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Interviews

DIRECTOR ALI ZAMANI TALKS ‘OPUS OF AN ANGEL’

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Movie Marker Magazine sat down with writer-director, Ali Zamani to talk about his latest heartwarming film ‘Opus of an Angel’, which follows a suicidal man who finds a blind girl lost and wandering the streets of Los Angeles. He is torn between getting her home safely and keeping his appointment with death.

‘Opus of an Angel’ just won Best Dramatic Feature at the prestigious 17th annual Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival, and stars William McNamara, Cindy Pickett, Jamison Newlander and newcomer Kaylynn Kubeldis, a thirteen-year-old alumnus of Junior Blind of America.

Can you tell us what inspired you, and co-writer Shahram Zargari, to pen ‘Opus of an Angel’?

I was always inspired by the thought of how someone would deal with the notion of losing everything that was so dear to them, what triggered them, when they were at the lowest moment of their life, to turn to suicide, and what stories they had to tell. One day while I was out for coffee, I saw a special ed class on a field trip. One child was visually impaired and had an infectious smile and life seemed to be so beautiful to her. It got me thinking of how these two extreme outlooks on life, if touched, would they be able to influence each other and to what extent.

In the movie you cast Kaylynn Kubeldis, a thirteen-year-old alumnus of Junior Blind of America. Can you tell us about that particular casting process?

Junior Blind of America was invaluable to our casting efforts. When we reached out to them for recommendations of potential students that could play the part of Maria, Kaylynn’s name was the first on the list.

We actually auditioned more people for the role than I can count, but when I met Kaylynn in person it felt like I was actually meeting Maria. She read for the scene and I got goose bumps. It was abundantly clear to everyone in the room that the role was meant for her.

I’m forever grateful to Junior Blind of America for recommending Kaylynn to this project, and hope the film brings them the notariety they deserve.

The movie is focused around two main characters played by William McNamara and Kaylynn Kubeldis. How important was the chemistry between the two main actors?

It was the most essential element to our story because the plot is extremely character driven. The Maria character is the conflicting force that drives the story forward, making the Stephen character face his demons head on. Having onscreen and off-screen chemistry was key in evoking stirring performances from the actors, that would resonate with all audiences.

Kaylynn Kubeldis and William McNamara

There is so much emotion in the movie, from heart wrenching moments to warmer, more lighter times. Can you tell us a bit about your own personal journey with the making of the film?

From the moment we released that our story was something that could help people who are dealing with the struggle of depression, I knew it would be an emotional journey. Every line and every character had a special place in my heart. I had also never written about, or worked with, anyone who was visually impaired before. What I learned from both Kaylynn and our research at Junior Blind was very enlightening to say the least.

As an established music video director, ‘Opus of an Angel’ is your directorial debut. Did you approach directing it differently and if so in what way?

Music Videos being more of a visual medium, I knew that I had to step out of my norm and get more involved in directing actors, which was a very new and exciting challenge. I put most of my focus on directing William and Kaylynn to draw the most intense, heartfelt and believable performances from them.

Are you thinking of doing more feature films? And if so, what’s next?

I’m in the process of writing a film regarding the uncountable issues that are coming from the refugee crisis. I can’t really give away too much at the moment but hoping to go into production by the end of this year.

To find out more about OPUS OF AN ANGEL visit: www.opusofanangel.com

 

 

 

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Interviews

Up Close with Autumn Kendrick

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Movie Marker got up close with leading Canadian actress, Autumn Kendrick to chat about life before Los Angeles and her hilarious new TV show, ‘Scuba Love’. 

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

My first trips away from home to perform started around the age of 11 and took me to Montreal, Winnipeg, Louisville and New York City. I put some roots down in Indianapolis, while at Butler University studying not only ballet and Arts Administration but also getting my degree in Sociology Social Work. After school I was able to continue dancing professionally with a small contemporary dance company in Indiana. Eventually the wear and tear on my body caught up with me and that brought me to a career in modelling. Modelling was supposed to be a short escape but turned into a full and wonderfully successful career. It was modelling that definitely gave me the travel bug – getting to work in countries around the world: Milan, London, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sydney, New York and eventually Los Angeles.

My transition to loving Los Angeles took a bit, but once I got into acting, I felt like I found a home. I originally came to escape New York City winter for a couple months and stayed a couple years. Canada is my home, but I do not think I could survive another true Canadian winter. Los Angeles is my home, and where I have my career as an actress.

You have had an exceptional dance and theatre career in Canada so far, what inspired you to take the acting journey?

Dance to acting seemed like a natural step. I never had the greatest technique or was the most flexible, but my success came from my ability to perform and bring a character to life. I remember being young and auditioning for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School and them liking me not because I had the perfect body or technique but because I has a unique passion and quality I brought to my performance. When I would win competitions, it was not because I did more turns or bigger leaps, but because I would move the audience and just live the story.

With my last dance company, I would be cast in leading roles because I could bring them to life. When I started modelling, I always missed the make-believe time so, even for small shoots I would make up this crazy backstory for who I was and what this character was thinking – meanwhile it would be a simple white backdrop beauty shoot. But that depth is what I think made me stand out from other models and helped me make an easy transition into TV commercials. I just love everything about being on set and working in film, from the moment the director called “action”. I was hooked. It was the first time since leaving the dance world that I felt fulfilled and happy. I was born to act.

You recently worked with Wes Craven for a lead role in the crime-thriller film ‘The Girl in the Photographs’. Can you tell us about the film, and what it was like to work on such a big film?

It was a lot of fun. I mean getting to work with such an amazing cast and crew was an honour. Plus, everyone was so sweet and supportive the entire shoot. I remember Kal Penn coming up to me after my first take and giving me the sweetest compliment ever. He was also great at sharing his own stories to help me out and feel more comfortable on set. We were a really close crew and it felt like I was gaining a second family during this shoot, and we are still all super supportive of each other and close.

Wes Craven is a legend, and the most giving person to work with. Having him cast me when he has started the careers of so many big stars of today, well breathless. Wes came to the first table read and at the end of the reading he talked about how special this project was, how excited he was for it and how he felt like us as a cast were going to be spectacular.

Filming near my childhood home was also a great plus. I had the chance to visit family and keep my feet on the ground. However, every day on set I just kept being in shock and pinching myself to be working with people that I idolize and admire. It was an incredible film to work on, and to play one of the leads was beyond amazing.

As an actress-producer, we understand you have just released a hilarious new series. Can you tell us about ‘Scuba Love’ and how it came about?

‘Scuba Love’ came from spending time in so many dive shops and thinking either someone needs to make a reality show on a dive shop or make it into a scripted comedy. Finally, I grabbed some courage and friends who were cinematographers and directors that also loved the dive world – sat down and said let’s make this. Now instead of seeing a hilarious interaction and thinking that should be in a skit, I jot it down for a future scene in Scuba Love.

It’s a comedy that follows a young female instructor who losses her job and her boyfriend in one fell swoop and decides to jump into the pool (jump all in) and make her life all about scuba and begins working at her local dive shop. We follow my character, Aly, as she helps bring a large scuba shop up to date, while also facing a male dominated world. As we follow her life we also get introduced to the wonderful joy of underwater. The exciting feature of this web-series (beside being on the only script series about scuba diving) is with each episode there is an educational clip on a topic related to diving, be it how to clean your gear, or steps to help protect our oceans, or even interviews with crew on why they love scuba diving – yes everyone involved is a diver.

Scuba Love

Can you tell us about your character, Ali, in ‘Scuba Love.’ What is she like, and did you have to carry out much research before filming?

Aly is such a fun, strong women who doesn’t let any obstacles stop her. She doesn’t allow unfortunate events to dissuade her but instead powers ahead to fully embrace the world of scuba. She also does not let men underestimate her, just like in a lot of sports where women are often over-looked as a source of information, Aly doesn’t back down from showing her wealth of knowledge and empowerment in this environment.

As for research, I am one of very few female Instructor Trainers. Not only do I teach people how to scuba dive, but I also teach potential instructors how to teach scuba diving. Being at an elite and unique level in the scuba diving world is something I never imagined I would excel in when growing up, but it certainly is a passion that I discovered during a trip to the Belize. So yes, I had just a little bit of training before filming and I loved every moment of it.

What type of genre of film or TV show are you drawn to traditionally?

I adore old musicals, if only I could sing! Actually, science fiction and fantasy films are what I gravitate to, and what I hope to work on soon. One of my favourite shows growing up ‘Star Trek’, with Patrick Stewart in the role of Captain Picard.

This year I have been doing some major binge watching of fast pace dramas such as ‘West Wing’ – I mean how great is that show. I basically can get behind anything that isn’t too scary and not too much gore…I am sadly squeamish (yes, I know that is ironic since I was in a death scene that Wes Craven was quoted saying that was very gory).

What can we expect to see you doing over the next few months?

We have many more episodes laid out for ‘Scuba Love’, of which I star, as well as some fun commercials and films I can’t talk about just yet.

To learn more about Autumn Kendrick, visit her video channel: Scuba Love
Instagram: @AutumnKendrick
Twitter: @AutumnDmonkey
Facebook: Scuba Love Web and Autumn Awesome Divers

 

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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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