperm bank and convincing the other dads to help him break into the bank and steal it back. It was our take on a ‘bank heist’. Thinking back to this pitch still makes me chuckle. There’s always something to work towards.”

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English as a Second Language is No Barrier to Success for Comedian Ronen Tverya

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Comedian Ronen Tverya shot by Morgan Preston

More than ever comedians serve a valuable purpose in society, drawing attention to important cross-cultural and political issues in ways that can be challenging, entertaining and more often than not, funny. With such a heavy responsibility, it’s therefore understandable that only the cream of the crop amongst comedians become regulars on the stand-up circuit. Ronen Tverya, whose first name translates to ‘song of joy’ in Hebrew, is certainly aware of the pressure that comes with spreading joy and making people laugh on the world stage. He however, as a nationally acclaimed and successful performer in Israel, knows all too well how to poke fun at his own plight as well as that of his country.

His jokes often come at the expense of “[t]he differences between his country (Israel) and all aspects of life.” Explaining though that his “life [in the US] as an Israeli” is very funny, Ronen subscribes to the style of the best comedians working today like Louis C.K., Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock: he proudly admits that he “laughs a lot a lot about [his own] life situations.”

That being said, Ronen has encountered challenges when literally translating his shows for American audiences. He explains, “When I do comedy in English I need to think in Hebrew and then translate it into English in my head and find the right way to say it…sometimes I have to improv[ise] on stage in English – and it’s difficult to find the right word at the perfect time for the punchline.” Nevertheless, his past and future performances would suggest that such language barriers don’t serve as a barrier to his undeniable success.

Indeed, it’s not just Ronen’s unique style as a comedian which sets him apart from the rest of those performers struggling to achieve success. Ronen’s experiences on stage, as part of the Cookies and Comedy show in San Francisco with renowned comedian Tony Sparks, signify how he has reached the heights of success in the comedy world. Sparks is known as “The Godfather of San Francisco Comedy,” as noted by leading Californian publications like”‘Hoodline,” so for Ronen to be hand-picked by Sparks to perform alongside him is a huge honour. Ronen adds “[I] think if someone like Tony Sparks sees [me] and immediately wants [me] to be in his show [it] is a great step for me in America.”

Back in his home country, Ronen has graced audiences in such esteemed venues like the Camel Comedy Club (also host to renowned comedienne Kandi Abelson) and The Stand Up Factory, touted as the hottest new comedy club in Tel Aviv by the country’s leading newspaper publications.

His upcoming shows also demonstrate that things are not slowing down anytime soon, and that Ronen is a sought after figure in the world of comedy, and a forbearer for the cultural conversation. When discussing the upcoming ‘Dirty Martini’ shows in Seattle, which is scheduled to be broadcast live on Facebook on August 27, he adds “it’s a variety” show with “stand-up comedy, comedic musical acts, sketch groups,” no doubt featuring fellow high-profile and successful artists. Noting that the show will be recorded with the “best sound system” and live cameras, it’s also exciting to know that the show will be exclusively broadcast live in collaboration with Facebook for a huge number of viewers around the world.

It’s clear though that Ronen doesn’t just perform for himself. He does it for the audiences who need a laugh. “This world is stressful enough with all sorts of issues. I think comedy is a great opportunity for people to forget their problems.”

 

WHY NICKY MARTIN LOOKS SO FUNNY

Comedy feels a certain way and it looks a certain way. There are not specific parameters which define this but it easily recognized. When you feel something is funny or see something that is funny, you know it. It’s a characteristic older than cinema itself. Before there was sound in films, comedy was more accurately conveyed than any other sentiment. Xing-Mai Deng displays this concept exceedingly well in Andrew Elliott’s “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar.” As a cinematographer with a highly diverse list of award-winning film credits (including this one which received an LAIFF award for Best Comedy/Dramedy and a Jury Award at the Melbourne Indie Film Festival), “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” is yet another example of Deng’s ability to visually achieve the intent of the writers and directors he works with in an exception manner. With the ubiquity of the pursuit of fame, often via social media these days, the film’s story reveals the all too common hopes of someone who wants to be famous almost solely because they desire fame.

In an ironic turn, this written story necessitated studying reality TV productions in order to accurately be presented with authenticity. The look of the film needed to bring out the absurdity of the story while spoofing the standard reality TV show. The film’s director and Xing-Mai researched several American reality TV shows to study their lighting, framing, and documentary-like camera movement. The blocking and camera angles were all decided before the filming to achieve a deliberate chaotic appearance for the shots.

Much of the look of “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” required Xing-Mai to use his extensive knowledge and talent to appear as if he did not possess these attributes. It’s an aspect that took him some time with which to relax. Constant second guessing and reassessment of going too far was required. He explains, “I purposely moved the camera in an amateur way in order to make the film look absurd. High-key lighting and amateurish camera movements brought the feel of a valid reality show to our film. There wasn’t any dramatic lighting. The camera movements followed the actors in a passive way rather than anticipating the characters’ actions as compared to a scripted production. We wanted to have the reality TV feeling but we also wanted some cinematic moments in the film. Some of the reality productions I researched were not lit at all. I added contrast for most of the scenes to give a cinematic touch to it but used it sparingly. Most of the reality TV shows I studied were not comedic so the usual reality TV look would not serve ‘Nicky Martin’ as it still desired to look funny. We did not want it to look like normal mockumentary as that look has become fairly common and we wanted something that stood out.”

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The improv nature of the film and the actor’s performances kept Deng on his toes and required a fair amount of improvisation on his own part. As different cast members spontaneously changed and evolved their parts during the actual filming, Xing-Mai was required to essentially collaborate with them in terms of lighting and framing the scene, accepting what he could get away with in terms of these parameters. With knowledge of this potentiality in advance, he created general lighting schemes based on the blocking and devised a plan that would give the widest coverage possible while achieving the largest part of his goal. Because the film is a comedy, Deng used a wide warm color palate.

“Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” is a spoof comedy about a man who wants to be a country music star but doesn’t know how to sing or play guitar. He wants to be a cowboy but he’s afraid of all four-legged animals…so he rides on stools. Upon hearing about a singing contest at the County Fair, Nicky gathers his cohorts and prepares for what he believes is the chance of a lifetime. Numerous efforts towards achieving his goal of becoming a legitimate cowboy fall short. In a scene which drives this failure home and yet endears the audience to his tenacious drive, Nicky and his close friend Mickey reconcile by riding their stools together into the sunset as they have learned that being a cowboy is not about being famous but rather about possessing the cowboy spirit.

Andrew Elliott, the mastermind behind “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” communicates, “I honestly had always planned to convince Xing-Mai to be the DOP for this film, since it’s very inception. Xing-Mai’s insight was invaluable to the success of the shoot. He was able to quickly and efficiently form a great crew and was always present with ideas and suggestions on how to make thing flow more smoothly. His work ethic was unquestionable on the shoot. Nicky Martin went on to success in the festival scene the following year, winning awards at several of these. Xing-Mai’s understanding of the story and unique ability to shoot the film played an integral part in winning these awards and in the success of the film as a whole.”

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Immersing one’s self in an industry that contains some of the most skilled and creative minds and then attempting to shed the abilities you have come to rely upon as second nature in order to move you forward in said industry is disconcerting at best. Shakespeare often depicted the person who appears as the fool to often be the cleverest of all; communicating the idea that the misdirection of the depth of one’s knowledge and abilities is often the most difficult task of all. In “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar”, Xing-Mai Deng proves that he’s no fool but he knows how to convincingly present the appearance of one to the laughter and enjoyment of his audience…and does so as a master.

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.

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.

GREENWOOD ISN’T AFRAID OF THE ANTI-SEQUEL

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There is a quote that is attributed to many fine actors that states, “Dying is easy. Comedy is difficult.” It has been repeated by Academy Award winners like Gregory Peck and Jack Lemmon (most consider Edmund Kean to be the originator) and speaks to the fact that making something seem spontaneous and light hearted takes a fair bit more convincing than a dire situation. There’s also a fairly common belief that the film industry takes itself too seriously and rejects mockery. This is a notion to which Canadian writer/producer/actor Troy Greenwood does not subscribe. As a part of the FAFC (Film Actors Fight Club), Greenwood helped create the award winning film Diamond Planet. With a very self-deprecating approach, Diamond Planet poked fun at filmmakers, the film industry, and even film students. In this production, fools abounded while intelligence was scarce. The film was so popular that Troy decided to write/produce and act in the sequel…a sequel which is in fact about a film that is not yet a film. As proof that filmmakers revel in self ridicule, Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon was embraced with greater enthusiasm than the original (winning at the Calgary Film Challenge and going on to screen at the Sun and Sand Film Festival in Mississippi). Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon is a testament to the fact that as long as creative individuals take themselves too seriously, there will be peers among them who remind us all how absurd they seem.

It has increasingly become commonplace for filmmakers to feed upon themselves, recycling films and themes from the past, sometimes even repeating the same current day premise but with different casts. While Diamond Planet shone a light on laughable concepts in modern film, Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon turns its gaze to the film industry’s lack of originality and ingenuity. It seems that the current M.O. is to go for a wide audience that assures box office rather than fosters new ideas and artists; at least for the most part. Greenwood had a clear idea for a sequel which immediately follows the action of the first film. In Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon, Ollie Swagger (the filmmaker from the original Diamond Planet) steals the idea for the “Diamond Planet” that was pitched in the first film. He’s going to try and sell the idea to a studio at the annual pitchtime event. Unfortunately for Ollie, when he was bragging about it the night before the meeting, his nemesis overheard him. The next day when they are seated together, Swagger starts into a pitch about “Diamond Planet”. In the film’s premise, the Diamond Planet will cross between the sun and the earth, magnifying the sun’s rays and burning the earth to a crisp. The government wants to send optometrists into space to change the curvature of the Diamond Planet rendering the rays harmless. However, Swagger’s nemesis jumps in, pitching his movie “Emerald Horizon” about a giant emerald planet and ophthalmologists in space. We, as the actual audience, see cuts back and forth between trailers for these films as they are pitched. Each trailer becomes more and more ridiculous until they’re basically turned into one complete parody of a movie; to which the studio’s representative responds “I like it, but how about a hamster!” The unseen wink with which Greenwood delivers the humor is obvious to all. One need not look too far into recent movie productions to see evidence of this scenario. Cutting to the core of the movie’s lesson, Troy notes, “Anything that tries too hard to purport itself is funny.”

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Due to the nature of “Diamond Planet” (the spoof movie) being a science fiction suspense thriller, the production value and the cast for this sequel necessitated a sizable increase from the original Diamond Planet. Because the original was so successful, it helped to propel much of the original cast and crew into busier careers and thus some key players proved unavailable for this sequel. Luckily the popularity of Diamond Planet attracted the interest and involvement of a large number of respected Canadian actors (both films are Canadian productions). This included noted theater and film actor Stuart Bentley. Greenwood’s prowess at a multitude of production roles, in addition to the script is what enticed Bentley to join the cast of Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon. He comments, “Over the years, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with Troy Greenwood on stage and in film. In a production of Inherit the Wind Troy gave a masterfully understated and relatable performance of the accused schoolteacher, Bertram Cates. Troy effortlessly navigated this difficult character, drawing in audiences and critical approval. I had the opportunity to act in Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon which Troy wrote, directed, and starred in. Troy had written a wonderfully funny script, and easily navigated the tricky job of acting and directing in his own production. He took great care of his cast and crew, and kept the production flowing on time, while being careful to ensure that every needed master and coverage shot was captured to realize his artistic vision. Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon was a great success with judges and audiences and continues to be one of my favorite film projects of the past several years.” In addition to Bentley, the considerably larger cast included notables such as Jesse Collin (Fargo), Helen Young, and many others. Troy remarks, “Stuart, Louie, and Helen were all a breeze to work with. Stuart’s presence as the president had a great gravitas to it.  He really milked the moments of humour in the script, nailing the timing of lines to keep the pacing moving as the film progressed. Helen was also wonderful to work with. I had an interesting shot envisioned where the camera rotates around her before landing on the president; she was a trooper repeating the sequence a number of times while we worked out the technical kinks with the camera movement.”

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Another positive aspect of any sequel is that the success of the initial production allows for a higher production value in the second installment. The aforementioned larger cast and a greater array of interesting locations (including the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory, and the Springbank Airport Flying Club), were augmented by state of the art VFX. Greenwood relates, “I invested money to buy specific models we needed through a 3D modelling page.  Specifically, I got two distinct space ships for the two different versions of the trailer within the film, and planet models for the solar system, and then a diamond model so that my VFX artist could place them into the editor and articulate them to create the sequences you see in the film.” In fact, Troy concedes that he had to make sure the graphics were not too professional, in order to add to the humor of the trailers and the actual film itself.

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Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon represents a blind spot in the film industry. While a considerable number of studios and filmmakers steer towards repeating proven ideas rather than creating new ones, Troy Greenwood has found a way to turn that concept around and use it against the very premise it represents…and still be wildly entertaining. Greenwood refers to comedy as a unique beast, remarking that you can plan all you want but often what is required is to just sit back and watch. Be careful filmmakers, you are being watched.

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Andrew Searles is seriously funny in upcoming film Cereal Killer

While growing up in Montreal, Andrew Searles always knew he wanted to perform. As a child, he would watch Star Trek: The Next Generation and be captivated not only by the special effects and storyline that made the show what it was, but the performances of the actors. He watched every episode he could, studying how the show was made, fascinating him even more. When was watching other movies and shows, recognizing actors but seeing them play different characters, he was enchanted. He knew that he had to follow in the same footsteps. And he has, Searles is an incredibly versatile actor, just like those whom he idolized as a child.

While also being an established stand-up comedian, Searles is of course capable to deliver a comedic scene. He understands improvisation, and exactly how to deliver a joke that will leave the audience in stiches. However, it is his more serious side of acting that leaves audiences bewitched. He really can do it all.

“I like the aspect of portraying somebody else who isn’t me,” said Searles. “Taking on a new persona, a new identity, embodying their traits and creating an entirely new person, or taking on the personality of whomever I’m supposed to be portraying.”

Searles flexibility as an actor is exemplified further in the upcoming film Cereal Killer, written and directed by Fabrice Barthelemy. Cereal Killer is a comedy that follows Jimmy, a young man who loves eating his cereal. However, things take a turn for the worst when someone in his neighborhood keeps breaking into his apartment and eating his cereal. Jimmy, along with his best friend, Sean, team up to begin an investigation of who keeps eating Jimmy’s cereal. Searles plays Gus, the antagonist in the film. Gus is a very mild mannered, quiet, reserved, caretaker of an apartment building. He often says inappropriate things without realizing he said them. When Jimmy is searching for whomever has been breaking into his apartment and eating his cereal, it eventually turns out Gus was the culprit the whole time.

“Portraying a character like Gus allowed me to ‘get my hands dirty’. I wanted Gus to be a very dark, twisted, soulless type of character. I wanted to use this opportunity to break away from being a ‘comedic’ actor in a sense, and shine as someone playing a character who is disturbed. Even though Gus’s lines would still be comedic in nature, I figured his lines would come off even funnier if they were delivered in a dark, morbid tone, rather than from a goofy, comedic character,” said Searles.

Gus was not originally intended to be a dark character, but it was Searles’ intuition that brought the character to life, and the twist added even more humor to the film.

“I created his personality and traits and integrated them into the film. I also learned how to embody a very serious, dark character, darker than I’ve ever played on camera. I learned how to keep the balance of playing a very serious somber character while playing with the comedic lines and aspects of the film. I wanted to be dark enough so the darkness of his character shined through, and the audience felt that, but not too much where the comedy aspect of the film is off balance,” he explained.

And does his technique ever work. In a pivotal scene in the film, when Gus is being confronted for being the cereal thief, he is extremely serious, as if confessing to an actual murder. He even puts his hands up to be handcuffed after his confession, as if he committed a large crime, but he is just being told he is fired.

“Fabrice originally intended the role to be a fun, goofy, type of character, but wanting to play something different than just a type casted comedic role, I played it my way at the table read and Fabrice lost his mind and hollered at how much he loved my angle on Gus. He was so ecstatic and in awe because he never envisioned his character to be that dark, and it’s his dark humor and awkwardness that made Gus even better on screen. I figured that if funny lines from a funny character are expected and normal, then funny lines from an unfunny and dark character would be even funnier, because it’s not what the audience would be expecting,” said Searles.

Although Searles went in to read for the character of Gus, he was actually approached and asked to play the part without an audition. The Assistant Director and Assistant Writer of the film, Sara Sommers, knew that Searles possessed extraordinary acting capabilities that would make the film even better.

“Andrew is an extremely driven and talented individual. During filming, he displayed his incredible acting and comedic talents. There is no doubt in my mind that he was the correct person for the role. No one else could bring this character to life the way Andrew did. His portrayal was done magnificently and effortlessly and I am sure that he will bring these attributes to all his future roles. Andrew is the type of talent that we do not meet on a day to day basis. He is unique, one of a kind and truly remarkable. He is the type of actor that not only would directors and producers love to work with, but also will be loved by audience members as they will be struck by his presence. I would work with Andrew on a future project in a heartbeat. He truly is a talent to look out for,” said Sommers.

Cereal Killer is expected to be released later this year.

A WRITER FOR ALL (FUNNY) PEOPLE

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When Miguel Rivas states, “I think we live in an era when people are becoming increasingly accepting of different types of stories, ones which they previously might not have paid much attention to. It probably has something to do with the social media age where you can hear back from other people about their lives and experiences in a way you couldn’t before. You would have your opinions and your views and you wouldn’t get them reflected back on you. That’s changed. If you want to understand someone else’s life and experiences, it’s much easier to do now. We should hope we’re all becoming more empathetic.” …this is possibly the most benevolent and optimistic view of social media’s effect on society that you have ever heard. Part of the reason is that the idea in itself supports a reaffirmation of faith in humanity; the other part is due to the fact that Rivas knows how to turn a phrase. As a professional writer, he understands the subtle emotional impact of phrasing. Rather than using this ability to support a political candidate, compose a novel, or impress bar patrons (well, that might happen from time to time), Miguel has focused his intent on bringing laughter and assisting other creative types in achieving their visions. Rivas will be the first to admit that his intent is not completely altruistic at its core; he loves nurturing the sometimes ridiculous ideas that enter his transom. Rivas is probably best known as a member of Canada’s comedy troupe Tony Ho, with whom he has written and performed on stage and on screen. However, he has many projects contained in his writing resume that testify to his individual voice and style.

At the center of any artist is a desire to take the joys and difficulty which life has handed them and exorcize them in a positive manner. It’s as much a catharsis for them (sometimes a painful one) as it is entertainment for those of us in the audience. There must be fertile and resourceful ground for these artist to communicate the feelings and ideas they are transferring. Miguel is sometimes the artist acting these situations out and even more often, the artist fueling them with his own words and ideas. Tony Ho has given Rivas many opportunities to explore different styles and scenarios in his writing. One of the most popular Tony Ho productions is Japan. This film is about office politics and the social dynamics that prosper in them. Rivas plays Pat Dunkling, the boss who has recently travelled to Japan and is overly eager to represent himself as an aficionado of Japanese culture. The apex of the drama comes when Dunkling decides that the business cannot support two interns so, Marty and Nolan (played by Adam Niebergall and Roger Bainbridge) will perform a Karaoke-off with the winner being rewarded a well paying full time position. Rivas wrote his character specifically to make fun of the type of person who travels to an interesting location and then tries too hard to convince others how impactful the experience was for him/herself. Rather than making fun of a specific culture, the idea was to communicate how certain individuals find it easier to “play” a role rather than simply discovering and relying upon their own identity. Miguel enjoyed writing this character (complete with a Dragonball Z haircut) as well as the roles for Adam (a ne’ er-do-well) and Roger (a slightly overly eager romantic with a fear of missed relationship opportunities). In writing and presenting the theme to Japan, Miguel was always mindful of the audience’s reception of his work. He notes, “You have to be very careful when it comes to what you want to say with comedy. Nothing is off limits completely but you always have to be punching in the right direction, as they say. We knew that the joke in our minds was this corporate culture where people absorb and consume whatever they can in order to make a stamp. My character’s buffoonish understanding of Japanese culture was the target, which was encapsulated in the line ‘Hmmm, very not what I think is Japanese.’ I wanted people to understand this character but perhaps not to like him.” Japan won the Grand Prize for best film at the Laugh Sabbath Film Fest at NXNE, as well as a nomination at the Canadian Comedy Awards.

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Wanda, another of Miguel’s compositions, was also nominated at the Canadian Comedy Awards and was shortlisted at the Laugh Sabbath Film Fest at NXNE. The storyline of this film was very different from Japan, involving a stalker, a polyamorous love triangle, and an attempted murder. It would not seem like the normal fodder for comedy and yet Rivas was highly adept and finding the amusing side of the dark humor. The idea started with a highly unusual point of inspiration. Miguel reveals, “Part of the inspiration was this visual gag where we wanted someone to die with their eyes open. Sometimes you reverse engineer an idea off of something pretty silly. Hey, comedy.” He continues, “I try and create all kinds of characters, but the film style we’ve leaned on and developed as Tony Ho succeeds best when there’s an element of reality for each character. In writing the characters, I can take them to some pretty unfamiliar places; then through performance, I try and add a level of emotional honesty. This is really important to me.” Bainbridge confirms that Miguel’s writing style is a key component to the success that has been achieved as he declares, “Tony Ho is now one of the most prominent comedy troupes in all of Canada, winning multiple awards and travelling around North America performing for thousands of fans, as well as publishing widely-watched online content. Miguel’s writing has been the spark countless times to enable us to achieve this great success.”

Sometimes the writing of Miguel Rivas is the spark for Tony Ho and, with an increasing occurrence, he has brought this spark to the bonfire of other talent. Space Riders: Division Earth is a TV series that might be best described as a parody (or even an homage) to the Power Rangers series much in the same way that Spinal Tap pays tribute to the great rock bands of the 70’s. The serious approach of not taking one’s self too seriously pays off with an abundance of laughs on this Canadian production. The show’s writers, Dan Beirne and Mark Little, brought Miguel aboard to assist as he explains, “Dan and Mark are frequent collaborators of mine. They asked me to do script consulting on this project. After they had written the initial drafts, they brought me on for punch-up and editing. After that process, I helped with the table reads and subsequent rewrites. The show is quirky and I thought it was so funny and creative, I was happy to work on it when they approached me.” Bierne relates, “Miguel is so accomplished and recognized in Canada for his work with Tony ho, we knew that he was truly funny. Our show has such a different sensibility and tone to it. Miguel fell right into place. He understood our show and how to add his talent to it but, even more so, he is a true team player. He was always searching out ways to add something. His contributions played an important part in our achievements.”

When Disney XD wanted to capitalize on the popularity of sketch comedy shows and market it to teens, Miguel was asked to add his writing to the project. Rivas will mock himself, noting that his age made him unusable in front of the camera for Disney XD’s Try It! so they made use of his abilities behind the camera as a writer. Surprisingly, it was an easy transition to write comedy for a younger mindset and performers. Rivas states, “A major benefit is, it helps you empathize with their experience. I felt some trepidation initially, but once you get into the groove, it becomes rather easy to slip into that mindset. It was really fun to remember how I thought about things as a younger version of myself. For a lot of my writing, I focus on mining comedy out of sadness and anxiety. It was actually pretty easy to convert that into a teen’s worldview. Who knew? Teens have anxiety! You obviously write it less dark but reflecting…that truth in funny sketches actually proved to be fairly easy.”

More recently, Miguel has ventured into writing music videos for artist like Brave Shores and Digits. These videos sometimes play on Miguel’s signature dark comedy style but “More Like You” by Brave Shores is disorienting and unnerving at points. It is a great indicator of the constant challenges Rivas takes on to carve new paths and explore his writing talents.

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MUSIC+FEAR+COMEDY=THE SENSIBILITIES OF ROGER BAINBRIDGE

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The most famous paintings of Beethoven depict him with a furrowed brow and wispy hair, a slightly mad genius furiously creating; pushing himself to produce works that never fully satisfy himself while seemingly inconceivable for the average man. Replace the piano with a comedic storyline and the symphony with a cast and film crew and you have an appropriate analogy for Roger Bainbridge. If such a phenomenon as Comedic Artistic Attention Deficit Disorder (CAADD) exists, Bainbridge is the spokesperson for it. Vacillating between formats such as; theater, film, live sketch comedy, music videos, and others, with his role as Executive Producer, writer, and actor, this Canadian comedic force has created a unique voice blending the dark and the humorous presentation of everyday life as well as fantasy. Regardless of the avenue with which he presents his ideas, Roger has created an identifiable voice in dramedy, most often presented through the vehicle of his comedy trio Tony Ho. The group, which includes Miguel Rivas and Adam Niebergall, has grown from sketch comedy into music video and film presentations. In the same way that Monty Python did some forty years ago, Tony Ho has become a brand of comedy with its own style and temperament. Modern accessibility to media and technology gave Roger the ability to experience all levels of production from conception to presentation. He used this knowledge to connect with and create the means by which Tony Ho and other artists would gain access to more ubiquitous means of presentation as their careers grew. Regardless of the production, his “fingerprint” is felt. This is surprising and satisfying in the music videos “Never Come Down” by Brave Shores and “Street Violence” by Digits. Both videos challenge us to look at dark situations and find the means by which to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation by accepting our own lack of control of it. The “Tony Ho” brand that Bainbridge has worked so intensely to create is hard to place into words; in an effort to define it one might state that it is, “look at all the awful things that can happen in life, shouldn’t you take some respite in how ridiculous it all is and the fact that you can’t control or understand it all?”

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The success of the “Violence” video and Roger’s acclaim for his roles both behind and in front of the camera resulted in other musical groups seeking him out to be the creative force behind their music videos. When Brave Shores needed a video for their single “Never Come Down”, they reached out to Bainbridge because of his work on “Violence” and the films of Tony Ho. Jay McCarrol of Brave Shoes comments, “When I approached Roger, he pitched an idea about a bald guy who wishes for hair and suddenly gets a full head of green hair, which would be green screened to become different colors.  He pitched it in one sentence and it was perfect.  It was great to see his talent has such range. He could just put his unique spin on anything. When you work with Roger it’s because he can be so unpredictable, that’s what we wanted.  I knew he was some sort of mad genius when I saw all of the Tony Ho stuff.  Roger possess a different kind of “it” factor, the very rare kind.  Something about him is so pleasantly haunting.” Roger admits that he has always been a fan of music videos which extend the ideas and mood of the song while also becoming a piece of art themselves. With “Never Come Down” he felt there were multiple layers, as he describes, “The song was kind of an expression of ‘ignorance is bliss’, ‘I’m just gonna have fun, and go with what feels good, f*#k all this worry.’ This can be a great sentiment, to a point. I wanted to explore the idea of someone getting everything they want. Is it responsible to just live a blissed out life? Are you living in a way that considers others and yourself? My idea was to kind of sneakily make a video about the virtues of responsibility while making it feel like a party the whole time. I don’t know if that makes me a Christian Youth Counsellor or something, but it’s probably just another example of me being a contrarian. You say party, I say be a responsible father.” brave-shores-1-945x500

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The video shows Adam Niebergall (of Tony Ho) as the main character who is granted his wish of long luxurious (color changing, sometimes psychedelic) hair and proceeds to only care about whipping that hair and head banging. While amongst trick bikers, on the beach, or a number of settings, he casts off all responsibilities, including his now pregnant romantic interest. Karma seems to exact its penance from him at the end of the video as he has given himself a fatal neck injury…as a result of his new flowing locks. It’s a modern pop/electronic fable about not focusing on the self, delivered in the humorous and yet biting way for which Bainbridge is known. Whether creating thought provoking and laughter eliciting films or music videos that still manage to carry his voice in their message, Roger Bainbridge has become known in Canada as the person to go to when you need someone to take a project from inception to production and presentation. He is pleased to be the means by which others can further their art whether it be in the role of Executive Producer, writer, or actor. Bainbridge admits that he is still sometimes jolted back into reality, in particular in regards to his involvement with musicians and their videos. He confirms, “I love music videos. I feel like I’m part of the generation that really got the last gasp of them on television. I grew up watching them on MuchMusic, watching for hours waiting for cool ones to come on. I really loved the stuff coming out for the 90’s British bands like Blur or Radiohead or Pulp. They were so glossy and arty and different. It made the world feel a lot bigger than the small Ontario town I grew up in. But it never really occurred to me that I’d ever have the occasion to make one.”

 

 

ACTOR VISHAL ARORA IS ALWAYS UP FOR A CREATIVE CHALLENGE

Actor Vishal Arora’s career is a fascinating study in multi-culturally informed artistic disciplines. An accomplished stage, film and television player, his professional background as a full time Bollywood actor and subsequent training in Los Angeles at the famed Lee Strasberg Theater & Film Institute provide him a world class foundation of technique and experience. Arora’s broad international palette of skill and training also includes youthful participation in the rich Indian tradition of street plays, a sort of guerilla theater, performed in public, which often examine pointedly topical themes.

Ambitious, enthusiastic and always upbeat, Arora, now based in Los Angeles, spent his life working to reach this point.  “From childhood I have been very active on stage and in street plays,” Arora said. “It’s a form of theater all about society, an activity that creates an awareness among people about ongoing problems—things that, with the help of street plays, we can change.”

“I love to live different lives, and acting is the best way to do that,” he said. “And, doing television, I get the chance to play a different character every week, it’s like having another person’s experience, an entirely new life span, one different from your own.”

The handsome young actor’s resume includes appearances in the Fox Star Studio’s hit feature “Neerja,” a tense thriller centered on an airline hijacking, parts in numerous television crime, comedy and soap opera series, short films and pop music videos. Arora’s soul deep passion and drive him allows him to not just seek out, but spontaneously discover unexpected roles. This was exactly the case with Kis Din Mera Vyah Howega, a popular Indian TV comedy series.

“I went in to give an audition for a particular role on the show,” Arora said. “But, on the spot, the casting director gave me another script, I wasn’t expecting this, because I’d been called for a different character but, of course, I read for them. After a few days I got the call saying that I have been finalized for this particular role, so I accepted the challenge of playing Gay character.”

The Indian LGBTQ community routinely faces significant opposition; homosexuality is largely considered taboo and is illegal, but Arora, with his grounding in topical street plays, didn’t hesitate to take this opportunity.

“I have to do my work and make sure I put 100% of my efforts while on set” Arora said. “So, I spent some time with one of my gay friends, to observe how, as a person, he was different from straight guys. I just see things internally and then apply that to myself—‘if I were gay, what would my feelings and reactions will be?’ That’s how I did my homework for this role.”

“This particular character is the one who really brings comedy to the show,” Arora said. “I was doing a scene with a guy in drag, who I turned into a girl with makeup, saying  Now, if you  stay at my place, people will talk!’ Because in Asian countries, without a marriage, guys just don’t stay with girls, and so, having a gay character saying that was really a different, funny twist.”

“Working on the show was a really fun experience,” Arora said. “I took the challenge, learned new things, l and made some good friends while we were working together. This was a good character for me and it did very well in towns all over India, people liked the comedy and my character.”

Kis Din Mera Vyah Howega represented another upshift for the talented, restless Arora. It was a significant achievement that underscores his natural ability to inhabit any role with a truthful. instinctive skill, and this natural talent has steadily heightened his professional profile. A success in Bollywood, Arora’s now poised to storm Hollywood with his same measured combination of hard work and priceless intuition.

“The part was a challenge in the beginning, but then I let it go, and got over that pressure,” Arora said. “And I was very natural with it. These challenges are one of the factors which led me to pursue acting in the first place, and when you have the whole country watching you, when you are a part of big successful project, it provides a  good platform to make a name for yourself and your family.”