Category Archives: Hollywood

CLOAKED IN CONTRADICTION WITH JANE JOHNSTON

As time passes, the natural evolution of things can bring previously separated entities into close proximity and result in direct interaction. For example, in the past television was often looked upon as the less able and qualified sibling of feature films. Modern technology (streaming services, downloads, etc.) has brought about a modern golden age of TV. The shows available from the deluge of networks has given birth to productions that rival and sometimes exceed those of the silver screen. The ever increasing visibility of Hollywood A-listers on TV proves that these individuals recognize the quality of work being presented on the small screen these days. While not as obvious to the viewers, the talented men and women behind the screens are also found vacillating between feature film and television productions. Producers, directors, cinematographers, and others have embraced both mediums with respect to their quality work.  Costume designer Jane Johnston is one such respected professional. With a long list of film credits that includes: The Ghost and The Whale, Mission Impossible II, Last Cab To Darwin, and Macbeth (for which she won and AFI Award for Best Costume Design), Johnston has been vetted many times over. Like the marquee names she has worked with on feature films, Jane has lent her talents to a number of TV films as well. Whether adding to the authenticity and emotion of the story or assisting the actors to play against type and find the essence of their character, Johnston’s thumbprint is always there in every production.

Jane signed on as costume designer for 2015’s “A Deadly Adoption” without any information about the cast; she simply wanted to work with Emmy award-winning director and producer Rachel Lee Goldenberg. Having worked with Rachel before, she was certain only the most talented would be involved. “A Deadly Adoption” would afford Johnston the opportunity to work with two of Hollywood’s biggest names, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig. In contrast to what one would presume, the film is a drama. With the two leads playing against type and public expectation, Jane would need to create a look for both of them that trepidatiously went down the path of seriousness. Always approaching the character first rather than the actor, Jane notes, “I just needed to get my head into the character and not think about the actors comedic past. I dressed them as if it were any two actors playing these roles. Both of them were so great to work with. They took their roles and their jobs seriously so it was the same approach I’ve had on other films. In this case the characters that were being played by Will Ferrell and Kristin Wiig were reasonably conservative and as they were playing it ‘straight’, there wasn’t meant to be anything that alluded to the humor they are known for. This also helped to contrast to the latter part of the film where things start to go awry and the craziness begins.”

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Johnston’s process is to read the script (often multiple times) to discover who the character truly is…in much the same manner as the actors approach it. Preparing looks for the characters based on her own interpretation and conversations with the director, producer, and cinematographer, Jane finds that the fitting process with the actors often aids them in connecting to and discovering the characters. Many subtleties are taken into consideration. Jane explains, “Robert Benson (played by Ferrell) is a conservative man and it seemed to me that he came from the Midwest. He had been through some challenging times in his life and was ‘back on track’. I dressed him in classic clothing such as chinos and long sleeve button through shirts. His look didn’t change much until the later part of the film but it always remained true to his character. I think it was important to have the character look ‘straight’ particularly as it was being played by Will Ferrell and his fans will automatically have projected humor onto him. Kristen Wiig’s [role as] Sarah Benson was a little more ‘quirky’. She ran a stall at the markets and sold fresh breads and produce so I wanted her look to have that quality about it. She was also a busy mother and wife. I dressed Kristen in a few pairs of overalls and t-shirts and sneakers. She still looked cute but in a practical way. Again her look didn’t change much so it was a matter of giving the character depth and having them look believable.” Much like a game of ‘spot the difference’ anything that did not perfectly match the lifestyle and feel of these characters would take viewers immediately out of the scene and remind them that they were watching two of comedy’s biggest stars. This all meant that Johnston’s choices were highly important and ever so slight in their leanings. The film’s director, Goldenberg, proclaims, “Since both Mr. Ferrell and Ms. Wiig are arguably two of the biggest actors to star in a Marvista film, it was absolutely necessary that we have only the most talented and skilled costumer such as Jane on set. Needless to say, Jane was absolutely crucial to Marvista Entertainment as evidenced by the way that she perfectly captured the company’s brand of their films’ multi-dimensional but relatable characters. Through her impeccable costume design prowess, she became one of Marvista’s go-to department heads.”

Johnston was also brought aboard by Goldenberg for Marvista’s “Escape from Polygamy.” While this production may not have had all the instantly recognizable names of “A Deadly Adoption” the performances and the look of it resulted in overwhelming ratings. “Escape From Polygamy” was rated first in its premiere, which brought Marvista to global renown. As a result, Marvista garnered outstanding profit and saw an increase in revenue. This is the story of two young people in love who persevere in a romance in the midst of their Mormon community. The challenge for Jane was to create a look for the characters that was set in a modern polygamous compound. Sharon Bordas, EVP (Production & Development) of Marvista remarks, “I was so impressed with Jane’s professional and creative presence on set. She is resourceful and inventive. She possesses and exhibits the qualities that Marvista looks for in a costume designer: an artistic eye and the ability to find intelligent solutions, especially when working with a limited budget.”

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Utilizing high collared conservative blouses and overalls and then offsetting them with slim fitting/modern clothes and even Chuck Taylor shoes, Jane blended the traditional and contemporary to inject the struggle of the characters and their actions. When asked about the incredible ratings response to “Escape from Polygamy” and her work on this production, she reveals, “It’s definitely has a self-esteem boost to it for sure! I was very proud of my work and I received some fantastic feedback and acknowledgement from many of the actors, the producer Sharon Bordas and Rachel the director. It was my privilege to take care of the actors and their characters and to fulfill my role as costume designer.”

PRODUCING A PAINFUL WAR FILM WITH “DAVID” YU HAO SU IN “RESURGENT”

Yu Hao Su is Harvey Keitel. Okay, maybe he isn’t the Oscar nominated actor but just like Keitel’s character Mr. White in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, David (as Su in known) has a reputation for being a “fixer” in the film industry. When the 2016 Action/Thriller Resurgent needed to do a reshoot for scenes which take place in Afghanistan, David was contacted to contribute his exemplary producing skills. A reshoot is so crucial to a film because it has to match the existing footage in so many ways as to seem and feel that it was part of the original filming. Any deviation from the tone and mood of the existing principal footage could derail the already massive amount of work a production has executed, to say nothing of completely distracting the audience. As the editor of this film, no one is more qualified than James Stiegelbauer to comment on the work of David on the reshoot. Stiegelbauer proclaims, “Yu-Hao was calm under pressure. When our director made last minute script changes, everyone was concerned it couldn’t be pulled off but Yu-Hao didn’t even flinch. He made a few calls and quickly got everything that was needed. Yu-Hao is detail oriented, resourceful, and is never afraid to get his hands dirty. I would ask him to work on every job if I could. We could not have finished Resurgent without his hard work. He coordinated with the actors, locations, and crew quickly making all the necessary arrangements to meet our needs. As an Editor, I’m not on set, but I do need to be in constant communication with the director and cinematographer. Yu-Hao was crucial in this communication. This ability to be able to keep the work flowing even as unforeseen factors arise and must be dealt with…that’s what the truly great producers possess.”

Resurgent is a film which depicts the story of a mercenary who must come to terms with a botched mission in order to return to the battlefield. Max, the main character (played by Manny Cartier) is suffering from the pain of his partner who has died in a military missionary with him in Afghanistan. The action and military theme of this film necessitates stunts, something which David is familiar in dealing with. Setting the table in a safe manner for these stunts is highly important to him. He notes, “We have a lot of stunt in the film. I need to make sure the stunts are done right in order to make sure the actors are completely safe. We not only have the stunt coordinator on set but also a set medic. This may seem obvious but every little situation must be planned for regardless of if it ever needs to be used. We also have a weapon wrangler on set to make sure people are aware on set, even though the weapons are just props. My job is not only to make sure the stunt scenes are well-planned but also to make sure the set is safe. I take stunts very seriously. Because it’s an action film with a lot of stunts (and we filmed in a dessert to cheat it as Afghanistan) I needed to make sure our production was a self-contained unit with everything we could possibly need at a moment’s notice. It’s not easy to shoot stunt scenes with weapon props in the desert. I need to make sure everyone is safe not only because of the stunt actions but also the difficult shooting environment.”

For those of us who don’t work in the film industry, it might be hard to understand exactly what a producer does on set. For those who do work in film, it’s difficult to overemphasize the impact a producer has on any film. A producer’s role can be described as parent, police officer, president, healer, and best friend…all in one person. A producer is the person who supplies what you need even before you understand and comprehend that you need it. It’s a conflicting situation for most producers. They love what they do but they rarely are afforded the opportunity to lose themselves in the fun of watching the movie magic they help to create. David states, “Being in charge of the reshoot for Resurgent was fun, there’s no mistaking that. I just had to always be thinking a few steps ahead. There is really no time for losing yourself in the moment. It’s interesting to shoot an action film. The stunt sequences with the stunt coordinator are fun and look amazing in the film. Watching that when the film is finished is fun. There are always challenges that are unique to each film. The desert location we filmed didn’t have a phone signal or Internet. It’s very hard to run a set without this technical stuff. We ended up planning it well and got the work done in spite of this. There is nothing to complain about for me. I’m so excited to be a part of this industry. To focus on the story and tell the story from an essential human’s point of view. I believe truth and humanity is the key to delivering a story everyone can understand and connect to.”

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ALL HEED THE MESSAGE OF AWAKEN

The arts have been the creative analogous tool of creative types for centuries. This format to communicate the real life situations with which society is confronted must often be done in a covert manner. In order to avoid strife and previously held opinions, avenues like music, literature, theater, and film, are utilized to help us see things from other perspectives. This methodology often finds us sympathizing in a first person sense, placing ourselves in the shoes of others and their circumstances. Historically, great art has struck a chord in the collective society and spurred on movements that create change. This is the story told in the film Awaken by Bruce Sze Han Chen. It is a lofty idea that he proposes in the film. In order to successfully bring about his vision, Bruce obtained the successful production talents of “David” Yu Hao Su. The many accolades and recognitions that the film has received prove that this decision was well founded for all involved parties. Some of the achievements include: Accolade Competition 2015 (Winner-Award of Merit), Alaska International Film Festival (Winner-Northern Lights Emerging Talent Award), California Film Awards (Winner-Diamond Award), Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards (Best Production Design), Mexico International Film Festival (Winner-Golden Palm Award), World Film Awards, Jakarta (Award of Merit), and on and on. Regardless of geographic location, audiences were captivated by Awaken’s message, a message which was delivered exactly as its creator had envisioned thanks to the support and talent of his producer David (as well as co-producer Pin Chun Liu). As with any great artist, having the professionals around you to allow you the freedom to create your art is paramount.

Awaken is a story which is applicable to any society, political system, or theology on the planet. The heroine of the film is Sophie. She has spent her life working in an enormous factory. In this facility, the workers’ minds are controlled by the music which is ubiquitous. One day, Sophie is suddenly impervious to the effects of the music and she decides to destroy the music system in order to free everyone from its effects and the factory’s dictator who is in control. The message is thinly veiled but easily understood; be in control of your own life rather than to unconsciously follow a path which is handed down to you by others, others who may be less concerned about your well-being than their own. As a producer on Awaken, it was David’s role to assist Bruce (the director) to find a production designer, costume designer, and other principle team members. Location and casting was a particularly vital part of this film. The lead actress playing Sophie is a minor which meant that scheduling needed to be coordinated around strict guidelines. The futuristic location of a massive factory was coordinated among three different venues. To further complicate things, an enormous amount of extras were cast and then supplemented with VFX to complete the proper feel of the factory and its workers. David reveals, “We needed to create a lot of workers to show how big the factory is and how many people are controlled by the dictator. We decide to use VFX to duplicate the workers. We found an excellent VFX team to helps us prepare the work and coordinate it with the Camera and Art departments. Even though we decided to use VFX to duplicate the workers in the factory, we still needed a huge amount of extras to create the materials for the VFX team. Also the location we had for the factory was huge, so it required us to have an enormous amount of extras on set. My production team and I posted casting information online and called all the actors we knew in order to have so many extras come to our set. The VFX works is the most challenging part for me because we had a very limited budget and time to plan the VFX. It ended up that the VFX scene worked very well and it’s all because of the teamwork each department devoted.” To fully understand the role David played in Awaken, consider that the actual principal filming took five days. His preproduction involvement began two months prior to filming and his post-production work took place for three months following its conclusion. That’s a ratio of 1/20 or more. The beauty and strength of the message in Awaken solidify the fact that when creative artists of all vocations work together, they can create and communicate in a manner that reaches the public and critics. The beauty of this film lies not only in its aesthetic but also in its content, both of which are fueled by the amazing team that brought it into existence.

 

 

 

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DIORS SAMURAI IS ZHENG KANG’S ACTION/ROMANCE AT ITS NERDY BEST!

Doing your best and always giving one hundred percent are more important now than ever. Information is instantaneous these days and you can google anything in less time than it takes to yawn. Zheng Kang has always given his best and it is starting to supply dividends to his career. Belying his young age, Kang’s animation productions have already reached achievements like being used by faculty at USC School of Cinematic Arts for graduate animation classes (Lion Dance, in which he oversaw a group of professionals spread across five continents), working on the Comedy Central’s TripTank (contributing to every episode of the entire second season), and others. As such a recognized part of the animation community, his diverse creations are receiving great attention. one of his earliest productions, Diors Samurai, shows a different side of Zheng’s sentiment and may soon be made into a series production at a US network. Diors (Chinese for “loser”), gives a hint to the humor found in this action animated show. One cornerstone of Kang’s work is that it is always different, thematically and stylistically. A viewing of the Diors Samurai trailer (http://vimeo.com/189854381) reveals how different it is from his other work (https://vimeo.com/190416387 Baby and Granny for example). It is not hyperbolic to state that each new film Zheng starts receives the respect of him breaking his approach down and starting fresh each time. As both a director and an animator, Zheng Kang has learned to give each story the opportunity to become its own entity.

Production I.G.’s Dead Leaves (distributed in Japan, North America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK) and Samurai Jack (the American animated series on Comedy Central) both inspired Kang’s approach for Diors Samurai. He wanted an Eastern influence, time travel, a love story, all augmented by his sense of humor and wit. The tale of Diors Samurai is that of a hero who falls in love with a beautiful princess and is heartbroken to learn that their love is forbidden. A chance encounter with a magical elder reveals that he may marry the princess if he travels through time to find her in the dystopian future. He jumps at the chance and finds her, only to learn that she is now a successful police officer with no memory of him! Yota (the samurai) must divide his time between saving the city from ruthless organized gangs, trying to understand this confusing modern world, and hopefully sweeping the princess off her feet! While the story is full of action and danger, it’s the characters who drive the story and interest viewers the most. Yota is a very strong samurai but very tiny. He grew up with his lord’s daughter and was in-charge of protecting her every day. Yota fell in love with her but never told her as society would not approve of this. When the princess is selected to marry another lord’s son, Yota cannot do anything about it and is beside himself. While he is adept at fighting and killing, he does not know how to express his feelings and show love. The “Diors” or “loser” facet of this character comes from his unrequited love as well as his inability to express himself (a modern view of loser for certain). The princess in Diors Samurai is perhaps one of the most positive and well-rounded female Asian leads accessible to viewers these days. In ancient time she is very elegant, like every traditional princess in our mind. In the future however, she is tough, strong, and highly proficient with firearms. The princess possesses qualities that appeal to every type of fan and contradict stereotypical female roles.

While Diors Samurai is definitely an action program, Zheng confirms that it shares a common thread with all of his creations, “It’s a love story. People search every day for love and to find their partner. That’s a basic human need. I know that people have an immediate thought in their minds that a samurai/warrior is very serious and not in touch with their feelings. Their mission is always to protect and serve their king. I wanted to create someone who is just like normal people, someone who feels loves and is eager to get love. Yota has some strength but also has drawbacks. He might be a winner as a Samurai but might be a loser in life. That’s a universal story no matter what part of the world you are from or what you might do in your life. We all struggle for love and we all want it.”

Perhaps the most striking and apparent aspect of Diors Samurai is the mixture of Eastern artistic style with a western based theme and emotion. The clash/combination of the two serves to heighten the impact of both in this production. Zheng states, “I grew up with comics and manga. I began to draw them when I was a little kid. So my drawing style is highly influenced by Japanese anime and manga, which looks very Asian. I also enjoy western storytelling like Pixar and Disney features because they always have a clear and simple storyline. They’re character-driven, there are three acts, and the motivations and conflicts for every character are easy to understand. I enjoy Asian storytelling very much but I have to say, sometimes it’s too cultural and you can get confused if you’re unfamiliar with that culture.” Caroline Hu (formerly the Character Artist at Warner Bros. Animation and Conceptual Artist at Walt Disney Feature Animation/now the Artist at Warner Bros Consumer Products) notes Zheng’s successful integration of these two cultural traits. She relates, “Zheng’s approach to storytelling is both collaborative and diverse, and is exactly what Hollywood needs right now. It’s very refreshing to see. His successful marrying of two cultures, Asian and Western, to create a number of globally successful projects, is no small feat. Zheng’s animation and direction skills are superior. As a member of the Animation Faculty at USC School of Cinematic Arts, I often refer to his projects when addressing undergrad and graduate film students in my masterclass, even using Zheng’s materials as a teaching aid to show the students how things should be done!”

His role as director/animator has become commonplace for Kang these days but his work with composer Torin Borrowdale on Diors Samurai was one of his first entries into overseeing multiple facets of an animation production. Zheng understood that the mixing of cultures in his story, combined with the dichotomy of a Samurai in love, meant that he needed a soundtrack that would mesh with these ideas. Add to that, the need for intensity in the actions scenes and the music suddenly became paramount. Kang recalls, “I was always looking for high energy, with Japanese traditional instruments and elements in the music. Because it’s an action-comedy, high energy music can work very well with every sequence. Because the characters are Samurai, Japanese traditional instruments and elements can help build an authentic atmosphere. I found some reference music for Torin so he could understand what I wanted, but he also provided great ideas which made the final music much better than the reference music, suitable and unique! After this first cooperation with a composer, I understood how important music is for storytelling. I respect composers very much and would like to work with them to achieve great and unique music. For me it’s always a mind- blowing experience and learning opportunity when I work with my composers.”

The interest in Diors Samurai does not rely solely on the achievements of Kang’s more recent productions. With Official Selection Screenings at the: Trailer Fest Film Festival, London Monthly Film Festival, Direct Short Online Film Festival, Creation International Film Festival, and the Play Film Festival, Diors Samurai was highly noticed when it first was made available as a Short. Now, the industry that has become so captivated by this director/animator’s lauded animation productions has also rediscovered the time-travelling Samurai that began it all. Sword in hand and princess in heart, Yota is disproving his own moniker to his creator Zheng Kang.work-on-animation

Film Director Claudio DiFede’s Date with Cinema Fate

The movie business is fraught with ambition, cynicism and expedience—qualities diametrically opposed to producer-director Claudio DiFede’s gentle, artistic nature. The Canadian-born DiFede, who is equally at home working in television and motion pictures, betrays a gentle, individualistic aesthetic that is a refreshing divergence from hard driving commercially-fixated attitude which so frequently saps the creativity from mainstream Hollywood projects.

Claudio’s aesthetic, part vulnerable hesitancy, part determined auteur, part pop culture guerilla is showcased in his unusual, career defining documentary film “Calling Spielberg.” The story is one of fateful twists and human foibles that reflects the film maker’s distinct, creative philosophy.

The origins of “Calling Spielberg” goes back to the early 1990’s, when the 22 year old Claudio was barnstorming through Tinsel Town, tuxed up and cheeky enough to finagle his way into the People’ Choice Awards ceremony at Sony Studios. This was a star-studded, formal affair with tight security which the charming film maker easily bypassed. Backstage following the presentations, Claudio came to face to face with his greatest idol, the legendary director Steven Spielberg.

“It was a once in a lifetime thing—by chance if you will!” Claudio said. Like my whole life had lead up to that moment in time. It was crazy! Spielberg had just accepted the People’s Choice Special Tribute award and I found myself, backstage, just walking right beside him. It was one of those things I’d always thought of, ‘what would you say to Spielberg if you met him?’ Well, it happened, it took a lot of chutzpha but I introduced myself and I told the biggest Director in Hollywood: ‘Take it to the bank,’ I told him. ‘You and I are going to work together one day. For a split second I thought ‘WTF did I just say to him?’ He smiled, asked my name again and replied ‘Sure kid, why not?’”

Emboldened, Claudio repeated the feat weeks later, but at even higher profile affair: the post-Academy Awards Governor’s Ball at Shrine Auditorium, a big night for Spielberg whose “Schindler’s List” had just won seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.

“It happened again a few weeks later, after the Oscars,” Claudio said.  This time I found my chance, I hugged him and face to face I told him that I can only imagine what it must be like to create such an incredible, moving film as Schindler’s List. He replied ‘Thank you,’ and told me it had taken a lot out of him. I then asked, ‘So, when can I call you?'”

DiFede today would not elaborate much more on the conversation or on his reply “I don’t want to give out too much on the film,” he said. “But let’s just say; it was encouraging.”

“I drove home that evening, roof down and I remember I couldn’t contain my emotions any longer. So I let out the loudest scream!” Claudio said. ‘The fact he remembered my name from our first meeting—it was a feeling I cannot describe. We all have dreams and this was mine. It was nothing short of a crazy euphoria.”

Was it just a lark, a childhood fantasy that had unexpectedly played out? Time passed. Claudio moved along with his life, fell in love, married, and started a family.

“I never called the man,” he said. “I had the chance, and I never did. I was asking myself that question. Then It occurred to me, I must be the only human being that never called Steven Spielberg when he asked someone to. What if? What if I did call? I was thinking there must be a lot of people in my situation that have left behind many of opportunities maybe even regrets and dreams left behind. We all once had aspirations, dreams – did I miss my opportunity?  there was one way to find out.20 years later, and that was to make ‘Calling Spielberg.’”

“When I first started working with Claudio I didn’t really have any formal training in filmmaking,” Mike T. King, editor at Big Coat Productions, said. “I jumped at the opportunity. Claudio’s attitude was infectious, which got me excited to hop onboard. The amount of time and effort he has poured into ‘Calling Spielberg’ is incredible, inspiring even. It is his passion project.”

Still in post-production, Calling Spielberg promises to be a fascinating examination of the human condition. Unorthodox and compelling, equal parts documentary, philosophical seeking, self-examination and show business truth-telling, it’s a rich, multifaceted achievement.

“Things happen for a reason, and we simply cannot give up on our dreams,” Claudio said. “I have matured and what my goals were in my 20’s compared to what they are now are very different. My goal now is to truly be who I am, living out my life doing what makes me happy. Honestly, I consider being a dad, fatherhood, as my greatest achievement.“

But Claudio’s romance with film remains profound. “Professionally, I was involved in Canada’s first reality TV show, and that was a great experience,” he said. “And being part of the American Film Institute, just being immersed with such talents from all walks of life was wonderful. To collaborate with my AFI fellows was a cherished experience. I am passionate about storytelling, through television or the big screen, either way its storytelling.”

Claudio’s commitment and emotional involvement with storytelling is a compelling, legitimate creative force, one that is certain to soon reach a wide international audience.

“Claudio is a talented director and pays a great attention to detail,” composer Mark Dunnet said. “He never gives up until he gets that perfect shot or performance”.

Actor Philip Moran Totally Recalls his big break

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Philip Moran as the immigration sergeant in 2012’s Total Recall.

For many actors, their breakout comes from a gruelling audition process, waiting in a room with hundreds of others, hoping to be the one left standing. There are call backs, and screen tests and waiting games, creating a stressful situation that eventually turns into something. After the process is over and everyone is cast, the rest is history. For actor Philip Moran, his career-changing role came quite differently, when he played the immigration sergeant in the 2012 blockbuster Total Recall.

Some people attribute luck or chance to their success, but Moran is not one of them. His unwavering belief that he will do something and achieve something ends up becoming a manifested truth. This is what happened with 2012’s Total Recall, starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, and Jessica Biel.

“It is quite extraordinary how it all happened. I felt assured that I was going to get an actor role in this blockbuster movie. I didn’t know how it was all going to happen, but I sensed it would. I posted all these positive-notes around my house to help create a strong inspiring expectation. I started making phone calls and tracking information to make things happen. For the first time, I joined the Actra union,” said Moran. “I got onto the set in a less significant role, and gradually caught the attention of Len Wisemen, the director of the movie.”

Wisemen, married to the film’s co-star Kate Beckinsale, had seen Moran on camera, and handpicked him to take on a more challenging acting role, telling Moran he could be a bigger asset to the film. The next day when Moran walked on set, he felt like the star he would soon become.

“At one point, I actually remember there were three cameras on me, and Colin Farrell, a great actor, was standing in my scene, but there weren’t any cameras on him. I felt like a star,” Moran said, almost still in disbelief. “And it felt really special. You have to get up and make it happen for yourself. You can’t wait for people or things to come to you.”

Now, Moran is the star of the upcoming feature film Adams Testament, filmed in late 2015, working alongside an all-star cast. The role has already been official selections at film festivals and brought Moran himself an award nomination at the 2017 INFAME awards. This success, he says, can all be contributed to that one fateful day in 2012 on the set of Total Recall, and the strong desire to want to be something more.

“For some reason, I was expecting it, like it was part of my universal plan. During filming, I was walking on the set as if I was one of the main actors. When Len Wisemen asked to talk to me, I was definitely very excited and felt my plan was working. Even though I believed it would happen, I was still a bit shocked, but I knew it was happening,” he said.

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Philip Moran is from Toronto, Ontario.

The role was Moran’s bread and butter. Having attended school years before to train as a police officer, he had training on firing a gun, which was one of the requirements of the role. Everything was working out for him. He was prepared, excited, ready, and expected the perfect opportunity.

“I brought my mother and my sisters to see the film at a Cineplex theatre, and they saw me on the screen in a big feature film. People were paying to be there. It was great,” said Moran. “My mom thought it was wonderful. I brought her to things before, like small film festivals and short film premieres, but nothing as special as seeing a big blockbuster movie and seeing your son on the big screen and his name scrolling in the cast list.”

The role provided Moran with the breakthrough he needed. From there, he became sought after and recognized in the industry. He started creating some acting workshops, and shared excitement with other people through those classes. Director Rafael Kalamat was inspired after seeing Moran’s acting scene, and offered his services as Moran’s personal publicist. Kalamat was then motivated to open his own production company and in 2015, he cast Moran as the starring role in his film Adams Testament.

“Philip is a flexible actor who can be a lead in an independent feature like Adams Testament or a day player on a Hollywood blockbuster like 2012’s Total Recall,” said Kalamat.

Moran said the scene came with a price, as it was a very popular scene in the original 1990 Total Recall film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. In Moran’s scene, Colin Farrell, disguised as someone else, is sneaking through immigration at the airport. When the officers realize it is him, a fight erupts. Wanting to make the scene not only as memorable, but better than the original film was important to the director.

“There were a lot of stunts, and a lot of bullets shells flying. That whole scene, it’s one cut. There were 450 background people on set, and approximately another 50 were stunt performers. It was so exciting,” said Moran. “I remember in one take I got hit with one of the machine gun shells and when it hit me on the cheek, it burnt. I saw the red mark, I got some gun powder in my eye when I held the gun up in the air. But being a professional I flinched and continued filming. It was a sacrifice, because that’s what good actors do.”

Working on the film was Moran’s first career-changing role acting with an ensemble cast, which he says gave him an amazing opportunity to learn from some of Hollywood’s best. After previously working as a warrior on the 1995 film Johnny Mneamonic with Keanu Reeves, this was his first opportunity since then to combine stunt work with his acting skills in a major film. For Moran, it was kind of a déjà vu.

“It’s funny, because my first film I worked on was Johnny Mneamonic back in 1995. The movie was about a man who had something in his brain that bad people wanted. When you think of 2012’s Total Recall, it’s a lot like Johnny Mneamonic and the 1990 Total Recall combined. There I am almost 20 years later, working on a film combining the two. It was magical. I came full circle to realize my career was made,” he said.

There is no doubt that Moran’s experience on 2012’s Total Recall ignited his career, and being singled out by a top Hollywood director justified any struggles he would have or had already experienced. Since that time, he maintains that having belief in yourself and the right attitude, combined with skill and opportunity, will get anyone wanting success to where they need to be. And it looks like that plan is working out pretty well for him so far.

“I felt like I was on my way to something but I didn’t know what. People are always saying you can’t see what’s ahead, and I tell them it’s based on what’s happening to you now, your interpretation of it, planning your work, and working your plan” he concluded.

Navid Charkhi Dances Into His Second “Descendants” Movie

Working 15-hour days is nothing when you love what you do and you’re having a good time doing it. For Iranian-Canadian dancer, Navid Charkhi, it is working with esteemed director, Kenny Ortega, the cast and the choreographers on Disney’s Descendants 2 film that makes long, grueling days fun in front of and behind the camera.

Navid Charkhi and Kenny Ortega
Navid Charkhi with Kenny Ortega on the Descendants 2 set.

“The way Kenny talks to the actors and dancers, and presents his acting or movement ideas to the cast– I feel he sees everything happening already and when he gives direction to the cast it is usually brilliant. There’s always a wow factor when you see his demonstrations,” says Charkhi.  “I watch closely and follow his steps behind the scenes.”

Who wouldn’t when working with a three-time Emmy award-winner who has directed projects like High School Musical, choreographed timeless films such as Dirty Dancing, and collaborated with heavy-hitters Michael Jackson, Bette Midler and Gene Kelly?

Charkhi and Ortega actually have similar reasons for getting into show business. Both were inspired as boys by dancers they idolized. For Ortega it was Hollywood screen legend, Kelly that moved him toward a career in the entertainment industry. Charkhi grew up watching Michael Jackson on television and was mesmerized, copying and learning from the popular recording artist and dancer’s moves. Charkhi admits to being a bit starstruck by the Descendants director’s history with the King of Pop.

“Kenny has worked with Micheal Jackson himself. Hearing stories of them working just brings tears to my eyes.”

Ortega is pretty impressed with Charkhi, too. The director recalls that Charkhi proved himself a standout right from the very beginning.

“I could not believe how much talent and skill he demonstrated at the initial auditions for the production,” remembers Ortega. “Usually dancers take a few takes and auditions before beginning to impress the director and the production crew. However, this was not the case for Navid.”

Dancer Navid Charkhi

Indeed Charkhi’s natural instincts when performing complex dance moves became an asset during the three-day Descendants 2 audition.

“On the first day over 400 people showed up and more than 200 of them got cut,” he says.

Co-choreographer, Tony Testa, explains that those who could not keep up while learning a new piece of choreography each day were cut from the production. Charkhi, on the other hand, has quickly made himself an “irreplaceable asset to the film,” according to Ortega. Not long after the initial auditions Charkhi was assigned to working alongside Testa, as he was the only dancer able to keep up with the changing challenges throughout the production.

“[Navid] is able to instantly adapt to any type of dance depending on the style of the production, which is an extremely important characteristic for a Descendants 2 dancer to have,” explains Testa.

In addition to versatility, characterization is also extremely important for a dancer working in the film industry. Ron Oliver directed Charkhi in the film Mostly Ghostly 3, for which Charkhi was promoted as assistant to choreographer, Richard O’Sullivan and helped to create choreography and prepare the cast for filming the sequences in just three days. Oliver is quick to express how well Charkhi works under pressure but, as a director, also gives insight into Charkhi’s acting abilities.

“Navid’s dance aesthetic is extremely distinct from the rest of his peers as he is able to portray character emotions through his dance moves,” states Oliver.

In the first Descendants movie, Charkhi got to play a baddie that wreaks havoc on a village. For Descendants 2, which is set to premiere in summer 2017, he still gets to explore his dark side, this time as a pirate. According to Paul Becker, who co-choreographed the original Descendants film, it’s a far cry from Charkhi’s real-life personality, however.

Navid Charkhi

“Navid is a generous spirit and great to work with,” insists Becker. “His giving nature comes across in his dancing. I have had the pleasure of hiring Navid as a dancer on [multiple] projects and always welcome the opportunity to work with people like him.”

Charkhi’s combination of generosity, work ethic, talent, and ability to adapt to any style or genre makes this Descendants dance principal one to watch as he ascends to great heights in Hollywood.