Female director SJ Chiro surprises SXSW, dishes on making Lane 1974, and that special Seattle connection
By: Daniel Hoyos | PHOTOS COURTESY Sebastien Scandiuzzi
- Los Angeles, California
Female director SJ Chiro, brings the Clane Hayward memoir to life in Lane 1974, dishes on casting lead actress Sophia Mitri Schloss from (The Kicks), and talks about the South by Southwest experience.
Lane 1974 is the story of 13-year old Lane who, grows-up in a Northern California commune with her hippy mom. Can you tell us where the storyline come from?
The film is based on a memoir by Clane Hayward, The Hypocrisy of Disco. I adapted the story infusing it with what I knew from my own similar childhood, growing up on the communes of Northern California.
The star of Lane 1974 is Sophia Mitri Schloss, from the Amazon original series (The Kicks). Can you take us through the process of casting Sophia to play Lane?
Oddly, I first met Sophia Mitri Schloss at a party for my alma mater, Bennington College. She was with her parents who introduced me when they realized I was making a film about a young girl. Unfortunately she was only ten years old at the time, and too young for the role. But fundraising is a long process and by the time I was ready to cast she was 12.
My casting agent, Amey Rene, brought me and producer Jennessa West to Los Angeles where we saw many wonderful girls for two days straight, but none of them had the quality I was looking for in Lane. Amey still had a Seattle girl for me to see, and it turned out to be Sophia Mitri Schloss, one of the most versatile, subtle, talented and hard working actors I've ever had the pleasure to work with.
Over the last few years in Hollywood we have seen an uptick in period films from the 70's like Dairy of a Teenage Girl. What do you think is so appealing about 1970's culture?
It probably varies for every filmmaker. Some seem to just love the fashions. Some films set in the 70s seem like they don't need that era to be told, but other stories, such as Diary of a Teenage girl, are based on personal experience specific to the '70s. The '70s were a unique time in history, particularly around coming of age. For me, 1974 was such a specific and important year to the story I put it right in the title. It's not overt in the film, but from my point of view it was essential.
Before Lane 1974 you directed a series of short films still, most people don't know much about your background. Can you tell us how you got started in the film business?
I started theater in middle school. I was very shy, and initially I saw theater training as a way to learn to express myself. Love of theater continued into high school and through college, where I spent an intense time in London studying. My major was interdivisional: French Lit and Theater, so I also spent time in Paris. This was a particularly lonely time for me, and I spent a lot of time in the many and various movie theaters of Paris seeing all kinds of films.
After graduation I moved to Seattle and became ensconced in the fringe theater scene, acting, directing and even becoming the AD at Annex Theatre, but filmmaking began calling to me. I applied to USC film school, was accepted, but life intervened and I wasn't able to go. Later I began to study in Seattle and make my own films.
Katherine Moenning from, the TV series (The L Word) also stars in Lane 1974. When casting a film what qualities do you look for with actors?
For the role of Hallelujah I knew I needed someone with a fierce independence and a voice that belies no trace of wanting to please. It's more difficult than you might think to find. I was thrilled when I found Kate, and over the moon after our first conversation. In general, I insist on thoughtful, collaborative actors who are committed to digging deep into their characters, and who respect me as a director.
Congratulations on the premiere at the 2017 South By Southwest Film Festival. What was the whole experience like attending the festival?
A world premiere at SXSW was a dream come true. We had three screenings, two sold out and the third larger venue very well attended. We felt embraced, respected and well attended to by the staff. We loved being surrounded by so many exciting, innovative filmmakers and their films. There's so much to do and see at SXSW, it can be overwhelming, but in a good way!
We often talk with up-coming filmmakers who are interested in breaking into the business. What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in filmmaking?
Make sure you believe fully in what you have to say. Be very clear as to why you have to make this film. Find like minded collaborators. Treat each other with honesty, dedication, and respect.
Lane 1974 has a special northwest connection to Seattle. Can you tell us more about the relationship with Seattle?
It's difficult to imagine getting this film made from a different city. Seattle is unique in the way it accepts and even embraces female filmmakers. The connection to collaborators runs deep. Seattle has a professional filmmaking community with a deep commitment to art. If people believe in your film, it's incredible the kind of support you can get. Of course, it's a two way street. We all support each other to get work done. I used to assume this culture existed in most cities, but I've come to find out Seattle is a very special place.
By: Daniel Hoyos | PHOTOS COURTESY Maggie Zulovic
- Los Angeles, California
Spanish indie film director Jamie Valdueza, discusses creating one of the best horror shorts of 2016 "Burned", working with talent Beau Knapp (Super 8), and Malika Monore (It Follows).
Burned is a short film about Jason who only trusts his girlfriend Lila, and together they go to meet a friend in desert. Can you tell us where the storyline come from?
The story comes out of an idea about trust, I wanted to turn the idea of a victim fighting for survival and understanding into a love story where we desperately want this couple to make things work but we discover that this is not an average relationship.
The two lead actors Beau Knapp (Super 8), and Maika Monroe (It Follows) give me chills in Burned. Can you take us threw the process of casting both Beau, and Maika?
First, thank you for the compliment. I’m glad that they gave you chills. The casting started when I gave the script to a director friend of mine, Jaume Collet-Serra, he was working on a film and had a couple of great secondary actors that were starting up and if I liked any of them that he could show my script to whoever I picked. I chose Beau, he was great and he was closer in age to the character. Beau read the script and loved it, so he was the first one to come on board. Maika came after, I was having problems casting Lila and three days before filming I had no one.
Beau proposed Maika, who was just finishing her second film but still wasn’t known, they were with the same manager. When I saw samples of her work I was blown away and couldn’t believe my luck when she wanted to do “Burned”. I had a terrific cast and with the help of our amazing casting director Lindsey Weissmueller, we got Meredith Monroe and Micah Hauptman which are top talent and the best possible choices. I was very lucky and happy with the cast.
Burned has a very unique look being set in the desert. Can you tell us about the location scouting for Burned?
It was pretty hard, I wanted a realistic feel of the area, and the only way to make it realistic is to go to these real people houses and film in them. An exterior of a house you can just see driving by, but the interior is a different story. Adam, the producer went door by door by the areas and houses that I thought could work and he went into people’s houses and sent me pictures of along with a report of how open were them to let us film there. It took him 3 weeks to find something worth scouting. He worked so hard and it paid off.
The menacing look, came from conversations with Harris the DP, we made the decision to film it in a blue winter light which it made the desert seem more sinister. We also decided to film everything needed to be handheld to feel real and let the actors free to improvise.
Meredith Monroe from, the TV series (Dawson’s Creek) also stars in Burned. When casting a film what qualities do you look for with actors?
Besides the obvious talent and that they fit the role, I love actor’s commitment to a story or a character. When I met Meredith she was fearless and ready to go wherever I would tell her emotionally. That’s one of the best qualities that you can have in an actor the commitment to explore a character in order to understand their story.
Congratulations on the successes of Burned. Do you think film festivals are still an essential part of marketing your film?
I think it’s the only way for independent filmmakers to have their film be shown and get people interested and if you connect and get lucky you might have a chance to make another film. I’m not sure that there is another alternative.
We often talk with up-coming filmmakers who are interested in breaking into the business. What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in filmmaking?
If you are obsessed with making films, go for it. Try to always be involved in films or filmmakers, offer to help even if it’s for free and eventually people notice your passion and hire you.
Burned would be the perfect short film to turn into a feature film. Do you plan on making Burned into a feature?
Some people told me the same thing, which it’s great to hear, but I never fully planned it as a feature. I do have a couple ideas of how the story will continue, I might write a long version of “Burned” after I finish with my current project.
Follow Burned on Twitter.
Director Rod Blackhurst discusses the Tribeca feature film Here Alone, and casting Lucy Walters via Twitter
By: Daniel Hoyos | PHOTOS COURTESY Rob Fleming
- Los Angeles, California
Award winning director Rod Blackhurst talks about the Tribeca audience favorite thriller "Here Alone", casting lead actresses Lucy Walters, and Gina Piersanti via Twitter. Also Rod dishes about filming the critically acclaimed Netflix documentary "Amanda Knox".
Here Alone is the story of a young woman named Ann who, struggles to survive after a mysterious epidemic. Can you tell us how you came to direct this film?
For almost six years my friend David Ebeltoft and I had been trying to make our first feature film and try as we might, we kept running into the same roadblock over and over again; money. Before HERE ALONE we built two different films into turnkey operations - projects that were fully realized across the board from a production, logistics, and creative standpoint - yet because we weren't independently wealthy ourselves, and because we didn't know anyone who could afford to produce a 1-2 million dollar film with us, those films stalled out. We were exasperated with the process of trying to find the producing partners we needed to help us source that kind of financing and so David reversed engineered a film that we could produce on our own, for the amount of money we could raise, that would allow us to have agency as friends and collaborators, instead of continuing to wait around asking for permission from those who said "Well, you've never made a feature film, so how do we know you can make a feature film".
David wrote HERE ALONE for me to direct. He also wrote HERE ALONE to be a film that in producing it ourselves could prove our business acumen and understanding of how to be responsible filmmakers who make films for audiences. We had three goals when we set out to make the film; to prove that we were capable of delivering a coherent and cohesive feature length film no matter the constraints, to have the film play at any film festival, and to have the film distributed world wide. Two years later we can proudly say that we've accomplished everything we set out to do.
The star of Here Alone, is one of our favorite actress Lucy Walters, from Starz hit series Power. How did you end-up casting Lucy to play Ann?
We cast both or our actresses, Lucy Watlers and Gina Piersanti, via Twitter. True story. We couldn't get the bit talent agencies in Hollywood to cover our film and then because we couldn't afford a casting director we decided to do it ourselves. Lucy steals a scene in Steve McQueen's film SHAME and just based on that we knew that she was the right actor for us. I wrote her a message on Twitter. We Skyped and then we went off to make the movie. It was that simple.
Here Alone takes place in upstate New York's rugged wilderness. What did Lucy do physically or mentally to prepare for such a challenging role?
No amount of physical or mental preparation could have prepared Lucy (or any of us for that matter) for spending the first two days on set in pouring rain and in mud up to our shins. The role of Ann was already demanding on the page, and I think Lucy would be comfortable with me saying that after we finished shooting she told me that she truly had no idea how much more physically and emotionally exhausting the role would be than it was on those pages. I have no idea what juju she conjured up to keep up with our relentless production schedule but she did. Lucy is in almost every scene in the film and she owns this performance.
Here Alone also stars Adam David Thompson (Mozart in the Jungle), and Shane West (A Walk to Remember). When casting a film what qualities do you look for with actors?
As a filmmaker I want to work with actors whose first inclinations and choices are better out of the gate than what I could first ask of them. I want to work with actors who make bold choices, have a reason why, and have something to prove. Our producing partner Noah Lang had worked with Adam David Thompson on another film and knew that Adam, who was a bit tired of being typecast as the bad/creepy/weird guy, would be fired up about taking on the role of Chris. But past all of that, I wanted to work with Shane West because in 2005 he was on my wife's Top 5 Hottest Guys list, and I just wanted my wife to think I was cool.
Last year you directed the critically acclaimed documentary Amanda Knox which, is streaming on Netflix. Our readers would be interested to learn what Amanda Knox is like in real life?
Amanda Knox, like all of the individuals who were caught up in this tragic situation and story became 'accidental celebrities'. None of these people asked to be in the spotlight. None of them wanted to be reality TV stars. None of them wanted to be in the positions they found themselves in, especially not the poor victim Meredith Kercher who tragically lost her life. Everyone at the heart of the story were turned into characters living this Kafka-esque existence. They were all trapped inside a nightmare which had been created by the media and the audiences voraciously consuming the narratives they were presented - most of which were false narratives designed purely for entertainment. I often tell people that everyone involved at the heart of this story has had an identity and narrative crafted for them when at the end of the day, they're all very normal and real people.
Congratulations! Here Alone opens in theaters on March 31st from TriBeca Films. Can you tell us how you achieved some of the amazing make-up effects on Lucy?
In researching and writing HERE ALONE David Ebeltoft was inspired by the work of the Cuban American performance artist, sculptor, painter and video artist Ana Mendieta who was known for her "earth-body" artwork. What you see on screen is an amazing interpretation of that by our hair and makeup artist Lisa Forst. Lisa deserves all of the credit for crafting the shit/mud look, all of which was done practically on set. Lucy and Gina started calling the 'mud look' the 'spa treatment'. It took hours to layer on the different makeup and clay that you see on screen and to this day Lucy and Gina tell us that they still have dirt under their fingernails and behind their ears from all that beautiful grime.
Here Alone will be released in theaters and VOD March 31st, 2017.
Follow Here Alone on Facebook, and Twitter.
By: Daniel Hoyos | PHOTOS COURTESY AliKay Photography
- Los Angeles, California
Teen actress Ava Cantrell discusses Nickelodeon's Haunted Hathaways, finding the right agent, and filming the Warner Bros. picture Lights Out. Ava also talks exclusively with We Blab Entertainment Magazine, about booking roles outside of Hollywood.
You started acting at eight years old, and before that doing dance competitions. How did Ava get started in the business?
I actually got started in the business because of dancing! My parent loved the performance aspect of dance, and thought I might like to try acting. They saw that I loved It was all about being on the stage, under the lights and making people smile. Once I got started acting, I was soon booking roles, and I fell in love with the craft. I've been doing it ever since! Dance is still a major part of my life but, my priority is acting.
In 2013 you landed the role of Penelope on Nickelodeon’s The Haunted Hathaways. Can you tell us what the audition process was like?
Penelope Pritchard was such a fun role, and a fun auditioning process as well. I knew a lot of people went out for it and, saw friends in the room, and I think we fell in love with Penelope. It was a role I really connected too. I thought Penelope was hilarious and, so out of touch with reality. I went in for the first call in full costume. I was wearing high pigtails, an unbelievably huge tutu skirt, and I was even carrying a doll. It was one of those auditions I took a risk on. I personally knew a girl that was very bratty like Penelope, so it was fun to act it out. I would never call someone a brat; it's more fun to imitate one.
Congratulations on the outstanding performance in the Warner Bros horror film, Lights Out. For our readers who haven’t seen the film yet, can you tell us about your character Young Diana?
Thank you so much! I am not only Human Diana but also the voice of creature Diana. Young Diana had issues that went way back. Her parents put her in a mental institution where she met Sophie. Diana could control people's minds. Diana was a human but, got killed in the institution yet, she can't have light of any kind on her skin or else she burns. She is the type of friend that will never leave your side, and is completely obsessed and, wants the people she loves to herself. I find Diana sympathetic in the way she really just wanted a friend or anyone in her life, and was desperate for that.
We always hear if you want to pursue a career in acting move to L.A. Can you give us some real world advice, on how to book studio roles in Hollywood?
Honestly I think the whole move to LA advice is changing. I live outside of L.A. in San Diego, and I actually love having an outside life, outside of Hollywood. So many roles you can go on tape for. Many kids fly in and out of L.A. I have friends that live even father away from L.A. then I do, and work all of the time. Also so many things are filmed outside of L.A. lately. I have a successful career not living in Hollywood so, it can become a reality.
Actors tend to get overwhelmed when seeking out representation. How did you find the right agent?
My Dad was a kid actor, and he was the one initially that thought I should be an actor. We went to an agent that wanted to charge money to represent me, which we all know is a no-no! My mom told my dad to pick the top three agents submit me and if anyone bites, it was meant to be. Luckily I got meetings with two top agents out of the three. We chose our favorite, and have been with them ever since.
In your latest film One Under the Sun you play Amelia Voss the daughter whose mother is going to mars, but also has terminal cancer. Can you tell us some more about your character?
Amelia Voss is my most challenging role to date. I go through all stages of cancer. I stay alive even when very ill because I am waiting for my Mom to return from her expedition and my life, and my choices matter immensely to the world. Amelia is a fighter, she's strong willed but, also very loving. She is a character that screen audiences will fall in love with. The response I gotten from the role of at the premiere was the most enthusiastic response I have ever received. Amelia will make you cry, but also will inspired you and you see the world in a different way.
A large part of the audition process is rejection. How dose Ava personally handle rejection?
I really don't see not getting a role as rejection. I don't want anyone to feel rejected over the roles I have gotten. We as actors have to give it all in the room. We make choices, and sometimes they work, and sometimes they don't. We can't second-guess ourselves. We can only prepare, and leave it all out there. I myself as an actress get invested in roles, but some just aren't mine to have. I'm that actress that will watch the shows, or movies that I didn't get and completely understand why I wasn't the right person, and I see how that person fit the role perfectly. Sometimes that will be me, and other times it will not. It feels pretty good when everything aligns!
By: Daniel Hoyos | PHOTOS COURTESY Suzanne Houchin
- Los Angeles, California
Director Brian Dannelly talks exclusively with We Blab Entertainment Magazine about, making the cult comedy Struck by Lightning. Also casting Glee's Chris Colfer, Modern Family's Sarah Hyland, working with Macaulay Culkin, and transgender issues in Hollywood.
Struck by Lightning is a brilliant teen comedy about, an unpopular boy who, recounts the way he blackmailed classmates into help with his literary magazine. Can you please tell us, how you came to direct this film?
My friend and producer, David Permut (Hacksaw Ridge), had the script and he was a big fan of Saved. He thought Chris and I would be a good match and he set up a meeting. I already loved the material and related it to my own time spent in high school. Chris turned out to be an amazing guy. He was thoughtful, kind and smart and I connected with him right away. I LOVED the idea of a teen script that was written by an actual teen- the voice was authentic in a way it may not have been had it been filtered through the passing of time.
The casting for Struck By Lightning was genius because; we got to see some familiar faces playing roles outside their normal TV personas. What was the casting process like for Chris Colfer, Sarah Hyland, and Allie Grant?
Casting was a good deal of fun and we took great care in bringing this cast together. We were in love with Sarah from Modern Family and I have worked with Allie Grant since she started in Weeds. Carter Jenkins and I became friends on a series I did and he joined us and we were thrilled to discover Graham Rogers. Everyone was a fan of Chris’ and it was a rather easy process getting people to join us. I mean the whole cast is kind of amazing- Christina Hendricks, Dermot Mulroney, Alison Janney, Angela Kinsey, Matt Prokop, Robbie Amell, Polly Bergen and Rebel Wilson.
One of the more notable themes is the sexual preference of Carson Phillips and, the scene where he stumbles upon two closeted gay students. What has been the reaction from the LGBT community?
We were lucky enough to be the closing night film at Outfest which I think speaks volumes. In addition, we screened at festivals all over the world and I think people of all orientations could identify with the film and being an outsider. I love how Chris wrote a character that wasn’t struggling with his sexuality - it was part of who “Carson” was but it wasn’t the driving force. I thought it was a very sophisticated choice. I mean, while it’s important to tell our stories it’s also important to see that our stories have changed.
What dose the industry have to do in order for us to see more gay roles in the mainstream?
I don’t know if it’s as taboo of a subject anymore. I mean MOONLIGHT just won the Academy Award. In general, I think television and movies need to reflect more of the world as it actually is—all the colors and complexities that make us human—the experiences that connect us and the experiences that are unique to our being.
You also wrote and, directed your first feature film Saved! Starring Mandy Moore, Jena Malone, and Macaulay Culkin. Can you give some insight into how you got started in the film business?
I wrote the script with Michael Urban while we were at AFI. During that time, we were approached by an agent who got the script to Sandy Stern at Single Cell Pictures. After that, every studio turned us down. Finally, a small Florida producer came onboard and we started the process of making the film. However, they turned out to not have the money so we closed up production. A short time later, MGM/UA agreed to finance the film and we were saved and premiered at Sundance.
We often speak to students who want to enter the film industry. What advice would you give someone if they wanted to move to Hollywood and, start a career in the film business?
As a guy who grew up in a small town, I’m a huge fan of film school. I went to the American Film Institute (AFI) and that changed everything for me. I had the right instincts as a director but AFI taught me the craft and the importance of collaborating with cast and crew. I was immersed in a community of like-minded artists and we learned from each other. It was the most amazing two years of my life and I use the tools I learned there in every single thing I do in the business.
Saved! was the second theatrical film Macaulay Mculkin starred in since 1994’s Richie Rich. Our readers would be very interested to know what it was like working with child-star Macaulay?
Macaulay was a dream. He was kind, funny and humble. He went out of his way to make everyone feel comfortable and he was very helpful to me as a first time director. I will always be grateful he agreed to be in the film.
Can you tell us about any future projects you’re working on currently?
Well, I have another project with David Permut (Hacksaw Ridge) written by Craig Houchin. It was the First Place winner of the Final Draft Screenwriting Contest. It’s about an alcoholic dad who gets out of jail and kidnaps his three young daughters and takes them on a road trip in the 70s. It’s beautiful and moving and funny and everything I love about storytelling. We are out to cast now.
I have also been very lucky in that I got the opportunity to direct the season two premiere of MTV’s SCREAM. Directing horror and working for the Weinstein Company was a dream come true. In addition, my writing partner, Michael Urban, and I sold two TV shows in the past year. One went to pilot and one we are waiting to hear if we will be going to pilot. I’m not sure if I can talk about it but it’s EXTREMELY close to my heart and very timely.
Follow Brian Dannelly on Twitter, and Instagram.
Struck by Lightning is available on Blu-Ray at Amazon and digitally on itunes.