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.

Donald Heng-Ghost Wars

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.

 

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DIRECTOR ALEXANDRA LA ROCHE ON HAVING FUN WITH EUREKA

Science and Tech nerds are the new rockstars. There was a time when the brains behind these types of advancements were kept hidden away while the powers that be put a public face on those they deemed marketable. Carl Sagan, Steve Jobs, and many others completely changed that. Sci-Fi Channel’s “Eureka” presented the idea of an entire community of these brilliant minds. The Emmy nominated and Leo award-winning TV show was a ratings hit during its six year run as one of Sci Fi’s highest rated series. One of the brilliant minds behind the scenes of “Eureka” was director Alexandra La Roche. The writers of the series are self-proclaimed science geeks who structured many of their themes on real or postulated science. This coupled with the show’s heavy oversight by actual science consultants not only informed La Roche but required her to be on her toes. In contrast to the normal greed, sex, and ensuing power struggle, “Eureka” episodes presented conflict of a more cerebral nature. Alexandra concedes that it’s one of the most unusual and fun shows she has ever directed precisely due to this aspect.

“Eureka” is the story of a scientific community, in large part based on the perspective of the town’s sheriff Jack Carter. Carter cooperates with scientific geniuses in the community who work for Global Dynamics. They often find approaches to resolving situations that require more cerebral effort than “stop in the name of the law.” A perfect example of this is “Up in the air.” This episode was based on the opening sequence of the show which depicts the town floating away as the Sheriff watches. The opening had never been explored as a story before. What seemingly starts out as a normal bank robbery quickly became a situation in which the entire bank had been taken, the whole building! An element of the Higgs Bosen (based on real science) has been stored in the bank and somehow is effecting everything in the town. Carter is tasked with having to get the element contained and bring everything back to earth. Unfortunately, the bank is floating 4 miles above the earth and nothing can fly him there. He does make it, but the bank is on a terrible tilt and when he does get the element contained, the bank starts to plummet, listing back and forth and sending him in all directions with amazing physical comedy from Carter, played by Colin Ferguson. The day is saved at the last minute and order is restored. Even though “Up in the air” employed extensive use of VFX and filming trickery to make the scenes believable, Alexandra believes that the performances of the actors are the cornerstone to any production. For this particular episode, the physical comedy performed by Colin Ferguson (starring as sheriff Jack Carter) due to the gravity challenged nature of the situation was a high note (no pun intended). On working with La Roche, Ferguson proclaims, “Alexandra is one of, if not the best, director I have ever worked with.
I think it is fair to say that I have a deep understanding and appreciation for Alexandra’s talent. When we worked together, we worked in tandem to improve, correct, defend, and in short, save eighty plus hours of television from lesser hands than hers. She has the rare ability to follow the story, hear the actors, know the technical, and bring it all together in a manner that gets better, quantifiable results, faster than most, and in the form that others only dream they could achieve. This is exceptional. She always helped. She was never wrong. Not once. Our show had the quality that it did because of Alexandra La Roche. When I am asked by someone which episodes to watch to see if they will like I show I always say ‘Up in the Air’ or ‘Smarter Carter’, both of which are Alexandra’s episodes. She is an ally, she is a friend and she is someone I will always look up to.” Perhaps the reason that Alexandra is so respected and appreciated by the actors she works with is due to her honesty with them. She stipulates, “I had an excellent rapport with all the actors on ‘Eureka.’ Our deal was simple; I did not lie. If Colin wanted an honest opinion, he knew he would get it from me. Actors are so used to smoke being blown up their asses, they were really quite happy for me to say what I really thought. Of course, I never approach any situation with a negative. If I see a problem, I only mention it if I have a solution or proposal on how to solve it. This is what I know endeared me to the entire cast, with a particularly close working relationship with Colin as he trusted me implicitly.”

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One of La Roche’s favorite experiences directing for Eureka was the episode “Smarter Carter.” It combined many of the elements that were so endearing about the series: science, VFX, and comedic performances. A confrontation between sheriff Carter and two disembodied legs in the town square was a scene which Alexandra had conceived of herself. Kevin Blake (played by Trevor Jackson) and the sheriff square off with the legs in an attempt to capture them. The director describes, “It was written as a simple chase through the town square ending in a crash into the café patio. Parkour was just getting really popular so I expanded the scene and created a sequence where the legs jump, leap, and hang all over the town square ending up with Carter pinned in a head lock. This was a massive sequence and I had to call out to the actors every beat and every move because the legs were all CGI.  I had no voice left by lunch!! We had to use green screen elements as well. It took 7 hours to shoot, but it was a great scene, very funny and well worth it.” These situations give evidence that La Roche had a deep understanding of the personality the producers wanted “Eureka” to project. While executing these scenes can be taxing and stressful, the final result was well worth it. Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 8.58.16 AM

While “Eureka” left a lasting impression on its fans and science nerds everywhere, the road is two-way. Alexandra admits that to this day that she gravitates towards science magazines on plane rides and whenever she has free time. The experience working on “Eureka” led not only to many more professional opportunities (La Roche has directed CW’s “Flash”, USA network’s “Dead Zone”, and many others) but left her with a lifelong interest in science. Sometimes the conduit for learning resides in unobvious means.

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HUNTER PHOENIX USES ACTING AS THE ULTIMATE RPG

The next time you are feeling like the ultimate multitasker, consider actress Hunter Phoenix who uses her vocation as therapy. Okay, that’s an oversimplification. When the director of the London based production of Streetcar Named Desire cast her in the role of Blanche “Because it’s going to be fascinating to watch you fall apart (emotionally)”; that would likely seem intimidating to most of us. It was to Hunter, until she realized this was a chance to lead out a very different life without repercussions. The actress decided to embrace the unknown, resulting in two decades of a highly successful career in Canada and Europe. Seeking new experiences for growth has now led her to Hollywood and the ever changing possibilities of acting. The long list of Canadian actors contributing to American Television and Film such as; Raymond Burr, Dan Aykroyd, Pamela Anderson, Rachel McAdams, Mike Myers, Ryan Reynolds, Ellen Page…and honestly, too many to mention here, continues to grow. Hunter Phoenix is following the path of her fellow countrymen by investing in Hollywood’s possibilities. She is no stranger to the international film industry (taking part in films recognized at the Oldenburg Film Festival, Toronto Black Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, and the Cannes Film Festival, plus many others) and Los Angeles is astute in recognizing her luminous qualities. Following years of establishing herself in the Canadian and European markets as a talented and charismatic actress, Ms. Phoenix has increasingly appeared in many different formats here in the United States. Modern actors cross many varied platforms including; film, television, theater, even web-based, Hunter has immersed herself into all of these. In 2016 you can find Hollywood’s A-list at your local theater, on a cable series, or in original content for websites such as Funny or Die.

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Producer (and actress) Maria Rohm has worked with everyone from Orson Welles to Christoph Waltz. She knows how to recognize talent as well as marketability. Maria has worked with Ms. Phoenix on multiple films and notes, “Hunter is very unique as an actress. She has the ability to convey vulnerability and handle the most dramatic scenes but also has great comedic timing. You rarely see that in a woman of such poise, beauty and grace. She raises the bar of any project she becomes involved in.”

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For the film High Adventure (distributed in Canada by Universal Studios Home Video), Hunter played the role of Ingrid, Chris Quartermain’s ex-girlfriend.  Phoenix’s performance added greatly to the depth of the film according to its director Mark Roper who relates, “What these two characters create on-screen and accomplish in this movie is transcendent, and greatly responsible for the movie’s overwhelming commercial success. This was largely due to Hunter’s commitment to her performance in this role.” It is readily apparent in the film that Phoenix enjoys the subtle nuances and mannerisms of her performance. No doubt her costars appreciate the fact that she helps the audience to see the main character through her eyes, allowing them to become more real, flawed, and interesting. Hunter considers this to be one of her finest achievements as an actress, to aid the audience in seeing deeper into the characters.

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  Pact with the Devil is a modern adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and would seem an appropriate analogy for the lifestyle and challenges of the entertainment industry. The film’s cast includes Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, The Artist), Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained, Inglorious Bastards, Spectre) and, as Isabella…Hunter Phoenix. Producer David Goldstein describes Hunter in the film as “commanding the screen” and “fascinating to watch!” Phoenix’s physical beauty is natural as a character that has an affair with the handsome Dorian Gray; what comes as a complete surprise is her comedic timing. Her performance gives unexpected moments of humor and levity to a dark story being played out by actors with potent gravitas. “I have written roles for Hunter on several movies and she makes the characters tangible and temporarily suspends all disbelief. When watching Hunter, you forget that she is an actress playing the part; she just IS that person.” remarks writer Peter Jobin.

In a more family themed role, Hunter will appear as Sabrina Baroque in The Bandit Hound II (she is also credited in The Bandit Hound I). This family tale centers on an unwitting dog’s involvement in an armed robbery and his road to redemption through the love of his adoptive family. In addition to Phoenix, the cast includes household names like; Catherine Bell (JAG), Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas), Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk), and Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club). The Bandit Hound and The Bandit Hound II’s director Michelle Danner praises Hunter remarking, “I was inspired by this new actress and immediately made the decision to cast Hunter in the sequel ‘Bandit Hound II.’ The chemistry between Hunter and two of our leads was magnetic, a crucial element to achieving the heartwarming finale we’re hoping for.” In the sequel, the bank robbers are locked up but Sabrina is their “man on the outside.” Sabrina is the typical pretty face who aligns herself with the bad boys but she has a secret…one that will require viewing of the movie to reveal…no spoilers here. With the movie set to begin filming in 2016, fans of the film will have to wait a while to discover the plot twists. In the meantime, to get their portion of Hunter, they’ll have to do no more than turn on their computers. Just as cable grew into the creative and ratings juggernaut it is, the web is a new avenue for many a creative series.

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For someone like Hunter Phoenix who has tested herself in live theater, television, and films, seeing what online entertainment can do is a natural exploration. She is cast as Vanessa in Uncensored Hollywood, a series about aspiring actors in Hollywood and the culture of sex, drugs, alcohol, and lies. The subject matter could lend itself to drama but the tone is definitely one of comedy.  With episodic titles like; “Arnold Schwarzenegger and Godot”, “The King’s Speech – Made in Hollywood”, “Game of Thrones – The amateurs”, and “SNL Tennessee Williams” it is easy to see that the series pokes fun at the self important side of Hollywood as well as pop-culture.  Phoenix describes her character Vanessa as a former child actor/now talent agent, full of grit and toughness, while still being humorous and fragile (due to her ex-husband). The role is a perfect place for the actress to show an intense yet comedic facet of her inner self. That seems understandable for someone whose achievements range from Tennessee Williams to Second City improv. Hunter embraces Uncensored Hollywood and her character stating, “What makes the show both poignant and funny is that it contains that kernel of truth. It’s not me but I draw on my own experiences to breathe emotional vibrance into Vanessa’s world.”  This acting therapy that Hunter uses allows her to be people that she isn’t, while doing things she’d probably never be comfortable doing, and somehow results in her being a more actualized self. Maria Rohm of (Tower of London Films) describes Phoenix stating, “Hunter is also one of the kindest and most caring people I have ever met. She worked with street youth, mentoring them for a number of years during her time in Toronto through Covenant House, and she gives generously to animal welfare charities.” Hunter’s personal form of acting therapy results in great work that is appreciated by the industry, as well as therapeutic side effects for herself and those around her.

Actor Ian Fisher Continues his Success after the Series “Covert Affairs”

Ian Fisher
                                           Actor Ian Fisher shot by Denise Grant

High-level CIA officials filled the room, but all he wanted to do was get in, deliver a message and get out without overhearing something above his pay grade.

This was the day-to-day experience of a CIA agent named Patrick, a popular character that Canadian actor Ian Fisher thoughtfully brought to life on the USA Network’s hit spy-action-drama show Covert Affairs.

While Fisher is no newcomer, he was much younger than many of his counterparts on the series, which included accomplished actors such as Piper Perabo (The Prestige, Looper, Coyote Ugly), Christopher Gorham (Justice League: War, Ugly Betty, Felicity) and Peter Gallagher (American Beauty, The O.C., While You Were Sleeping). However, the dynamic approach Fisher brought to his character on the series made his performances flow seamlessly in line with those of the veteran actors as though the cast had been working together for years.

When Fisher first landed his role on Covert Affairs, he decided early on during the process of developing his character that he would approach Patrick with a quote from the film Ocean’s Eleven in mind.

In Ocean’s Eleven, Rusty explained to Linus, “He’s got to like you, then forget you, the moment you’ve left his side”; and, as Fisher’s character in Covet Affairs was continually the show’s bearer of bad news, the quote was the perfect inspiration. Ironically, though Patrick was known over the course of the fifth season for bringing the kind of news that would throw a monkey wrench into the CIA’s plans, this was actually good news for Fisher as his character gained traction with fans and social media.

“My character did this so often that the writers of the show once tweeted ‘Patrick, the harbinger of doom’ during an episode broadcast,” Fisher said.

Fisher’s roles span the gamut. The actor has proven his prowess in practically every genre, but where he truly thrives is in the world of comedy and drama. Last year he guest starred on the series Reign, which received a People’s Choice Award for Favorite New TV Drama the very same year, as well as Beauty & the Beast, which won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Show that year as well.

Fisher’s impressive career has allowed him the rare opportunity to become a range of different people through his characters, but few have hit home for him like his recent role in Glory River, a film about a small town obsessed with its hockey team.

“It’s kind of along the same lines of what Friday Night Lights did with football,” Fisher said.

Fisher connected with Glory River because he grew up in the small Canadian town of Vernon, British Columbia. Vernon’s local hockey team of 17- to 20-year-olds was so popular that its players were “treated like gods,” he said.

Fisher used his experience of living in such a hockey-crazed town to his advantage for his role as the film’s star, Noah Gallagher, the town’s most-admired player with long shot hopes of someday playing professional hockey.

“I loved playing Noah in Glory River because of the personal connection I felt to him,” Fisher said. “We came from very similar worlds. We both were raised by single mothers, both from small towns, and both have big goals.”

The story of Noah has been the story of countless Canadians, Fisher said. Hockey’s deep and meaningful roots in Canadian culture was a large reason for Fisher wanting to play the part, and play it well.

“I knew I could do him and that story justice,” Fisher said. “It’s a story that is so ingrained in the lives of Canadians. I was really excited to be able to bring it to the screen.”

Glory River, which opened at the 2015 Calgary International Film Festival on September 29 and will screen again on October 4, was directed by Blake McWilliam, whose films have previously been nominated for awards at the Sundance Film Festival and SXSW Film Festival.

With Fisher’s passion for his craft, there’s no doubt that the talented actor will continue to shine for years to come, and his role in Glory River is definitely going to clinch some award nominations on the festival circuit this year.

Actress Aleksandra Kovacevic Showcases her Talent Across Genres

Aleksandra Kovacevic
Actress Aleksandra Kovacevic shot by Travis Tanner

Hailing from Sarajevo, raised in Germany and trained in Los Angeles, trilingual star of the stage and screen Aleksandra Kovacevic has won over audiences on both sides of the Atlantic and become a mainstay in the industry.

In the play 4.48 Psychosis, Kovacevic takes on the difficult task of portraying both a therapist and the therapist’s patient. The play has a deeply tragic history, which is as important to the plot as the actual performance. 4.48 Psychosis was written by British playwright Sarah Kane who suffered from debilitating depression herself. After she completed writing the play, Kane committed suicide before its debut. The unsettling and grim context of the story makes it that much more powerful, and Kovacevic brought that sense of emotional magnitude to her performance in the play.

“The role of the patient was a paradox, like a free spirit trapped in her own prison. She suppresses her path and tries to reflect her fate on others,” Kovacevic said of the role. “She is Sarah Kane, and still can’t accept that she is ill. If she dies both of them die. My character is basically telling her not to give up on herself.”

4.48 Psychosis
Flyer for the production of “4.48 Psychosis”

Kovacevic’s work is not bound by the conventions of genre; she is as at home in comedic roles as she is in psychological dramas. In the 2015 hit Netflix Original Series Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, she plays a counselor who auditions for the Camp Talent Show. The series is directed by David Wain (Stella, They Came Together, Role Models), two-time Emmy Award-winning co-creator of the Adult Swim live-action comedy Children’s Hospital. The role sees Kovacevic act alongside an enormous all-star cast, including Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation, Saturday Night Live, They Came Together), who plays the camp counselor and brutal camp play director Susie.

In an incredible display of her talents as both an actor and a writer, Kovacevic played the lead role in Bertilda, a film she wrote herself. As the title character Bertilda, Kovacevic portrays a marionette, which serves as a symbol for the restrictions placed on women in the past and present. Throughout the film, Bertilda gradually begins to break away from those limits. Kovacevic spoke about the ways in which she planned and visualized the production from start-to-finish.

“I started thinking about the role of the female and what I could relate to,” she said. “Things like being seen as an object, being underestimated, men thinking females can’t have a position of leadership and women being seen as the weak link. The change of the female role, now and then.”

She spent countless hours studying not only the history of women’s struggles, but also the finer details like set design and of course, the style with which she would take on the role of a marionette puppet. It takes careful choreography and precise movements to perfectly embody and portray a wooden puppet whose movements are controlled and restricted by strings, and Kovacevic did so masterfully.

“I started to develop my character in her full motion when I started to practice with strings,” said Kovacevic, who actually used both bungee cords and ropes to help her become a living puppet. “To bring this project to life, I needed to practice a lot. A puppet doesn’t have a mind, her head is made out of wood.”

Everything – from the gorgeous set, painstakingly designed like an idyllic dollhouse and overflowing with symbolism to set the mood for observant viewers, to the ‘50s style of decor and wardrobe, down to the Nutcracker-esque living doll at the core of the film – are carefully and thoroughly planned and intended to create what Kovacevic calls “a fairy tale for grown-ups.”

Audiences can catch Kovacevic in the film Bertilda, and in Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp now on Netflix. Other upcoming projects include Sebudai, set to begin shooting in winter, and Animal Lovers Anonymous, a feature length mockumentary-style comedy set to begin production in 2016.

Producer Wows Audiences Across Cultures

Producer Min Dai shot by  Jan Cain
                                                                  Producer Min Dai shot by Jan Cain

In today’s global economy, cultural exchange is a valuable tool to possess. So has been the experience of producer Min Dai, who will attest that running productions in both China and the United States has greatly developed her ability to work in varying cultural conditions.

Throughout the last 10 years, Min has been in charge of the production process for countless film, television, and musical projects in both China and the US.

In addition to her work in editing and production, Min has extensive experience in writing, directing, visual effects, sound and cinematography. With such rich, far-reaching expertise in these areas, one can safely say that Min fully knows the ins and outs of the filmmaking process.

Her knowledge about the production process began long before she was able to contribute. As a child, Min learned what it took to run a successful production company from her mother. As a teenager, Min began writing, producing, and directing her own films, as well as those for independent filmmakers.

As a young adult, she began her professional career with the China International Television Corporation. During her time there, Min was put in charge of the production for several television series, including Mission for Peace and King of Silk, which starred major Chinese actors such as Ma Yili and Zhang Guangbei.

While in China, Min also served as executive producer for the King’s Film Company as well as the WIN China Group, where she spearheaded the production and editing processes for many films and commercials.

Min began to collaborate on projects in the United States upon partnering with Jackie Subeck of Footprint Worldwide, a company that works closely with Chinese productions. While working with Footprint, Min led live production for Linkin Park and 30 Seconds to Mars for the Chinese portion of their international tours.

It was not long after these experiences that Min brought her talent to the United States. During her time in the US, Min has focused on film, which she describes as her favorite type of production.

While Min has produced many dramatic films, including Eat a Hot Dumpling Slowly, Device, Icebox, Meeting Gary and 4 Latas, she has also thrived as a producer of documentary films.

“At times,” Min said, “I find documentaries have a much stronger social impact, [and are] sometimes more intense than a thriller.”

Two of these documentaries that were of particular social impact were A Trip to Tibet and You and Me.

A Trip to Tibet followed a group of teachers from Beijing who volunteered to help in a Tibetan school. During their time there, they found that the conditions were far worse than they had imagined, calling attention to the current struggle in Tibet and the country’s need for support.

You and Me offered a somber glimpse into “the dark side of elderly care taking” in the Washington region. The film showed how many senior citizens are abandoned and treated poorly, and highlighted the Washington County Home, which takes in many elderly lacking resources and access to care.

Min recently worked with InterMix Productions on another documentary, entitled Wake Up With Me, which is currently in post-production. The film features a group of people living in New York, and attempted to answer the question: does social media help people connect, or does it prevent them from doing so?

As she has continued to demonstrate her abilities in the US, Min has developed relationships with high-ranking figures in the entertainment industry. One such example is Carl Gilliard, whom Min met during the filming of Meeting Gary.

Gilliard is not only known for his role as an actor in more than 70 films, including Inception, Coach Carter, and the television series 24, but he is also the founder of the Gilliard Media Group. Min is currently working with the Gilliard Media Group on several upcoming projects.

Min’s dedication to making the best decisions in the production process is evident, as she has had a tremendous role as producer of countless critically acclaimed films, television series’, commercials, and events to which she has lent her talent; and she shows no signs of stopping.

 

 

 

Born to Perform: Actor & Musician Evan Williams

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                                        Evan Williams shot by Elodie Cabrera

Hailing from Alberta, Canada, Evan Williams is a born entertainer whose astonishing talents have taken him around the world and back several times over. As a musician, he has gained the attention of Oscar-winners. As a stage actor he’s been in some of the best-known productions in the business. And as an actor on television and film he’s become an audience favorite for viewers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Williams recalls, “I got into acting through music, which was my first passion and continues to be a vital part of my life. I was a middle kid and always a bit of a clown, so I found myself comfortable on the stage at a young age. I sang in a choir as a kid, and when the opportunity to participate in musical theatre came my way I jumped at it and have never really looked back.”

Although his career began on stage, it has evolved to encompass virtually all aspects of performance. In the 2014 comedy Ride, directed by and starring Academy Award-winner Helen Hunt, Williams plays a surfer named Brad who meets Hunt’s character when she travels to California to find her son Angelo who dropped out of school to pursue the carefree surfer lifestyle. The film also stars Luke Wilson (Idiocracy, The Royal Tenenbaums) as Hunt’s surf instructor and love interest Ian.

“I’m always after the roles that scare me for one reason or another. I think these are the ones that an actor will do his best work on, because it becomes personal,” admits Williams. “I was attracted to Helen Hunt’s indie film ‘Ride’ because I knew I’d have to surf in the film.”

Williams, a lifelong musician, also wrote and performed the song “I’m Not Waiting” which Hunt selected to be used in the soundtrack for the film. This is by no means the only time his diverse skill set and talent as a musician were put to use in film though. In addition to playing the leading role of Mark Robertson in the film On Strike for Christmas, Williams’ original composition “You’re My Joy, Merry Christmas” was also chosen to be included on the film’s soundtrack.

On Strike for Christmas is a heartwarming family movie about Joy Robertson, played by Daphne Zuniga (Melrose Place, Spaceballs), who becomes fed up with her family when they refuse to help her prepare for the holiday festivities. Williams plays the role of Joy’s son Mark in the holiday classic.

This year, Williams played the lead role of Rodney in Fishing Naked. The film follows four friends on a camping trip playing pranks, causing mischief and generally wreaking havoc. After the group’s antics threaten the welfare of a local creature, the group tries to set things right with one last trick.

In his early days, Williams played Oliver in the theatre production of Shakespeare’s classic As You Like It. The play follows a noble girl as she escapes her uncle’s court, after the exile of her lover by his older brother, Oliver. The girl is then banished as well following a dramatic change of leadership. As You Like It, one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, examines the contrast between life for nobles and commoners in the 15th century.

In a production of the classic Broadway musical Guys and Dolls, Williams played the lead role of Sky Masterson, a gambling man on a mission to win the heart of a young girl whose dedication to her religion keep her from taking him seriously. The two ultimately fall in love, with her resolved to reform him into a proper gentleman.

Williams also recently wrapped production on Jay Lee’s film Gutter Slut, a social satire comedy horror film where he plays the role of Cooter, a mentally unstable hillbilly whose strict religious views are contradicted by his uncontrollable lust and violent acts. The actor also stars in the upcoming film Cannonball where he plays the role of Ian. Directed by Katherine Barrell, Cannonball revolves around a young woman who, on the night of her 30th birthday, struggles to move on from her past.

Williams says that the film “is an examination of the nature of endings, of relationships, of plans, and of ideas, of the push and pull of will and remorse.”

He adds, “It was a very personal and moving project to shoot, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

A master of anything involving a stage, a microphone or a camera, Williams has already won the hearts of fans everywhere; and as he lands starring role after starring role in exciting new projects, it is obvious that audiences will continue to find him an omnipresent figure in entertainment with no end in sight.

From Syfy’s “Lost Girl” to the miniseries “Gangland Undercover,” Actress Jessica Huras

Jessica Huras
Actress Jessica Huras shot by David Leyes

The vast array of roles played by Canadian heartthrob Jessica Huras speaks to her incredible ability to not only blend into any character, but to stand out among star-studded casts. She has become an inimitable asset to countless productions, and with more new projects lining up each day, she is certain to be a household name among audiences the world over.

In the award-winning SyFy channel original series Lost Girl, Huras’ recurring performance as a mischievous receptionist proved so impressive that she earned a role as the acting double for Anna Silk, who plays the main character of Bo in the series. Huras, as Silk’s double, took on the role of a supernatural being who fights against her insidious roots to try to become a champion for righteousness.

Her exceptional charm and talent caught the attention of the makers of the Lifetime Network’s original series Missing, on which Huras gave a stirring performance that helped to launch her career. The show follows a detective, played by MTV and BET award-winning actress Vivica A. Fox (Kill Bill Volumes I & II, Independence Day, Batman & Robin), as she searches for missing persons in Washington D.C. Huras plays a missing teen, and worked directly alongside Fox during the shoot. Huras’ character was a transgender youth, a potentially controversial challenge, which she took on with a sense of pride and personal conviction.

“This role was a ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ type of role, and I prepared intensely for the job,” said Huras, a consummate professional and equal rights advocate. “It’s an important issue and I wanted to find an honest portrayal of the struggles transgender youth face.”

Recently, Huras played the role of Natalie, the wife of a man tasked with infiltrating a criminal motorcycle club in the 2015 hit History Channel miniseries Gangland Undercover. Her husband Charles, played by Damon Runyan (On the Other Hand, Death; Cheaper by the Dozen 2), is a hardened member of the notorious Vagos biker gang. Charles, is caught by the police and made to choose between hard time in prison or turning on his former comrades and becoming an informant.

“Natalie was a wholesome young woman who got dragged into the lifestyle of her meth-operating husband,” said Huras. “Over the course of the series we see how her choice to marry Falco and get into drugs ruined her life.”

Of his time working alongside her and portraying her husband, Runyan said Huras was critical to the plotline of Gangland Undercover.

“My amazing onscreen wife, Jessica Huras, is at the heart of [the story arc],” Runyan said of their work together on the miniseries. “Tune into her fine work on Gangland Undercover.”

Huras has several exciting upcoming new projects for audiences to eagerly anticipate, including Teeth, an independent film which deals with the male-centric state of the entertainment industry in New York. A heavy-hitting examination of a perennially relevant and critical topic, Huras said she felt right at home playing the lead character.

“I felt I could heighten my current experience into a kind of surreal, somewhat psychologically broken down version of myself,” she said, “and that was fun and scary at the same time.”

Teeth is currently in post-production and will be released on the festival circuit this year, where her role will no doubt leave a lasting impact on audiences once again.

The Wizard Behind the Scenes: Reality TV Producer Tone Innset

In the world of reality television, producer Tone Innset is the wizard behind the scenes. Responsible for some of the hottest competitive and documentary series in her native Norway, Innset regularly oversees crews and cast of more than 100 people and ensures that everything goes off without a hitch. With a huge range of projects under her belt, and more on the way, Innset raises the bar for producers following in her footsteps in the industry.

Tone Innset
Producer Tone Innset shot by Mark Newton

As the producer of Unge Modre, the Norwegian counterpart to Teen Mom, Innset shows an exceptional talent for capturing the most honest, human moments of the show’s subjects on the screen.

Unge Modre is a compelling display of both her business savvy and creative vision. Her approach to working with the stars of the intimate docuseries is one of compassion, carefully treating each of the young mothers with compassion while still managing to give viewers the truth about what is often a very difficult subject matter.

“When you are making a series like Unge Modre, it’s important to be aware of and remember that you are dealing with teenagers and very young adults, and their kids and families, and take that into account,” she said.

Using a closely-guarded set of insider secrets to coax the stars into giving the most earnest interviews and relatable on-camera interactions, she has helped make Unge Modre into the dramatic and moving pieces of television that it is today.

“I like to ask questions they don’t get asked everyday in order to dig a little bit further into their lives. Then I listen and ask new questions based on what they’ve just said,” explained Innset. “Usually, the person you are interviewing will show some real feelings and tell you what they really mean.”

Much more than a world-class, detail-oriented producer, Innset is a people-person who knows the importance of being sensitive to the needs and circumstances of those people her work documents. She makes gripping television by using more than just her technical skill and business-savvy, but by knowing her subjects and recognizing that they are human beings with strengths, vulnerabilities, and stories that reach out and resonate with audiences. She describes herself as a “people-junkie,” and admits that, “producing reality TV is more a lifestyle than a job.” That passion shows in her enormous volume of work.

“You get to meet so many different kinds of people, see many different places, and hear so many different stories,” she said. “I love to meet new people and get to know them. I think unscripted reality is awesome. I mean you never know what you are going to get on tape. You don’t know what it’s going to be like until you finish editing, and that excites me.”

Innset’s people skills also make her an essential player in the casting process, which is probably the most crucial factor in determining the success of a documentary series. Through a rigorous array of methods, she finds and narrows down a huge pool of candidates and potential cast members, until a final group is ready for eager viewers to follow their figurative journey.

In the case of Charterfeber, that journey is actually quite literal. Following a group of Norwegians as they escape the frigid north and travel to an idyllic Spanish island, the show allows viewers to escape the daily grind and live vicariously through the eclectic cast of characters. As the producer for seasons eight, Innset was tasked with overseeing the casting of the show, which required a lot of networking, hours of planning and research, and many, many phone calls.

“When you have done casting for a while you get connections, and a network you can contact when you’re looking for people to do a new season or a new series,” said Innset, who knows just how important that network is to the success of a production.

“It might be you have a person you know that’s been in a series you produced earlier, so you call them and ask if they know someone [relevant]. Then they might give you some names, and then you call them up and do your research on them.”

That process, one of her many techniques, is long, intensive and very hands-on, but has yielded excellent results and made her a standout figure among her peers in the world of reality television. , With her heart, soul and utter dedication invested in every element of production, the quality of her work shines in every episode of every one of her series. Innset, who’s on call all day, every day, says she loves each second of the hectic job she refers to as her calling.

“People like to watch docuseries and reality shows because they like to peek into others’ lives,” said the unwaveringly passionate Innset. “We get a sneak peek into how other people choose to live their lives, and see people that live very different from how you do.”

Her latest production, Norges Grillmester, recently aired during a primetime slot on TV2, Norway’s biggest commercial television station. Innset’s latest season of Unge Modre is also set to premiere this fall on SBS Discovery’s FEM, and will be syndicated internationally.

Actress Christine Kim Shines in 2015!

A-Muse film
                 Actress Christine Kim on the flyer for the upcoming film “A-Muse.”

Christine Kim left South Korea in 2005 with dreams of making her mark on the world. From the success of her film Better Than Normal, which she wrote and produced, as well as starred in, to starring in the upcoming film A-Muse, which is intended for the Sundance Film festival, and acting in Real Rob alongside Rob Schneider, she has clearly accomplished what she came here to do.

Now based in Los Angeles, Christine’s career is showing no signs of slowing down. Like most actors, Christine, who has a B.A. in Theatre Arts and an M.F.A. in Acting for Film, began her career acting in short films and theatre productions. Her talent was quickly recognized, leading her to be cast in The Vagina Monologues by Eva Ensler, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, in which Christine played a multitude of characters, and the production of Honour.

Playing the leading role of Sophie, Honour threw Christine deep into the mindset of the character. She explains, “I felt like I really did become Sophie and my emotional rollercoaster along with my lines were killing me.” Although an emotional rollercoaster, this role was one of Christine’s favorites because it provided her with the challenges she needed to reach the level of greatness she is known for today.

Last year Christine’s unparalleled talents as comedy actress caught the attention of The Wasp News creators. So far she has been cast in several episodes of the sketch comedy series including “Holiday Resentment,” “Valentine’s Day Resentment” and “The Drop Off.”

In addition to solidifying her reputation as a diversely talented actress, Christine has also proven her prowess as a screenwriter with the film Better than Normal. Based on her life as a Christian woman in love with a Christian man and the pressures their relationship faced, Christine showcased her undeniable talents in the film. Better Than Normal quickly gained attention as one of the few films selected to screen at this year’s 1st Annual California Women’s Film Festival. Christine says ‘It was my pleasure and honor to have my film be screened there.’

Better Than Normal was also screened at Warner Brothers in Los Angeles.

It is an exciting time for Christine with many projects in the works. As previously mentioned Christine will be featured in Real Rob, an upcoming sitcom that is written and directed, as well as stars comedy legend Rob Schneider. “I’m really excited to see the show premiere,” beams Christine who got to work directly alongside Schneider while shooting the series.

The hard working Korean actress is currently leading a hectic but thrilling life, especially considering the fact that she is starring in the upcoming film A-Muse. The film follows Christine in the role of Jane, a literary assistant left with an unfinished script who must hunt down the author to complete it.

‘“I am honored to work with such a talented team,” says Christine about the project. “This is a story that everyone can relate to. It forces you to recognize and address all of the unfinished business you have in your life, and let’s face it, we all have unfinished business we need to tend to.”

Christine has known this is what she wanted to do since age 8 when she fell in love with ‘”The Sound of Music”, and she has been following that passion ever since. It’s that determination paired with her sheer talent that has led to her overwhelming success, making it abundantly clear that 2015 is Christine Kim’s year.