Category Archives: Television

Actor Donald Heng’s Thoughtful Brand of Sci-Fi Storytelling

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If you’re a fan of fantasy/horror, chances are good you know  Donald Heng’s work. The Vancouver-based actor has been seen in a wide variety of settings—comedies, drama, made for TV movies, weekly series, indie films—but in recently, Heng had settled into a shadowy niche in the unpredictable, spine-tingling world of the SyFy television network’s original thriller content. With guest appearances on several different SyFy shows and his recurring Ghost Wars role as the edgy Deputy Larry Foon, the talented, versatile Heng is making dramatic tension his calling card. Tinseltown News Now caught up with Heng between shoots to discuss this latest upshift in an already impressive career

 

Q: You have had some good professional fortune at SyFy — do you feel career momentum is building at the network?

A: Definitely. This whole business is not for the impatient that’s for sure. Someone once told me that acting is a marathon, not a sprint, and that has always stuck with me. There may often be little rhyme or reason in this industry, but if you’re in it long enough and are prepared and constantly working on your craft, momentum will occur.

Q: You have previously appeared in “The Flash,” and “Supernatural,” please discuss these experiences

A: It was a relief to finally get to work on “Supernatural.” That show has been [produced] in Vancouver for 12, going on 13-14 seasons. My entire circle of actor friends have been on it, so it was great to get any kind of part on the show. But my character got to interact with Jared and Jensen and that was incredibly fun. They were really nice and welcoming and the jokes and pranks are non-stop whenever they yell cut. “The Flash” was also incredibly exciting in its own right. I read the comics as a kid and so there was of course that part of me that was freaking about getting my ass saved by the Flash not once, not twice, but three times. Some of the stunts in that show were also the most fun I ever had on set. It was like riding a go-kart down an empty street and my fear was not hard to fake [laughs].

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Q: How did you come to meet “Ghost Wars” creator-writer-producer Simon Barry?

A: I may have met him earlier when I auditioned for “Continuum” but I can’t say that definitively. But I definitely did meet him for “Van Helsing,” and then again later for “Ghost Wars.” He is an incredibly humble, personable human being and, of all the producers I’ve worked with, definitely made the biggest effort of including and inviting the cast to collaborate in his projects. During the table read for the first episode, Simon told everyone that he wanted to build these characters with us and if there were certain lines that didn’t sit well with our characters, to bring it up to him and he would work with us to change it.

Q: Were you cast on “Continuum?”

A: No, I did audition for it a couple times but unfortunately that show ended its run before I had a chance to be in it.

Q: Discuss your experience on “Van Helsing”

A: When I got cast in “Van Helsing,” I was very excited to work with Michael Nankin, who has had a long tenure with SyFy. I had done a couple workshops with him while studying at the Actor’s Foundry, so it brought me a sense of validity to be able to work with him in that capacity.

Q; How did Mr. Barry come to select you for “Ghost Wars?”

A: That’s something you would have to ask him [laughs]. I’m sure the decision didn’t rest solely with Simon, but that is a very interesting question that I wonder about all the time. When I show up on set after every casting, I always have the urge to ask the director/producer ‘why was I selected?’ Truth be told, in this industry, the best actor often doesn’t get the job.

Q: How has it been working on “Ghost Wars?”

A: It was great, it was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my career. The cast and crew were great. We spent some time up in Squamish for the shoot and it was absolutely beautiful. We had dinner with Simon and David (the director) and they told us some of the funniest stories I’ve ever heard in my life regarding their experiences in the industry. I had always wanted to play a police officer so that was a huge checkmark off the bucket list.

Q: Your character is particularly nuanced for a horror/thriller, please discuss
A: My character, along with most of the characters in the fiction town of Port Moore, treats Roman Mercer [Avan Jogia] as an outcast. Roman’s mother was into witchcraft and the rumor goes that she has put a curse on this town. After a paranormal bus accident, my mother is among the dead and I blame Roman for the incident until his supernatural abilities are revealed.

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Q: How do you prepare a characterization like that?

A: I try to find the everything that is relate-able between my character and myself. Fortunately, Deputy Larry is a very human character, much like the rest of the other characters. When it’s boiled down, it needs to make sense behind the horror and the gore, this was a project that really tried to make sense of every nuance, character motivation and plot. So, as Deputy Larry, I had to find in me what it meant to lose the most important person in my life, and what I would want to do to the person who took that away from me. Apart from envisioning supernatural entities, there wasn’t a whole lot else I needed to work on besides those two dichotomies.

Q: The horror/fantasy genre offers limitless possibilities in plot and action, please discuss working in this style

A: Well, it’s always fun because it is, in a way, the epitome of acting. It’s the reason why kids grow up loving Superman and Batman and the Power Rangers—it brings you into a world of fantasy where you don’t need to be yourself, but it is also constantly evolving. A movie about Batman 20 years ago is considerably different than a movie about Batman today. I just watched “Black Panther” and that movie is so good because it successfully ties in so any historical themes and elements into the fantasy. That way, the films are marketed not only to kids who adore the superheroes, but also the teenagers and adults who just want a film that touches them.

Q: The “Ghost Wars” cast also features some other notable talents, please discuss.

A:  The best part about working on this show was definitely the cast. I didn’t see the cast list until a week after I had been cast the project and I was floored when I saw that Vincent D’Onofrio and Meatloaf were involved in it. It was also nostalgic for me to be able to work with Avan Jogia because he was in the first project I’d ever auditioned for (“The Gym Teacher”). I didn’t end up getting that one but it was still a nostalgic feeling to be able to work with him.  But D’Onofrio—man! I have a story. We were in the midst of a break while crew was turning over the cameras and Vincent and Jesse (Deputy Norm) are walking by me about to go outside for a smoke. Vincent turns to me and asks “do you want one?” as he’s pointing to his box of Cohiba cigars. I responded, “uh…uh..yeah… I’ll do some.” And Vincent goes, ‘Do some?, it’s a cigar, it’s not drugs.’ I laughed sheepishly and followed the up to the rooftop. The thing is, I never smoked a darn cigar in my life and I inhaled my first bit before being told I wasn’t supposed to do that. I didn’t care, I just couldn’t say no to being able to tell people I had a cigar with Vincent D’Onofrio!

Q: Does SyFy feel like home to you now?

A: I definitely feel comfortable with the science fiction genre. I know what to expect when I do work on it and it makes me all the more excited when I have the opportunity work on that type of show. Though like I mentioned before, all shows are constantly trying to find the best way to connect with their viewers and the core of all good shows are the same, they have to respond with a story that’s human at its core.

 

IN BRAZIL & GREECE, MODEL-ROCKSTAR IS PRONOUNCED “TAPIGLIANI”

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During music award show season, it’s likely that you have seen constant advertisement declaring pairings of artist as “the performance of the century that you cannot miss!” While most of these never match the hype, one collaboration which has been an overwhelming success is fashion-meets-music. Most Americans are very familiar with the Victoria’s Secret special which features their fashion models and popular music artist; in Greece, a similar production is the famous Madwalk. Madwalk is the most popular show of its kind in Greece, combining famous singers and the work of well-known fashion designers. The show airs on television once per year and has done so since 2009. It’s a presentation of what is wonderful and beautiful in Greece, the centerpiece being the lovely models which adorn the creations during each performance. For model Alana Tapigliani it’s an opportunity to do what she is known for and celebrate Greece at the same time. Tapigliani appeared in 2012 presenting the Deux Hommes brand. Madwalk is more than an awards program for Greek citizens; it’s a national event and they take great pride in the artistry of their country. Even though Alana is known for her international modeling career, she admits that appearing on Madwalk had the result of her being stopped by the public to a much greater extent than ever before.

There’s a duality to the attention one receives from being involved in such a prestigious show as Madwalk. Alana’s excitement about appearing on the program was heightened by the exuberance of her friends and family. This is certainly meaningful on a personal scale but professionally, the fruit of this appearance made Tapigliani a very sought after model in Greece. While often admired, models don’t always receive the praise of other entertainment professionals; the praise Alana received from her appearance was a welcome exception to the common rule.

The Ace agency from Athens chose Tapigliani to work with designer Kostantinos Mélis for Madwalk. Mélis found his eponymous haute couture house in 1997 in Greece after a stint in London. Known for designing wedding gowns of exceptional aesthetics and quality, he then turned to a collection of haute couture gowns. His designs have been equally embraced by critics and the public, often donned by celebs on the red carpet.

Appearing as the only model representing the work of Melis was beneficial for any professional, a fact recognized by Alana. However, this was only half of the fun for her involvement in Madwalk. Each model is paired with a famous singer and Tapigliani made her appearance with Giorgios Mazonakis. The iconic Greek singer sang “Parole.” Being sung to by a music artist everyone knows while you are wearing dresses of incomparable beauty; it was no less than a magical moment for this model, but not one without concern. She reveals, “Of course I was very happy and excited to be there. In your mind you think that everything will be perfect and that’s what you want to portray for the audience. It’s their moment, not really your own. In truth, there were a million things going through my mind at the time. As a native of Brazil, the negative-four Celsius winter in Greece while wearing a dress was less than comforting. Towering high heels may look great, but the experience is equally uncomfortable. I wouldn’t trade it for anything but my pleasant expression during the appearance was not completely honest. At some point I was able to be lost in the moment.” For Alana, that moment was when the music took over. There’s an undeniable power to music which allows all people, models included, to don a powerful stance. Tapigliani exhibited this during Madwalk, capturing all eyes as she strutted around the catwalk. The music, the lights, the DJs, and of course the designs which Alana and her fellow performers wore created a spectacle which transfixed the audience.

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 Madwalk may be a Greek event but it is viewed widely across the world. Tapigliani received attention from even more designers and took part in events like this in other countries. She credits Madwalk with giving her both the exposure and confidence to relax and enjoy them. Because it was the first experience of the kind, she confirms, “Madwalk was my first time doing this kind of a show with singers, the stylists, and the like. You never forget the first time, especially doing a live show like this one for all of Greece. At the risk of sounding trite, the biggest reward was doing Madwalk itself. Big productions such as this one have not been around that long and they give an opportunity for a model to do something completely different. A live event is always more challenging; an internationally televised one is even more so. I love doing work like this where the designs and the music excite me. Madwalk was the beginning of a new era for me and it will always hold a special place in my heart because of the start it gave me.”

Executive Producer Ed Egan talks reviving his childhood favorite “Catchphrase”

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Ed Egan

Ed Egan has been a television addict all his life. Ever since he can remember, he has loved watching television, and knew from an early age that he would work in the industry. Now, he is an executive producer working on some of the world’s biggest game shows. He is not only an industry leader in Britain, but internationally as well.

Ever since he began working in the industry, Egan has had ideas for new formats and ways to tweak current ones. Starting from the bottom, he worked his way up to executive producer and showrunner, now being able to create the shows that he has always wanted. His work on ABC’s hit 500 Questions was then recreated in Germany and the United Kingdom after its success in the United States, and he developed the concept for ITV’s 1000 Heartbeats, which went on a very successful run for the network. He started Tipping Point at its inception, which now has hundreds of episodes, and his newest series, Genius Junior starring Neil Patrick Harris, premieres this Spring on NBC.

Despite this success, however, the British native says the highlight of his career came when he revived the classic game show Catchphrase. The original was a childhood favorite and was one of the shows that gave birth to his love of television. Being able to bring it back to air, and film it in his hometown where the show first began, was a special moment for this seasoned executive producer.

“I had been a massive fan of this show when it was on TV when I was young, and so I jumped at the chance to bring it back to our screens so that people could watch it again, or discover it for the first time. The show is perfect. It is the ultimate play-along show, which I love, as people can’t help but try to shout answers out when they are watching. It is a game show that anyone can play and is suitable for the whole family which is quite rare these days. It appeals to people from 8 to 80,” he said.

In the original series, two contestants, one male and one female, would have to identify the familiar phrase represented by a piece of animation accompanied by background music. The show’s mascot, a golden robot called “Mr. Chips”, appears in many of the animations. In the revived version of the show, the same format remains, but there are three contestants and there is no particular attention paid to gender.

Egan’s thorough understanding of the original format was essential to bringing the show back and making it a success. He knew just what was important for the new version to be a hit again. He was able to bring on board some of the best game show producers and production staff in the country, and together they knew the right type of contestants to cast and the right level to set the gameplay at. Not only did he update the format, but he got a younger generation interested in the show, applying to be contestants and also watching each week. The casting producer of the show, Helen Finnimore, was extremely impressed with his talents when they worked together.

“I have known Ed Egan for many years as both a television production professional and a friend. Without doubt, he is one of the most respected executive television producers in the industry. Prior to being head-hunted to relocate and work in the United States, Ed had worked on many internationally recognised programmes here in the United Kingdom and has maintained his position at the forefront of the entertainment business through these incredible accomplishments,” said Finnimore. “I had the pleasure of working closely with Ed on the Catchphrase revival series here in the UK in 2013 and again in 2014. Ed is a rare talent, one of the few executive producers I have met who truly understands the British and American audiences. He’s fantastic to work alongside, maintains a level of professionalism throughout and moreover, has an unparalleled ability to develop and adapt new and exciting formats. This unique flair has become his trademark in the industry both sides of the pond.”

When STV was looking to revive the hit show, they approached Egan knowing of his reputation as a tremendous showrunner. At their first meeting, they offered him the job. Egan wanted to keep as many parts of the original format as possible, but he knew the necessity of updating the show to bring in a newer and more modern audience. The show is very graphics heavy, so he knew that one of his main roles was developing the new look for the animations, as the technology had moved on so much since the original series. Egan wanted to keep up with what people were used to seeing in the modern era of apps. To do all this, he put together a team that not only worked together well but formed a strong bond.

“I loved the fact that the team who I put together all became great friends, and it was a real pleasure to work on. It is a fun format and we had great fun making it. I became good friends with our host Stephen Mulhern, who is the nicest and most professional host a producer could hope to work with,” Egan said.

The relationship Egan forged with his host meant that they were able to be very open and honest with each other, which Egan says is essential to get the best performance from on-screen talent. It also helped calm his nerves about reviving a cherished show for so many people, but once the show aired, his worries immediately evaporated.

“I was nervous about bringing this show back as it had been such as huge show back in the 80s and 90s and I wanted people to like our new, updated and modernised version. I was so pleased that it did so well on its return and I’m very proud that it’s still doing well today,” he said.

The revival began airing in 2013 and Egan produced its first three seasons. The show is now on its sixth season, and since Egan brought it back, it has been the top-rated Saturday night show on ITV. His production and development work with Catchphrase and ITV, as well as such well-known production companies as BBC, Endemol, RDF Television, STV Productions and Warner Horizon in the United States, confirms his reputation as one of the industries go-to executive producers and a highly sought-after talent. He’s achieved a level of prominence rivalled by few in the industry and continues to build upon his achievements.  

Be sure to check out the revival of Catchphrase to see how Egan modernized a classic.

 

Showrunner Séamus Murphy-Mitchell dons Red Nose to raise millions for charity

Séamus Murphy-Mitchell has always loved television. As a child, he would constantly flick through the only two channels his family received, tuning into his favorite shows. Now, he makes his favorite shows. As an executive producer, Murphy-Mitchell is involved in the entire creation process, from beginning to end, and has a say in every aspect of a production; that is what he likes about being a showrunner. He gets to be creative whilst still being collaborative, and work alongside him have the same passion for television that he does.

“When I was a kid, I was once sent to a child psychologist to evaluate my lack of attention in class. Her final analysis was that I shouldn’t continue to watch Aaron Spelling serial dramas late into the night before school the next morning,” he joked.

This Irish-native has made a name for himself internationally, leading not only his country’s industry, but abroad as well. Having led shows such as hit BBC America series Almost Royal and the multi-award-winning BBC talk show Friday Night with Jonathan Ross to great success, Murphy-Mitchell has shown the world what he is capable of. His work on The Adam Buxton Podcast and 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy show audiences just how versatile this executive producer is, and he is always looking for new challenges. This is exactly what he got when he decided to run the very ambitious, live broadcast of 24 Hour Panel People.

“Working on 24 Hour Panel People was very challenging, but in many ways illustrated all the best bits about working in television. We were working as part of a large team to deadline on a ground-breaking project. I’ve probably never been so sleep deprived as I was when we finally came off air, but we still went out and had fun afterwards to celebrate,” said Murphy-Mitchell.

24 Hour Panel People was a 24-hour, live broadcast to raise money for Comic Relief and run up to the United Kingdom’s famous “Red Nose Day”. Since its launch in 1988, Red Nose Day has become something of a British institution. It’s the day, every two years, when people across the land can get together and do something funny for money at home, school and work. There’s a fantastic night of TV on the BBC, with comedy and entertainment to inspire the nation to give generously. Comic Relief spends the money raised by Red Nose Day to help people living tough lives across the United Kingdom and Africa, tackling issues like poverty, hunger, and mental health.

“Comic Relief is a huge charity that raises an enormous amount of money and does a huge amount of good around the world. 24 Hour Panel People was a great example of how this charity always embraces new ways of engaging with an audience, and for that reason it was a great success,” said Murphy-Mitchell.

Taking on the network’s first 24-hour broadcast was a challenge Murphy-Mitchell was more than up for. Live from BBC Television Centre, from midday March 5th to midday March 6th, 2011, the epic event featured comedian David Walliams front and center alongside a revolving door of eminent comedians, sports stars and actors as he took on the challenge of hosting a mammoth and constant succession of the UK’s greatest panel shows past and present.

Including such beloved panel show institutions as Blankety Blank, QI, The Generation Game, Call My Bluff, Have I Got News For You and Whose Line Is It Anyway, Murphy-Mitchell produced the live show nonstop and seamlessly throughout the night, single handedly running autocue and the floor and ensuring Walliams was mentally alert, focused, funny and robust as he persevered throughout the night. He also brought a considerably younger audience to Comic Relief, ensuring the broadcast would succeed for years to come.

“Once the live broadcast came to its finale, Séamus then edited the entire 24 hours into 5 half hour compilation specials which were broadcast nightly on the BBC over the week of the Red Nose campaign. 24 Hour Panel People went down in charity history as a seminal, ground-breaking occasion which not only raised millions of pounds for Comic Relief but set the bar for future fundraising events across the globe, all with the help of Séamus,” said Suzi Aplin, executive producer of Comic Relief and 24 Hour Panel People.

When Aplin was looking for a showrunner to produce the show, which in the end amounted to 22 different comedy entertainment formats in 24 hours, she knew she needed an experienced executive producer to lead the broadcast to a success. Having worked with Murphy-Mitchell in the past, she knew he not only had the talent, but would be up for the challenge. Once he was approached, Murphy-Mitchell knew he wanted to produce the show. The BBC had never attempted a 24-hour broadcast before, and he knew he could help lead the inaugural broadcast.

“It was a really exciting project from the very beginning. I had worked for Comic Relief in the past and I was very keen to work for the charity again, particularly on a project so unique and unprecedented,” he described.

From the moment pre-production began, Murphy-Mitchell and his team were frantically busy. They had to secure the format rights for the 22 different shows they were going to have on the show, and once they achieved such a feat, they had to then break them down and figure out how to adapt them into a 24-hour time period.

“Securing rights was a big part of the project’s success. I spent a long time convincing Sir David Frost that we wouldn’t destroy his Through the Keyhole format. In the end, he was delighted with its contribution to the success of the night,” he said.

After achieving this, they had to book tickets and fill the chairs for each of the shows. Murphy-Mitchell had three teams assigned to this Herculean task, as hundreds of people were needed to fill all the chairs. Each team looking after an average of five formats, along with three directors to work eight hours each throughout the night.

“Most of us didn’t sleep at all for 40 hours or so as we were all up at the crack of dawn on the morning of the broadcast. David Walliams was completely heroic. The point of the show was that David would appear in all 22 of the formats over 24 hours. At some points he was so tired that he was incoherent, but he still managed to be funny in every single show,” Murphy-Mitchell described.

In 2011, Comic Relief managed to raise a whopping £108,436,277 (over $150 million USD) for Red Nose Day, and Murphy-Mitchell’s 24 Hour Panel People was a large part of that. Not only does this showrunner entertain his audiences, but he also gives back, and that is what makes his work so enjoyable.

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

HOLLYWOOD THROUGH THE EYES OF SHIMAN HU

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Shiman Hu has loved movies for as long as she can remember. The feeling of being whisked to another reality and feeling that you are placed in the lives, the emotions, the reality of others and allowed to experience any motion that the creators of the film desires for you to experience…it’s been said many times but, it’s magic. This led her to investigate the secret behind this “magic” and to a career in film (and television) as an editor. Her skill and her love of cinema also led Yangyang Mu (the production manager of Hollywood Chinese TV) to offer Hu the position as editor for “Hollywood Club.” Yangyang states, “Our program shows the best part of great films within a limited duration. Beyond the other content we present, the demands of presenting these films and matching the original rhythm and message are quite substantial. It required a truly incredible editor and Shiman did an amazing job.” The program aspires to interest viewers in a wide array of movies, not just American films, in hopes of cultivating wide interest in all that the industry has to offer. The same diversity of films that first enchanted Shiman are what she worked to expose in a modern avenue, as a seed to present day and future film aficionados.

The program presents film as varied as: Avatar, No Country for Old Men, Confessions (famous Japanese film), Jurassic Park, and many others displays a range from Science Fiction to Dark Humor to love stories and much more. Hu divides each film into three different sections: the background (the work, the life and the problems encountered in the film), the climax of the film (how the character solves the problems he/she has encountered), and finally, the end of the film (what are they going to do at the end? Is the end good or bad?). As an editor of acclaimed films like The Sound of the Sea, Plus Slash Minus +/-, and others, Hu feels the weight of responsibility in maintaining a congruent tone to the original filmmakers desired message.

Not all films are equal in the challenge to present them in a condensed time frame. “Confessions” starring Takako Matsu was a formidable challenge to edit. A black comedy with a very tight rhythm to it, the film’s pace and excellence caused Shiman to make several attempts at editing it before she felt that she was respectful to both the film and filmmaker’s original intention. Matching the original film’s rhythm and ensuring the integrity of the narrative, she concedes that she learned an increased respect for the original editor’s work on this film…as with many others she has reviewed since. In particular, the early Hong Kong film “As Tears Go By” with its many complex stories, character cues, relationships between characters, and emotional interlacing created a Rubik’s Cube or editing for an editor. Of course, it’s Hu’s love of discovery that first led her to a career in film and challenges like this only stoked the fire.

“Hollywood Club” is not only for cinephiles. This also allowed the editor to exercise her TV editing chops honed during her time working at many different Sino TV programs. Everything from gossip surrounding celebrities like Justin Bieber and others to the top songs on the charts is covered on this program. The program not only plays the songs to the audience, but more importantly, introduces viewers to the background of the songs, producers and singers of the songs and explains the meaning of them. Hu combines the recordings of the songs and dialogue of the hosts, adjusting the appropriate volume and controlling the length of songs according to the time requirement of the program.

All of this means that the breadth of editing work encompasses serious/award-winning films to playful pop culture. Shiman concedes, “The skill required for this program is quite substantial. I might be reediting an existing movie trailer to meet the length of our program. The trailer’s sense of rhythm is very strong. I’m editing a film and distilling it down while keeping the voice of the filmmakers and the story intact. Hosts are presented on green screen and special effects software is used to give a modern look and accessibility that multimedia presentations demand and viewers expect. There are many layers in the editing software of the program. When we are making up the entire show, we pay careful attention to whether there are missing parts. The appearance must be very high-quality in spite of the limited time that we have to produce this. It takes a lot of work to make it look effortless and that is always my goal.”

Shiman Hu’s work on “Hollywood Club” is an example of how the most talented professionals in the production industry can vacillate between mediums, using their skills to better any scenario which they encounter. Whether at work on feature films, television talk shows, or any combination of these, Shiman Hu has carved out a welcome place for herself in the international production community.

 

Director Brett Morris showcases the drama in ‘The Real Housewives of Toronto’

Filmmaking started out as a hobby for a young Brett Morris. He was a child actor, and became exposed to movies in a different way than most other kids. The Toronto-native began making films with his sister, and it became his favorite past time. This same passion continues in his work today, and Morris is an in-demand director and producer.

Having worked on several large productions, Morris has taken the Canadian television industry by storm. Shows such as Big Brother Canada, Top Chef Canada, Hockey Wives, and So You Think You Can Dance Canada may not have achieved the success they did without him as the mastermind behind the scenes. He constantly aims to make the best product possible, and ensures all he works with do the same.

“I like to make the on-set experience an ‘idea meritocracy’ where the best idea wins.  Structuring your set this way makes for the experience to be enjoyable for everyone, and always delivers the best content. I don’t care if you’re responsible for catering, if you have an idea that will make our final product better, I’m all ears. You never know where the best idea will come from, and you have to be open and secure enough in role to listen,” he said.

Morris carried this mentality with him during his work on ten episodes of The Real Housewives of Toronto, a show that follows six of the city’s most privileged, powerful and glamorous women as they navigate the elite social scene of Canada’s largest city. This first season introduces Kara Alloway, Roxy Earle, Gregoriane (Grego) Minot, Ann Kaplan Mulholland, Joan Kelley Walker and Jana Webb. Toronto is their playground and they have the real estate, cars, and the diamonds to prove it. The show is part of the widely popular Real Housewives franchise, and when the opportunity came up for Morris to pioneer the Toronto series, he was all for it.

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Ann Kaplan and Brett Morris on the set of Real Housewives

“Working on The Real Housewives is really like working on a soap opera in the 21st century,” Morris described. “What I love about The Real Housewives is that everything is heightened.  Heightened reality television. The hair is bigger, the money is bigger, the personalities are bigger, the fights are bigger. It’s a show that seems so fabricated it has to be real, because the characters are always so magnificent.”

When the showrunner, Grant Greschuk, was looking for a director to make the Toronto version of Real Housewives a success, he reached out to producer Lara Shaw for a recommendation. Shaw instantly thought of Morris, as the two had worked together on Big Brother Canada. Once the two had a chance to talk, they instantly hit it off, and knew working together would be a triumph.

The role of director for Morris demanded a swift technical directorial eye, with a keen sense of how to arc the story to engage audiences. He led a field team of a director of photography, one assistant director, a camera operator, and a production assistant. Each one of them were extremely impressed with Morris’ directorial and leadership skills.

“Brett brought a level of camaraderie to our team that I haven’t experienced in my 14 years in the industry, and I can say I have never had such a good experience working on a show, as I did on the time spent working on Brett’s team. He had a way of raising team moral, bringing a level of levity and enjoyment to each shooting day, while working with the team to get results that brought constant positive feedback from the production management. Brett creates an extremely collaborative environment, instills confidence with his leadership and raises the confidence in his team members by constant feedback and encouragement. Brett is the kind of leader that makes you want to do your absolute best work for him. I would jump at any opportunity to work with Brett in the future as much and often as possible,” said Chris Sherry, the Director of Photography on Real Housewives of Toronto.

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Kara Alloway (Left), Ann Kaplan (Right) with Brett Morris on the set of Real Housewives

Each day, Morris and his crew would arrive two hours before the cast. They would spend this time figuring out how they would film each scene, and he says these were often his most creative hours of the day. Once the cast arrived, filming would begin. The ladies, Morris says, did not require any coaching on his part, as they were very professional, giving him more time to focus on making the best possible product.

As the director of the show, Morris’ first priority was storytelling. At the beginning of each day, he was given just the location and the cast members that would appear in the scenes. At any given time, each character had five different plots to follow, because they all have relationships with different characters. Those relationships would change on any given day and Morris always made sure to keep his head around the story despite such a challenge.

“The best part of working on The Real Housewives of Toronto was how we got to spend the summer. Sometimes in film and TV, the shooting locations and conditions aren’t the most glamorous. I’ve worked in freezing cold ice rinks, on dairy farms, dirty basements – not the most desirable of conditions.  The best part of Real Housewives was that we lived like the cast for three months. We dined at the best restaurants in the city, traveled on yachts, filmed on golf courses, even took the whole shooting crew to Barcelona for a week. The show definitely had its perks,” said Morris.

Morris is immensely proud of the work he did on the first season of The Real Housewives of Toronto. It was a small team, and with him as the leader the show championed as the number one show on the W Network where it premiered. He credits his previous work in reality television to help him bring a fresh perspective to the Real Housewives franchise. He always makes the cleanest and most efficient show he can; he aims to have the locations look as glamorous as possible; he makes sure to photograph the cast in flattering ways. Lastly, he beautifully showed his home city of “The 6” to the rest of the world.

“One of the best part of working in this industry is being able to talk with people who have seen your work. It’s the best ice-breaker to say, ‘I worked on The Real Housewives of Toronto’ because it instantaneously gets a reaction out of someone. They’ll always have an opinion about it, and always want to learn more. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to a big jock, or an actual housewife – everyone has seen the show and everyone wants to know what it’s really like behind the scenes…. of course, though, I’ll never tell,” Morris concluded.

HOW YOU WILL SEE, HEAR, & FEEL “CHRISTMAS IN MISSISSIPPI”

Christmas in Mississippi

In the entertainment world there are those who seek the spotlight and then there are those like YuXin Boon. This sound editor prefers the work off screen creating and supporting the performers and story onscreen. It’s not a vocation for those who love attention but for the professional who finds their fulfillment in creativity and empowering the story, it’s the perfect environment. Boon’s work is always about creating the perfect environment. It often focuses on the background sound elements which, if they weren’t in the periphery, might take one out of the story because of their omission. For the Lifetime Television film “Christmas in Mississippi” she was tasked with using her abilities to draw viewers into the relaxing holiday atmosphere that supported the storyline. As the background editor, YuXin created a cheerful ambience that many of us associate with one of the happiest seasons in our year.

“Christmas in Mississippi” perfectly communicates the sentiment behind the season in modern times. Photographer Holly Logan (Jana Kramer) returns to her hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi for Christmas as the town is recovering from a terrible hurricane that devastated it years earlier. Holly finds herself working alongside her high school sweetheart, Mike (Wes Brown) who she discovers gave up his music dream to take care of his brother’s son while his brother served in the country’s military. The two are swept up in the rekindling of their feelings and the joy of the season. The production’s post-sound supervisor Eric M. Klein loved Boon’s work on ‘Enchanted Christmas’ and thought the skills and professionalism she showed on that project could help take the sound of the new project [“Christmas in Mississippi”] to a new level.

YuXin’s approach to her work as Ambience and Foley editor is something she enjoys because it is both methodical & calculated as well as highly creative. During early spotting session that displayed characters walking inside a warehouse with numerous background actors preparing props for light show, Boon divided the movements into sub groups like: present wrapping group, decoration group, and tools carrying group. She inserted the sounds of paper rustling sound for the wrapping, cable tangle sound for decoration, and metal clicking for tools, all contributions via the Foley artist on the film.  Adding ambience for another room in the warehouse in order to make them sound as if coming from the other side of the wall increased the depth and multidimensional feeling of a natural space. The essence of great sound/Foley editing is to present several perspectives of the sounds we experience in real life. YuXin’s highly detailed and though out plan for her work has made her such a sought out professional in a variety of productions. She gives a deeper insight into her mindset when creating as she explains, “I found out the recreation of warehouse ambience was the most difficult part of my work in this movie. The warehouse had a myriad of sounds happening at the same time. (Construction, decoration, paper wrapping, people talking, goods loading, fan spinning, etc.) and I wanted to cover those background movements as much as possible while keeping them balanced. Most of the construction ambiences I found in the [sound] libraries were too heavy for this movie and just didn’t match the scene. Instead of using one construction background with multiple sounds like drilling and sawing, I chose the ambience with one particular movement and combined different layers. For the scene with light construction, I added hammer, ladder, and pallet jack sound to make the scene sound busy. In this way, I provided more options to the director and supervising sound editors. It was easier for me to take out the ambience they didn’t like and keep others.”

There’s perhaps no better way to gain appreciation for those whom you work with as well as improve and excel in your own work than to experience firsthand the challenges of others. Boon was particularly excited that “Christmas in Mississippi” gave her the opportunity to work alongside Martin Quinones (ADR & Foley Recordist of ‘Christmas in Mississippi’) …literally! Because Boon was so microscopically aware of the actions of the actors/characters in the film, Quinones invited her on one of the session to do some of the actual Foley work, creating the recorded sounds that make audible movie magic, like squeezing a moist cloth to mimic the sound of straw stirring the cream in milkshake or the simple sounds of fabric rustling. While it could be easily overlooked and considered mundane, Boon felt that the simple recordings of leather and denim rubbed on a boom microphone would add to the believability of Mike (Holly’s high school sweetheart) during one particular scene, giving emphasis to his movement…which of course it did. Martin professes, “This was the second movie that ‘Wendy’ YuXin Boon and I worked on together and I was able to realize how thorough and detail oriented she is. Her laser-focus approach to sound editing, as well as her willingness to learn new methods and techniques clearly confirms that she makes the process of filmmaking better and more efficient.”

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While she works at it, YuXin readily admits that being hyper focused and detailed is simply a part of her nature. Noticing every small detail might be an irritating trait for a person to have but finding a way to use it in a beneficial manner, such as this editor has done, results in appreciation and a successful career. Using the correct tool for the job is the way that YuXin Boon approaches her work on every production she takes part in and it’s doubtless that this is the way that those who hire her view her contributions to their productions. “Christmas in Mississippi” feels like the holidays and thanks to YuXin it most definitely SOUNDS like it as well.

THE “JUST DEAL” WITH NBC THAT STARTED JOHAL’S MAJOR CAREER

(BY KELLY JAMES)

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  Countless American actors grow up dreaming of landing a contract with a major television studio. Actors from outside the US are no different. The opportunities and the exposure that this kind of platform offer to actors is the entertainment manifestation of a jet pack to one’s career. While he has a long list of credentials to his career, back in the early 2000’s PJ Johal achieved a goal in his career when he signed a contract with NBC to appear as Vijal on the Saturday morning series “Just Deal.” Filmed in a single camera format and without a laugh track, “Just Deal” was an early proving ground for Johal and his costars, to say nothing of how exciting it was for these young actors to find themselves suddenly thrust into the national and international awareness of the public. The storylines gave young people a diverse set of characters to connect with and afforded PJ the opportunity to display the skills that would land him roles in a number of productions to follow.

As a young actor who had just signed with a major talent agency, PJ openly admits that he was excited to be asked to audition for NBC’s “Just Deal” about teenagers living in the Seattle suburbs. It was a story about ordinary kids and common issues of teen life but did so with an ethnically diverse cast. The goal of the show was to show the commonality amidst other differences that the youth of the time was dealing with. The show involved the creators and writer behind the television series “90210” and the excitement around it was palpable. Johal has always been brave when it came to taking liberties with a character during auditions and, as with many times since, it paid off well when he was quickly offered the role of Vijal, the “fish out of water.” Vijal was looking to make friends like any young person. Unfortunately, the friendship he struck with Hunter (the school bad boy) would steer Johal’s character towards trouble. Vijal’s trajectory in the show allowed PJ to exhibit a wide range of situations and emotions. Every actor connects their character to their own experiences and reality and Johal describes, “Vijal was new to everything, thrust into a world he had little in common with. He had to work his way through understanding and navigating it all. I moved around a lot as a child and it was tough having to uproot and start over every time. New schools, new teachers, new kids, a new environment which required constant introduction and assimilation…that’s very hard when you are a young person trying to discover who you truly are. Self-discovery is challenging for anyone and kids have almost no control in their lives.When almost everything else around them is stripped away and then replaced with something different, it’s incredibly disconcerting. My childhood friendships were kept at arm’s length although I was always the best friend I could be because I love having friends. I brought a lot of these experiences to Vijal, right or wrong.”

There’s a natural comradery that takes place for such young actors who find themselves thrust into the spotlight of a major network series. Virtually all of the cast members of “Just Deal” were fairly new to the business with each possessing a handful of credits. While admitting that he wasn’t particularly active in all of the extracurricular social activities, PJ notes that experiencing this type of momentum in his career alongside others in the same situation made it less precarious for him. While working on the show he was approached to join the cast of a major Hollywood feature film. It was an exciting time for the young actor as being included in this major film production but not without trepidation as it necessitated him leaving his first television role. Requesting that he be written out of the show was an understandably difficult situation for any actor and yet one that is born of others recognizing his talent.

In the fifteen years since his work on “Just Deal” Johal has amassed an impressive list of productions in popular TV and film. One thing that has remained constant is the audition process. Whether a teen actor or as a present day adult, PJ concedes that the multitude of auditions is a teacher in itself. He comments, “I can’t imagine many actors would find it unearned to have roles offered to them especially after they’ve paid their dues and rightfully deserve offers. I know at this point in my career I welcome them. If in order to work you must audition, then so be it. It’s important to feel that you’re earning it and proving you are an exceptional actor. It’s a way to keep your sanity and the last thing an actor needs is self-criticism or lack of worth when it comes to having to audition. You must find every possible positive aspect of your journey on this career path and persist; if that means auditioning and doing it well every time then so be it.” The most important lesson which Johal has found…bring yourself to your roles but serve the interests and purposes of the character and the story not yours. These ideas of PJ Johal would serve when applied to almost anyone’s life.

Dewshane Williams on exploring his love of science fiction in The Expanse

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Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) and Sa’id (Dewshane Williams) prepare for a Martian battle in The Expanse

What audiences tend to love most about science fiction is the fact that the realm of possibilities is endless. Science fiction is known for carrying fans into unfamiliar worlds, unexplored dimensions, and uncharted territory. Both characters and storylines defy the norms of the world we know and live in; however, social dilemmas, emotions, and personality traits often stay the same. As an actor, science fiction remains one of the most unique, interesting genres to explore. For Dewshane Williams, this is because it is a genre that allows us to determine what human beings are capable of, be that within the constraints of modern life as we know it, or beyond.

Besides science fiction, Williams has familiarized himself with a number of different genres and storylines throughout his career. For instance, Williams mastered the art of drama through his stellar performance of Frank in the film Dog Pound, which portrays the life of three juvenile delinquents who are sentenced to a correctional facility where they encounter gang violence, death, and harassment from staff and other inmates. Contrastingly, Williams immersed himself into the wonderful world of comedy in 2012 for the film The Story of Luke about a young man with autism who is thrust into a world that doesn’t expect much from him. Beyond that, Williams has tried his hand at action films, thrillers, mysteries, horror stories, and much more. There are few limits to what he can achieve when he puts his mind and his skill set to work.

In 2015, Williams earned himself a role in Universal SYFY Networks’s hit series, The Expanse as Corporal Sa’id. The show follows the lives of a police detective a spaceship crew who discover a conspiracy, the first officer of an interplanetary ice freighter, and an earth-bound United Nations executive director, who slowly discover a conspiracy threatening the Earth’s rebellious colony on the asteroid belt. Between Williams’ fascination with space travel and Sa’id’s passion for serving others, Williams became enthralled with the project. In the series, Sa’id serves as part of an elite Marine Firing Squad; however, what Williams respected most about his character was embedded within Sa’id’s devotion to his planet. His willingness to save his planet inspired Williams and motivated him to adopt every trait and mannerism that accompanied that level of selflessness. Fortunately, one of Williams’ greatest attributes is his ability to transform himself into the character at hand. For some actors, identifying with a specific style of acting comes naturally; however, for professionals like Williams, it is impossible to categorize himself. He does not act according to a specific set of styles or rules. On the contrary, his versatility allows him to adapt himself to a variety of different emotions and character traits.

“The story of this show is so important because we live in an age of Space X and interplanetary travel. I think it is important to embrace the possibilities that our future holds. The concept of space travel and exploration is very real. We’re doing it now, which is incredible. This show, in a way, sheds light on what we may go through as an evolving species. It shows what we may be capable of doing; both positive and negative. Not to mention, most of the concepts in the show are scientifically possible. For all of the future space explorers out there, this might be the inspiration they need to take us where no one has gone before,” gushed Williams.

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Dewshane Williams recording voiceover work for The Expanse virtual reality Game Battle For Mars.

As an avid science fiction fan, Williams loved getting into character and immersing himself in the costumes and props on set. When he was being fitted for his costume, Williams noticed something familiar about the design and upon inquiring about their origin, he learned that they were made by the same company who produce Iron Man’s iconic suit. His enthusiasm about the project grew with each day on set and the more he explored the script, the more he realized the potential that the storyline held. In fact, the show’s VFX Supervisor, Bob Munroe, took notice of Williams’ devotion to the project and solicited his help to act as the lead for a virtual reality video game based on the show’s premise. Williams was extremely humbled about the possibility of expanding The Expanse’s presence in the world of science fiction and eagerly accepted the offer to work on the video game, The Battle on Mars. It comes as little surprise, therefore, that Munroe was equally as thrilled to have Williams on board.

“The moment I met Dewshane, I knew he was a rare talent. I had such a great experience working with him that I later enlisted him to star in our virtual reality game. Considering how much VFX was required while shooting our opening scene on mars, Dewshane had to exercise a lot of patience. Not to mention, he had to wear a 40-pound suit on a hot day. It would’ve been very easy to complain but he never did. Instead, his generosity and attitude made him a standout. When I had the opportunity to create a video game for the TV show, he was the first person I called. His enthusiasm is so contagious,” said Munroe.

Now finished its second season, The Expanse has established a strong following, as well as a large amount of recognition in the industry. It has garnered a number of award nominations, as well as a win for Best Dramatic Presentation at the Hugo Awards in 2017. If you are curious to see Williams in action, as well as to see what the show’s hype is all about, start watching The Expanse now and stay tuned for the premiere of Season 3 in 2018.

 

Top photo: Dewshane Williams in the Virtual Reality Game “The Expanse: Battle on Mars”.