Tag Archives: Canadian Talent

Canadian actor Tim Hildebrand stars in Steampunk sensation ‘Steamwrecked’

TimHildebrand HeadshotTim Hildebrand says he was once taught that “the secret to truthful acting is to love your character, no matter who he is.” This versatile Canadian actor has stepped into many roles, always conveying sincerity with each performance, and this directly relates back to that mantra that has stayed with him throughout his formidable career. He loves every character he plays, and is committed to each and every performance.

“If I really care about the people I portray, I’ll identify with them, and understand why they do the things they do, at the heart level. I’ll care. I’ll want them to succeed, and so I’ll invest in getting them what they want through the methods that make sense to them, because of who they are, what they know, and what they’ve experienced,” he said.

Audiences will once again have the chance to see Hildebrand in the upcoming film Steamwrecked, set to be released later this year. The film, written by Rachel Hemsley, and directed by Christopher Matista, follows a “lightning harvester” zeppelin pilot named August Morlock, in a steampunk/sci-fi world. Crashing in a forbidden zone during an exceptionally bad storm, he and his lone surviving crewmember are forced to traverse a deadly desert, inhabited by wild creatures called “scavengers”, to bring their coveted cargo to safety.

“When I read the script, I was just intrigued. I’d never read anything like it. It was a Steampunk universe, which I wasn’t really into, but the universe Chris and Rachel came up with was so well thought out and plausible it actually grabbed me. The film is about beating the odds and surviving. It’s about unlikely alliances, learning to love someone you don’t think you can, and making sacrifices for one another. Ultimately, it’s about overcoming. It’s inspirational,” said Hildebrand.

Hildebrand plays August Morlock, a widower and a loner. He’s gruff, but a softie deep down. When his ship crashes in a storm, in the worst possible place, he finds himself stuck between his young, stubborn and injured female crewmember, and the local inhabitants tracking them to kill them. August has to try to get the girl and the canisters to safety.

The character of August Morlock is wonderfully layered. A life-and-death urgency underscores Hildebrand’s captivating portrayal, as he and his shipmate avoid their hunters. Hildebrand also utilizes Morlock’s background with wonderful restraint, his caution and world-weariness contrasting the stubbornness and passion of his protégé, Rowe Windsor (portrayed superbly by Sarah North). This, combined with unexpected moments of softness, create an interesting mystery to Morlock that only fully makes sense when revelations come to light late in the film. To carry the truth of that unspoken backstory throughout the film, so consistently and effectively, demonstrates a unique depth and maturity in Hildebrand’s acting.

“Because there was so much going on internally, this was a project where it felt appropriate to stay ‘in mood’, between takes: not exactly staying in character, but staying in the emotional space of the character. I don’t always do that, it’s case by case. But this project was right for that kind of focus,” Hildebrand described.

The actor worked closely with director Christopher Matista to develop the many layers of August and accurately portray his vision for the film. Matista was constantly impressed with Hildebrand, from the moment he auditioned to the last scene they filmed. Being the male lead actor, the film is dependent on Hildebrand, and according to the Director, he did not disappoint.

“Tim is an amazing actor to work with. On camera he is talented, creative and flexible. Between takes he has a great sense of humor to keep the mood light. When filming a stunt scene that involved four other stuntmen, Tim was very careful during rehearsal to communicate his actions, while also paying close attention to the stunt supervisor. During the actual filming, Tim continued this communication, and was able to deliver great results. Tim acting performance stood out even before he was cast, actually. He wasn’t able to make it to our first casting session and elected to instead submit a video audition. In my experience, actors who submit video auditions rarely make it to call backs. However, Tim stood out. In his audition, he used his teeth to tie off an imaginary bandage around his arm. This small action brought real life to his character and to that moment, and got him a spot in callbacks, and eventually the film.”

“He’s very intelligent.  And adaptive. During one rehearsal, he and I discussed his experience with hang-gliding to connect fictional lines of dialogue to the real world. On set, a director should spend a significant amount of time with the actors, discussing the scene and rehearsing. Because of complications, this wasn’t the case on Steamwrecked. I was lucky to have ten minutes to rehearse before filming a scene. Many actors would have shut down or failed to get into character but Tim kept his cool. Because of his prep, and understanding of the character, I could always rely on him to deliver,” said Matista

Steamwrecked is currently starting its festival track in the United States, but may also be headed abroad to countries like China, New Zealand, and Brazil. It not only appeals to Steampunk communities, but also a wider audience, with memorable performances and a heartwarming story.

“We shot in late Fall, and the desert gets cold. Our first twelve hours were a night shoot. The winds got up to about seventy miles per hour and it was absolutely freezing. I’m from Canada, so it was kind of strange to experience air and wind that cold, but not see any snow. I remember PAs were driving to different towns trying to find those little packages for the crew that you put in your shoes and gloves to stay warm. After two days of that, the weather turned sharply and it became blazing hot; like, oven hot. So the back and forth with the temperature had an effect on some of the equipment and on people’s bodies, but when it was all said and done, we knew we had been a part of something special and everyone was on a real high,” Hildebrand concluded.

Actress Claire Stollery stars in upcoming film ‘Must Kill Karl’

Cast-of-MKK
The cast of the upcoming film Must Kill Karl

When Claire Stollery was in Junior Kindergarten, her teacher asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She had two answers, an actress or a storyteller. At even four years old, she had that sense of self already to know what she was destined to do. Now, over twenty years later, her answers still remain the same, for actors and storytellers are one in the same.

Stollery’s comedic prowess is remarkable. She has won her country over with her acting in television shows like True Dating Stories and Man Seeking Woman, and the hilarious films Who is Hannah and Love in the Age of Like. She is a force to be reckoned with.

“I’ve always enjoyed making people laugh. My parents were really funny, and if I could make them laugh I knew I was doing good. They were tough critics. Comedy is tough, but also great because it’s subjective! What is funny to me may not be funny to you. There are so many times I’ve seen a film and thought, ‘What? People weren’t supposed to laugh there.’ But that’s great! We didn’t plan for that moment, but now it’s there,” said Stollery.

Audiences will soon be able to again see what makes Stollery so great in the upcoming film Must Kill Karl. The film is about that “friend” that everyone has, the one who shows up uninvited, drinks all your booze, and hits on your girlfriend – who we all secretly hate and wish would just go away; one night, a group of friends decide enough is enough and there’s only one way to get rid of him for good: they must kill Karl.

“The film is really smart and funny. Everyone has that friend like Karl that ruins every party and you can’t even remember why you were friends with them in the first place. But I love the spin Karen Moore, one of the writers, put on it where the finger is actually pointed at Karl’s friends. It’s a good message. Sometimes you’re so busy judging other people you forget to look at yourself. That is what is so great about Karen’s writing. Even when it’s hilarious she makes you stop and think,” Stollery described.

Stollery plays Alyson, the sarcastic one of the group. On the surface, it appears like she hates all her friends, especially Karl, but deep down she just wants to be accepted as part of the group, which is like all people with a tough exterior. Her character is one of the few single ones. She gets repulsed by the other couple’s affection. Alyson, Stollery says, stands in the back and observes while silently hating everything.

“There was a lot to work off of because everyone’s characters were so different from each other and seemingly shouldn’t get along, but they all share the same hatred for Karl,” she described.

Must Kill Karl was written by the Producer of the film, Karen Moore, and the Director Joe Kicak. Stollery had always wanted to work with the pair, and when Kicak came to Stollery’s house at 11 one night to pitch her the story, she was immediately on board.

“My favorite thing is watching Joe pitch an idea. He could make lighting yourself on fire while being stung by a thousand bees sound exciting. He’s the most excitable guy you will ever meet. When he came over to my house to tell me about Must Kill Karl, it was the most entertained I’ve ever been at 11 pm drinking tea,” said Stollery.

The feeling was mutual; Kicak was highly impressed with Stollery from the moment she stepped on set. Having known each other before, but never worked together, there were high expectations, and Stollery did not disappoint.

“Claire brings so much subtlety to a scene that her performance continues to surprise me in the cut. Her reactions are so wonderful that you find yourself cutting back to her constantly. She possesses a calming force that arouses other actors around her to a natural state,” said Joe Kicak.

Despite their comradery, the film still required extremely talented actors and filmmakers to overcome some of the challenges that came when shooting. It was shot entirely at night, and therefore required 5 pm to 5 am shoots, which as Stollery says, upset a neighbor so much that they decided to play loud music to prevent the filming. Futhermore, the majority of the film was shot outside, and one night, there was a large thunderstorm. A tarp was placed over the actors’ heads, but the rain was so loud that it again made it difficult to hear. The actors kept their cool, and this was no problem for Stollery, who says despite everything, the experience was so fun that it felt like a summer camp.

“The joke was we all said we knew what Karen and Joe really thought of us based on how they cast us in the film. Jamie Spilchuk was the preppy but kinky husband, Sara Power and Peter Mooney were the annoyingly in love couple, Scott Cavalheiro was the secret psychopath and I was the bitchy single friend. I always seem to play the bitchy friend! I don’t know what that says about me,” she joked.

The role was not a walk in the park, however, as Stollery was faced with an unexpected challenge. That being said, she ended up finding it easier to get over than she may have once thought.

“In the film I had to be repulsed by my fiancé, Scott, who was playing the weirdo in the group. He’s extremely handsome in real life, but they didn’t want his character to be, so they gave him a terrible haircut. Just the greasiest hairdo you’ve ever seen. Combine that with this accent he had for the film and his wardrobe… let’s just say their mission was accomplished,” Stollery concluded.

Must Kill Karl will premiere on Bravo in January and then CBC in February of 2018.

Canada’s Olivia Scriven talks ‘Degrassi’ and becoming Maya Matlin

Acting is more than just portraying a character. It is embodying another person and becoming someone else. It is about connecting to a part of you that may have always been there, or discovering a new aspect of yourself. Canadian actress Olivia Scriven understands the nuances to the craft. She knows what it is to transform on stage or in front of a camera, creating a sincere connection with her character that captivates audiences.

At twenty years old, Scriven has soared to the top of the Canadian film and television industry. Her portrayal of Patti in the HBO film The Yard six years ago introduced the world to the outstanding talent she is, and the role earned her a Young Artist Award nomination with the rest of the cast for Outstanding Young Ensemble in a TV series. Shortly after this, she played Bailey Martel in the Hallmark Christmas film Mistletoe Over Manhattan, where she secured yet another Young Artist Award nomination, this time singled out for Best Performance in a TV Movie, Miniseries or Special – Supporting Young Artist. At the time, she was only fourteen, but she understood exactly what it was to act.

“I think that when you are doing it, acting that is, that it is just part of who you become, or maybe who you always were. I think what resonates with me, with actors that I am drawn to, and in my own performances, is honesty. I strive to make a character real. Humans are so wonderfully complicated and layered and as an actress, I feel that my performances reflect that. I want to embody beauty and lightness and at the same time be able to draw on the darker, more troubled aspects of my nature, to create characters that are full and complex, and thus, real,” said Scriven.

After her tremendous success in The Yard and Mistletoe Over Manhattan, Scriven’s reputation made her one of Canada’s most sought-after young actresses, something that remains true to this day. It was only a matter of time before she was cast on the hit show Degrassi: The Next Generation. The Degrassi series is arguably one of the most successful Canadian television shows of all time, leading to the fame of artists such as Drake and Nina Dobrev, making it the goal for many young actors in the country.

Degrassi is iconic. It really has been, for a while, one of the only coming of age television shows that merges drama with comedy in a very real way, to talk about major social and psychological issues that go on within a high school, all while using real teenagers to portray the characters. because of this, I felt it was a very important project for a Canadian teen actor to be a part of,” she said.

Working on Degrassi: The Next Generation for four years, until it ended in 2015, Scriven’s character of Maya Matlin became a fan favorite. Yet again, her talent did not go unnoticed. She was nominated for multiple Young Artist Awards her role in Degrassi: The Next Generation in the Best Performance in a TV Series (Comedy or Drama) – Leading Young Actress for two consecutive years. Despite such success, the actress remains humble, crediting the writers for giving her a character with a lot of depth.

“It was an invaluable learning experience working on Degrassi. I am so appreciative of the opportunities the writers and directors gave me within the show. My character goes through so many changes, she has so many terrible experiences and so many wonderful happy ones, and I really got to challenge and demonstrate my range as an actor thanks to them,” she said. “I also got to work with some really inspiring directors. In my opinion, directors can really make or a break an actor’s performance, and I have been blessed to have made such a good connection with those who I worked with on this show. With directors like Bruce McDonald, Phil Earnshaw, and Eleanor Lindo, I was given the freedom and confidence to make both bold and subtle choices. I have the entire crew and cast mates to thank for things like award nominations and praise, and the knowledge that I have gained along the way.”

As Maya, Scriven says the role allowed her to explore different things that she had never done in any other role before. She had to break down in tears, sing and play guitar and cello, and kiss passionately on-screen. Such experiences allowed her to become a mature actress even at a young age, giving her the skills that many years older than her do not possess. It is one thing for an actress to portray their character, it is another thing for them to become it, and this is exactly what Scriven achieved.

“I worked many days on set, and the writing for Maya’s character was very undeviating, so as soon as the words were coming out of my mouth, I felt like Maya. She is this very, dedicated, emotional person, who cares so much about things to the point that it causes her anxiety, so there was this tune she had that I would always try to tap into. Physically, I feel like she always has this strained look of stress, an intensity even in her voice, which tends to pitch higher than mine does in real life. She is different from who I am and what my personality is like as a whole, but we do bear some similarities. I definitely brought a bit of myself into the role partly because as a young actor, it was the first time that I was required to portray such charged emotions, and it needed to come from someplace genuine in order for me to reach the desired performance,” Scriven described.

When Degrassi: The Next Generation came to an end, its popularity did not. The saga returned to Netflix and Canada’s Family Channel with a new series titled Degrassi: Next Class last year. Once again, Scriven stepped into Maya’s shoes, and continues to do so with new episodes. The fourth season hit Netflix earlier this month.

Her portrayal caught the eye of Philip Kalen-Hadju, a Canadian Screen Award nominated producer and writer. He has worked in various capacities since 1997 and has produced, line produced, and associate produced on features, TV, and award winning digital series for many Canadian and international companies, including Oxygen Media (NBCUniversal), Canal Evasion, Radio-Canada (CBC), and his most recently produced feature is getting its world premiere at the SXSW 2017 Film Festival. He worked with Scriven on the new series Skal. The show recently premiered on the new mobile platform Blackpills, which is currently working with stars such as James Franco, and filmmakers such as Luc Besson. Kalen-Hadju was impressed with the Degrassi actress’ abilities from the very beginning.

“In order for Skal to shine, we wanted to ensure that our series would have only top talent. We auditioned dozens of women for the role of Emma, but none held a candle to Olivia’s interpretation of the character. The second our executive producers saw her, the reaction was unanimous and fast: she was the only choice for the role. There wasn’t even a close second,” said Kalen Hadju. “Olivia delivered a nuanced and personal performance and was a professional in every respect. While still young, she has vast experience. She learned her trade from years being the star of Degrassi, and she brings this knowledge to every part she plays. She lights up the camera and draws in the audience. She makes subtle and smart choices and she brings her characters to life. It was a pleasure to watch her make Emma real; the director and I could not have been more pleased.”

No matter what she is working on or the continued accolades she receives, Scriven stays entirely committed to what she does best: acting. With such an established career already behind her, audiences around the world can continue to watch out for what is ahead for this extraordinary young talent. There was never a question for her about what she wanted to do, and evidently, her passion led to enormous success.

“At a young age, I knew that I couldn’t wait until I was an adult for my chance to begin my career. I loved the stage and the immediacy of performing live, but it is film, with its magical ability to create whole worlds within which the exchange between actors is integrated, that has always by far been my passion,” she concluded. “For me, it has always felt so natural and satisfying to slip into the mode of another person, to be able to convincingly act as someone other than yourself was and still is a thrill.”

Award-winning photographer Jennifer Roberts is one to watch

When Jennifer Roberts was just a child, she was always taking photos on her mother’s camera. She loved looking at them. Whenever she would go on a trip, she would take that camera and capture everything she saw. At the time, photography was just a hobby, but as years passed she realized she could turn what she loved into a career.

Roberts is now an internationally sought-after photographer, with an esteemed resume that has earned her the reputation as one of Canada’s best. She has shot for the world-renowned Wall Street Journal, and The Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s largest newspapers, as well as magazines like Canadian Business and Moneysense. She is an award-winning photographer, and her shots for Getty last year featuring Academy Award winning actress Michelle Williams received won a 2017 Applied Arts Annual for Best Portrait, and was nominated for a Communication Arts Award.

“I would say my style is very natural looking but also has a nice polished edge. I like using light in a natural looking way and always try to make sure any artificial light doesn’t look too source-y. Depending on who I’m photographing I’ll decide how much direction to give. I find that when shooting actors and actresses, they don’t need much direction. They’ll know their best angles and be able to provide a lot of interesting poses. If there is a specific angle for the story or tone then I’m happy to provide a little direction. If someone isn’t familiar with being in front of the camera then I’m happy to give some direction so they’ll feel more comfortable,” Roberts described.

Recently, Roberts has shot features for Canada’s largest and leading news magazine Maclean’s, founded in 1905. The magazine has published the work of Canada’s top photographers and photojournalists, including Roberts.

“It was a career goal of mine to be a contributor to the magazine. Working on Maclean’s stories are always really interesting. The topics are very timely and relevant. The art department leaves the photographer with lots of room to be creative and they like the photographer to provide lots of options. It’s also great to know that the end product will be seen around the country,” she said.

Shooting for Maclean’s, Roberts has done very high-profile projects, often being commissioned to shoot subjects with sensitive subject matter. One of these pieces was shooting a critical piece about Dr. Darryl Gebien, titled “How fentanyl turned an ER doctor into an addict.” Dr. Gebien was a former drug addict, also being charged with illegally prescribing fentanyl. Roberts did a portrait shoot with him in his home and she had to be extremely gentle with him as he was really worried about being photographed. In the end, Roberts had captured a beautiful series of photos of Dr. Gerbien that really spoke to his personal struggles.

She also photographed internationally renowned artist Ed Burtynsky, for a profile on his career as an artist. When shooting the Ed Burtynsky, she was on a super tight timeline and small window of opportunity with Burtynsky, but she was able to photograph beautiful studio portraits that really captured the mood and tone of the story.

Another feature included shooting Kristine Johnston and her husband Jimmie Johnston for a piece on Alzheimer’s and Assisted Suicide in Canada. Roberts says she had to be very delicate and gentle in such a sensitive situation. Jimmie Johnston was suffering from Alzheimer’s and was seeking the right for assisted suicide.

Later, she a story following NDP Leadership Candidate, MPP Jagmeet Singh. This was no easy documentary piece, as she had to photograph him while he went about his day in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. She also shot a portrait of Giller Prize and Governor General Literacy Award Nominee Gary Barwin, and worked as a freelance photo editor at Maclean’s Magazine 4.

“As a photo editor and producer, I’ve hired Jennifer countless times over the past five years for photography assignments in Maclean’s, Canadian Business, MoneySense and Tourism Toronto. She continually delivers the best quality of work and exceeds my expectations with every assignment, whether shooting portraits, food or reportage. I have found her to be versatile in her photographic ability, resourceful in difficult situations that may present itself on a shoot, highly creative in her approach, and always reliable. I can say with confidence that she is a well-respected and established photographer in the industry and among her peers,” said Kayla Chobotuik, a Canadian Business Editor.

What was, however, the most influential of Robert’s work for Maclean’s was her feature for the social movement Black Lives Matter. The shoot from demonstration won international Applied Arts Award for Best Documentary photo and was a nominee for an international Communication Arts Award. It demonstrates great documentary ability as Roberts was originally commissioned to shoot a Pride Parade, but when the protest broke out, she was able to capture award winning photos of the event.

“When I won the Applied Arts Award for the Black Lives Matter photo I was really excited that more attention would be given to the issue. By winning that award and being nominated for a Communication Arts award I knew even more people would have the opportunity to see an image from their demonstration. I was also really proud that the photo was being recognized as award worthy,” said Roberts.

With such innate talent, there is little doubt as to why Roberts receives the accolades she does. She is definitely one to watch for.

Makeup artist Jen Tioseco shows off natural beauty to Saucony shoot

Jen Tioseco is an artist. A face is her canvas, makeup is her paint. She uses her brushes to create something beautiful, or to completely change the way someone is perceived. It takes a certain skill to completely alter someone, making them unrecognizable, or just simply enhancing natural features that someone already possesses, and that is what makes Tioseco so sought-after. She is truly one of British Columbia’s best makeup artists.

Tioseco has worked with many prominent individuals throughout her career, and her work has been seen by millions across not only Canada, but the rest of the world. She has worked with the popular singer Dani LeRose, and did the makeup for two of her recent music videos. Last year, she worked on several editorials for the edgy magazine ION, showing off her innate talent. She even did the makeup for television personality George Stromboulopoulos.

“I am a huge fan of his show, and getting him stage ready and chatting with him about the charity he was representing was incredible. While men’s makeup may not seem creative, it actually is. You are working around stubble or a 5 o’clock shadow, under eye circles and blemishes, all while trying to give the illusion that they aren’t wearing any makeup at all.  Trust me, it’s a skill,” Tioseco described.

Those shopping at Saucony have the chance to see Tioseco’s fine work. Last year, she worked on their newest campaign, which is still in all of their stores. The renowned American athletic shoe manufacturer offers a variety of shoes, such as running, trail running, racing, walking, and a college collection. The shoes are designed for the main purposes of racing, running, and walking. Tioseco was already a fan of the brand, so when she had the opportunity to utilize her skills on their campaign, she was all for it.

“I had worked with the Creative Director, Jessica Law, on a Google shoot earlier in the year.  Having loved working with her and being a fan of Saucony runners, I knew it would be a fun shoot,” said Tioseco.

The shoot required Tioseco to overcome a difficult challenge for many makeup artists: making someone look completely natural while still wearing makeup. This, however, was not a problem for someone as seasoned as Tioseco. While it was not the most creative shoot she has worked on, she always enjoys making someone look their best naturally without it looking like they are wearing makeup.

“Trust me 95 per cent of the time the no makeup look is much more difficult to achieve, making it more fun to execute,” she said.

Jessica Law reached out to Tioseco after being impressed with her work on their previous shoot. Law needed a makeup artist with a high level of professionalism and attention to detail, and she immediately brought Tioseco back on board to work alongside her once more.

“Jen’s professional yet fun attitude is an amazing energy to have on set. She knows how to work in a timely and organized manner, while staying calm and positive. Jen’s ability to adapt to a situation is so refreshing.  If it’s a last-minute look change, or a change in the schedule or location, Jen always stays calm and gets the job done,” said Jessica Law.

The models on the shoot were true athletes, making the campaign more authentic, but causing some problems from the makeup perspective. Both athletes suffered from acne. However, Tioseco was able to cover up any marks so they appear to have no makeup on.

“I was able to cover their imperfections in a way where they didn’t feel like they had a lot on their face, but they could run and sprint for photos with confidence,” Tioseco described.

In addition to makeup, Tioseco was also responsible for doing the hair on the shoot, something she does not often get to do. Again, simplicity was key, and she had to make a traditional ponytail. This may sound simple, but having it perfectly frame the athlete’s face, and getting it at the right height, is actually quite a challenge. Again, despite not often doing hair, Tioseco’s adaptability shone, and the hair was perfect. She always enjoys taking on extra responsibilities.

“I actually got to do some special effects on this project. I love dewy sweaty skin, so I was very excited I got to break out the glycerine and recreate drops of water on the skin,” she said.

Not only was the work fun, but the location of the shoot also made the project extremely memorable for the makeup artist. Originally from North Vancouver, she travelled further north in British Columbia to Squamish, a stunning town filled with mountainous views.

“There was still snow on the ground and we go to hike the lookout where we shot. It was so beautiful and the team was so amazing, you forgot that it was freezing outside,” she said.

No matter what she is doing or where she is working, Tioseco loves being a makeup artist. And with such talent, it is no doubt why she has seen such success throughout the entirety of her career.

Akira Uchida: Born to Dance

Professional dancer Akira Uchida
Dancer Akira Uchida shot by Taylor James Photography

Since the time when our ancestors danced around fires performing ceremonial rituals and entertaining their tribe, the transformational power of dance and movement in general has been around for thousands of years. Most of us have felt it– the way stress or emotional pain seems to fade away the second the music hits us and we begin moving our bodies. While many of us love to dance, there’s a huge difference between just ‘loving’ to dance and turning this magical art form into a career.

A career as a dancer is a massive undertaking that requires intense training, dedication and an insane amount of talent, something that Canadian dancer Akira Uchida has in spades. Uchida first began dancing at the age of 3 and he hasn’t stopped since.

He says, “Dance was always freeing to me, it felt natural and right. I only ever recall the feeling of pure joy stepping on to the stage and taking a dance class. I was extremely passionate and driven from the very beginning and loved devoting myself to learning. I can’t pinpoint a particular moment when I decided to pursue it professionally… I simply could never have imagined it apart from my career.”

In 2010, Uchida leaped into his professional career as a dancer with relentless fervor, and what he’s accomplished since is nothing short of amazing. Last year Uchida was selected as one of 22 finalists out of 200 to present his work and perform at the Capezio A.C.E Awards, a choreography competition that is held in New York and judged by some of the most recognizable dancers in the industry internationally, such as Emmy Award winner Mia Michaels, Primetime Emmy nominee Warren Carlyle and the Editor in Chief of Dance Magazine, Jennifer Stahl.

The previous year Uchida was tapped to perform in the emerging choreographer’s showcase Fresh Blood. For the competition he created a mesmerizing routine he calls “Interconnectivity,” which he says, “explores the fundamental concept that everything happens for a reason; every action happens at a specific time and place to provoke another set of actions – a snowball effect of pre-determined fate. In a physical sense, the dancers embodied atoms breaking and forming chemical bonds, constantly in flux.” The performance definitely turned heads and in the end Uchida earned Fresh Blood’s coveted Audience Choice Award.

While Uchida grew up fully immersed in the world of competitive dance where he earned quite a bit of success, he is one of the rare dancers who has actually managed to transcend the competition world and turn his work as a dancer into a full-time career. One area where he’s made an indelible mark as an exuberantly talented professional dancer has come through his work in television.

In 2012 he landed a key role as a featured dancer on the hit series Canada’s Got Talent, which followed two-time Primetime Emmy Award winner Martin Short (Saturday Night Live), Meahsa Brueggergosman (Project Runway Canada) and Oscar Award nominee Stephen Moccio (Pitch Perfect 2), three judges who travel across Canada to find the country’s best talent. The popular series brought chosen competitors, which included dancers to comedians, into the spotlight and give them a chance to win a $100,000 cash prize plus several other awards.

As with all performance driven reality competitions, having an entertaining production take place as the competitors take the stage is paramount to keeping viewers engaged and getting the audience excited about the show, and that is exactly what Uchida did for the series as one of the lead dancers. Uchida’s expert skill as a dancer, the mesmerizing way he moves his body and his ability to quickly learn a routine is what ultimately helped to land him a role on the show so early on in his career.

“We would learn a routine to go along with certain acts in each episode, and add energy and excitement to the performances,” recalls Uchida. “Being on ‘Canada’s Got Talent’ was an invigorating experience at the time because it was the first season for the Canadian edition of the ‘Got Talent’ series. The American rendition of ‘Got Talent’ was so successful and revered by all, which made being a part of the Canadian version a fresh experience. It made those of us involved feel like we were embarking on a project that was full of potential.”

After his success on the series Canada’s Got Talent Uchida was tapped to take on a starring role as a lead dance on the series Over the Rainbow. Another one of Canada’s performance driven reality series, Over the Rainbow followed Andrew Lloyd Webber as he searched across Canada for the girl to play Dorothy in Mirvish’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.” The performances on the series varied greatly week after week meaning that Uchida had to easily adapt and quickly learn the new routines without much time to practice. But for a dynamically talented dancer such as Uchida, immersing himself in a new routine each week was nothing new– for him the challenge was actually playing characters during dance performances on the series, something that both pushed him as an artist and proved his capacity to tap into unique roles on screen.

Akira Uchida
Jordan Clark winner of “So You Think You Can Dance Canada” season 4 (left) and Akira Uchida (right) on set of “Over the Rainbow”

“I loved the excitement of learning new routines every week. Every week we performed with different contestants, a new pairing of dancers, and an original theme and song. It kept the rehearsal process fresh,” says Uchida. “In one of the dances, the contestant played Cinderella. I was her Prince at the ball! In another, myself and dancer Jordan Clark played a celebrity couple at a movie premiere… Playing characters was challenging but very fun!”

A phenomenally talented dancer with a powerful stage presence, Uchida’s performances on the small screen have continued to attract the attention of audiences around the world. In 2013 and 2014 he was cast as a lead dancer on several episodes of the incredibly popular four-time Primetime Emmy Award nominated series Degrassi: The Next Generation. In the episode “Hypnotize,” which guest starred Niamh Wilson (Maps to the Stars, Hemlock Grove), Uchida was one of two featured dancers who performed in a full-length contemporary dance piece that was integral to the storyline in the show. During one of the main scenes Uchida and Wilson’s character Jack Jones, the love interest of one of the main characters, performed a complex dance routine, which was a major highlight of the episode and required immense skill.

“Niamh Wilson, the guest star, was a trained dancer and we were able to engage in relatively advanced choreography for the piece,” explains Uchida.  “This was also distinctive because the piece was featured and shown in its entirety. Definitely a rare sight in TV and among my favourite moments of my career…To be able to step on the set of an iconic show for Canadian youth was a very cool experience.”

His dance performances on a plethora of hit television shows over the years have definitely helped Akira Uchida establish a flawless reputation as a sought after dancer who is able to seamlessly take on any routine with style. Aside from his lead roles on television, Uchida has also had definitive success as a lead dancer in several popular music videos. In 2015 he starred in the Much Music promo video for Sam Smith’s “That Much Closer.” Considering that Sam Smith has earned an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, as well as several Billboard Music Awards and Grammy Awards, being chosen to be the main performer in the video for “That Much Closer” is a tell-tale sign of the caliber of work Uchida has become known for.

Caroline Torti, who choreographed the routine in the video along with dancer Bree Wasylenko, explains, “Akira is a chameleon and is able to replicate any style given to him by a choreographer. He is able to expertly take direction and create meaningful moments on whatever job he works on. Beyond that he is an artist in his own right and his unique movement quality makes him a very special member of any team.”

 

In 2015 Uchida choreographed the music video for solo artist Lights’ hit song “Same Sea,” one of the single’s off the album “Little Machine,” which earned the prestigious Juno Award for “Pop Album of the Year” (Canada’s equivalent of a Grammy Award in the U.S.) and debuted at No. 5 on the Canadian Album Charts.

The music video for the song “Same Sea,” which has garnered over 800,000 views on YouTube since its release, starts off in the year 5057 with Lights first appearing as a voyeuristic cyborg  observing the previous versions of herself over the centuries.

As the choreographer and one of the featured dancers in the music video Uchida, who handpicked the other dancers in the video as well, did a marvelous job of creating a routine that is fun and full of life. The video cuts back to the year 2011 where Lights, Uchida and the other dancers are fully involved in a dance class. Uchida infuses the routine with a lively energy that creates a stunning dichotomy between the futuristic version of Lights, who surrounded by robotic machinery and devoid of other humans, and that of her previous self.

“I sought to make the work powerful and uplifting, and chose to utilize high energy movements that would build moments of euphoria. I focused on creating strong visuals to highlight Lights and played with imagery based on the lyrics,” explains Uchida. “The song repeatedly talks about ‘the arms of the same sea,’ and inspired me to incorporate fluid wave-like movements in the piece. I wanted to involve elements of the sea and have her ‘swim’ amongst her dancers.”

Not only did Uchida choreograph a lyrically relevant routine that made the video for “Same Sea” entertaining to watch, but he was also tasked with teaching Lights the dance routine.

“Lights had little to no experience in dance before shooting this video, so I was responsible for coaching her on how to execute the movements properly and to help her feel as comfortable as possible,” recalls Uchida.

While he is still quite young, Akira Uchida has accomplished more over the past seven years than most professional dancers will in a lifetime; and we can’t wait to see what he does next!

Anja Ellam is truly awesome with AwesomenessTV

Growing up in Toronto, Canada, Anja Ellam always wanted to entertain people. Although she had loved being on stage, making people truly feel the emotions of a character, it wasn’t until later when she realized her passion for writing. That was a fateful decision, as she is now not only an internationally recognized actress and successful influencer, but a celebrated writer.

Ellam now has shown the world why she is one of the best. Her film The Woods that she wrote went on to receive praise at many international film festivals. She worked with Verizon’s Go90 app and has written and hosted several of their top videos. The viral video What Girls Do in Cars on DangMattSmith’s YouTube channel that she co-wrote has over 1.4 million views. Working with ArsenicTV as a writer and host for their Snapchat story gets over 500,000 views a day. There is nothing this versatile writer, actress, and influencer cannot achieve.

“I’ve had a very successful career for someone my age but I like to think that this is only the very beginning. I’m very lucky to be in the place that I am, but it’s because I work incredibly hard,” said Ellam.

Ellam’s continued work with AwesomenessTV has helped make the channel what it is. As a writer for the Hollywood department, she writes for their many segments that come out on their channel daily. Her job as a host and influencer allows her to work on a wider variety of shows for the network.

“Me being an influencer helps me connect more to our audience and see what they’re interested in at the moment, which lets me write scripts that relate to them. My online presence helps me to stay connected and stay relevant on topics that relate to AwesomenessTV and entertainment news,” she said.

Without almost twenty-thousand followers on Instagram, Ellam has an impact all over the world. While promoting AwesomenessTV using social media, she has helped the videos viewership, ranging from 100,000 to over a million views.

“Anja and I worked together on AwesomenessTV’s Hollywood team where Anja wrote scripts and pitched ideas for daily episodes. She would always come prepared and would always be willing to step up when needed. I always enjoyed working with Anja and loved that she expressed her ideas and contributed to a team atmosphere. She definitely takes direction and has a good eye for what is trending and in the news. She knows what is relatable to our audience. She is super creative and always had input for stories to write and pitch ideas for stories,” said writer, host, and producer Hunter March.

Ellam writes a lot of AwesomenessTV’s daily entertainment news segments, which are targeted at teens and young adults. She says from the moment she first started working there, she fell in love, and quickly moved up due to her talent and commitment.

“Everyone was so welcoming and the company was so rapidly growing I knew that’s where I wanted to be. They’re definitely leading the way in digital media,” said Ellam. “I like that I can be open with my ideas and that even though we’re a big company, we’re still a small company where everyone knows each other. I like that my job allows me to be creative and that we reach such a large audience.”

Ellam does a lot of test shoots, but she also often appears as the main talent for the videos, hosting shows like Third Wheel and Dream Date with Brent Rivera. Their audience is drawn in by social media followers which is why having influencers on the channel are so important.

“The first time I hosted was very nerve racking because you’re in the office with everyone around you and you don’t want to mess up or take too long. But it always runs smoothly and the crew is amazing and very reassuring,” said Ellam. “It’s a good feeling because everything we put out is positive and it’s something I’m very proud of. I’m especially proud when a topic that I pick ends up with very high views because it’s something I was trusted to do and I was successful at it.”

Ellam’s followers are always eager to view her videos that she hosts or writes for Awesomeness, and she says it allows her to truly be connected with her audience.

“When I host or I’m a talent on the show I think it helps a lot because I can promote it on my social media platforms. I’m closer to our demographic and my followers are also the same demographic,” she concluded.

You can check out the Awesomeness TV channel here.