Category Archives: Screenwriter

Challenging perspectives with esteemed screenwriter Varunn Pandya

The House_Headshot
Varunn Pandya, photo by Chaaritha Dheerasinghe

Christopher Reeves once said, “so many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.” For esteemed writer and screenwriter, Varunn Pandya, this mentality is all of the inspiration he needs to remind himself that with the right amount of hard work and dedication, he is able to achieve everything he sets his heart to. Growing up, the talented creative found himself inspired by Reeves’ interpretation of one of society’s token superheroes and credits his ability to play Superman as being one of the characters that initially sparked his interest in film. From there, he immersed himself into every avenue that the industry has to offer and found a love for the profession he now calls his own. As for his desire to create, it is stronger than ever before, and he has a knack for finding unique ways to showcase that will to the world.

“As a writer and screenwriter, I develop stories that I aim to show or display to the world in a way they’ve not necessarily experienced before. As I also like to direct, I try to write stories that I can bring a unique perspective to. Because I was born in India, I like to think that I bring some unique ideas to the United States and that I help to break some of the stereotypes associated with living on the Eastern side of the world,” told Pandya.

As he continues to navigate his way through the arts and entertainment industry, Pandya often finds himself taken aback by the breadth of opportunities and the amount of creative freedom he is allowed to use in order to imagine without limits and tell truly compelling stories. He has a reputation for finding areas of film that touch his audiences and he manages to do so in a way that keeps content fresh and engaging. In addition, he takes great pride in knowing that through his words and the stories that he brings to life, he has a grand platform to challenge the minds of his viewers and allow them to open their eyes to societal issues that they may or may not even be aware of. For instance, in his script XYZ where Pandya, alongside Badar AlShuaib, cast an important light on the unconscious, and sometimes conscious, bias that human beings exhibit toward their own race. In another of his scripts, The House, Pandya attempted to step outside of himself and allow his audiences to see the world from a perspective other than their own.

The House tells the story of Carl, a homeless man living in Los Angeles struggling to find a human connection amidst the repercussions of a rough upbringing. The storyline follows Carl’s daily routine as he collects metal scraps from the areas surrounding him and food from the trash in order to sustain himself. One fateful day, however, Carl comes across a family in his neighborhood and he grows a fascination for them. As the story progresses, viewers are taken on a journey through Carl and the family’s interactions. The story reminds us that regardless of our life circumstances, our skin color, our nationality, or whatever other features we use to distinguish ourselves from others, we are not all that different on the inside. We share similar emotions and at the end of the day, we are all human. Sometimes it just takes a little reminding from people like Pandya.

For The House, Pandya managed to develop a script in just four days. Writing it felt natural and he did everything in his power to keep the content as raw and powerful as possible. Wherever he could make the script seem realistic, he did just that and attempted to ensure that the script demanded empathy from its audience. He also made a particular effort to cast Carl in a different light than most homeless individuals are seen in. He wanted to show the world that not all homeless individuals intend to be, nor does their living situation make them any less human than the rest of us.

Up until The House, Pandya had only really ever worked with thrillers. What he loved most, therefore, about this project was the fact that it allowed him to step into unchartered territory and to explore an area of society he hadn’t otherwise given much thought into. He takes great pride in knowing that his script has the power to change the minds of many as they engage with the script and consider their actions from there forward. In the end, Pandya was not the only one who found a love for the script. In fact, The House went on to win a number of prestigious awards, such as Best Short Screenplay at the Five Continents International Cult Film Festival in June 2018 and at the Calcutta International Film Festival in September 2018.

“It feels great to know that the script has been widely appreciated by people all over the world. This script will always remain one of the most memorableprojects I’ve written as I think it’s the most personal story I have written despite it being based on a character that is very different from me,” he concluded.

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Writer and Director Claire Leona Apps takes showcases the Great North Run in acclaimed film

Writing has always come naturally to Claire Leona Apps. She loves telling stories and loves how they serve society; they can teach us and warn us, they can entertain while serving a greater purpose. A good story can create conversation and express ideas that help us relate to new points of view. It’s a powerful tool, and Apps understands that. Her passion for storytelling translates directly into her work as both a screenwriter and a director, from the words she puts down on a page to the way she puts it together in front of a camera, and she captivates worldwide audiences with films.

Apps is an in-demand writer and director, with a series of decorated projects highlighting her esteemed resume. These include her acclaimed films Gweipo, Aceh Recovers, Ruminate, and And Then I Was French. She is known for her ability to showcase the lives of underrepresented characters and bring a dark sense of humour to a story.

“I try not to get so caught up on the real world with my work. I have to deal with that every day anyway. I like a little surrealism, a little irony, and films that are a little self-aware,” she said.

That is exactly the message Apps puts out with her film Girl Blue Running Shoe. The film follows the daughter of a runner participating in the Bupa Great North Run as she makes a film as he trains and runs the race. The film begins calmly with a serene domestic set-up, building pace as the race begins, cutting between the training day and the marathon. At points which demonstrate the intensity of running, a special zoetrope effect is used, breaking down the movement of running into paused actions, reflecting the rhythm of the action – the steady thumping of shoes on gravel, a beating heart, breathing. The piece is shot solely on Super 8, edited to emulate both the excitement of the daughter as an observer and the adrenaline of the participator. With a soundtrack of enhanced natural noises, Girl Blue Running Shoeis an evocative celebration of the human body whilst also telling the simple story of a father-daughter relationship.

“It’s a story about loving and sharing in the experiences of the people you love. It also dissects the movements of running,” said Apps. “Usually I do pretty dark things. It was nice to do something that ended up in a children’s film festival line up. It’s nice to just show love, simple straight forward love between a father and daughter,” she said.

Apps wrote the story and pitched it to the British Arts Council to commission the film. When she got the commission, she immediately began directing, coming up with a new camera technique for the film. The story has two components. One is a daughter watching her father run the race. He is doing his hobby, running, and she is doing hers, filmmaking. She films him running on a Super 8 camera. Therefore, as the director, Apps decided to shoot the whole film on Super 8 cameras. This truly allowed audiences to immerse themselves in the girl’s point of view. Apps also had the idea to use the sprocket holes of the physical film and the division between the different pictures to create a zoetrope like film effect. She did this all by hand: slowing the footage down and cranking it through a projector to be re-filmed.

Shooting took place at the Great North Run in Newcastle, England, one of the biggest half marathons in the world. This presented a unique challenge for Apps, who had to shoot a fictional story around a live marathon. Therefore, the actual shoot was extremely fast. She had to make quick decisions to deal with whatever came their way. There were roads shut off, spectators everywhere, and of course the runners themselves, and they had to move all around them with a child actress.

“The hardest thing about this project was finding the right kid to play the lead. It is a large ask to have a child give you full energy for a few hours of extreme intensity, but Adrianna Bertola, who played the lead, was a dream,” said Apps.

The film premiered on BBC during the Great North Run the following year. It went on to be at the Great North Museum for an exhibition. It was also an Official Selection at the Cork International Film Festival. The success was wonderful for Apps, as the shoot was a chaotic and fun experience.

Now, Apps is currently working on another feature film. She is a truly exceptional filmmaker, engaging viewers of all ages, which is evident with her work on Girl Blue Running Shoe. She knows the key to her success is working hard, and she encourages all those looking to follow in her footsteps to do the same.

“Prepare yourself for a lot of hard work and don’t expect anyone to discover you. We live in a world at the moment where you can generate a lot of attention by yourself and you can make films on your phone. Make something and keep going,” she advised.

Sonia Gumuchian: One Gifted Writer to Keep your Eyes On

 

Sonia Gumuchian
Writer Sonia Gumuchian

It’s no wonder that internationally acclaimed writer Sonia Gumuchian has caught America’s attention. An award-winning writer with sharp dialogue, hilarious stories and impeccable timing, Gumuchian’s ability to turn real life situations into fun and engaging scripts will leave any person wanting more.

Originally from Vancouver, Canada, Gumuchian has a way with words that is an impeccable blend of both natural talent and deliberately honed skill. With her first novel under her belt before she finished high school, and then graduating from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Writing for Screen and Television, Gumuchian’s talents were quickly recognized by major powerhouse networks in Hollywood.

Working for respected TV networks such as HBO and FOX, as well as ABC Studios, Gumuchian attended table reads and provided coverage on potential scripts, which helped her learn the ropes of what goes into developing some of today’s most watched shows. Gumuchian even worked with the Hallmark Channel where the ideas she pitched were taken into consideration in the development of the 2016 Kitten Bowl, the nation’s most beloved rescue pet adoption of the year. THE KITTEN BOWL, guys.

Her pilot “Hi Again” has been met with glowing praise and interest. Centering on a young woman who wakes up as an android that’s been built by her ex boyfriend, yikes, Gumuchian’s script for “Hi Again” was awarded as a second rounder at the esteemed Austin Film Festival, an honor that only 15 to 20 percent of almost 10,000 submissions receive.

“At the time, I was inspired by the technology centered around transhumanism and the surge of science fiction content we were receiving,” Gumuchian explains. “After personally visiting AI symposiums and conducting interviews with scientists who are creating the next generation of materials made to simulate human faces, I wanted to write my own spin of the genre. What if someone was brought back to life, but not on their own terms?”

And that’s exactly what happens. The story begins in 1987, when 21-year-old Kat tragically dies from a drunken bowling accident, leaving her friends, family, and loving boyfriend, Toby, behind. Cut to 2018 and Toby, now a successful scientist, finally succeeds in downloading Kat’s consciousness onto an android, only for Kat to break up with him the second she wakes up (something she was meaning to do before she died). Now, faced with a world far into the future, Kat must navigate new waters and become reacquainted with her loved ones. With “Hi Again” Gumuchian pulls at heartstrings while exploring the depths of human connection and making the reader laugh out loud, pretty much all of the time.

One priceless mark of a great writer is their ability to pick up and expand upon a contemporary idea and make it into something more– a throughline regularly seen in sci-fi novels and scripts, but Gumuchian does it with comedy. A a certifiable pro, that’s exactly what she did with her “Good Cop, Old Cop” script drawing inspiration from the series “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” The script, which is only one of several that will leave audiences rolling on the floor laughing, earned her attention once again when, going up against 800 other entries, it made it into the Top 7 in Filmmakers.com’s TV Script Writing Competition.

The story follows Jake and Amy as they go undercover to infiltrate a fake ID epidemic, which leads Jake to the painful realization that he can’t connect to the youth anymore; meanwhile, Boyle distrusts Rosa’s new boyfriend, as Mike and Scully investigate a suspicious Chinese restaurant. The script’s ingenuity lies within Gumuchian’s seamless creation of fresh new material cut from a preexisting cloth, an invaluable asset to any writers room. Honestly, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if she starts writing for Saturday Night Live or the like very soon.

With talents expanding from screenwriting to journalism, Gumuchian has been chosen to contribute as a staff writer to a plethora of popular magazines and media outlets such as The Fullest Magazine, and Neon Tommy.

Covering countless red carpet events and movie premieres for media outlet Neon Tommy, her review of  “A Million Ways to Die in the West” not only gained major traction with audiences, but it was retweeted by Alex Borstein, one of the film’s stars. A gratifying moment for any writer.

Sonia Gumuchian
Sonia Gumuchian covering the premiere of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”

“On one of my most glamorous nights, I was invited to join the red carpet of the ‘Hunger Games,’ and got to chat with the likes of Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lawrence” Gumuchian recalls.

The voice found in Gumuchian’s writing is gripping and visceral, hilarious and deliberate, engaging and unwasted. She is an unparalleled and important presence behind a keyboard, a mind behind the pages that continue turn the world of entertainment on its side, in a good way.

She admits, “I’m the type of person where I’ll say yes to nearly any experience, and no matter how dangerous or silly my adventures may be, I usually encounter an interesting story or person along my way, and most of my stories do come that real-life inspiration. I live life as a gatherer of stories. Every new day is an opportunity for inspiration, meeting strangers, and getting whisked off to new locations.”

Though she’s gained international attention for her storytelling capacity in the realm of pop culture and comedy, Gumuchian’s gift extends far beyond that alone. Her ability to speak bravely and candidly about tragedies such as the Armenian genocide in the piece “Coming to Terms with Genocide” has helped to shed light on heavy and hard hitting world events while also giving readers a deeper look into her personal world.

She explains, “One piece that I’m proud of is a reflection I wrote about the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and my personal experience with it growing up. It was a hard piece to write, as I had to explore sometimes painful parts about not just the genocide itself, but my part in keeping the legacy alive.”

Without passionate, honest, and gifted writers such as Gumuchian, we, the human race, would never really know the true impact of incredibly sensitive, and even painful, events our cultures and societies have endured.  Gumuchian’s article about immigration and her family’s personal migration history can be found in the ‘Volume 5’ print edition of The Fullest Magazine.

As a writer Sonia Gumuchian is one powerful storyteller who’s creative genius clearly spans the gamut and she is definitely one to keep your eyes on.

 

Renowned Writer Camilla Sauer Talks Top Projects

Camilla Sauer is one of Germany’s most successful head writers. Over the past 20 years of her career, she’s been accredited for her remarkable work on over a dozen different TV series, produced by some of the biggest German and European TV and Film production companies.

Getting her start as a creative writer at the young age of 19, Sauer proved early on that she was destined to spend her life creating and telling stories. Just three years after her first professional gig, she went from intern to full-time storyliner on Germany’s second highest rated TV series, Verbotene Liebe (Forbidden Love). With numerous awards won and over 4,5000 episodes aired, Verbotene Liebe circles around the lives of young men and women in Germany, their friends, and their families, and has become well known for its positive representation of LGBT characters and its presentation of controversial issues. The show is produced by UFA Serial Drama (Metropolis and The Blue Angel), one of Germany’s oldest and most distinguished entertainment brands

Sauer worked on Verbotene Liebe for two of its 20 seasons. From there, she climbed the ranks and earned what would be her first of many head writer titles for a season on the crime series Einsatz für Ellrich, of the award-winning production company, Constantin Entertainment.

“Two years later I started working for Alles Was Zählt, where I continued to work for three years,” Sauer said. “I was there from day one and was fortunate enough to be able to create this TV drama with some of the most talented writers. We were all so different, but each and every one of us was passionate about the show. We were encouraged to tell fresh, new, and compelling stories. We all put 100% of our effort into the stories – and it paid off.”

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Camilla Sauer

In February of 2008, while Sauer was the head writer on the show, Alles Was Zählt was awarded Blu Magazine’s Best National TV Format award for its portrayal of the relationship between two of its characters, Deniz and Roman. Additionally, Guido Reinhardt, Chief Creative Officer of UFA and producer of the groundbreaking series, provided Sauer with the opportunity to work as a creative producer together with the producer of the TV series Unter Uns, ultimately trusting her to relaunch this show and work with a different team of writers, with a different broadcast station in the process. “Camilla is truly a writer of extraordinary merit and ability,” Reinhardt recently commented of his professional colleague of over 10 years. “She possesses a talent that is rare, and it is her unique combination of talent and experience that has resulted in her becoming one of Germany’s most successful head writers.”

Having aired in 2006 to the present, Alles Was Zählt is one of the longest running TV dramas in Germany.

While it’s obvious that creative talent is a must-have when it comes to being a successful writer, one of Sauer’s greatest strengths that Reinhardt pointed out: life experience, along with empathy and a sense of structure, are also qualities that mustn’t be overlooked. Sauer is well versed when it comes to all of these, her expansive success as a head writer in the entertainment industry serving as proof. Expanding upon what she’s learned regarding the importance of these assets, Sauer explained, “It takes empathy to create characters and to be able to connect with how they feel and act. Not because you would do so, but because your character with his background, culture, and personality would do so. It takes some life experience because life gives you the best inspiration every day, everywhere. The best stories I’ve ever heard stem from real life experiences. Lastly, structure is needed to be able to take your story to the next level; To create a plot, a script, a scene. I know a lot of writers who are either very creative, but have issues with creating structure, and vice versa. If you have both – you are considered one of the lucky ones.”

In addition to head writer, Sauer has also worked diligently as a creative producer and story consultant on numerous distinguished projects broadcasted on some of the most established networks throughout Europe such as, Soko Familie, Herzflimmern, Unter Uns, the award winning Dahoam is Dahoam, and Lena – Liebe Meines Lebens, the latter which she first began working on a few years post her work on Alles Was Zählt.

“A story consultant in Germany is probably considered a creative producer, or a co-showrunner in the US. It’s someone who works closely with the producer and/or show runner. Together they create the story concept, characters, and the long running plots of the TV series,” Sauer said of her job title. “This particular work is not so much focused on the details like scenes or dialogue, but more so of the development of the whole concept of the TV series. The staff writers break our ideas down into episodes, scenes, and scripts.”

In 2010, Sauer was hired by the academy award winning production company, Wiedemann & Berg (The Lives of Others, WhoAmI, Welcome to Germany, and Dark), to create Lena – Liebe Meines Lebens with showrunner Günter Overman (Storm of Love, Verschollen, and Hinter Gittern – Der Frauenknast). The series title translates to Lena – Love of My Life in English, and is an adaptation of the Argentine series Don Juan y Su Bella Dama, created by Claudio Villarruel and Bernarda Llorente.

It was on Lena – Liebe meines Lebens where Sauer first worked with co-founder and CEO of Wiedemann & Berg, Quirin Berg. Berg, who thinks quite of the writer’s talents, shared, “I have had the pleasure of working with Camilla Sauer and can without a doubt certify that she is an exceptionally talented head writer, and furthermore, one of the best head writers in Germany. Camilla is extremely unique in many aspects. She is outstandingly creative, a very fast thinker, she has a wonderful ability to express her ideas clearly, create deep and three-dimensional characters, and eventually bring them to life. Additionally, she can immediately identify specific problems in a story and articulate a solution to them.”

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Camilla Sauer

Since 2012, Sauer has been staffed as the head writer for Germany’s hit series Schicksale – und plötzlich ist alles anders (Fate – and suddenly everything is different). Produced by Constantin Entertainment, the TV series has been running for eight years, consists of twelve seasons, and was recently picked up for another (1 year).

In Camilla’s words, the idea behind Schicksale – und plötzlich ist alles anders is that, “Things are not happening to you, they are happening for you. Even if it looks like something bad is happening to you, it just creates a new opportunity for us to learn, to grow, and to eventually make better decisions that lead to a better life. ‘Fate’ is about that one single moment, that ‘accident’ that might look like some random situation, that completely changes your life.”

While working on such a long running show for an extended period of time has its challenges, Sauer has demonstrated that she is an expert when it comes to contributing fresh and exciting stories to an ongoing series, and in doing so has played a pivotal role in the success of Schicksale – und plötzlich ist alles anders. Former CEO of Constantin Entertainment Christoph Knechtel raved of the head writer, “Camilla is truly a head writer of extraordinary merit and ability. I was fortunate enough to witness her extraordinary talent in screenwriting when she served as writer, head writer, and showrunner on numerous television series like K-11-Kommissare im Einsatz, Einsatz für Ellrich, Schicksale, In Gefahr, Im Namen Der Gerechtigkeit, and Soko Familie for huge networks such as Sat. 1, RTL, VOX, and more. Her demonstrated skill and unparalleled creativity on these and other projects have earned Camilla widespread recognition and international acclaim as one of German television’s leading writers.”

Presently, Sauer is in development with the German TV production companies, UFA Serial Drama, Constantin Entertainment, and Bastei Media, on a few pilots and television series while continuing to write for Schicksale – und plötzlich ist alles anders.

 

For more information on Camilla Sauer, please visit: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4646044/?ref_=nv_sr_1

20 QUESTIONS WITH WRITER SARAH WALTON

You write films which present the plight of modern romance. How does romance differ today from the romantic films of your childhood?

Classic 80’s rom coms like Overboard and Housesitter were much soppier than most modern rom coms. They were more fantasy based, more farcical, over the top and fun. I think audiences found corniness more palatable back in the 80’s.

In the 90’s rom coms became more realistic, more drama based rom coms like Sliding Doors and 40 days and 40 nights, high concept ideas based in reality.  Now rom coms are often quite reality based like He’s Just Not That Into You and Bridget Jones’s Dairy.  Personally I love them all, but I have to admit I’ve not seen many Woody Allen rom coms. They feel too gritty for me, but I know I shouldn’t knock it till I try it!

It feels as if society is slowly becoming more accustomed to violence and graphic, sometimes aggressive sex scenes and becoming less comfortable with cheesy love stories and romance.  I don’t know who decided it was “uncool” to like romantic comedies – I imagine someone or more likely, a group of people who had been through a lot of pain and were angry at the world.  It seems audiences are more comfortable seeing character get slaughtered on screen than they are with seeing true intimacy.  Love definitely feels more natural to me than violence and I’m passionate about making more corny lovey dovey content to counteract the violence and hate spreading like a disease in the world.  Romantic comedies have the power to remind us of the love inside of us.

What is it about romantic comedies that appeals to your sensibilities as a writer? 

Rom coms appeal to me because I’ve always been obsessed with love. I’ve been so fascinated by observing and experiencing the power of love and how it transforms people and their behavior.  I didn’t start out writing rom coms.  I fell for the mainstream view that rom coms were “uncool” and although I loved them I stayed quiet about it.  In the industry they’re most often not taken “seriously” – certainly in Australia – They don’t usually win Academy Awards (although that seems to be shifting). In my 20’s when I was an actor/writer I was the epitome of a tortured artist, I smoked cigarettes, drank too much alcohol, I fit the Hemingway stereotype perfectly. The first feature I wrote wasn’t a romantic comedy and it was horrendous. I was trying too hard to be clever. It wasn’t coming from the right place. It was coming from my head instead of my heart. I threw it all in and decided to write something fun instead – a film I wanted to watch, which I admitted to myself was a cheesy romantic comedy set in my two favorite places – a tropical island and NYC!

As I matured and I cared less and less what other people thought I began to speak my truth.  I decided to do the seemingly impossible, the unheard of, the bravest thing a filmmaker can do – come out of the romantic comedy closet and admit my love for them once and for all! And not just cool Woody Allen rom coms, but the cheesy, soppy ones that make people gag.  It was a shaky road, initially I was embarrassed, but once I embraced my true self as a corny rom com lover and expressed my passion for rom coms with conviction, I found that other people came out of the woodwork and admitted their secret rom com love.  I once dated a guy who lived in a sharehouse with a group of guys who had what they called “Rom com Sunday”! They’d all huddle around the TV nursing hangovers and watching their favorite rom coms (and no, they weren’t gay! I can vouch for that!). Some people have told me I inspired them to uncover the love from rom coms they never realized they had or were too embarrassed to admit. It’s a pretty liberating experience that I’d highly recommend 😉  Rom coms being “uncool” is kind of ridiculous, but what’s more ridiculous is caring whether people think we’re cool after we leave high school. 

Different cultures have their own perspectives on romance. How would you describe your Australian homeland’s unique sensibilities towards romance?

Australian romance can be pretty pathetic. In Australia, the sophisticated method by which a man lets you know he likes you is usually by ignoring you or teasing you.  I recently wrote the joke “You know you’re a true blue Aussie when”: 1. You understand the importance of vegemite to butter ratio; 2. You only know the first 2 verses of The Australian Anthem. 3. You call your best mate dickhead.  Excuse my French there, but you get the point.  Banter is a huge part of the Australian culture.  What we call “giving each other shit” is an endearing process by which us outback simpletons bond.  I lived in London in my 20’s and my experience dating there was that this culture comes from our British roots. Men in London were even more reserved. I find in the US and Europe men are more forthright in asking you out. This was such a novelty for me at first, I loved the confidence and straight shooter method, but at the end of the day I feel that in all cultures there’s too much emphasis on the initial “wooing” period at the beginning of dating which can be fun if you’re just dating around for the experience, but essentially it’s kind of empty and fabricated.  I find when people stop playing games and trying to be something they’re not and really get to know each other as friends, they’re more likely to find a compatible match and then from there true romance and love blossoms and flourishes.

As a screenwriter who lives in Hollywood and is female, you have a very authentic voice for the types of films you create. What responsibility do you feel to your audience in regards to creating films that are based in reality? 

I feel my responsibility is to create more female driven stories as well as smash stereotypes and challenge old unhealthy relationship paradigms. I don’t know about making sure that the films are based in reality, as I like a good farcical rom com that’s more fantasy based. I think it’s important to laugh as dysfunctional relationship patterns if I portray them in films, but I’m conscious not to encourage dysfunctional relationship patterns or promote them as healthy.  At times I’ve taken my responsibility as a writer and filmmaker too seriously and lost the true goal of rom coms for me which is to laugh at our pain and to enjoy the ride and experience love and joy myself within the process – basically to have fun! When I’ve agonized over the kind of messages my films are sending I’ve ended up writing preachy material and losing my true intention.  If I stay centered in my intention to tell stories from love about love, I find that’s when my best work comes through.  When I’m in my head I’m coming from my ego and my writing begins to feel fabricated.

I do take integrity seriously though. It’s important for me to not be swayed by external influences that focus purely on making money.  I have no problem with making money – in fact making money is good – it’s how we make more films – but I’m conscious of staying true to the heart of the story and making sure it isn’t lost in the process. This is where it’s important to have strong instincts and learn when to compromise and when to stick to your guns.

I think that the lasting effects that films have on audiences emotionally is largely neglected.  There have been many studies on the neuroscience of how film affects our brain and emotions, but it doesn’t take a neuroscientist to observe the effect the media has on our mind and our emotions.  We can experience these effects ourselves simply by observing the way commercials affect us and get into our heads. I don’t know about you, but a commercial has the power to make me cry or crave a chocolate bar so bad that I’ll be sure to eat one after I’ve been exposed to a luring commercial.  The amount of money spent on Super Bowl commercials is ludicrous and speaks to the power of the moving image on our sensibilities.  In the same way that I’m conscious about what food I feed my body, I’m conscious of what I feed my mind – the amount of negative images I expose my mind to.  I rarely watch television and I almost never watch the news.

It’s undeniable that we’re influenced by our environment- thought processes, images, sounds are all embedded in our mind when we’re exposed to them. When we’re repeatedly exposed to a succession of images, we feel the emotional effects this can have an impact on our daily lives and how we interact with others. This is why I’m so passionate about making more films that evoke and spread love, laughter and joy and remind and encourage people to live from their hearts. 

For the film JUMP, an original soundtrack was written that was inspired by 80’s music, as was the tone of the film. What do you love so much about the 80’s and what is it about this era that infers lighthearted fun? 

The 80’s music and films represent the heart and joy of our inner child. It’s fun, lighthearted and most often about love, dance and enjoying life – “dancing in the street”, “dancing in heaven”, “girls just want to have fun” …  you know how it goes.  I grew up listening to love song dedications – songs that come from love have always resonated with me.  In saying that I feel the same euphoric rush, the same joy in my heart when I listen to Linkin Park music as I do when I listen to Whitney Houston belt out a tune. Punk, rock and sometimes even heavy metal music also speaks to my heart. I think it’s about the space the artist was in when they performed the piece of music – I can feel their intention if it comes from love then it doesn’t matter whether it’s rock, pop or country music. 

The main character in JUMP is a 37-year old secretary who manifests her own release from an ordinary life. Presenting a female lead in her late 30’s is (sadly) far from the norm for Hollywood films these days. What inspired you to present Melody at this stage of her life for this film? 

Melody’s age was the most important part of the film for me.  To portray a character who is considered in society “old” as not only facing her fears, taking a risk and chasing her dreams at the age of 37, but also the fact that the odds are stacked against her in terms of being paired with her worst nightmare dance partner who exacerbates her “Stiff Leg Syndrome”. I’m incredibly passionate about shattering ageist attitudes.  Growing old is a beautiful process – ageing should be celebrated! I’m becoming fitter, healthier, more active as I’m getting older and continuing to push myself outside my comfort zone is an important part of growth.  If we’re not growing, we’re not really living.  Life is growth. If we don’t continue to grow we turn into rocks. No one wants to be a rock. 

The Dating Ring is a film in which you had the male and female leads presented in an emotional role reversal.  Are you constantly looking for new ways such as this to twist the romantic comedy template and how difficult is this to achieve? 

Yes, I love exploring gender role reversal and smashing stereotypes.

Although I still relate to the basic ideals I tend to have different views and opinions to mainstream society – tend to naturally think outside the box, so I don’t find it difficult to come up with new ways to twist the rom com template. It’s just the way I think.

In my experience there’s a different kind of love that’s largely neglected in romantic comedies that I’m excited to delve into in my films – what’s most commonly known as true friendship love or unconditional love.  I feel the current definition of romance is false, fleeting, lacks substance if it’s not grounded in true love.  What is romance with someone you don’t really know yet? You get swept up in the romance, but then once that fades away and you get to know the person you may realize you’re not compatible.  Romance without truly getting to know someone is like coloring your hair. At first it looks luscious and shiny, but eventually it fades and your turn colors show you can keep putting dye in your hair and each time it glows again, but after time your hair becomes brittle or the dye builds up and you have to keep treating it.  It’s a lot of work.  Why not just enjoy your hair in its natural state? Why not just be yourself when you’re first getting to know someone and then once you know you’re a good match, let the romance develop naturally from there.

I’d go even further to question the way we perceive the “opposite sex” in terms of attraction and how it can steer us away from creating deeper stronger bonds and platonic friendships with each other.  What if when we had children we didn’t’ tease them when they had a friend of the “opposite sex”.  What if we refrained from saying “oooh is that your girlfriend?” – or is that just me?  It’s harmless and well-intended, but what if from a young age we encouraged kids to see the other gender as equals – as mates.  Relationships based on a foundation of friendship are more likely to last and to grow unconditional love filled with respect and void of fear based love which includes jealousy, control and insecurity. 

Hollywood is still the biggest producer of films in the world. What are the challenges in this modern era for a writer in this current time here in Hollywood? 

I don’t see challenges as a bad thing, it’s an opportunity to adapt and grow. The addition of platforms like Hulu, Netflix etc. is definitely changing the game, there’s definitely a plethora of content being made and it seems there’s more opportunity to get alternative stories made, as these platforms are open to a wider range of ideas and concepts rather than being restricted by the constructs that the bigger channels and studios adhere to.

What’s the average daily routine for a screenwriter like yourself in Hollywood?

Everyone has a different process. I know some writers write for 4-6 hours a day while some write for 2 hours in the morning or late at night. Some work for 8-10 hour days. It depends on the individual. For me it varies. I can work for long periods without a break, but I can also work really well on short spurts.

You present romance and comedy in your screenplays. What is it about the blending of these two genres that works so well and has become such a popular combination? 

Romantic comedies are love and laughter – love and laughter are the two most powerful forces in human nature.

One of my favorite Gandhi quotes speaks to the power of love: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”

There’s still an overhang of an old perspective that hate and anger are power and that love, vulnerability, kindness and compassion are weak. The truth is the opposite. It’s much harder to be kind in the face of aggression than to bite back. True strength is love and I think people connect to this truth in a good romantic comedy.

Laughter is the most positive and powerful human expression of joy and happiness and can be medicinal in its effects.

Crying as an expression of sadness is an important element in the therapeutic effects of film. Repressed sadness is what causes anger, bitterness, resentment and can lead to damaging behavior. Crying as relief is incredibly transformative and can allow the audience to connect with a film on a deeper level.  

How important are romance and comedy to you in your personal relationships? 

Imperative. I love to laugh – I laugh at everything. I can’t have people in my life who don’t make me laugh. But seeing as most people make me laugh, I’m an easy audience. Romance to me means open, regular expressions of love which is one of my favorite things to do. I do it to people I don’t know that well and sometimes strangers which can be awkward, but fun, funny and incredibly rewarding. I much prefer a card with a meaningful message or a cheap thoughtful present than an expensive gift. I guess I see romance as kindness in a way. Random acts of romance should be a thing.  I think because I do it often it comes back to me tenfold. Recently I was having a bad day and I went out for ice cream with a beautiful friend who encouraged me to “let it out” and cry (in public!) and a kind stranger came up to me, opened his arms out and hugged me. We were in Venice, so I thought he was a tree hugging hippy (I hang out in these circles sometimes, so I get it) but it turned out that the stranger was the director of one of my all-time favorite romantic comedies and now we’re friends. 

Are most of your moments of genius (in screenplays) the result of personal experience or imagined experiences? In other words, how much of your writing is based out of first hand experiences? 

My favorite moments in my films spring from a fusion of real life and being connected to the present moment – usually after or during meditation, listening to music, an inspiring conversation or exercise.  I have a vivid imagination and a tendency for exaggeration which bodes me well in comedy, but the best comedy for me comes from the truth and organic moments that pop out in presence.

Studying The Meisner Technique for 3 years as an actress I developed an obsession for organic moments – the magical moments that shoot out of us like lava when we’re in the present moment.  These are gold for both performance and writing.  This is also why I love improv. I like to use improv to help inspire ideas as well as when I direct or perform.

Real life is a huge influence on my work – like all writers I observe and soak up my environment like a sponge.  I see the beauty in everyone, I see peoples pain, their joy, their hidden emotions and stories – sometimes I feel I can see through people – that sounds creepy, but you know what I mean. Don’t you? 

Do you consider the films which you write to be therapy for the audience or how to” instruction?

I see my films as relief – escape from daily life. Have a laugh, take a load off. Laugh at our pain – therapy in that sense.  Laughter and tears are very therapeutic and a good romantic comedy will do both.

Most rom coms shouldn’t be modelled as a how to… more like how not to.  Sex and The City modelled and promoted dysfunctional relationships by making a fairytale out of Carrie and Big’s romance.  There she was, an intelligent, successful, beautiful woman with a group of good friends – a strong support system who chose to be with a man who disrespected her and strung her along for 10 years and left her broken hearted time after time – even on the alter.  This is the kind of love that happen when we don’t have a strong sense of self-worth. 

How does a screenwriter like yourself find romance in Hollywood while pursuing a career in such a difficult field? 

I don’t. Just kidding. I have incredibly fulfilling and nourishing relationships with friends and family.  I’m not interested in the traditional or modern dating structure – I did it to death in my 20’s and it was fun – and then it was painful, and now I’m done with that.

What is the DNA of a great romantic comedy? i.e. the required traits. 

The formula for a great romantic comedy is love plus laughter equals joy. A rom com needs to be relateable even if it’s a fantasy based rom com, there needs to be an element of truth.

I’m interested in exploring a different definition of romance than our current understanding of it in mainstream society. I believe romance should come later rather than at the beginning.  It should start slow and increase as your relationship develops.  The current model shows and abundance of romance in the first couple of months or the “honeymoon period” and then once there’s commitment and safety often people get complacent and the romance fades.  Id’ like to see that turned around. This would make for a long term sustained relationship full of romance.  A higher love is achieved when two people love themselves fully and don’t need or expect the other person to make them happy.  They take full responsibility for their own happiness and merely join together with someone else who is whole and complete.

I’ve fallen into the expectation trap in past relationship, but when I took a 2 year break from dating and focused on me I noticed the ebb and flow of emotion, joy, and love within me and it became clear when I was going through challenges that it came from me – when I no longer had someone else to blame! These themes that surround love are what I’m fascinated in examining further and portraying in my films. 

What film did you not write but wish that you had and why? 

Disney’s Enchanted because it’s a magical fantastical musical with a message of love and believing in wonder and the good in people.  I write music into my films and there’s usually at least one scene where characters sing and/or dance, but I’m yet to make a musical feature. I write songs, so it will happen one day in the not too distant future. 

Describe your idea of a nightmare writing assignment for a film idea. 

Anything on violence or an empty sexualized rom com focused on aesthetics – anything that would contribute to the negative body image content that we already have an abundance of.  Many films are highly sexualized these days – they focus on physical attraction and base the development of love form this foundation of initial attraction or chemistry.   The problem with this is that it fades, it’s not sustainable long terms.  Societies obsession with image breeds insecurity competition and fear which are not compatible with true love which is ultimately what people are searching for whether they admit it or are aware of it or not and what compels people to watch romantic comedies. Enjoying fashion, beauty etc. is totally healthy, it’s the relationship we have with it – when we gain our sense of self and our worthiness from image that’s when we can run into problems. The paradigm – this obsession with superficiality – is flawed and perpetuates itself in a cycle of destruction. 

What is the most avoided topic in romantic comedy films and why? 

I don’t know if there are many avoided topics in rom coms these days. Pretty much anything goes. You hear to steer clear of religion and politics, but I’ve seen some of the best comedic moments on these topics. 

You’re obviously a very creative person; how do you maintain that constant flow of creative ideas over an entire career? What is your personal means for doing this?

 Mediation, yoga, dance, running and spending time with good friends is usually the best inspiration for me as a writer.  The heather and happier I am in myself and my life the more creative ideas flow through me.  I’ve found I’ve still managed to churn out decent work when I’ve been stressed and overworked, but it’s less enjoyable, so I prefer the healthy, happy method!

 Finish this sentence; the best thing about Sarah Walton is….

 Can I say for me what the best thing about “being” Sarah Walton is?

For me it’s that I love everyone and this brings me so much love and joy. It’s not that I don’t find people challenging like everyone else, but I always find a way to connect to empathy and love people regardless of what behavior they display. I see people as who they truly are, not their behavior. My upbringing gave me many gifts, but the one I’m most grateful for is having parents that are so different. My father was brought up in a poorer, small town non-religious family with 11 children while my mother was brought up in a fairly well off suburban catholic family.  This polarity allowed me to relate to a wide range of people. I grew up camping and staying in fancy hotels, so I appreciate the beauty in simplicity while also enjoying the glamorous lifestyle without placing any importance on the superficiality of material things.  I was also blessed with enough make or break me challenges in my life to force me to discover self-development and well-being practices that have changed my life dramatically and lead me to explore new ways to find happiness, love and joy in life regardless of external circumstances. It’s an ongoing process and sometimes I’m like – I’m done! I want to go back to how I was before, ignorance is bliss! – but I know it’s not and I’ve found ways of achieving natural highs through dance, meditation, yoga, laughter etc. which is a pretty good incentive to stay on this path!

Bonus:

Finally, what do other writers say about you when you are not listening?

What others say about me is not really any of my business, but I know sometimes people comment on how cheesy and mainstream my work is thinking that it’s an insult, when for me it’s a huge compliment. I enjoy hearing other people’s perspectives. It makes me laugh.

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

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Actress/writer Sarah Stunt, photos by Alexis Dickey

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Female lead is ‘lovable, but hopeless with guys’ in Katie Micay’s Romantic Comedy ‘Flirt’

 

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Kelsey Impicciche (middle), Lexi Giovagnoli (left) and Tyler Mauro star in writer-producer Katie Micay’s “Flirt.”

 

The short romantic comedy film, “Flirt” from Canadian writer-producer Katie Micay has all the ingredients of a champion paradigm of filmmaking. Micay wrote the high concept script featuring an endearing protagonist who faces a relatable obstacle and features a strong character arc. There’s a torrent of comedy stemming from firsthand source material, strong supporting characters with palpable chemistry and on-location shooting captured with refined cinematography.

The story follows Taylor (Kelsey Impicciche), a quirky college senior who lacks in the oft-tricky art of flirting and is on a quest to land the hottest guy in school as her date to her final sorority formal.

“Flirt” is a romantic comedy about a girl who is very lovable, but hopeless with guys,” Micay said. “Ultimately, she is focused on things that aren’t important and needs to learn to find someone who appreciates her for who she is.”

Impicciche, who has acted in the films, “Suicide Note,” “The Toy Soldiers” and “The Mastery,” said, “I loved the idea of the project and of this character who can’t flirt and ended up in many awkward situations. I loved the idea that this character really needed a date to a dance. I’ve honestly had this problem many times.”

The film co-stars Lexi Giovagnoli as Jenna, Taylor’s sorority sister and best friend. Playing Taylor’s love interests are Tyler Mauro as Liam and Shane R. Kennedy as Brad. “Flirt” was filmed on location at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles and went on to be an Official Selection at the Reality Bytes Film Festival in 2013.

Micay is known for her writing and producing of “Limited Engagement,” a comedy short that won an Award of Merit at the Women’s Independent Film Festival and was an Official Selection at the Los Angeles Women’s International Film Festival.

“Flirt” came on the heels of Micay’s “My So Called Family,” a darker, quirky dramedy she wrote and produced in 2013. “I was ready to just make something different,” she said. “I got to use a lot of wit and dry humor and I hadn’t done that before. My friends and I are hopeless at flirting and it was something we always joked about! After seeing “Easy A,” I was inspired to try writing “Flirt.”

The premise was one where art imitated life. Micay is a member of LMU’s Tri Delta Sorority. Her inception into sorority life was an unexpected one and an experience that would later lay the framework for filmmaking inspiration.

“I came into college with a very sour idea of Greek life,” Micay said. “But when my friend convinced me to try it, it turned out to be the best decision of my college life. I still live with my sorority twin!”

In the case of sorority formals, it’s the girls who find dates and ask out guys. “It was definitely stressful for my friends and I,” Micay said.

The fabric of the leading character, Taylor, was also derivative, on a certain level. “I’m not as expressive or over-the-top as Taylor can be, but she stemmed from me. When we auditioned Kelsey, she really took to the character right away. Through rehearsals, we built the character up to be what you see on the screen.”

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Katie Micay (middle) unifies the vision behind the romantic comedy, “Flirt.”

Said Impicciche, “Katie had a solid grip on what she wanted, and was very helpful with guiding me towards her vision, while still allowing me a lot of creative freedom. There was a lot of physical comedy she wrote for the character, which was incredibly fun to do.”

The relationship between characters Taylor and Jenna was based on one of Micay’s friendships, “one where you are essentially sisters,” she noted.

“For me, the characters made the story,” Impicciche said. “As soon as I describe them, other girls immediately can identify people in their own lives that relate to these characters. They’re very real.”

From a producer’s standpoint, Micay was charged the task of navigating the project among its multiple on-campus locations including a dormitory and a working lab classroom that required a filming permit with the needed safety protocol.

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Actor Shane R. Kennedy plays Brad, the elusive love interest  of Taylor, played by Kelsey Impicciche in “Flirt.”

 

“When shooting on a college campus, you have to go by their rules so when they will let you shoot really dictates a lot. We also shot outside with a dolly track during school hours so that completely killed our audio,” said Micay. “We went back and used ADR in post. During the shoot, I relied heavily on Alyssa Brocato, my cinematographer. We planned as much as possible ahead of time because we knew timing would be tough. On the day it was about getting everything we needed.”

Micay’s diligent producing paid dividends and led to the film becoming a success. “Katie ran a really professional and fun set. Everything ran very smoothly,” Impicciche said. “I was really impressed with how she organized everyone and how she kept everyone on track and doing their best work. She was a joy to work with.”

Most recently, Micay wrote and produced “The Firefly Girls” that starred the award-winning Savannah Paige Rae of “Parenthood” and “Date Night” fame. “The Firefly Girls” screened this year at the Sonoma International Film Festival and the Equinox Women’s Film Festival.

For more information, visit: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5084812/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

Watch “Flirt” here: https://vimeo.com/81416130

Follow Katie on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/katiemicay

Badr Farha Awarded at IndieFEST 2016 for “The Last Conversation” and Will Now Direct the Upcoming Film “Margaret”

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Poster for Badr Farha’s film “The Last Conversation”

 

International filmmaker Badr Farha earned the Award of Recognition at the 2016 IndieFEST Film Awards earlier this year for the film “The Last Conversation,” which he wrote and directed.

“The Last Conversation” starring Christopher Callen from the film “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and the series “One Life to Live” and “Young and the Restless,” Eddie Eisele from “Die Hard Dracula” and “Sweet and Lowdown,” and Don Lucas from the film “Party Like the Rich and Famous,” brings to the screen a dramatic tale of secrets exposed and the loss of a loved one. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to see the film yet, you can get a taste of Farha’s brilliant approach to this intensely emotional story through the trailer below.

After Lucas’s character Luci, a middle-aged man who’s kept a life-long secret from those around him, discovers that his mother’s advanced stage of cancer is terminal, the need to reveal these unspoken truths arises. However, whether he’s ready to tell her or not, Luci’s mother Yvonne could very well find out the truth as Luci’s ability to keep his secrets in the dark falters in the midst of the pain he feels over her imminent passing.

The heart-wrenching and layered drama, which was accepted into the 2015 Cannes Film Festival Court Metrage, reveals Farha’s acute vision as both a director and an art director. The powerful emotions within the story are intensified further by the film’s score, which was composed by Julian De La Chica and performed by the Scorchio Quartet in New York City. The founder of Irreverence Group Music (IGM), De La Chica is a Colombian born pianist and composer who currently resides in New York.

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Farha’s Indie Fest Award for “The Last Conversation”

“The Last Conversation” is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Farha’s accolades in the industry to date; but, what is even more impressive is the fact that his creative talents encompass multiple fields of work in film. Considering the heavy competition and large pool of talented individuals who want to work in film, Farha’s accomplishments as an art director, director, screenwriter and to top it off, a production designer, have proven him to be someone with a remarkably rare gift for bringing stories to life on film.

“Writing and directing have always been my end goal. Over the years I’ve purposefully taken on a wide spectrum of leadership roles on film productions from the creative design aspects of production design and art direction, which create the environment for the stories we are creating, to working as a producer where I’ve tested and perfected my ability to execute and ensure that a project is flawlessly created as envisioned,” explains Farha.

“Aside from simply enjoying the process, these experiences have laid the foundation for me to become the director I am today. As the head of the entire film production, a director needs to manage the leads of every department in order to make sure the vision is clear, attainable and that everyone is on the same page… I don’t know if that would be possible if I hadn’t spent the time devoting myself to actual performing the roles myself.”

Over the last few years Farha has been working closely with producers Regina Bang and Javier Del Olmo, who produced “The Last Conversation” through their production company, Bang Bang Pictures.

After linking up a little over two years ago on the film “Deliver Us,” which Bang production designed, Del Olmo produced and Farha art directed, an unstoppable team was formed. “Deliver Us” earned a $10,000 grand prize, and Bang and Del Olmo going on to form Bang Bang Pictures soon after.

Some of Bang’s other work as a producer include feature films such as “Sophie Gold, the Diary of a Gold Digger,” and “Finding Her,” which was line produced by Del Olmo and starred Johnny Whitworth from “Limitless,” “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” and ABC’s newest hit TV series “Blindspot,” and Larry Pine from “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “House of Cards”.

In addition to “The Last Conversation,” Farha production designed the film “More Than Words,” as well as art directed “When Negatives Collide,” both of which were produced by Bang Bang Pictures. While the films portray two totally different narratives, with “More than Words” focusing on a young couple as they struggle to cope with terminal illness and the painfully real possibility of losing one another if a cure is not found, and “When Negatives Collides” centering on a lower class teenager’s struggle to move forward from her tarnished past and form a stronger bond with her mother, both films were well received internationally in their own right.

““When Negatives Collide,” which was written and directed by Michelle Castro, a well-known cinematographer and international filmmaker who has collaborated with Farha and the team at Bang Bang Pictures on multiple occasions over the last few years, also earned the Award of Merit at the IndieFest Film Awards in 2015. That makes Farha’s recent award win at the 2016 IndieFest Film Awards for “The Last Conversation” the second time his work has gained praise at the popular LA-based awards festival in the past year!

Additionally the film, “When Negatives Collide,” was also chosen as an Official Selection of the 2015 International Film Festival of Cinematic Arts IFFCA, Studio City Film Festival and the Sun and Sand Film Festival, and it was also included in the Cannes Film Festival Court Metrage along with Farha and Bang Bang Picture’s other films “More Than Words” and “The Last Conversation.”

The fact that these filmmakers had three films in the prestigious internationally renowned festival in Nice, France last year speaks leagues to the power of their collaborative efforts; and, with the creative juices in full swing, the team has joined forces once again to bring audiences the upcoming film “Margaret,” which Farha is slated to direct. The upcoming film will begin shooting in April and stars Lucia Moerk as Margaret, as well as Christopher Callen who will take on the role of Mother Superior.

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Poster for Badr Farha’s upcoming film “Margaret”

George Reinblatt: A Rare Gem in the Canadian Entertainment Industry

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George Reinblatt at Howard Stern’s Birthday in New York

It takes a very rare individual to not only be able to write a successful script for a production, but produce it as well. When it comes to getting a project off the ground and actually bringing it to the stage or screen, the writer is the person who knows the ins and outs of the story they’ve created and feels the most passionately about it, at least initially; so, in an ideal world it makes sense that they’d be the best person to pitch the project to networks and ensure that the world they’ve created comes across accurately once production begins.

Unfortunately for the many writers who want to make it in the highly competitive entertainment industry, the differences between being the writer and the producer on a project call upon two very different personality types. Whereas the writer can retreat into their imagination creating their work without having to interact with other people—the producer has to be able to pitch the heck out of the story getting financiers and network executives on board, and if successful, then they have to communicate and guide everyone involved in the production towards the end goal.

While these individuals are understandably few and far between, Canada’s George Reinblatt is undoubtedly one of them. Over the last decade the unique and multifariously talented producer and writer has transitioned between the two roles with ease, consistently creating successful productions along the way.

To get an idea of the success Reinblatt has had as a producer, just look at the multi-award winning production “Evil Dead: The Musical,” which he wrote as well.

The production, which initially opened at a small theatre in Toronto in 2003, was an instant hit, and by 2006 the show was running as an off-Broadway production in New York where it received extensive international acclaim. After watching the show on opening night in NY, New York Times’ critic Anita Gates wrote that the show had the makings to become the next “Rocky Horror Show.”

“This was really special for me, as it was my show – I wrote the book and lyrics. So it was important for me to be on the producing side to make sure I could have a hand in all aspects of the production — from casting to merchandising to ticketing to even choosing the venue,” explains Reinblatt about producing the initial run of the show.

As the writer of the musical, Reinblatt created a masterpiece on paper, but it was his capacity as a producer that took that hilarious cult world from that which could only be experienced in the imagination and erected it into something audiences could collectively enjoy as he intended it. Prior to going into production with the hit show, Reinblatt reached out to the movie studios and secured the rights to the Evil Dead franchise in order to make the stage production the official stage adaptation of the film trilogy.

“Evil Dead: The Musical” won the Dora Audience Choice Award as Toronto’s Favorite Show, and after having several extended runs, by 2008 it became the longest running Canadian show in Toronto in over two decades.

Over the last year Reinblatt has been working hard producing a slew of comedies for international television networks including the Comedy Central special Jeff Ross Roasts Criminals: Live from Brazos County Jail. 

“It was amazing how much time and effort had to go into this one comedy special,” admits Reinblatt. “I came up with the idea of doing a comedy show in a prison. Jeff Ross thought it was a great idea. Comedy Central thought it was a great idea. But finding a prison willing to let us come in there and roast them, that was the hard part.”

Reinblatt and everyone on board knew they had something special on their hands, and after a year of planning and researching prison life, Reinblatt helped bring the eye-opening special to the screen.

The special, which aired in June, offered audiences more than just a few good laughs as they watched renowned comic Jeff Ross, known to many as ‘The Roastmaster General,’ roast the inmates at Brazos County Jail though. Along with Ross’s satirical jokes, the show included shocking facts about the American prison system making it a valuable source of information as well. Reinblatt’s brilliant idea for the show coupled with his ability to make the project happen as a producer made the release a resounding success.

As a writer on the series The Burn with Jeff Ross, and the popular Comedy Central roast specials of Roseanne, James Franco, Charlie Sheen and Justin Bieber, Reinblatt has worked with Jeff Ross multiple times over the years. He is also known throughout the international entertainment industry for penning the scripts for an impressive list of productions including the series Just for Laughs, George Stroumboulopolos Tonight, The Arsenio Hall Show, the 2012 and 2013 MuchMusic Video Awards and more.

“Different is what I do. I’m always looking for my next project to be different from my last. And jumping from a musical to a prison comedy special to a sketch show is about as different as you can get,” admits Reinblatt.

From the standpoint of producer, George Reinblatt knows exactly what story ideas will sit best with audiences, and earlier this year he began producing yet another exciting comedy series. The new 20-episode series Almost Genius, which is slated to begin airing on Country Music Television Canada in 2016, combines popular YouTube videos with some of the best comics in the entertainment industry today. Using highly innovative production technology, the show actually inserts the comics into the YouTube clips using green screen.

Reinblatt says, “It’s going to make people look at their favorite YouTube clips in a whole new way.”

With inimitable creativity, Reinblatt has continually displayed his capacity for producing starkly different projects for both the stage and screen, all of which reveal him as someone who is not only capable of creating captivating stories, but ensuring the production process goes off without a hitch as well.

“I just want the overall experience for the audience to be a great one, so I love being involved in all aspects of a production to ensure that happens,” explains Reinblatt. “Sometimes as a writer, you write something, hand it in, and what happens from there in performance, or editing, or anything else, is completely out of your hands. As a producer you get a say in the overall direction. You may not always get exactly what you want. But your voice is always heard and you can help navigate the direction of the final product.”

 

 

 

Screenwriter Mark Satterthwaite Brings Laughter to the Masses

Mark Satterthwaite
                             Hilarious Canadian Screenwriter Mark Satterthwaite

Believe it or not, writing a great comedy series is one of the most challenging genres to tackle, the key word being great, as we’ve all seen shows that attempt to be funny, but instead leave us unamused or wondering if we missed the joke. When a production finds a solid writer whose jokes flow seamlessly into the mix of the script, someone like Canadian screenwriter Mark Satterthwaite, they’ll do practically anything to keep them; and for good reason as the production’s ratings depend on them!

With his inclusion of bold jokes and subjects that push the envelope, Satterthwaite has had unparalleled success writing television comedies that have kept international audiences laughing for hours.

One of his first forays into the sketch comedy genre came nearly a decade ago when he was asked to create a comedy series for CBC’s ‘tween’ viewers. The result was The Morgan Waters Show starring quirky Canadian Morgan Waters from the shows Cock’d Gunns, Screwed Over and The Amazing Gayl Pile.

Satterthwaite recalls, “Our writing and development process was to push the humor and scenarios as far as we could, so we made sure we were challenging our audience, as opposed to holding their hands.”

Satterthwaite wrote and produced some of the show’s most absurdly hilarious episodes including “New Assistant,” “Camping,” “Puke on the Yo-Yo Man” and “Unrequited Love,” which helped the series earn a Gemini Award in 2006.

For Canadian audiences, The Morgan Waters Show was something like that of Mr. Show with Bob and David in the U.S., with viewers tuning in for the show’s spoof music videos, off the wall sales pitches, celebrity guests and pop culture parodies. In the “New Assistant” episode, Satterthwaite brilliantly crafted a song sung by Waters dressed up as Trent the Goth about how badminton should really be called goodminton. After the success of The Morgan Waters Show, Satterthwaite wrote and produced the comedy pilot House Sitters for Funny or Die featuring Morgan Waters and Mark Little.

While Satterthwaite has written several other hit sketch comedy shows over the years, his unique approach to comedy has also made him a highly sought after writer for a wide range of shows across various other formats and genres as well.

Some of his past credits include writing episodes for the variety show MTV Live, CBC’s 11-time Gemini Award winning talk show The Hour, as well as the network’s one-hour special Canada’s Smartest Person, the second season of The Comedy Network’s game show You Bet Your Ass, seasons one and two of The Food Network’s series The Main, and HGTV Canada’s lifestyle series My Parents House.

He has also written the scripts for awards programs including the 2007 Gemini Awards, which garnered the awards show a Leo Award in the Best Music, Comedy, or Variety Program or Series category, as well as the 2007 MuchMusic Video Awards, which garnered a Gemini Award in the Best Music, Variety Program or Series category.

His work as a screenwriter in the Canadian entertainment industry clearly spans the gamut, but out of all of the television formats he’s written for, there’s one area that really gets his creative juices flowing and allows him to cut loose.

“I love absurdist comedy. I think that’s why I ended up doing a lot of writing in animation, because it’s such an anything goes environment. Want to create a new character? Do it! Blow something up? Sure. Morph anything into anything else? WHY NOT?!?! It’s very liberating,” admits Satterthwaite.

Beyond simply loving to write animated programs, Satterthwaite has proven through the astonishing success of programs like Almost Naked Animals, Grojband and The Dating Guy that he is incredibly good at it.

In 2010 he wrote and produced the animated comedy series The Dating Guy, which aired on Teletoon, as well as the show’s accompanying live action web series Dr. Love, which was available on TheDatingGuy.com.

The unique creation of a cross platform approach between the web series and animated TV program not only gave fans of The Dating Guy additional content to check out, but it also earned a 2011 Gemini Award and a nomination for a Banff Rockie Award for Best Cross-Platform Project.

In 2011 Satterthwaite both wrote and produced the Gemini nominated children’s series Almost Naked Animals for Cartoon Network and YTV. The series followed a band of adventure-loving animals voiced by notable actors including Jamie Watson (Scaredy Squirrel, Producing Parker) as Hippo, Rob Tinkler (Harold & Kumar Go to White Caste, Arthur) as Howie, and Emilie-Claire Barlow (Total Drama, Fugget About It) as Bunny.

While Satterthwaite has also produced and directed several of the shows he’s written, it’s his work as a screenwriter that has given him the greatest challenges, as well as the greatest reward.

“I’m passionate about screenwriting because it’s a huge, huge life test. All of the time. It’s fun and it kills me,” he admits.

“Sometimes I’ll read comments on the Internet from people who have watched episodes of something I’ve written. ‘This is my favorite episode!’ or ‘This show is the funniest thing on TV’ or ‘WRITE MORE! MAKE MORE!,’ and that always makes me feel like a million bucks. Writing scripts is hard work; it’s so nice to know that people like it.”

Considering that he has already been writing successful television shows for 15 years, and he’s the kind of person who loves a challenge, it only makes sense that the natural progression in Mark Satterthwaite’s career would be to move onto writing feature films; and, that’s exactly what he’s doing.

In addition to having several television shows in development for Entertainment One and Teletoon including Winston Steinburger and Sir Dudley Ding Dong, which is slated to air in 2016, he recently wrote the screenplays for the feature films Cottage Life and The Blind Painter.