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Behind Closed Doors with Director Evan Cecil

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Movie Marker Magazine sat down with film and TV director, Evan Cecil to talk his latest horror-thriller flick LASSO, starring Sean Patrick Flanery, Lindsey Morgan and Andrew Jacobs.

Film/TV Director – Evan Cecil

Congratulations Evan on LASSO, can you tell us a bit about your background – any interesting facts?

I live in Oakland (which is currently an extremely artistic, vital, and diverse place that I am loving living in). Fun facts … I come from an extremely tall family, I am 6’6”, my sister is 6’, my father 6’5”, my mother, 6’2” (and that is just the immediate family). I am happy about that because it doesn’t feel like I am the freakishly tall Frankenstein-ogre type guy that I probably seem like more than I’d like to admit. Another fun fact, I was a dead Wookie in ‘Star Wars: Episode III’.

Have you had any formal training/college/schooling/classes/etc. for being a director?

I have a degree in Cinema from San Francisco State University. It is a great school with a great film program, but like so many careers, you realize to didn’t learn as much as you thought you did once you start working in the profession.  The real training I got was on set directing. Once I starting directing, it was full on for 8 years. I was lucky enough to get an extremely consistent job, prep a week, shoot week, week after week, month after month, etc. All in all, my first directing “gig” was about 100 hours of national TV, and all with the same crew. I was thrilled to be able to bring them along for the ride on my debut feature-film, ‘LASSO’.  Because of that, ‘LASSO’ feels very much like a collaboration and group effort with the team mates I love so much.

Who inspired you to be a director? Was it always your dream to be a director?

I feel like I should have some big high-art answer for this, but really it is playing around with my sister and friends when I was young. I have always loved story-telling (I can be really long-winded). I have had a few mentors, one being a local Bay Area director/producer that I modeled my work flow after.  Not so much as a directing inspiration but there have also been a few folks that have inspired me as a way to “be” in this business, that have shown me you can be successful, without being an eejit. One is actually the late Robin Williams (I worked on a bunch of his films). Another a successful production designer Norman Reynolds. Both of these guys were extremely successful in their careers, but also incredibly kind and modest. “a superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions” – Confucius.

LASSO is arguably one of the most anticipated horror movies coming up – how did you become involved with the film? Can you explain in detail?

I was directing TV shows up in the Bay Area. Todd Myers, was acting in one of them. We hit it off, became friends, and eventually talked about the idea of making a film together. We were in the uncommon situation of knowing we wanted to make a film, but not having that “perfect” script at the ready in our back pocket. We put many ideas on the table, read lots of scripts, etc. The concept of a horror film set at a Rodeo had been one bouncing around in my head for years. Todd loved the idea and felt a horror film was a good business way to go for our first film together. We decided to go ahead and hire a writer. I was extremely lucky to find Roberto Marinas, the two of us have amazing creative chemistry. As the script was getting written, Elaine Gibson came on board (she is an amazing film producer and friend).  She really kicked the whole project into gear!

Todd Myers & Evan Cecil on set of LASSO

What was the inspiration for the film LASSO?

I was visiting a friend up in northern California in Redwood Country and it happened to be Rodeo weekend. We decided to go over there but took our time and got there after dark when the rodeo was almost over. There weren’t many people left and those that were seemed like they had been there drinking all day, the mood was completely not what I expected and probably not typical for a small-town rodeo. It just felt spooky, there was also this creepy creepy mini-pony that gave me the creeps. The rodeo with the backdrop of the deep woods rather than the open plains felt interesting and unexpected, and cinematic. But it was that creepy mini-pony that was staring into my eyes when the idea popped into my head that a horror film set at a Rodeo would be a cool idea. That is basically where the blanket idea came from, but from there the story of ‘LASSO’ was inspired by all kinds of things, from me and my life, to people I know, to my family … as well as deeper themes that I’ll let people interpret themselves from viewing it.

Have you always been a fan of horror?

I do love horror films, but I would never presume to call myself a “horror fan”; a true horror fan puts in time and commitment to loving horror films that is to be respected and admired. They are not just someone (like myself) that enjoys watching horror films.  It would be a huge honor to me to have horror fans, real horror fans, embrace ‘LASSO’. There is a sort of charming side to ‘LASSO’, that I hope the fans find different and refreshing for a horror film. I like that there is a bit of a “Disney” vibe within this bloodbath!

Can you tell us a few of the highs, and lows of making LASSO?

The first thing that comes to mind is when we were shooting a scene with Karen Grassle. We had been up all night, the sun was about to come up, we were scrambling to get this scene done before the light. (It was an extremely important scene), then she accidently gots really punched in the face. I was thinking “oh my God! I just got “ma” from Little House on the Prairie punched in the face!” Karen was amazing though, she finished the take, she took a few minutes, and then finished the scene. I was really impressed. She showed up to set the following day with a big black eye. That shot is actually in the film, I’d hate to waste it!!

We had 25 shooting days, 21 days of nights, 20 days of stunts, 12 animal days. We also had over 4 and half weeks of heavy stunt work. Which is huge for a film of this size.

Lindsey Morgan, Evan Cecil & Andrew Jacobs

Cute story, when we were at the rodeo arena, we brought in the bleachers because so much happens underneath them that we needed ones that had big enough space underneath. Anyway, because underneath the bleachers was a set, the art department dressed it out with all kinds of great garbage, etc. since we were shooting all night, we’d leave to sleep during the day. Everyday the real groundskeepers of the rodeo arena were being extremely kind by clearing out all the garbage not realizing it was a hot set. Steve Valdez the Production designer put out signs and caution tape, etc. and it never worked. I’m sure it drove Steve crazy, but it is also so charming of them. Our hosts at the arena were amazing, they let us make a huge mess every night and leave blood splattered all over the place without complaining.

What’s next for you?

Aside from hoping to put LASSO in theaters in the near future, I am in pre-production on a project, with my very good actor friend, Travis Andre Ross, called ‘BUNKER’. It is a suspense thriller centered around a group of soldiers collecting themselves at their rally point, after their mission goes terrible wrong. Slowly they realize someone in their group may have sabotaged the mission. Think “Reservoir Dogs” meets “Lone Survivor”.

Watch the official trailer for LASSO – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxfBeLPDenY

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Interviews

An Interview With… Steve Hodgetts & Arabella Burfitt-Dons (Love Possibly)

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In the mockumentary, Love Possibly a documentary film crew follows the hopelessly romantic, Alex, on his quest for love. Following their wins for “Best Feature” and “Best International Feature” at the LA Edge Film Awards and Catalina Film Festival, Che Grant and Michael’s Boccalini’s new feature is now screening at the Raindance Film Festival.

Lead Actor Steve Hodgetts and Producer Arabella Burfitt-Dons sat down with Movie Marker’s Marion Donnellier to talk about Love Possibly

Q. Steve, your transformation into “Alex” is impressive. How did you prepare for the role?

SH: Alex is very different from any character I have played before. In terms of research, I watched a lot of youtube videos to try and master the lisp as best I could. Alex is a very anxious and socially inept person so I tried to remember certain traits people tend to have when they are nervous. For instance, he uses his hands to mask his face and dances his eyes around. These are all different traits I took from people I have met. Also I think everyone deals with anxiety to a certain extent and I just tried to amplify my own anxiety x 1000.

Q. How much of your personal experience did you use?

SH: I think there is a little bit of Alex in everyone. I just tried to remember my own anxiety and try to magnify it as best I could.

We all know someone that looks like Alex.

SH: Absolutely. I think Alex is just very socially unaware. Especially due to his speech impediment, I don’t think he’s had an easy upbringing. I think if I’d met him, I’d be mate with him.

ABD: I think the idea behind the character of Alex is that everyone can relate to him in a way, whether it is because of his anxiety, loneliness, finding love or heartbreak. Because the story is mainly based on the cast and crew’s own experience, we hoped that people could relate to it.

Q. Such as in Alex’s favourite film, “Sleepless in Seattle”, modern rom-coms all have a similar structure. How do you think the character of “Alex” would fit in one of them?

ABD: I think it would be very interesting to put him in a very conventional rom-com and to see how it would play out. I think it would be very beautiful and would resonate with the audience of a normal rom-com.  It is kind of what we tried to do here. It is a spin on a rom-com ,which is a recurring theme throughout the film. It is meant to be an non-conventional and ironic rom-com. I think if we put him into a character in a normal rom-com, it would probably achieve a similar thing and would be relatable to the audience.

SH: I think a way it would be slightly better because he is quite relatable. He is more of an “everyman”.

Q. You mentioned most of Love Possibly was improvised. Was there a point while shooting when the story or tone deviated from what was originally intended?

SH: The directors knew the narrative they wanted to achieve from the start. The plot never changed as a result of the improve and it only allowed a couple of changes in scenes. I would say 75% of it was improvisation and brought a certain realism to the film.

ABD: Although the narrative is still very close to Che and Michael’s original vision, we stripped everything back in post production and started from scratch in terms of brainstorm, how to plot out the story and how to piece it all back together. At one point we were brainstorming without even referencing the footage that we already had just to see what came up. Whilst we pieced it back together, because it is improv and always very open, we managed to pull together the final edit. Improv opens up opportunities of changing the storyline in a positive way as well as being, obviously quite difficult.  It is exciting as a filmmaker because it allows you to take your story in another direction and it still works.

Q. How do you choose the project you want to work on? What’s the most important factor(s)?

ABD: Script! I really enjoy spotting upcoming talents and really enjoy working on under represented art forms. That is the beauty of working in independent films, you get to see such incredible and varied projects that wouldn’t normally get made by the big studios. Personally that is something I like and catches my eyes.  I also enjoy projects that really connect with the audience and with me. And obviously amazing talents as well. Working with filmmakers, directors and actors that are incredibly talented and helping them bring their talent to life.

SH: Always the script I would say and interesting characters. In terms of acting, I would definitely rather play someone that is widely different than a character that is similar to me because it wouldn’t be very challenging. Which is why Alex was always so fascinating, because he is so different.

Q. What did you learn from Alex?  

SH: Always think before you say something. Probably not to worry as much. He makes situations worse because he is so worried.  In some situations, Alex is the normal one and surrounded by crazy people. His mum is very out there and her boyfriend is nuts.

ABD: Expending on the anxiety theme, I think when you make a film that highlights and showcases a difficulty that a lot of people have, it resonates with you as a filmmaker. Everyone has anxiety to a certain extent in this day of age. There is statistic that was release recently that shows significantly high number of millennials suffer from anxiety because of the nature of the period with live in. I have learn from Alex character because I know anxiety but seeing it in that form, makes it all the more relatable.

Q. We don’t see many rom-coms dealing with mental health. Most films are either entirely focus on the topic or omits it entirely.

ABD: I would like to see it more in characters in bigger films and that is why I wanted to explore it in that film. I think when films do cover that topic it tends to be all about the anxiety but what is nice about “Love possibly” is that although it deals with that topic there isn’t a massive emphasis on it, it is just part of it.

Q. The film was financed through Kickstarter. Do you have any advice on how to run a successful kickstarter campaign?

ABD: A lot of it is about the talent behind it. Pulling together a very good pitch that justifies what you are trying to do. Show that you are serious about it. Show that is a serious project as well as a passion project. Put it out there to as many people as you can, there is no better way than to kick-start the project.

SH: Find someone that has a lot of twitter followers or lots of money!

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Interviews

An Interview With… Selena Tan (Crazy Rich Asians)

Selena Tan, who plays Alix Young- Cheng in the film spoke to Movie Marker’s Rehna Azim about the success of the movie and her life as a ‘Dim Sum Dolly!

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At the time of writing Crazy Rich Asians has grossed $166,791,962 at the Us box office and $55,100,000 overseas for a Worldwide total of $221,891,962. Audiences are not only flocking to repeat viewings but also turning this movie with no big stars into something of a cultural phenomenon.

The film is being credited with reviving the near dead rom-com genre and boosting tourism to Singapore. Importantly, the film is also being celebrated for bringing to the Hollywood forefront an ethnic minority group that is not aggressively pushed by the media and in advertising.

Selena Tan, who plays Alix Young- Cheng in the film spoke to Movie Marker’s Rehna Azim about the success of the movie and her life as a ‘Dim Sum Dolly!

Q: You started your professional career as a litigation lawyer then moved into the entertainment world. That’s a brave leap. What made you make the change?

A: I had dabbled in theatre and singing since I was at school. From the age of 14 I had been involved in community theatre. It never occurred to me I could do it full time or make a living from it. So I did a law degree and qualified as a lawyer when I was 23 but I soon realised that I had been performing for 10 years and was a way more experienced actress than a lawyer. But law is demanding and it consumed all my time for the first 2 years. But after a while I began to get the itch to perform again. I started doing some theatrical work on the side but really it was like having two careers at the same time. I was constantly exhausted.
So I sat down with my parents and said, I can always go back to the law but I have a real passion for acting. It gives me room for expression the law doesn’t. They were supportive and that’s when I started thinking about what I could do in the entertainment field and how I could best connect with an audience as an artist.

Q: What is a Dim sum dolly?!

A: (laughs) It’s an idea I developed in 2012. Three very different girls performing together; different sizes with different talents and capabilities. I wanted to create a cabaret/comedy/musical act that was socially aware and politically topical. In particular I wanted to tackle taboo subjects. We put on a lot of makeup and that seemed to help us get away with controversial topics because we made people laugh. It was like being able to serve a fluffy cake with a raisin in the middle!

Q: Was Crazy Rich Asians as fun to make as it is to watch?

A: More so! I really lucked out with that movie. But you know, I initially turned down the audition. I’d just finished a big production with my company and had a holiday booked in Phuket. I really needed that break and took it over doing the audition. Fortunately, I was offered a second audition when I returned from holiday because they hadn’t found the right actress for the part. The stars aligned and it all worked out for me. I thought it would be great because I could just be an actor and not worry about the directing or putting the production together.

Q: What was it like on set?

A: Like a resurrection! A total new injection of zest and life. It was like I’d been jump started. I was surrounded by so much talent from around the world and everyone was so passionate about the project. I got to make wonderful new friends and show them my country, its places, its people, the food. Since the film came out I’ve been approached by so many people, including old friends from my past who have all been touched by this movie and what it’s done for our country. Young people tell me they now believe anything is possible. Tourism will go through the roof. It’s just a beautiful film about my country. It’s a love letter to the country actually. Until now people used to say, ‘Singapore? Which part of China is that?’ Now they know who and what we are.

Q: The film has been praised as a step forward for more diversity in cinema but it has also faced some criticism for focusing on one group in Singapore which is multi-ethnic. What do you think the film offers the push for diversity?

A: The push for diversity is a movement. A single film can’t do everything and yes, some people have asked, where are the Singaporean Indians and other groups in this film. Yet the spirit of representing minorities is being embraced by our film and by all those around the world who are going to see it. Certainly , there is a need for an ever more diverse Singapore to be showcased, including people on the fringes of society.
But, you know, the film has already inspired so many people around the world. I have a niece in the UK who suddenly feels that, yes, there might be opportunities for her now in the acting field which she didn’t feel before. She’s excited that maybe she could be like auntie Selena and that thrills me. Young people in India, Malaysia are watching the film and being encouraged in their ambitions. At the same time we’re reaching audiences in LA and New York. It’s mind-blowing!

Q: The success of the film has been tremendous. Of course fans want to know, will there be a sequel?

A: At the premiere in Singapore Warner brothers did say they want to do a follow-up. I certainly want to be in it!

 

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Behind Closed Doors with Harley Di Nardo

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Movie Marker Magazine went behind closed doors with actor-musician Harley Di Nardo to talk about his latest movie ‘Dead Envy’.

Can you tell us about your early beginnings growing up, and how you transitioned to life in Los Angeles?

I am a New Yorker, born and bred. I got into hairdressing at a very young age, and it came in handy when it was time to style my bands hair. Their image was in my hands… literally. I always cut hair to make a living in between touring. Now I own a salon in Malibu, and I used to own salons in New York. All this added up. Movies, Hair Industry meets Music World. I had to come to Los Angeles, before it was too late. So about three years ago, I sold that salon in New York and drove West alone. It took me four days, and I documented the trip on Facebook. I just hit the ground running. I scraped together all the funds that I could, and we made a movie. Now it’s about to come out and here we are. I’m very excited… I now live in Silver Strand Beach, Oxnard. I love it… I just go into Hollywood for meetings and if I have an event there, it’s a reason to make a night of it and stay in town.

Harley Di Nardo

You have had a successful music career so far, what inspired you to take the writing-acting-directing journey?

Since I was a kid I always had my mom film me doing like Karate moves etc… hehe. Then I wrote a script when I was about ten years old. It was called the Golden Glove, a story about an Italian boxer who fights for his girlfriend’s honor. I still have it. Anyways, I loved making stories… until I got into high school and met a friend that was in a band. Rock and Roll took over.  I forgot all about movies. That turned into an obsession that saw me moving to New York City and making two albums for major labels. It was quite a ride. I wrote music every day for about five years. I knew that I would want to take a shot at filmmaking. I’ve always had a passion for it. Everyone tells me I’m a walking movie quote. When someone says, or does anything, I’ll relate it to a movie. It’s just the way I see the world. Through movies. It’s always had such an effect on me. About ten years ago I enrolled in the Lee Strasberg Institute. I studied Method Acting and Script Development. From there I started making short films, music videos, anything just to get some experience.

Your latest feature, ‘Dead Envy’, is set to release next month.  Can you tell us about the movie?

Sure. It’s an independent film filled with psycho stalker moments and some dark humor. It’s the tail of a musician/hairdresser (just like me) who enlists the help of a strange drifter to help stage a comeback… and then it all goes horribly wrong. I wrote what I knew. For one, I already knew how to look and behave like a hairdresser/rock n’ roller. I think that really comes across in the film. It’s all very natural. The script has been with me for some time. I had to get it all out. I had to get this hair and rock movie out of my system. The next one I’ll play a doctor or something…

Can you tell us about the music in the movie?

Yeah… There really isn’t any score exactly. I just used a few of my songs that fit into certain parts of the film and also used friends’ songs. Great songs that never got the proper push that they deserved. We just signed a soundtrack deal with Artisan Fire Records. They are excited, and I am excited. It’s been a while since I’ve released music. The soundtrack will be released the same day as the theater release, August 24th. Available on all digital outlets.

As the director and lead actor in the movie, how did you approach one over the other?

Well, it was a learning experience, that’s for sure. It’s hard to see the frame when you are in it. So, I think the next one I’ll take a much smaller role and direct the hell out of it! I always want to stick myself somewhere in the film. I want to be there like Woody Allen or Lena Dunham, but I think a smaller supporting role will be enough. I’m making the film… I just wanna be in it. I love acting.

How close is your character, David Tangiers in the movie to your own personality?

Well, it’s pretty much me. I am him, he is me.

What else can we expect from you over the next few months?

I am writing a paranormal thriller about a young, widowed mother of two, who is repeatedly sexually assaulted by an incubus. She takes matters into her own hands by hiring a YouTube ghost hunter that is pitching a show for Bravo. I might be playing some gigs to promote the film and the soundtrack.

Thank you, Harley for taking the time to chat to us at Movie Marker. We look forward to seeing more of you on the big screen!

To learn more about Harley Di Nardo visit: www.cine-museproductions.com
Follow Dead Envy: www.deadenvythemovie.com
Instagram: www.instagram.com/deadenvythemovie/
Facebook: www.facebook.com/DeadEnvythemovie/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/deadenvymovie

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