Orion Lee seems to be everywhere these days. There is a high probability that you have seen him in multiple roles but he is so transformative that you were not even aware of it. As an accomplished theater actor he has worked at prestigious theaters such as; the National Theatre of Scotland, the Abbey Theatre (national theatre of Ireland), Royal Court, the American Repertory Theatre, and the West End. Fans of cinema have seen Lee in the Brad Pitt world war II film Fury, the James Bond thriller Skyfall, The Expert, and soon in Vengeance. If you prefer to stay in the comfort of your own home, there are still numerous opportunities to witness Orion’s work in any one of the TV series that he has taken part in, past and present. Actors will tell you that you have beaten the odds to achieve success in any of these platforms; to be so prevalent in all three confirms that one is truly gifted and tenacious.
Critical is the UK series about a state of the art Major Trauma Centre. The series was recently nominated for an IFTA award. Orion plays Brian Zhao, the head of the CT department at said Trauma Centre. As the head of the department which identifies any internal injuries an incoming patient may have, Brian is extremely detail oriented. As someone who suffers from a mild OCD, Brian is hardwired to be the ideal head of the CT department. This trait, combined with a brashness, could make Brian seem irritated or tense, but Lee used these qualities to find humor in the role. Orion reveals, “Brian was fun to play as he has no social filter and doesn't observe social niceties. If he doesn't like what you're doing he will tell you straight without beating around the bush. At first this may sound rude, however the character I created came off with a brusque charm, causing people to find his abruptness amusing rather than annoying.”
Those with a weak stomach might have had quite a difficult time with the medical nature of the show and its dire situations. Quite the opposite, Orion eagerly researched his role by spending time in a working CT department. Seeing the professionals deal with all manners of life threatening circumstances and a variety of patients (including shackled prisoners) increased the respect he already had for the work of those in the National Health Service. Lee found that the recreation of these situations on set was a more lighthearted affair. Although he confirms that the highly professional cast and crew understood when to give actors the space needed to access the emotions for dramatic scenes, there was a fair amount of comedy between takes. Orion comments, “Everyone is such a professional on Critical. It’s always exciting to be a part of such great work. With long days on set and some intense subject matter, there has to be a release to allow you to find a comfortable mental place. One of the popular ways on Critical was for the medical practice dummies to be placed in somewhat compromising and awkward positions. It wouldn’t be proper to mention the names of those involved but I will say, when you are placing yourself in an emotional state that is so intense…you really appreciate someone giving you a good laugh afterward to even you out.”
Dealing with the emotional aspects of life rather than the physical (as in Critical) Orion appeared as Tony in Dates. This UK television series, aptly named, concerned itself with the social minefield that is modern dating. The times and the approach may change but the experience and political maneuvering of the sexes remains the same at its core. Tony is a character caught between old ideas and new situations. Tony is the brother to Erica, a woman in a lesbian relationship. In hopes of appeasing their more traditional parents, Tony tries to convince Erica to go straight. Although he has never been in Tony’s position, Lee concedes that working on the show dredged up old dating experiences for him. He states, “The dynamics of dating are challenging for everyone. It is often bittersweet. I had a date once that went great and then, as we were saying goodnight, my date pointed out the car of her ex parked within view of us, an ex that was a gang member. As with many situations in life, the timing was just a little off.”
Most recently, Orion was seen as Ambassador Zhang in the FX network’s series Tyrant. This fictionalized, yet seemingly realistic tale of an American family who is pulled back into their patriarch’s turbulent Middle Eastern homeland, has been nominated for two Primetime Emmys and an HPA award. Zhang is a representative of China, whom Jamal Al-Fayeed (the President of Abuddin, played by Ashraf Barhom) hopes to enlist in support of his leadership with their economic and military support. Lee found Barhom particularly collaborative on set and recalls, “During rehearsal, Ashraf as Jamal laid a hand on my shoulder which I slapped away as an insolent gesture. He took that impulse and decided that his character would pull out a gun and threaten me. An armorer was called to set to provide a prop gun which he then pulled on me. I then took the shock and fear of that gun pointed straight at me then fought against it to remain defiant in my character's refusal to deal with his country any longer. This was an example of the highly satisfying experience of collaboration with Ashraf that the whole shoot consisted of.”
There was a desire for Lee’s role as Ambassador Zhang to continue on Tyrant but scheduling prevented this. It’s a good problem to have; Lee states, “At the same time I was offered the role of Zhang, I was offered a co-lead part in Trevor Nunn’s Volpone at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Trevor Nunn is a legend in theatre circles, having directed the first Cats and Les Miserables. He had been artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with this man and at the same time, I really wanted to work on Tyrant as it’s a wonderful production. My agent negotiated a hard out date so I could leave Tyrant and go straight into rehearsals at the RSC. It would have been lovely to continue working on Tyrant as I had a fantastic time doing the work and travelling to filming locations like Morocco and Budapest. Unfortunately, I can’t be in two places at once.” Cameron Gharaee (Ahmed Al-Fayeed on Tyrant) was one of Lee’s many co-stars who were sorry to see him leave. Gharaee remarks, “Orion was a pleasure. He was professional, kind and wonderful to collaborate with as an artist. He got to know everyone on set and extended a hand wherever possible to push forward the creative process. I got to know him on a more personal level over dinner and his curiosity for theatre and art were grand. I always hope to meet people like Orion on set. They give a wonderful fan to the creative flame.”
For those who have already seen Orion Lee on the theatre stage or in one of his many television and movie roles, there will soon be an opportunity to see him as Burke in the Evolutionary Films production Vengeance This film about an ex-soldier turned mercenary involved in uncovering a conspiracy, gives further proof to Orion Lee’s continuing goal to diversify his roles and continued challenging of his abilities.
Picture a crowd of young dancers thrown into a carpeted convention hall with mostly strangers and handed a jam-packed schedule with few breaks. They’re asked to “have fun” while rapidly replicating movement sequences by teachers and choreographers with reputations as intimidating as the difficult choreography, all while surrounded by some of the best (and most social media savvy) dancers the region has to offer.
That’s the pressure-filled environment of large dance conventions, an experience and ultimate test of adaptability that Canadian dancer, Keanu Uchida knows well.
“I think that part of the challenge of dancing at a convention is surpassing these barriers and internalizing your growth,” reflects Uchida. “You train to be a sponge of absorption, learning from what you excel at and even more from what you don’t.”
Starting at age 13, Uchida would regularly travel over 200 miles (350 kilometers) from Ottawa to Toronto to dance alongside Canada’s strongest dancers. He remembers the events feeling incredibly daunting at first but acknowledges how this background has benefitted and prepared him for a professional career in dance.
“Much dancing at conventions is incredibly athletic and requires strong ownership and fearlessness,” he says. “Physically, you grow a thick skin. You push through the strain and from it, you become stronger.”
It is a type of rigor Uchida has continued to develop in his professional work. Last year, after a thorough audition process with choreographer, Stacey Tookey (known best for her guest appearances as choreographer and judge on the TV series So You Think You Can Dance), he was cast in the lead role of a new musical theater production called Dancer. Mounted by two of Canada’s premiere producers, Marlene Smith and John McKellar, the show is set to debut in Spring 2017 at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre, one of Canada’s most revered performance locations.
The workshop phase of Dancer was a three-week period of intense creation, during which the goal was to artistically draft as much of the written script as possible. Rehearsals were held for eight hours nearly every day, requiring considerable physical and mental endurance from Uchida as he dug into the creative process with the artistic team.
Uchida’s former teacher, Jessica Shaw of Leeming Danceworks fosters supportive and caring relationships with her students while cultivating their connections to the greater world of dance. She believes the culture of competition and conventions advanced Uchida’s already strong work ethic while also exposing him to styles and genres of dance outside of his normal dance sphere.
“I think Keanu was very inspired by these opportunities and they contributed to the creation of his own style,” she explains.
Observing that dance today no longer trickles into distinct genres, Uchida acknowledges that dancers may be required to deliver a solid performance with elements of hip-hop, contemporary, and jazz dance in a single performance. If a dancer is versatile he can be part of many of the industry’s tributaries.
While some dancers perform well in their genre or when playing to certain strengths within a style of dance, they lack the technical dexterity to properly carry out a wider range of given choreography. Uchida, however is a dancer valued for his versatility and ability to trickle into many channels for dance.
“I think that as a choreographer you want someone who inspires you to push your limits. Keanu is so versatile and so smart he can literally do anything,” says Nick Lazzarini, star of television series, All The Right Moves and co-founder of Los Angeles dance company, Shaping Sound.
Lazzarini has worked repeatedly with Uchida at JUMP Dance Convention, the largest event of its kind in the world. In 2014, Uchida competed in New York City against hundreds of regional convention winners.
“The week consisted of a heavy audition process, opening number rehearsal and solo performance,” he says. “I was competing in the Senior Male category, and didn’t expect to have a chance.”
In fact, Uchida was awarded the prestigious title of Senior Male Best Dancer.
“What I love about Keanu’s dancing is the risks and choices he takes,” explains Lazzarini, who goes on to describe Uchida’s unique ability to differentiate himself in a crowded dance community by always pushing to be better and more creative than before.
Shaw agrees, revealing that in addition to his athleticism and skill at making movement look effortless and fluid, Uchida, is also a smart dancer whose brain is “always working.”
“I think it’s transitions that really set him apart,” she points out. “He just makes good choices–uses space, pays attention to detail and takes risks where appropriate.”
In addition to his experiences away from home, Uchida expresses great appreciation for the tools with which he was supplied in regular training at his studio. In particular, he mentions the value of exploration in improvisational movement and repeated encouragement to find his voice as an artist.
“Improvisation taught me to dig past the surface of dance, to be an honest explorer, ready for the truths and deceptions that we look past everyday as humans. I’ve learned to incorporate that into my career,” he adds. “I’m always seeking something new to dwell upon, interpreting choreography from a different lens.”
Uchida’s social personality worked in his favor as he built relationships with fellow dancers and choreographers against the backdrop of international dance conventions and competitions.
“I’ve met some of the best dancers, teachers and choreographers from across North America and have been able to work with what I consider to be the best convention faculty known,” he explains.
In dance, a world where there is such a thing as being not good enough due to an overwhelming amount of talent, Uchida is setting himself apart. Making the most of his training and history with dance conventions as he takes leaps and bounds forward in a new but flourishing dance career, he illustrates their effectiveness as a boot camp for professionalism and success.
If the filmmakers of the 1980’s looked into the future thirty years, they probably would have been surprised to see so many highly profitable superhero films dominating the global movie industry. The fact that actors with Oscar-winning credits to their name (as well as other awards) recognize the validity of the storylines, to say nothing of the fact that they are extremely profitable productions for all those involved; solidifies them as an artistically valid avenue. Marvel Studios has lead the way with their feature films, television programs, and streaming platforms. Their characters seem to capture the interest of fans regardless of age, nationality, or any other manner of identification. One of Marvel’s oldest and most popular characters of all time is Spiderman. The story of nerd turned superhero is one of the great brains meets brawn tales. A host of movies and TV shows have been produced about everyone’s favorite wall crawler aka Peter Parker. His story of empowerment, struggle, romance, and attempted redemption has the makings of any great drama…with one radioactive spider thrown in for good measure. One of the most controversial telling of this character is The Death of Spiderman which stars Bruno Nunez Romagnoli as Parker/Spiderman. Just as provocative as the title suggests, the story was received with great passion by the many fans of the legendary comic book character.
Romagnoli is recognized in his native Argentina as a live action film star as well as an accomplished voice over actor. Understanding that Spiderman is so beloved by fans, he intensely researched the character and prepared himself with the seriousness he would apply to any film in approaching this animated presentation. The Death of Spiderman producer/director/editor Rogelio Castaneda was familiar with Bruno’s work from Comando Cero and Zombie Games. Castaneda was looking for an actor who could command the sarcasm and strength of a fourteen year old boy turned superhero, which would seemingly not make Ramongoli the obvious choice. After auditioning numerous voice over actors for the role, Castaneda approached Bruno about the part. Ramongoli recalls, “I had done Comando Cero and it was hugely popular. I was getting a lot of offers for voice over roles because there was something about the character of my voice that seemed to strike a chord with viewers. I got a call from a producer in Mexico who wanted me to audition for Spiderman.” Although the actor had trepidation about the part, Castaneda knew that he was right for the role. Rogelio confirms, “Bruno was always my first choice as Spiderman. I didn’t think we could get him and after auditioning several other actors without success, it was clear that we had to try. I gave him a lot of information about what I needed Parker/Spiderman to sound like and as soon as I heard what Bruno was doing, I knew I was right about pursuing him. The tremendous success we have received with The Death of Spiderman was due in large part to the incredible performance Bruno delivered. To this day people ask me when more will come out.”
Even though the producer, writer, and director was certain that he was right for Peter Parker & Spiderman, Romagnoli felt it would take a lot of studying and work to appease himself. Most of the public is aware of Spiderman for the films but Romagnoli wanted to go deeper to understand the character the way the character’s true comic book fans would; immersing himself in the actual comics themselves. Bruno notes, “I studied the actual comic book The Death of Spiderman very intently. Peter Parker is only fourteen in the book. It took a lot of experimentation for me to find the strength and sarcasm in a boy that young. Because his voice is much higher, it isn’t a natural register for me. I had to really be aware of where I was in terms of pitch and emotion. That’s a great situation for any actor to be in as far as learning but it’s not a comfortable one.” Because The Death of Spiderman is an animated film, there were additional factors placing pressure on Bruno in his approach of the character. He continues, “Spiderman is one of the most recognized and beloved superheroes in the world. It was obvious that whatever I did would be compared to the great actors who have played him. Playing him in this story was particularly difficult for me because we did an animated version. In a live film you can use not only your voice but also your eyes and body to express your feelings. In an animated film, everything must somehow be communicated with your voice. That’s very difficult. I lost my voice twice during the film due to the extra pressure on it.”
The plot of The Death of Spiderman takes place in an alternate Marvel Universe from the one most of us are familiar with in the live action features that have been so popular throughout the world. In this storyline (which takes place in the Marvel Ultimate Universe) Nick Fury is accused of treason by S.H.I.E.L.D. and is followed by Captain America. During the battle Spiderman becomes injured trying to protect Captain America. He also fights against the Sinister 6 to protect the neighborhood and the people he loves. Spiderman is immensely popular in Spanish speaking parts of the world and this film was directed specifically to these fans. Romagnoli admits to being relieved that the fans of Spiderman were extremely enthusiastic about the film; a prospect that he would be eager to contribute to. Bruno admits to his own hard work but also gives praise to cast and crew stating, “Director Rogelio Castaneda gave me very good indication for the direction of the voice, he pushed me a lot. I will say that Peter Parker is my best work so far in term of voice over. The actors who did Sinister 6 did a great job. Let's be honest, Spiderman wouldn't be that great without his enemies, and because of these actors the movie was possible and successful. People like Mario Alberto Velazquez playing Electro, or Nicolas Ancarani as sand man brought the darkness into the story.”
Bruno Nunez can be seen most recently in the US film Her Last Job.
Jonathan Ames likes to create complex and flawed characters. His voice and perspective seems especially enabled to tell stories about quirky individuals who manage to temper their self agrandization with modicums of heartfelt compassion and sincerity. The formula allows viewers to feel warmth towards these characters, while shaking their heads at their authentic ridiculousness. Ames (known for Bored to Death, The Extra Man, and 361) seeks out actors who are able to walk that fine line, not giving so much of the true intention of the role as the desire to come into their own greatness…in a honestly benevolent manner. It can be said that the characters in his films and TV shows often mean well, even if they don’t achieve it…much like all of us. It is this ridiculous human condition that so attracts audiences to Ames’s creations. It also is what attracts so many talented people to want to work with him, like Canadian born actress Monika Smith. Smith can be seen in the role of Sylvia on Ames’s most recent critically acclaimed creation Blunt Talk on STARZ.
Taking on the world of cable news, the Golden Globe nominated Blunt Talk is the story of Walter Blunt (played by Patrick Stewart) a British ex pat in LA who is struggling with addiction, several failed marriages, and the host of a cable news program. Blunt is a constant trainwreck and yet seems determined to help others find their short comings. The character of Blunt comes across as an older sibling who is slightly preachy but always wanting to help, even though he finds himself out of control. Stewart is keenly able to play the role as he inspires confidence with this dignified delivery. It is precisely this type of actor who is required to enable the audience to believe the ridiculousness of his conduct. Blunt finds his counterpart in that of Sylvia (a porn star that works next door to Blunt) played by Monika Smith. Smith is an actress with her roots in comedy (for the award-winning 'Les Douchbags Horribles') and modeling, enabling her with both the sensibilities and the appearance to inspire the same confidence as Stewart. The saying goes, “iron sharpens iron” and Smith tells that she is overjoyed about working on this series with the highly respected cast and crew that surrounds her. Monika comments, “Working with Patrick Stewart is exactly as you would expect. He is a gifted actor who brings intensity to every role he performs. It was particularly enjoyable for me to work with him in a comedy setting as that is a lot of my background. He is delightful.”
Monika’s character Sylvia is the “adult-actress” set to perform in a porn with Mr. Blunts valet Harry Chandler. The reluctant Chandler is played by Adrian Scarborough (The King’s Speech, Les Miserables, Notes on a Scandal). The most intimate (although platonic) relationship in Harry’s life is with Walter Blunt, until Sylvia arrives. This places Monika, as Sylvia, between two acting heavyweights…a task that she welcomed and even more so delivered on. Smith tells that she particularly enjoyed the process of working with Scarborough noting, “Adrian’s resume is amazing! He is always working. I get to work with many amazing actors but Harry is one of those people who is always seeking out a new project to challenge himself. I try to do this in my career as well. Those situations make you grow. Whether it is television, film, or online situations like things I’ve done on Funny or Die, there are so many great avenues to create and learn.”
Viewers only see what is presented on camera but much of what happens off camera is what drives the production and actually enables its creation. This is particularly so in the case of Monika’s involvement in Blunt Talk. Smith had previously worked on the show Newsreaders. One of the writers on Newsreaders was also working on Blunt Talk and suggested that Smith audition for the role of Sylvia. As a long time admirer of Jonathan Ames’s work, she admits to being thrilled when she was cast as Sylvia. Many of the cast and crew have become great admirers of Monika’s throughout the process of working with her on season one of Blunt Talk. Writer/producer Duncan Birmingham (Blunt Talk, Maron) feels that Smith has allowed the show to achieve an even higher level of comedic tone noting, “Monika is one of the best actors I have worked with during my illustrious career. I have worked with the likes of the tremendously gifted, Oscar nominated director David Fincher, and currently, the legendary Patrick Stewart (who was nominated for a Golden Globe for Blunt Talk), but Monika holds her ground with those luminaries with ease. Monika has a great sense of comedic timing that lends itself perfectly to her role in Blunt Talk. She has an impressive career as an actor, proven by the immense amount of performances she has done over the years. Blunt Talk is a very funny show that centers on an incredible presence of strong wit and major comedic skills in order for it to reach the success that it has. Monika gets as close as you can to reaching the level of a true comedic genius.” In harmony with Birmingham’s statement is the fact that the role of Sylvia, which was introduced in the latter half of the first season, has been added to season two of Blunt Talk; an obvious nod to the tremendous performance Smith gave in this role. Smith rebuffs requests for details about season two but reveals that her characters participation in Blunt Talk’s second season is even bigger than in the previous one. As in Blunt Talk, it seems that audiences will keeping seeing more of this actress’s work with the high caliber of performances she continues to deliver and the accolades from her respected peers.
For as long as we have known, theater has imitated life. Sometimes it is hyperbolic and sometimes factual. Although we can all relate to the realistic and real-life comparisons of some stories, it is likely the grandiose ones that have captured our collective attention and given longevity to this art form. We are allowed to experience the tremendous highs and lows of the actors who are our proxy. This approach was established and then Reality TV was created. Viewers seemed riveted by the access to actual people’s lives. We were no longer “off the hook” with the belief that no one was truly affected by what was happening. Actors seemed apprehensive to accept this style of production as a viable avenue for them. Some however, recognized the opportunity to use their abilities to create and affect these real situations and interactions with those unknowing. One such person is actress Monika Smith. This Canadian born actress has a long list of credits including Film and TV credits (Blunt Talk, Two and a Half Men, The Mad Ones) but her foundation was in that of improvisational sketch comedy (via Second City and the Upright Citizens Brigade). Smith’s background and skill set were ideally suited for the producers of Disaster Date to use her as one of their main actors/vehicles of drama. Monika also recognized this as an avenue for her to use her talents and sharpen them in a new way…by improvising alongside an unknowing participant.
Disaster Date is a hidden camera TV-show on MTV. The networks long history with reality TV prompts them to constantly look for new ways to present individuals in seemingly real life situations, in this case it centers on awful dating experiences. The premise goes something like this; a participant’s friend sets them up on a blind date. Unbeknownst to the participant, they are going on a date with an actor who has been informed about the types of behavior that the participant hates. The actors then exhibit these behaviors on the date to see how the participant will handle the situation. The date lasts for one hour and for every minute of the hour that the participant endures the will receive one dollar (again, without their knowledge of this). If they endure the entire hour, the actor then reveals that they are on the show. Everyone has had a bad date so it is easy to imagine the uncomfortable situation these participants find themselves in. It is the job of the actors to make things as uncomfortable and yet believable as possible. It’s a challenge that Monika Smith enjoys and is extremely good at doing.
As an actress trained in improvisation, Smith is highly adept at dealing with the unknown. Her comedic timing combined with a quick wit and pleasing physical appearance made her a natural for Disaster Date. Monika was a lead actress for two seasons on the show which has been one of MTV’s most popular reality based programs. Her improv comedy background was ideal for exactly this type of scenario. Recalling some of her more memorable interactions on the show she states, “On one date I pretended to be a hippy that believed completely in astrology. That may not sound like such a difficult thing for someone to accept but, when people are looking for someone to connect with it and you are very practical…it’s important. On another date I pretended to be a psychic who would go into a trance and be speaking tongues. That one was a fun opportunity to take things really far. Those could be situations that you are given in improve so I felt right at home, only there were hidden cameras instead of a stage. One time I pretended to be a Russian mail order bride who kept trying to convince the non-actor that he should marry me for my visa because I would make a good wife for him.” Recalling one the funniest and unusual/uncomfortable scenarios for the “victim” on Disaster Date, Smith tells, “There was an episode in which I pretended to be very stressed with finals and drank too much coffee. Throughout the episode I would get more and more jittery, speaking faster until finally my character ‘shits her pants’ (coffee grounds in wardrobe) and the guy on the date with me had to deal with it as I asked him to give me his pants because I was so embarrassed.” With plotlines like this, Disaster Date seems more like a Coen Brothers production than Punk’d. Unlike sketch comedy, the length of time that Smith is in character can be quite long and grueling. As the award-winning actress and co-writer of “Les Douchbags Horribles” Monika understand the fact that getting the content you need can sometimes be arduous. Disaster Date producer Joel Zimmer professes that the actress greatly aided in the show’s success stating, “Monika was a series regular for two seasons of the hit show. Each episode revolved around a blind date under hidden surveillance. The concept was that an unsuspecting person would go on a date with an actor that would do everything under their power to make sure the participant had the worst time of their life. Obviously, the actor’s had to be the best of the best at improvisation. Monika did just that and more. She already had extensive credits in a number of roles that centered on improv and comedy, so we knew she was the right choice to go on these dates. A great deal of credit has to be given to Monika as she took the lead and took the show in a number of directions that only a highly skilled improvisational actor such as herself would be able to take it in. There was no possible way the show would work without Monika taking control. Disaster Date called for Monika to play her character for hours at a time. There were no cuts like a normal production. Only an actor with an abundance of improv talent like Monika could convince unsuspecting contestants that this was a real date and that she was a real person. Monika blew me away with her ability to come up with the most insane ideas on the fly and make them believable. She convinced people that she was a Russian mail order bride looking to get married on one date and immediately switched over to someone that was possessed by the devil in another. It’s hard to come by an actor that has as much range as Monika, and one that can move between characters at such a rapid pace, while still maintaining a strong level of credibility. Monika did this for over 40 episodes of Disaster Date and all I can say is, wow!”
Monika Smith can currently be seen in the role of Sylvia on Blunt Talk season one as well as the upcoming seasons two of this STARZ production starring Patrick Stewart.
Film, like all art forms, is subject to change. Even the styles of the genres evolve with time. Horror films are a perfect example of this. At first there were monster movies with (arguably) very bad costumes and effects, and then we had the psychological horrors, followed by slasher films. Finally, technology caught up with this style of film, creating amazing visual and make up effects. Searching for new avenues, Horror films began poking fun at themselves while still managing to frighten us. In order to “smash-up” these sentiments one must be a fan of the genre to create the right balance of these two. It greatly aids the filmmakers if their cast is of a similar perspective. One of the stars of Black Fawn Films 2015 Horror movie Bite is Alex MacPherson and he is definitely on the same page as this production company. As both an accomplished actor/writer and an avid fan of Horror films, MacPherson understood and was able to get the inside jokes both on and off screen. With the incredible popularity of these types of films in modern cinema, actors like MacPherson are able to enhance the action on camera due to their genuine affinity for this type of film, creating a subtle sympathy with the audience. Some of this is due to his accomplished acting abilities and sometimes, as Macpherson himself admits, it is a product of his genuine shock or fright…which is exactly what the filmmakers and the audience desire.
Bite is the story of Casey (played by Elma Begovic). Casey has some trepidation about her upcoming nuptials, as well as an over-bearing soon to be mother-in-law. Casey has recently traveled to Costa Rica for her bachelorette party where she was (seemingly unimportantly) bitten by a bug. The supposedly innocuous bite begins to transform Casey’s body into an insectoid form. As previously stated, the action of the film is one of fright, shock, and at times amusement. Viewers get the sense that Black Fawn Films understand how to not take themselves too seriously and play by the rules of the modern horror genre. This approach was what initially led to Alex’s involvement in the film. MacPherson recalls, “I was really lucky to see The Drownsman, Black Fawn’s film before Bite, at a film festival in Toronto. I was very impressed with the film. They understood how to make things play on many different levels, which I appreciated as a fan as well as an actor. I met the cast and crew at an after party following the film. I announced to a group of my friends, at the after party, that I would be in their next film. When I went home I followed them on Facebook, and within a month they posted a casting for their next film, Bite. The rest is history!”
Although he auditioned for only one role, in addition to being cast as the police officer (with a major role near the film’s climax) Alex ended up doing several voices throughout the film. Christopher Giroux, one of Bite’s producers, brought MacPherson in as a result of being impressed with his previous work. Giroux recalls, “I informed the Director, Chad Archibald and Casting Director, Ashley Hallihan, that Alex was coming in to audition. After Alex's audition, the Director turned to me and said "Well you didn't tell he was that good! Alex has the look that we wanted but more importantly, the acting chops and understanding of what we were going for so he could ‘get it’ right away. Alex's dedication to his craft continues to mesmerize myself and the other producers at Black Fawn Films.” Bite has been extremely well received by both the public and critics; an achievement indicative of the performance of Alex and the entire cast as well as the whole production team. Bite’s awards include multiple wins at; Monster Fest 2015, the Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival 2015, and the Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival. MacPherson is happy about his part in the film as well as its popularity stating, “I’m really excited to be part of a project that has done so well! I think Bite’s success lies in the perfect execution of a great vision from the film’s creators, paired with really strong casting. The story itself really steals people away. I think the fact that Casey is a good woman who makes her transformation into an insect-like bug is a special one. You think she’d become a villain, but it doesn’t feel that way. I mean, she’s killing people! Close friends of hers! But when you watch it you feel like you’re watching a caged mother gorilla protecting her young. It’s a unique take on the girl-turns-into-monster story. There is definitely a comedic element to Bite. It knows what it is. There are a few lines that bring light to the fact that it is a genre classic. I think that adds to its appeal. While some people might complain that some horror films have similar devices, they would instead admire Bite for the few self-aware lines that is contains.”
As a fan of the horror genre, MacPherson points out that there are a lot of fringe benefits to the experience of working on a Black Fawn Films production like Bite. In addition to noting the highly professional nature of the production, he confirms that…if you like being scared; this was the type of set to enjoy yourself. Alex states, “I’ll never forget seeing Elma [Begovic, “Casey” in Bite] in her monster make up for the first time. I was sitting in holding with the other actors, just a normal living room setting, and in walks Elma looking like a real-life monster. It’s one thing to see her on screen and look impressive, but in person she literally took my breath away for a minute. It was pretty freaky. In the film, my character leads a team of other officers and hazmat crew into Casey’s apartment, which has now been turned into an insect-like den. The set was amazing! There was slime, webbing, and eggs everywhere. The production team didn’t let me see the set for the first time until my actual scene, so my onscreen reaction is mixed with my honest REAL reaction.”
Alex MacPherson has recently completed a film in which he wrote and starred in titled Palmer’s Pumpkins and is set to begin work on the trilogy When Earth Sleeps.
The days when music video channels actually played mostly music videos are long past. There was a time when artists were expected to present a video for several songs on each record. The disparities between types of music videos that exist in the present day world are easily spotted. On one side are the lyric videos composed almost completely on a laptop, and on the other a complex mini-film with feature film production values. If you are creating art, as in the latter example, you’ll need a great cinematographer to frame your vision and set the desired tone, someone like Peter Hadfield. Peter has a background in film and likes to use this approach with music videos as he did in Harrison x Clairmont the Second’s “It’s Okay, I Promise.” The video, which was awarded a Vimeo Staff Pick and premiered on the popular R&B/Hip hop magazine website The Fader, shows the artists moving through a series of vignettes that are so numerous and varied that the viewer feels as if they have watched several different movies while simultaneously being connected to the mood of the audio performance. Music videos like “It’s Okay, I Promise” are keeping the art form alive and progressing forward. While many current videos are glamour pieces in which the artist is simply made to look unrealistically attractive, some music artist and the film creators they work in tandem with, give validity to the term “music video art.”
Hadfield is a Canadian cinematographer with a background in film (including 2013’s I Saw You) who has recently recognized the possibilities of music videos to become highly artistic and stylized films. Peter’s perspective is that music videos have always had a massive potential to showcase filmmaking as art. His perspective is that music videos are an accessible form of filmmaking that allows bidding directors and cinematographers to experiment in the craft to create new and interesting works of art. It seems only natural that he would lend his talents to his fellow countrymen producer Harrison x and Clairmont the Second. This adventurous seven minute long video has an implied narrative that is not forced and features a dizzying amount of set changes. The result is a feeling or an emotion rather than a dictated storyline. It is exactly what Hadfield and Director Scott Cudmore were aiming for with their interpretation of the music. After speaking with the artists, they felt inspired to create a viewing experience that was entertaining, surprising, and …at times bewildering for the audience. Peter recalls, “The video gets praise for having so many distinct vignettes and changes in mood. I approached it like any other project. I listened to the song to get familiar and then discussed the themes of the song with Scott [Cudmore] the director. We talked about how we could evoke the feelings that go with those themes through camera movement and lighting. For all the planning on the video, there was also quite a bit of improvisation. We knew the broad strokes going in.” Scott Cudmore has worked with a number of well known artists including; Sloan, Lucius, Timbre Timbre, etc. and his work has been featured in Billboard, Pitchfork, and other major music publications. Cudmore knew, as a director, that he needed Hadfield as a cinematographer to navigate the overwhelming movement and lighting in “It’s Okay, I promise.” Cudmore states, “I’ve worked with Peter on a number of various projects, ranging from commercials to very experimental music videos. He is always a great collaborator, unafraid to try new things and new ways of creating images. He’s always a pleasure to work with and I am always thrilled at his results.”
“It’s Okay, I Promise” might be a familiar story in music focusing on relationships and one’s experience with them but Hadfield, Cudmore, and the artists wanted to tell the story as well as enhance the viewer’s sense of chaos and disorientation in Clairmont’s day. Even though the video/film is seven minutes long, it required the action on screen and the transitions to move at a quick pace. Timing was key. Peter confirms, “We had a lot of time to prep who would be where in the shots. We scouted a lot to find the building so that when it came time to shoot we knew what we were doing. Our idea for the different vignettes was to put Clairmont in different locations to communicate the phases of the story he's telling in the song. We started with Clairmont leaving the room and executing the lighting cues as he exits the group therapy room into his world. We had the practical lights flick off with the beat as Clairmont gets closer and closer to a large pink light. I wanted to show the different phases with light. For example, when Clairmont is talking about meeting a new girl, we have him in a party, and when things are falling apart in between them, he walks out of the building into the night and passes Harrison having an argument with his girlfriend. There was a lot of rehearsal and coordination between Scott (the director), myself and Clairmont to nail all the timing. The shot where Clairmont runs across the parking lot and is joined by a big group of friends was well rehearsed. We knew we had to get that shot in nine seconds, so we practiced running across the parking lot and getting the shot composed within that time frame. There were a lot of stipulations to follow, but sometimes it's fun to work within creative borders.” While Hadfield’s explanation might make this process seem intuitive, Cudmore notes, “It can’t be overstated how important it is for a cinematographer to be able to clearly make these ideas appear on film. Peter’s sense of composition and understanding of light makes him someone I can always trust and rely on.”
A prominent reason for the unique tone of the video comes from the multiple vignettes, some only seconds long, which serve to shake the viewer loose from the storyline. The sense of not understanding why things are happening was a way to keep viewer’s questioning, much in the same way that Clairmont wonders about the reasons behind things in the song. Another unusual quality to the production is that we actually see a film crew following the artist, breaking down the wall between real life and staged, recorded and experienced. The viewer actually sees and hears the video filming start, quickly followed by an arguing couple (Harrison x and girlfriend), then a Russian lingerie model sitting on a stairway being filmed, then Clairmont and Harrison having a discussion which seamlessly morphs into the beginning of the song. All of the following scenes follow this illogical fusion of reality and media recording which has become synonymous with present day society. Peter states, “We would always have to know what cameras we were involving in the shot at what time and be conscious of what the other "cameras" (all the cameras you see on screen are dummy cameras with the exception of the consumer handicams) would be seeing so we could cut to the 'next camera' and make it feel like it was live. Organizing the schedule around where Clairmont would be and ensuring that the geography of the building made sense was also a bit of a challenge. For example, when Clairmont leaves the room where the blonde girl is levitating the pen, he walks out to the staircase where the lingerie model is, then walks down the stairs and is picked up by the next camera outside. Those shots were about matching the scenes across the time of the song, but we could also play with time and the geography of the video.”
Embracing all challenges and opportunities, Peter keeps a constant schedule of varied projects. Some of his upcoming work includes The Royal Bank of Canada’s “Training Ground” (a commercial to inspire young Olympians which receive funding from RBC), another commercial spot with NHL player Max Domi, a commercial for Los Angeles based company Soapbox, and a music video for the band Odonis Odonis.
Almost all US citizens are from somewhere else, maybe not literally but their heritage is traced back to some other part of the world. Many Americans hold onto that history as a piece of their identity. A little part of another place in the world resides inside them. For Pablo Bendr, the opposite is true. He may have grown up in Chile but there was always something inside him that belonged to the US. Perhaps it was his mother’s Ph.d.earned at Berkeley and the many years she lived and worked there. It might have been the international school that he attended in Santiago, Chile in which all of his classes were conducted in English until 3pm every day. As he entered his teen years, it was the pull of the electronic music scene. This new musical form was worldwide but he knew that it was breaking new ground in the US. Pablo felt constantly driven to be in America and immerse himself in the EDM world. His family was both educated and artistic (His father is both an engineer and a lawyer, an aunt is a concert pianist, an uncle is a sculptor, and his grandfather is a celebrated painter and architect) and encouraged him to pursue his creative side. Bendr, now an acclaimed DJ and Music Producer in Los Angeles, is a success story that mirrors, and is inspired by those contributing their talent and vision to the American tapestry.
Pablo started his musical career in a most unexpected way for a DJ; as a classical pianist of some considerable merit. The student of a famous Chilean pianist Frida Conn Escabar, Bendr studied classical piano from age five to nineteen. Though he had won competitions in his homeland and performed numerous concerts, including Chile’s National Library and the Teatro Municipal de Santiago (Santiago’s largest stage theater and opera house). Pablo felt the pull of another musical master. He recalls, “Ever since I was a teenager I began developing a passion for Dance Music. It was somewhat of a dichotomy that I had going on. I was studying piano every day, playing at concerts and participating in piano competitions, but at the same time I was buying the latest Electronic music CDs at the Record stores. By the time I was in my senior year of high school, a lot of the big Electronic festivals had landed in Santiago and I was trying to get my friends to come with me to these raves.” After finishing 2 degrees at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile – a B.S. in Industrial Engineering, and a M.S. in Chemical Engineering-- Pablo was offered the opportunity of moving to the US for a full time job at LAN (Chile’s flagship airline), to oversee the Capacity Control of the Los Angeles cargo operation. A few years into the job, Bendersky resigned and began the task of establishing himself as an artist and music producer in the States. The environment which exists here is one of limitless possibilities and is highly suited to his career path. Pablo comments, “There is something about the US culture that is unique from the rest of the world. With hard work and dedication you actually have a chance at things. There's a reason why a lot of the best talent moves here, whether it's in academia, the arts, medicine, or any other field for that matter.”
In an extremely short amount of time, Pablo Bendr has not only made his mark on the music scene in LA but, has gained a highly considerable amount of respect and admiration from the community here. Bendr recently was asked to accompany legendary Latin rock band La Ley onstage at the world famous Greek Theater in Los Angeles. Beto Cuevas is the lead singer of world-renowned, multi-Grammy award winning Chilean rock band La Ley. The group has more than 25 years of music history and their performances have spanned the globe. To this date, the group has released 10 albums, and is currently signed to Warner Bros. Records. La Ley and Beto Cuevas are considered by many to be one of the most successful Latin rock bands in history to date, with an immense following of fans from all across the Americas, Europe, and beyond. After winning 2 Latin Grammys, 2 MTV awards as “Best Latin Rock band”, the group conquered global recognition after winning a World Grammy in 2001 as “Best Alternative Rock Band”. Beto Cuevas began pursuing a career as a soloist and in 2008 he released Miedo Escenico, his debut solo album, which hit the top charts in radio stations and received great recognition in the music community, including 2 Grammy nominations as Best Album and Best Single for “Vuelvo” and “Hablame”. In 2014 the members La Ley reunited to tour and record. In 2016, Bendr joined them onstage at the Greek and in San Diego at the House of Blues. The two nights saw crowds of over 7,000 fans and served to impress Beto with Pablo’s talent and abilities. Cuevas remarks, “I had the pleasure of meeting Pablo Bendersky after he moved to Los Angeles. Being from a country that doesn’t typically produce too many Electronic Music Artists, I became interested in listening to his work. I was very impressed by his great musicality, both on a compositional level and in the production side. He is also a highly skilled DJ and live performer, effectively able to warm up any crowd and get them up on their feet and dancing. He has great talent and I look forward to seeing him pursue a successful career in electronic music.” Another of Bendr’s admirers is Robert Margouleff, known for his many years working alongside Stevie Wonder on some of his most famous recordings (including Margouleff’s Grammy win for Innervisions). The Grammy award-winning producer states, “I have been working with Pablo as a music producer and composer since June 2015. He is intelligent, sensitive, talented, and a productive professional. He brings a creative energy to the entire profession.”
It isn’t always huge venues with thousands of fans, and Pablo is fine with that. He enjoys being a part of “the scene” in Los Angeles. Performing at venues like Bardot (playing on the same stage as artists like Bruno Mars), Exchange LA, Club Hola, and many others, is also challenging and fulfilling for Bendr. Sometimes it is even reaffirming. Such was the case in 2015 when he was the DJ for the Annual Food Expo Gala hosted by the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture at the London Hotel in West Hollywood. The Gala brought together delegations of high profile diplomats from both the Chilean and the California Agricultural sectors and celebrated Chilean cuisine and gastronomy in an event that is held once a year around the world. Pablo admits that it was nice to see his US success witnessed by the representatives of his home country; a feeling that resurfaced recently in the summer of 2016 when Pablo’s single “Couldn’t you be mine” was placed in rotation on one of Chile’s premier pop stations (Radio Carolina).
Bendr’s hopes for the future include continuing to work in and around the artists from the US who have always been a part of his musical inspiration. In addition to this, he’d love to tour in Europe and beyond. Pablo feels that as the electronic genre has centered itself in the US, his life and career have evolved in a congruent path. He comments, “15 years ago, electronic dance music used to be something that people typically associated only with Europe, DJs with long Dutch-sounding names, sweaty warehouse parties and 8-minute-long tracks. Today you're at Coachella in a sea of neon-colored sunglasses watching a joint performance between a DJ and a big pop star, while everyone is on their Smartphone Instagraming. The audience has definitely evolved, but I believe the spirit is the same. Rave culture is by default an expression of unity, friendship, empathy, harnessed around dancing and good music.”
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