Actress Nikki Leigh talks being cast in dramatic roles, and filming new feature Ay Lav Yu Tuu. Also Nikki shares breaking into the business
By: Daniel Hoyos | PHOTOS COURTESY
- Los Angeles, California
Actress Nikki Leigh talks about being cast in the dramatic roles, and filming the new feature film Ay Lav Yu Tuu. Also Nikki talks about breaking into the entertainment business, and advice for aspiring actors.
You grew-up in Cypress, California and later moved to Los Angeles. How did you first get started in the entertainment business?
My decision to make the move to Los Angeles came about because I was hosting a radio show Monday to Friday on Sirius XM and it only made sense to get a place where I was working every weekday. Plus I had just graduated college and it was time for me to move out of my parents' house!
During your career you've been cast in films including The Wedding Ringer and Open Marriage. Which do you find more challenging: comedic or dramatic roles?
I find dramatic roles more challenging, but not challenging as in hard for me to do exactly. It is more challenging in the sense that with drama there is a lot of emotion and sometimes you have to take your heart and feelings to a dark place. Or maybe it's a place that you have already tried to overcome.
What can you tell us about your upcoming film Ay Lav Yu Tuu with Steve Guttenberg?
I am super proud of that movie! I can not wait for everyone to see it! It is so funny. Think of it like a 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' type humor, where the funniest parts are the cultural disconnects that happen in the film. I can also tell you that I speak Turkish in this film. I am one of the leads and I went over to Turkey not knowing I was filming this in their language either. I auditioned in English and, when negotiating the role, there was no mention of me speaking a foreign language. Thankfully I had the best language coach. But unfortunately I only got her for the first two weeks, not the whole two months I was there. This meant I really had to learn it. No messing around!
We often talk with people who are interested in breaking into the business. What advice would you give aspiring actors?
Don't take things personally. This industry is all about rejection. You develop super thick skin because you go into these audition rooms and you basically get told what you are not and it really tests the individual. You just have to keep remembering that there is a perfect role for you and you alone and you might need to do a long search before it manifests. But don't give up! If you feel this is what you are meant to do then the more you believe it the more others will believe it!
A large part of the audition process is rejection. How do you personally handle rejection?
I just don't take it personally. I understand that there is a role out there for me and the casting directors, producers etc, are looking for something specific so if I'm not their vision then that's okay. I am just grateful that I got to go into the room and have a chance. I got to go in and show people what I can do. Every audition I walk into I make sure to do my best and then I leave it in the room. I usually throw my sides out after the audition so that I don't go back and think about what I did in the room.
Actors tend to get overwhelmed when seeking out representation. How did you find the right agent?
I had to go through a lot to finally get the agent I have today. Finding representation is very difficult and you will go through quite a few frogs before you find your prince. But keep believing in yourself and you will find that agent who believes in you like you do. The goal is to find someone who is excited about you and wants to work for you. Do not just settle. This is your career, your life.
What are you working on now that you can tell us about?
I am working on a show called Sangre Negra where I play a race car driver named Amanda Bolt. The filming has had a lot of space in between each film day but it's coming. I am thrilled to play a driver. Amanda is a bad ass driver and a strong female in a male-dominated world. I'm not sure you know this about me but driving is one of my favorite things! I keep asking production to let me do all the driving myself! I am trying to make sure that I get race car driving school or something out of this!
Young starlet Rachel Eggleston talks feature film Bastards, working with Brad Garrett, and filming with Animals
By: Daniel Hoyos | PHOTOS COURTESY Kenneth Dolin
- Los Angeles, California
Young L.A. starlet Rachel Eggleston talks about her feature film "Bastards", and working with Brad Garrett on the sitcom "How To Live With Your Parents For The Rest Of Your Life". Also Rachel tell us about her experience filming with animals on Mutt & Stuff.
Congratulations on completing your role in the feature film “Bastards” starring Owen Wilson, and ED Helms. Can you tell us about your character Elizabeth?
Playing Elizabeth was great! She’s a lot like me, she’s super comfortable with adults and so am I. The movie isn’t out yet and I wouldn’t want to give anything away but Elizabeth is sweet & spunky. She has a great connection with Ed Helm’s character and it was so fun shooting on location in Atlanta and Miami.
At just 12 years old you have already had guest roles on hit TV series including “Austin & Ally”, “Justified”, and “Castle.” Can you tell us how you prepare for an audition?
Whenever I have an audition and I get the lines to study, I try to read between the lines and see what's really going on in the scene(s) I try to imagine how the characters in the story are feeling. Oh, and let's not forget the lines, it's pretty important to know the lines.
In 2013 you had a co-staring role in the short-lived sitcom “How To Live With Your Parents For The Rest of Your Life” opposite Brad Garrett from “Everybody Loves Raymond”. What was it like working with Brad, and did he give you any career advice?
Working with Brad was amazing. I was just seven years old when I worked on that show but I can remember how funny and sweet he was. I always had fun with him on set. I can remember an episode when he was going to be doing a big singing number in a play we were performing. He was practicing in the hair & make-up trailer while we were getting ready for the scene. He has such a big voice, everyone was laughing and smiling. He’s such a big sweet guy and a good singer.
People have described you as an old soul because; of just how young you were when you entered the business. How did you get started acting, and did your parents play a big role in supporting your career?
People used to say I was an old soul A LOT when I was younger. Mostly, I think because I liked hanging out with adults more than kids back then. I always liked talking to the grown-ups. Now, I like being around kids my age and adults. People were always telling my mom that I should be in show business. She would respond by saying, “Maybe one day, if we meet the right person”. And then one day that’s exactly what happened. We met my manager, Sheila Russo with SR Talent Management. She introduced us to my agents at Coast to Coast and things moved quickly after that. I booked the first commercial audition that I went out on. It was a national commercial for Coke Zero. Theatrical jobs came a few months later. It was an exciting time! As far as support from my parents. I don’t think any child actor could do this without 100% support from their parents, it means everything.
Going to school while having a full time acting career is no easy task for a 12 year old. How do you juggle school with your acting responsibilities?
It’s a group effort for sure!! I’ve been so lucky to have a school and parents that support me and my love for acting. I’m also a good student who cares about school and getting my work done, which probably has a lot to do with why people are willing to support me. But there certainly are those times when the juggle is a struggle.. lol.
You appeared in multiple episodes of “Mutt & Stuff” on Nick Jr. as the Animal Rescuer, which is a show that features a lot of live dogs, and rabbits. What was it like working with all these animals on set? Do you have any dogs or others animals at home?
Working with the live animals on Mutt & Stuff was DEFINITELY something that drew me to the Annie the Animal Rescuer character. I love animals and loved the idea of working with the dogs and all the animals that were guests on the show. My favorite was a baby kangaroo. It was so cute and soft and bigger than I thought it would be. At home I have a lot of animals. We have a great dane named Auggie, a golden retriever, a cat, 5 chickens & some fish.
You also stared in the FX sitcom “Married” with Nat Faxon, and Judy Greer playing the role of Maya Bowman. Can you share any personal and fun memories from the set?
I really enjoyed playing the role of Maya Bowman on FX. That show had a lot of adult content, so I couldn’t watch an entire episode. That was kind of funny because my mom would record the show and fast forward to the parts that I could watch. But I loved the character that I played and the kids who played my sisters on the show. Maya was funny and feisty. I really liked an episode called “Gymnastics” where Maya was in a gymnastics competition. It was fun to film because I got to use some of my own gymnastic skills during the shoot.
What advice would you give kids looking to break into acting?
I think if I met a kid who wanted to be an actor I would say tryout for the school play or sign up for a workshop. You have to try something to see if you like learning lines and being on stage or in front of a camera. If you love it then you have to work hard and give it 100% just like with sports or other activities. Sometimes you miss out on some of the normal stuff with your friends or school events, but when you miss a few things and you know you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, that’s when you know your doing something you were meant to do.
Can you tell what your currently working on?
I recently finished shooting a pilot for Nickelodeon called The Bugaloos. Sid & Marty Krofft created this show along with many more in the 1970’s. This is a reboot of the one that aired in the seventies and is also produced by the Krofft brothers. I play Joy in the Bugaloos. It was an exciting project to work on because I get to sing and use a British Accent. It’s currently being tested and I can’t wait to find out if it will be picked-up to series!!
Director Adam Rifkin premieres Dog Years at Tribeca, talks Ariel Winter, and advice for breaking into the business
By: Daniel Hoyos | PHOTOS COURTESY Kara Croke, Tinseltown, Feature Flash Photo Agency, Shutterstock.com
- Los Angeles, California
Director Adam Rifkin premieres Dog Years at Tribeca Film Festival, discusses casting Ariel Winter outside her bookworm role on Modern Family, Legend Burt Reynolds, and advice for breaking into the film business.
Dog Years is the story of Vic Edwards, an aging former movie star, who is forced to realize his glory days are behind him. Can you tell us how you came to write this film?
I've always been a huge Burt Reynolds fan. In fact, he was my hero growing up. Not only was he cool and funny and self deprecating, but he always struck me as being such a down to earth, great guy. I also always felt like he rarely got his proper due as an actor. He's so natural and at ease in front of the camera that people didn't even think he's acting. Which is a tremendous compliment but it's also tragic because I feel he's been under appreciated for all the fabulous work he's done throughout his career. Burt is a brilliant actor and I wanted to give something back to Burt for all of the years of enjoyment he's given me and so many other people. So I wrote DOG YEARS specifically for Burt and Burt alone.
Vic Edwards is an interesting character that's different from Burt's past roles. How did you go about casting Burt Reynolds?
I had never met Burt prior to writing DOG YEARS but I rolled the dice and wrote it anyway, hoping he would spark to the material. It was a warts and all kind of charter so I was nervous approaching him. We called Burt's manager and I said to him that I wrote DOG YEARS for Burt and nobody else. I said to please tell Burt that if he didn't want to play the part I wasn't going to make the movie. I know it was a gamble but I just couldn't conceive of anybody else playing Vic Edwards other than Burt.
Imagine my elation when Burt called me the next day. Burt Reynolds called me and told me he loved the script and he wanted to play the part! I was over the moon! And man, did he deliver. He gave such a brave and heartfelt performance, stripped of all vanity. For a guy famous for his swagger he had no problem digging deep and exposing his most vulnerable self. He blew us all away.
The feature also stars the talented Ariel Winter from Modern Family, who plays Lil. Can you tell us how you cast Ariel Winter?
The role of Lil required someone young enough to be believable but experienced enough as an actress to be able to pull off such a fragile and emotionally unstable person. Ariel is literally a veteran of the craft at the tender age of 18. She's been acting her entire life, so I knew Lil would be in good hands. She's also known for playing the bookish Alex Dunphy and I though it would be exciting to see her play completely against type.
This is a very adult role for Ariel and she played it brilliantly. Lil is a troubled girl who's been making a series of questionable choices in life up to now. She meets Vic while teetering on the precipice of complete self destruction and the adventure they find themselves on together forces her to reassess her direction. People who are only familiar with Ariel from Modern Family are going to be shocked when they see her here.
An interesting part of Dog Years is the use of archival footage from Burt Reynolds real life filmography. How did you go about achieving this effect in the movie?
At its core, DOG YEARS is a story about growing old and how fast the years fly by. I thought an effective way to explore this visually was to see footage of young, virile Burt juxtaposed against current day Burt. As a result I included some fantasy sequences where Vic confronts his younger self and tries to convince him not to live so recklessly. The way we achieved it was merely through standard movie magic but the end result had a very emotional effect. Once we saw the visuals coming together we were moved in ways we didn't anticipate.
When casting a film, what qualities do you look for with actors?
That always depends on so many variables. What the character should look like and sound like based on the description in the script. How the character would react in a crisis or would respond to a challenge. I can honestly say I look for something wholly unique for each and every role, each and every time. That said, I suppose an overarching quality I'm always keenly aware of is an actor who never feels like their acting.
Burt told me the the best advice he'd ever gotten as an actor was from his old friend Spencer Tracy. Tracy once said to him, "Kid, never let them catch you acting". Remarkably simple yet amazing advice. And I can definitely relate. When I'm casting, if someone feels like their acting, no matter how good they may look for the role, they'll never get the part.
We often talk with up-coming filmmakers who are interested in breaking into the business. What advice would you give them?
My advice is two fold: Firstly, for anyone who's pursuing a career in film, or any of the arts for that matter, you're undoubtably going to experience a lot of rejection. Don't let it slow you down. It's easy to take rejection personally and start to second guess yourself but do everything you can to fight that urge. Don't let rejection even be a blip on your radar. Everyone who's ever achieved success in this insane business has experienced tons of rejection so you're not alone. Just ignore it and keep trudging forward. Secondly, don't wait for permission to make a movie. Technology has finally caught up to people's ambition.
You can now make a movie for next to nothing. Talent is the cheapest production value in the world. Make a movie for whatever amount you can. If you only have a few hundred bucks, figure out a way to make the best movie ever made for a few hundred bucks. Shoot it on your phone. Edit it on an app. Do whatever you need to do get your story told and your voice heard. Take inspiration from maverick filmmakers like Giuseppe Andrews and go out there and just make a movie that nobody has seen before. If it's good, really good, and bold and unique and original, it will change your life.
Dog Years will be screening at the Tribeca Film Festival from 4/22 - 4/30. Check out the official Tribeca website for the complete list of showtimes.
Follow Dog Years on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
Nine-year-old Ashlyn Casalegno makes big screen debut in Marvel's Logan, and gives advice for booking roles
By: Daniel Hoyos | PHOTOS COURTESY Allyson Casalegno
- Los Angeles, California
Nine-Year-Old actress Ashlyn Casalegno, shares her experience filming Marvel's Logan. Ashlyn also talks exclusively with We Blab Entertainment Magazine about, advice for booking roles in Hollywood.
You’re older brother Gavin is also an actor whose credits include, The Vampire Diaries. So how did Ashlyn get her start in acting?
Growing up, Gavin was always in acting class, filming or auditioning. I would always try to watch, and do what he did. Once I could read, I started classes and was hooked!
Congratulations on landing the role of Charlotte in Marvel’s Logan. Can you take us through the audition process for Charlotte?
It lasted several weeks actually. I read for more than one role and Charlotte was the best fit for me. I did my part and my agent took over from there. It wasn’t long until I was on set after that.
We always hear if you want to pursue a career in acting move to Hollywood. Can you give us some real world advice on how to book studio roles in Hollywood?
It helps if you have a really great team (agents, managers, etc.). These days you can tape your auditions and film just about anywhere in the world. It’s more about practicing your craft and being prepared. ALWAYS follow your dreams. Never give up.
Logan starring Hugh Jackman is currently in theaters nationwide. Please tell us where your character Charlotte fits in the storyline?
Charlotte fits in with a group of mutant kids that were raised in an institution and escaped from the bad guys.
You attended the New York Premiere of Logan at the Rose Theater. What was it like walking the red carpet for Logan?
It was such an honor to be there. There was so much excitement in the air and I can say it was a great experience for me. One of my best.
Actors tend to get overwhelmed when seeking out representation. How did you find the right agent?
It’s important that they are a good fit. For me, I was fortunate to already have a foundation through my brother. As I’ve grown we’ve added more members to my team. I love all of my team, every one of them work hard to help make my dreams come true!
Hugh Jackman is one of the biggest leading males in Hollywood. Can you tell what it was like meeting Hugh Jackman?
It was super cool! We had a lot of fun, and he’s so nice.
Lastly can you tell our audience what you hope to achieve in the world of acting?
I hope to always keep growing as an actress. Making movies is so much fun and I never want to stop!
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.
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 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.
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Struck by Lightning is available on Blu-Ray at Amazon and digitally on itunes.