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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"A State of Fearlessness": EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW With Actress Amy Lawhorn ("The Paddy Lincoln Gang")

Amy Lawhorn was born in Pennsylvania but grew up in Dallas. She attended the University of Texas as a pre-med student, but eventually moved to Los Angeles ten years ago to try her hand at acting.

She plays Leila in The Paddy Lincoln Gang (check out the review here), a drama which has just been released on iTunes.  She even won Best Female Performance for the role at the SoCal Film Festival. She's also put in performances on "90210", "Parenthood", "Bones" and other big name TV shows.

Without further ado, let's get to the interview -- we cover a lot of topics, and I don't want you to miss a thing!


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FCFR:  Was being an actress always a dream of yours?  When did your desire to act begin, and what was the moment when you realized, "Oh wow, I'm actually really doing this"?

AMY LAWHORN:  It was not, actually.  My parents pushed academia hard when I was growing up. I did play the Princess in The Princess and the Pea when I was in 1st grade however (laughs). My first artistic endeavor was actually singing.  In 5th grade I was one of 5 choir students from my school to be chosen for All-City Choir.  Singing was my first love but stopped singing  to play the flute through middle and high school and always regretted it!  My mom made me stick it out though! I was also an athlete.  I ran track in middle school and part of high school.

I was really into science and from 8th grade on after a research paper on childhood diabetes I wanted to be a pediatrician.  All my classes were geared towards that in high school.  I was in all Honors and Advanced classes in school. It wasn't until after a year into university that interest faltered. Too long of a story to get into but I ended up leaving school and was a nanny for a family for about a year. I ended up going to an open call for a talent scout company and I did a mock commercial and was on camera for the first time. Something in that moment just clicked.  I didn't join the scouting company, they were a scam, but I researched acting schools and found KD [College Conservatory].  It was a 15 month program and it was maybe one of the hardest things I had done at that point.  Acting is so much about being open and vulnerable and at that point in my life I was very guarded and was not ready for the journey that I went through in those 15 months.  I look back on some of the scenes I was doing back then and remember how hard they were for me to just be free, whereas now I could do those scenes with no trouble, well so I like to think. I ran from the work, but now I dive into it!

I think it wasn't until a few years ago that I really really claimed," I am an actress!" 

FCFR: How did you get involved with The Paddy Lincoln Gang?  What attracted you to the script?

AL:  This answer is twofold.

Joe (DiMasso), Steady Eddie in the film, called asking if I could come in for an audition the next day. I had known Joe for a few years from working events with him.  At the time I did not know he was also one of the cast members.  I got there right at the end of auditions the next day.  Joe called me that evening or the next morning and said the director and lead (Ben and Dean Jagger) wanted me to come for a callback/chemistry read. I got lost finding the house in the hill where they were staying and was a bit frazzled when I showed up, but they immediately put me at ease.  I mean the accents do that to ya!

Anyways, the read with Dean went well. We fell into an easy rhythm.  I got a call that night saying they wanted me as Leyla. This was a Thursday I believe.  That Sunday we did a cast dinner, a run through of some scenes, I watched "A Night at Robert McAlister's" (the short film the feature was based around), went over wardrobe and hair ideas, tattoos were put on the guys, Dean dyed his hair, and we were shooting bright and early Monday morning!

The second part: months later in October of 2011 (we shot the end of June / beginning of July), I was going through my old sent emails and found an email from March 2010 that I had written in regards to a feature film casting. The email read, "I just watched the short 'A Night at Robert McAlister's' and I know one of the guys in the short, Joe DiMasso. I am interested in knowing more about the role of Leyla!"  I don't know who put up the casting notice back then (probably Joe), but no one ever responded!  When I had watched the short that Sunday, the day before shooting, I had absolutely no recollection that I had ever seen it before! Crazy . . . it's as if it was all meant to be.

I liked that the film was about relationships and not just a story about a band.  It's a story about someone who is silently suffering and his world is seemingly crumbling all around him.  To me it's a story about salvation, in a way. 

FCFR: You've won awards for your portrayal of Leyla, Rob McAlister's long suffering girlfriend.  You had the opportunity to show off quite a range of acting ability.  What was the most challenging thing about stepping into Leila's shoes?

AL: Let me just say I was not expecting that personal award of Best Female Performance at SoCal International Film Festival.  It came right after Dean won Best Male Performance.  His did not surprise me because I saw the work he was doing, I watched the short, and there was one moment on set I was watching him in a scene by himself and he made me cry just watching his performance.  

For myself, I wasn't expecting it.  I wasn't discounting myself, I just honestly did not think that was going to happen.  When my name came out, I was floored and humbled.  Yes, it was a small festival that many haven't heard of, but Sundance judges were on that judging panel and how many actors go through their career with not ever winning an award?  That's not why I do this, but it is a sweetness to have your work acknowledged.  I believe that was the moment I felt, "I'm really doing this."

"Long suffering girlfriend"?  That seems to be the token line for Leyla being thrown around (laughs).

Well one, what girl at some point hasn't fantasized about dating a handsome, brooding rock star -- with a killer accent to boot?  The most challenging thing about stepping into Leyla was at that point in my career, this was the biggest role I had had, so carrying a character through a film was new to me. 

Leyla and I are quite similar in some ways but  I had some discussions with Ben about Leyla's motivations and where her anger was coming from.  She can seem like the nagging girlfriend, but she was a shadow, I feel, in Rob's life in her mind.  She has an immense love for him and knows he loves her but it is hard to really know it because he is closed off and only focused on her a tiny part of the time.  So just really settling into her mind and motivations was sometimes a challenge.

FCFR:  How was the experience of shooting the film, considering the low budget?  What was it like working with the brother team of Dean and Ben Jagger? 

AL:  At first, it felt a little rushed and overwhelming to be honest.  Those feelings went away that Sunday we all spent together before filming.  We were a small set and everyone helped each other out which I liked. The guys had already worked together so they were already in a groove.  They, however, made me feel immediately welcome and part of "the gang" so to speak, which was nice since I was the only female about 98% of the time!

 Demetri Watkins, Amy Lawhorn, Dean Jagger, Stephen Bridgewater

Working with Ben and Dean was a special experience. At times it's like working with one person because they are so connected and in sync with one another.  From what I could see they were always on the same page creatively as if they read each others minds.  Their bond, being brothers, brought a respect and understanding of one another that was unique to them.  My relationship with both of them was different because of their roles on the film but with both we fell into an easy working rhythm.

Ben is an actor's director and Dean is a giving scene partner. There were times that he would go off alone and not want to be bothered but he was always ready to run our scenes and gave me a full performance each take.

We had a lot of fun making PLG.  Ben and Dean's bond as brothers  aided to the feeling of a large family working together making a film!

FCFR:  Had you done love scenes before The Paddy Lincoln Gang?  In a lot of bigger budget films, lovemaking scenes feel very forced and excessive, but your scene with Dean was actually emotional and tasteful.  Were you intimidated when you learned you were going to have to do that scene?

AL:  NO!  I had never shot a love scene before.  When I read that in the script, I was so nervous and it was one of the first conversations between Ben and I.  He listened to my concerns and he told me how he envisioned it and we worked it out.  

I am not one for gratuitous nudity and such. I think you can shoot love scenes with out being graphic and still get the emotion and intensity across and I feel like we did.  This was a true and real moment in Rob and Leyla's tumultuous relationship, not because of the lovemaking but you could see the melancholy of their relationship, their playful banter and then catch a glimpse of  how much he adored her and how she was affected.  Julien Diaz's haunting composing for that scene add to the emotion of it so wonderfully.

From the beginning, there was a level of respect and that carried into that shoot day -- Day 3, by the way!  Ben took Dean and I aside that morning and detailed what he wanted and blocked out a few specific moments he wanted and their specific reasoning for the characters and the story.  It was not just a love scene.  There was a feeling and an idea of the characters that Ben was creating.  

Both Ben and Dean were very respectful as was the rest of the all male crew. You always hear about how technical and laborious love scenes are, but this was the opposite.  Ben called action and basically just let us go.  If he needed something specific to happen, he said it quietly, but for the most part we were free to be in the moment as Rob and Leyla.  During editing I was able to give final approval on the cut. There are some facial expressions I wish could be cut but that's just my critical eye (laughs).

FCFR  Your performance felt genuine and effortless.  How much of Leyla is real life Amy Lawhorn? 

AL:  Ah, thank you very much!  That means a lot to me, to have a performance called genuine and effortless.  If I can achieve that in every role, then part of my work has been done!

With each role I search for the similarities I share with the character.  While Leyla's actions/reactions aren't necessarily always reflective of me personally, we are very similar.  For starters, we have a sweet spot for tall men with chiseled good looks and accents! (laughs) We are both sensitive but tenacious, feisty, and enjoy playful/witty banter.  I feel connected to Leyla's need to know Rob more than he has allowed her to.  I know when I am in a relationship with someone I don't like feeling like I am only getting part of them as if they are hiding an aspect of their life or who they are from me.  It's a form of betrayal.  Leyla feels this with Rob and it creates tension between them when she tries to dig it out of him.  You don't learn much, in depth, about Leyla outside of her relationship with Rob and a bit of her interaction with her brother Tom and the other band members, but you get a sense of unrest from her in regards to her life and her place or importance in Rob's life.  I know I have personally experienced that throughout my life but in different circumstances. However, there is a recklessness within Leyla that leads her to actions that I would not venture.

The subject of cast for this film is an interesting one, because to me, in how I have grown to know and observe the 4 main guys (Dean, Joe, Richard, and Demetri) they were cast very close to type and possess similar traits to their characters.

FCFR:  You've made appearances on big name television shows, such as "Bones", "Parenthood" and "United States of Tara".  How does acting in those types of roles differ from a smaller movie like The Paddy Lincoln Gang?

AL:  In general,TV is a different medium.  My TV roles so far have been small, so the work load has been less.  There wasn't much character work or prep to be done.  With my character on "Parenthood", I did have more to work with in regards to creating a personality, but with all of those I was there on set for one day, did my part and left. 

On the "United States of Tara"set I did get some downtime to chat with John Corbett, whom I was working with, but in general doing a day on an established TV set, there really isn't the homey feeling you would have had you been on the show for a while, or what I felt working on PLG.  [I'm] grateful to no end for every role I get, [but] there really isn't a comparison to doing a few lines on a TV show and a lead role in a film except know your lines, be ready to work, and be respectful of everyone on set. 

With PLG I did come into a situation where I was the "new kid on the block", but the atmosphere was one where I easily fell into their banter and rhythm as if we had know each other for years. There was definitely more time to develop a connection with my castmates.

I shot the feature film, Gone, with Amanda Seyfried, a few months before PLG which was a huge production. Everyone was welcoming and warm and it was a great space to watch and learn. Still, however, the feeling of working on an indie feature is unique and something special.

FCFR: Could you tell us a little bit about your next projects, horror film Scream at the Devil and the drama I Love You, which was released this past January?

ALScream at the Devil was fun and a deviation from roles I had been cast in.  The main character suffers from hallucinations and is quite possibly possessed, and my character Lili was one of three girls who were torturing her, or so she conjures up in her head.  At one point the makeup went a little freakishly fun with pale skin, dark eyes and yellowed teeth.  I was in England for the PLG UK premiere at The St Albans Film Festival when they screened Scream at the Devil, so I haven't seen it yet.

I Love You deals with a man's search for something better than what his life is now and it leads him down a dark personal path. My character, Veronica, is the lead's girlfriend (seeing a trend here?) who ends up being betrayed but finds it in her heart to forgive.

FCFR:  What's up next on your plate?

AL:  I just finished working 3 days on the film Devil's Carnival 2: Alelluia, led by SAW II-IV director, Darren Lynn Bousman.  Such a fun film to be a part of!  The costumes, make-up, cast, and locations were so fantastic!

I've begun focusing on my first artistic love, singing, and just performed live for the first time (aside from a small performance for an industry night my acting class hosted) since 5th grade. The fire has been lit and I am looking to work on some covers and record them!

I also started doing a little bit of stand-up comedy as well, although that is just for fun.

The other portion of my time outside of career is finding ways to help bring more love and healing into the world.   I am working with an organization called True Connection and I love it. We work with kids and teens who are in lower economic neighborhoods helping them learn to cope with trauma through mediation, exploration of emotions and their connections with our physical bodies, and art therapy. 

Through True Connection, I  will soon be working with girls ages 12-19 who have either been removed from their homes, are on probation, or were taken out of prostitution.

My friend Mia, who also works with True Connection, and I also started a Facebook page called Perfectly Imperfect: An Empowerment Movement and through it we are developing a project that helps build up people's view of themselves and encourages them to take down the masks we all wear to create false images of ourselves to fit what our media driven society has created.

On another note, we are planning a trip to Thailand in December to work with one of my favorite animals -- elephants -- at rescue sanctuaries there!

FCFR: Do you have advice for young actresses who are just starting their careers?  What sort of advice do you wish someone would have told you when you first began acting?

AL: Ah, I will try to keep this one short because there is so much!

First and foremost, do not sacrifice your morals or standards just to get a role or a paycheck.  I think that advice can apply to both men and women, but I think for females in the business it is a more oft situation to find one's self in.  No job is worth sacrificing your dignity.

Study, study, study and not just acting, but study people and history..everything that interests you and throw in some that doesn't for the challenge. Soak up as much as you can in life because you never know when a role will require some of the knowledge.

Believe!

Don't be afraid of the ugly, dark, messy roles because those are much more fun.  Know your type.  Be confident but not arrogant.  Surround yourself with positive people who are supportive but who are also honest.  BE KIND TO OTHER ACTRESSES!  You are not competing with them.  Always know it's more important to book the audition room than it is to book the role, because if you don't get it this time, but they liked you, they will for sure keep bringing you back!

I wish someone told me to not run when the work gets emotionally uncomfortable because I did that early in my studies.  Push through your walls because acting is much more fun and authentic when you can fully immerse yourself in a role.  My acting teacher, director Paul Currie, says it best: "Take yourself to a state of fearlessness in your acting". 

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A huge thank you to Amy Lawhorn for taking her time to answer all my questions so thoughtfully -- say hello to her on Facebook and Twitter and don't forget to buy The Paddy Lincoln Gang on iTunes right now!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Unrelentingly Real, "The Upper Footage" Paints a Disturbing American Horror

THE UPPER FOOTAGE (2013)
Genre: Horror
Length- 87 min
Rating:  NR
Company:  Unknown
Website: Official

A few years back, a video was leaked to the public by way of the internet that showed what appeared to be a young starlet snorting cocaine. 

Who was it?  Chelsea Kane, then on "Dancing With the Stars", said it wasn't her.  Could it be Miley Cyrus?  Demi Lovato?

Or maybe it wasn't even real to begin with . . .

Justin Cole's The Upper Footage is a uniquely 21st century horror film -- a complete product of its time and the commonplace distrust in the super wealthy and their hedonistic pursuit of anything and everything with no regard to who it might hurt.

You MUST watch it.

LYING TO TELL THE TRUTH

The film begins with a documentary feel, with text overlays starting to slip us nuggets of truth couched in fiction, and interchanging the two so fast and furious that after a while we start to forget which is which.

And that's the beauty of The Upper Footage: it could all be real.  Very easily.  There's nothing on display here that hasn't happened a million times all around the world, and it's that knowledge that we are seeing REALITY onscreen that makes its disconcerting tone so powerful.


DIRTY CONTENT

The conceit of this found footage film is that the characters themselves are recording themselves over the course of one crazy night.  Featuring four wealthy characters, their film consists of drinking, doing drugs and talking about how they use people to get what they want.  They mock poor people and treat women like disposable objects.

When their coke dealer bails on them, they go in search of other suppliers.  Drugs secured, they go clubbing and bring home a pretty young woman, a "peasant" (as they call those of lesser financial stature) and binge on drugs and alcohol, hoping to drink and dope their way into her panties.

If I say much more than that, I'm giving away too much.  Suffice it to say that this is a horror movie, and while it's not an overt, graphic horror film and there are no supernatural devices in the plot, it's dark, unflinching and emotionally brutal. 

UPPERS AND DOWNERS

The Upper Footage might succeed at times because of its limited visual scope and lack of flashy shots or intriguing imagery, but there are a few gutsy moves here.  Most notable is when the cameraman ditches the camera beside the dead body of a young woman, resulting in a closeup of her hair.  We know she's dead, and we're left with her while the wealthy bicker and scream at each other in another room. 

Sometimes shots like this work, but other times certain scenes drag on for what seems like forever.  It becomes repetitive, particularly in the last quarter of the film -- we've already heard the "We shouldn't even be here" and "I just want to go home" about 37 times from one character, and then we start hearing it again from another character.

You start to wonder if anything is ever going to happen.

HYSTERIA 

That leads me to the finale.  While I can certainly appreciate the theme -- that the 1% wealthiest portion of the population get away with most anything these days -- it just doesn't feel legitimate here.  The characters are seriously concerned about going to prison, but given their lifestyles, you would think that they would have access to one of the many companies dedicated to playing damage control for the rich and famous. 

All in all, The Upper Footage is an incredible experiment in both low budget filmmaking and the manipulation of social networking in the name of story.  It's disturbing and once you start watching it, you really can't look away until the end.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 3 / 5.  I don't know how much of this movie was actually written, but it works for what it is.  The characters are extremely thin and there's not much going on though and that keeps me from giving a higher score.
Directing: 3 / 5.  I appreciated a few of the gutsy shots, but overall the film felt . . . well . . . like found footage.  There's not much visually exciting about that.
Editing: 2.5 / 5.  Pretty much from the moment the characters get into the car, the movie starts to lose momentum as the shots drag ON and ON.
Sound/Music: 2.5 / 5.  Again, it might be what they were going for but at times it was hard to hear what was said, even with headphones.  The music was very blah pop/dance, as it was simply whatever was on the radio.
Acting: 5 / 5.  The actors and actresses did their very best to make The Upper Footage a believable film, and it's their efforts that take paper thin roles and grant them life.  Literally the entire movie is riding on their shoulders and they carry it like professionals.  I've not seen them before, but I look forward to seeing them a whole lot in the near future!

Unfortunately, I do not know their names, as the whole draw behind The Upper Footage is in its Blair Witch-like realism.  When more information eventually comes out, I will update this review.

Final Grade: 3.2 / 5. 

Don't forget to watch The Upper Footage on Vimeo On Demand and follow the film on Facebook!


Monday, August 18, 2014

"Live an Interesting Life" -- EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW With Producer/Writer Alistair Audsley ("The Paddy Lincoln Gang")

Alistair Audsley began working on screenplays fifteen years ago after attending a Raindance course with John Truby, and he hasn't looked back since.  He penned his first short, "A Night at Robert McAlister's" in 2009, but it wasn't until 2012 that he expanded on that film's storyline and created the film we now know as The Paddy Lincoln Gang, which, according to Audsley's Twitter account, is finally coming out on DVD on the 25th! 

Alistair was kind enough to sit down and exchange e-mails for an exclusive interview about his writing career and, in particular, the musical drama The Paddy Lincoln Gang.

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FCFR: According to IMDb, your first screenwriting credit is the short that would eventually become The Paddy Lincoln Gang, “A Night at Robert McAlister's”.  What brought you to get into filmmaking?  You had success previously as a sprinter at the World Island Games in 1995 and 1997, is that right?

AA: In 2008, I had made a first foray into Los Angeles and it was there I connected with Dean Jagger.  Dean was, I think, doing some additional acting courses at the time as well as making connections and working on a short. We had committed to “do something” and when we were both back, we met up with Ben Jagger and went over a rough "scriptment" they had for a short, which I re-wrote and which would eventually become “A Night at Robert McAlister’s”.

It would be fair to say that my ambition [for a feature film] was there, as was the writing, but it was Dean and Ben Jagger who gave me the impetus and the structure to actually make it happen.
While working as a creative director in advertising, I did have a second career as an athlete. I was UK ranked for several years over 100 and 200m and I originally moved home to the Isle of Man as this gave me a shot at international competitions, winning golds at the Island Games in Gibraltar in 1995 and Jersey in 1997.

Alistair Audsley with star Dean S. Jagger.
FCFR: How much does the feature length film differ from its short film version?  Obviously the former is longer than the latter, but are there any other changes you made to the characters? 

AA: The difference is a real lesson in editing!  We intended to use the short as the "base gravy" of our third act, but in the feature we went back into the footage and Ben selected a lot of new takes.

Early on in the feature production I had discussed using non-sequential editing to add a special energy to the film. Ben really embraced this, as did our editor, Alex Fenn (Gravity), and there is some really ingenious editing in there which pushes the storytelling along. This also helps to truly spread the work from the short film across the whole movie – you don’t see the ‘joins’!

FCFR: The story of Rob McAlister rings true somehow – he's struggling to make a good life for himself in a world of strangers.  How personal was the script to write?  

AA: It is very personal, but perhaps not in an expected way and more about a piece of advice my father gave me when I was growing up. He said that the mark of a great debater was the ability to successfully and passionately argue a standpoint you didn’t agree with, by putting yourself in the position of the other perspective.  Rob is as diametrically opposed to me, spiritually and philosophically as you could imagine!  Ironically, it was quite liberating to try and inhabit a deeply flawed individual and to see the world through his eyes – and that was our lead character. Perhaps the most personal character in the film for me is Dan Craine, the manager (played so well by Stephen Bridgewater).

With screenwriting and film making, the maxim holds that, “If it isn’t on the page, it won’t be on the screen."  I have to say that Dean brought so much to the manifestation of Rob, pushed and pushed by Ben’s direction. The subtle ticks, the intensity – that is all Dean.  He lived the character and found it a very dark place to have to go back there on re-shoots.  Rob is seriously intense!

Alistair Audsley, Katya Audsley and songwriter Colin McGuiness
FCFR: Richard Wagner, Demetri Watkins, Joseph DiMasso and Dean S. Jagger reprised their roles from the short, but the character of Leila is taken on by the more than capable Amy Lawhorn.  What brought about that casting change?

AA: I actually re-wrote part of the narrative we inherited from the short, so that there was an additional twist. In the short, Leila was slightly incidental to the story and I knew that in the feature, she was going to be a major arc.  That meant we needed an experienced "features class" actress who could mix it up with an actor of Dean Jagger’s caliber.  We got that in Amy Lawhorn.  Her performance is exceptional.

FCFR: You are listed as producer as well as writer.  What sort of duties did you end up taking on for the feature film?  While the budget could've been smaller, it was still very small compared to Hollywood films.

AA: The role of the producer still remains a rather ambiguous one since it is so wide – it’s easy to describe the writing duty.  You’re there to protect your director and his vision while also making sure the commercial side is being met. You’re people-pleasing and whip-cracking.  That’s producing!

The overall top line concept of making a film about a band was mine and that meant pulling together not just the feature film production – the finance, some of the practical filmmaking team, but also the music side, especially the rock band songs and production.  And then of course you then have the marketing and distribution – marketing is my day job so that has been a useful string to bring into it.  Distribution took a long time – we kissed a few frogs at film markets.  However I am delighted to have Bulldog on board.  They are doing a great job.

The budget was small and we felt that all the way through since we were making the film as we financed it, resulting in a series of shoots and then post-production. We actually invested a lot of money into post – it really does make a difference in giving a feature a cinematic feel rather than that bland in-digital camera look you see with some low budget features. Ben in particular wanted to go shot by shot on the color grade and was in the suite with the post-team for weeks. But it was worth it. In terms of "finish", The Paddy Lincoln Gang stacks up with anything on screen. I am really proud of that and what the team achieved.  

FCFR: Stephen Bridgewater does a fantastic job as Dan, the manager of the band.  How did you manage to get him onboard?

AA: Stephen is actually my writing partner on a couple of other projects.  He is also one of the top acting coaches on the planet and has done great character roles in films like 21 Grams, Mississippi Burning, Twelve Monkeys, etc.  What an actor!  I guess he came on thanks to the other aspect of producing – calling in favors from friends.

FCFR: When you sit down to write a script, do you have a process or is it more “fly by the seat of your pants”?   

AA: When you start out, I think you tend to think you are the one exception on the planet who can do it by the seat of his pants. Then you realize you can’t.

I was lucky in that I learned structure quite early and then devised my own methods of developing beats.  I don’t do anything magical.  I try a logline.  If that works, I do a synopsis and if that still excites me, a treatment and from there I get to a first draft.

I like to prep thoroughly and then write like crazy – the energy and spontaneity comes from writing fast. The making sure it is any good – that comes from prep.

FCFR: What projects do we have to look forward to from you in the near future?

AA: I have written a major drama/action film called Full Throttle: From Paris to Dakar. That is being produced by Moonlake Entertainment in Austria and is based on the true story of an amazing rider, Heinz ‘Kini’ Kinigadner. Talking of prep, I spent time in Austria and the Tyrol with Kini – he is a legend and one of those true heroes you very rarely meet.  It is an incredible story as well and great to have written a film of that size, which shoots early next year.

FCFR: What advice can you give aspiring screenwriters everywhere?  What advice do you wish you'd been given when you initially sat down to write the original short, “A Night at Robert McAlister's”?

AA: Functionally, master the craft and especially structure.  Live an interesting life and draw from that.  

Remember that film is a commercial enterprise.  If you want people to buy your script or invest in your film, they have a right to make their money back.  So it is your responsibility as writer to think about where the ultimate sale comes from for the film when creating an appealing story with interesting characters. 

Take it from me, if no one is going to buy your film, nobody is going to invest in it!  And 120 unproduceable pages in a drawer isn’t a screenplay.  It’s kindling.

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Thank you to Alistair Audsley for taking the time to answer our questions, and don't forget to visit his Twitter and check out The Paddy Lincoln Gang because it's coming your way very soon!



Saturday, August 16, 2014

"We're the Millers" A Laugh A Minute, Despicable R Rated Comedy

WE'RE THE MILLERS (2013)
Genre: Comedy
Length- 110 min
Rating: R
Company: New Line Cinema / Warner Bros.
Website: Official

David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) has a major problem: he's lost all the drugs he was supposed to be selling after a scuffle involving neighbor kid Kenny (Will Poulter), small time thief and big time homeless girl Casey (Emma Roberts), and some thugs.  David's boss, Brad (Ed Helms) isn't too understanding about the whole thing and basically tells him that he can either be murdered or take on a suicide mission to smuggle drugs across the Mexico border. 

Does this sound funny yet?  No?  Well, fortunately David decides to bring Kenny and Casey and local stripper Rose (Jennifer Aniston) along for the ride to pose as his fake, super happy family (the titular Millers) in the hope that border police will just wave them through.

Or something like that.

FUNNY THING . . .

David and Rose are despicable people.  Kenny's just turned 18, and Casey is the same age or slightly older, but that doesn't matter to these two.  Kenny is an over the top nerdy virgin whose mother is never around because she's too busy out partying.  Casey bounces from house to house, choosing to move when she can't get anything more out of where she's at.

Come to think of it, everyone in this film is despicable, with the possible exception of Kenny, who is portrayed as too stupid to even honestly know what is really going on in the first place.

And yet, strangely, none of this really matters in the context of the film because We're the Millers is hilarious.  Not just funny, not just laugh out loud funny -- it's HILARIOUS.  There's a particular gag involving a spider and testicles that has to be seen to be believed.

YOU'RE IN THE FAMILY NOW

Great cameos aplenty here as well.  We've got Thomas Lennon of "Reno: 911" fame with a funny little aside ("Wow, you could die tomorrow and who'd ever know?"), we've got Nick Offerman from "Parks and Recreation" as a DEA agent on vacation who becomes fast friends with the Millers.  There are great lines aplenty, to the point where if you laugh too much you might miss the next joke.


There's a few plot twists along the way and characters behave in ways that don't make much sense, but that doesn't much matter because this is a joke driven movie and as such it succeeds.  The only issues that come up are when the writers (there are four of them) have painted themselves into a corner -- particularly the part toward the end at the border checkpoint.  Deus ex machina, anyone?

Is it rewatchable?  Maybe once, to catch the jokes you laughed over the first time around.  But overall, no, it isn't rewatchable.  It's the film equivalent of fast food: in one end, out the other.
But it is really entertaining all the way down.

OVERALL SCORES:


Writing: 4 / 5.  The characters are despicable and largely a miserable lot, the plot is questionable to say the least but the jokes are amazing and they fly so fast that you won't notice until the end credits.
Directing: 3 / 5.  No visuals stood out to me and Rawson Marshall Thurber did a serviceable job.
Editing: 3 / 5.  The only scene that slowed the film down was when Jennifer Aniston put on a very PG-13 strip tease at the end of the film.  It took forever to get through and just felt awkward.
Sound/Music: 3.5 / 5.  Everything sounded as it should, a professional show throughout.  I particularly enjoyed Will Poulter's version of "Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls" by TLC.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Very good acting across the board -- to be expected with a star studded cast such as this.

Final Grade: 3.5 / 5. 

You can buy We're the Millers on Amazon right here and don't forget to follow the film on Facebook!



Thursday, August 14, 2014

"Cultivate Your Passion": EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW With Film Composer Julien Diaz ("The Paddy Lincoln Gang")

Credit: Alessandro de Michieli
At only 27, French born film composer Julien Diaz has scored five feature films and numerous short films fresh out of EICAR, the International Film School of Paris, where he graduated in 2008.  His first feature, The Paddy Lincoln Gang (check out the review here), will be released in the near future on DVD -- more details pending when I hear it -- but you can hear the soundtrack right here at his official website.

His work is stylish and minimalist at times, fervent and powerful when the scene calls for it -- you can call the music many things, but the one word I would use would be tasteful.  He never oversteps his bounds throughout The Paddy Lincoln Gang, supporting the film's visuals with equal parts strings and rock inspired rhythms.

Julien Diaz was kind enough to sit down and answer my questions about The Paddy Lincoln Gang, his own pursuit of the musical dream and the nuts and bolts of tackling a film project as a composer.

* * * * * * 

FCFR: What led you to pursue music?  Has it always been a particular instrument you've been drawn to, or is it more composition as a whole that attracts you to music?

JULIEN DIAZ: I have been attracted to music since an early age.  I started to study music and the piano at the age of 4.  When I was 12, I learned the guitar.  During my teens I was really into guitar only.  I had a few bands playing different types of music for which I was writing tracks.  At around 16 years old my interest turned to film music and the symphonic orchestra in particular.  I loved the complexity of the orchestral sound, I loved its dynamics and the endless possibilities it offered, so I focused on studying it.

FCFR: Who are your musical inspirations?  What soundtracks have made a particular impact on the way that you do your own writing?

JD:  Making a list would be far too long but if I have to choose five composers I admire, I would say John Powell, Harry Gregson-Williams, Brian Tyler, John Williams and Hans Zimmer.

The soundtracks that changed my perception of music were The Good, The Bad and the Ugly by Ennio Morricone that I discovered in my early childhood, Les Choses De La Vie by Phillipe Sarde, Edward Scissorhands by Danny Elfman, The Rock by Hans Zimmer that I first heard during my teens.  All the James Bond soundtracks I love immensely.   The Lord of the Rings by Howard Shore, Memory of a Geisha by John Williams, The World of Narnia by Harry Gregson-Williams, The Dark Knight by Hans Zimmer and more recently Intouchable by Ludovico Einaudi and Brake by Brian Tyler.  

Obviously I forget thousands of others.

FCFR: You've worked on a number of short films in addition to feature length works.  Do you find either of these more difficult to score than the other?  What unique challenges do you have to address in each?

Credit: Alessandro de Michieli
JD: I think short and feature films are the same thing, I don't find one more difficult than the other.  

The goal is always to score music which is at the service of the film and to enhance the feelings created by the action.  Obviously a feature film is way more work than a short, but I love feature films as they allow more work around the themes, they give more time to understand the characters and to go deep inside the plot musically.  The challenges are the same, I think: be accurate, efficient, and creative but a feature film is more pressure due to the quantity of work and the short deadlines.

FCFR:  How did you come to be involved with the Jagger brothers?  Were you involved in the "One Night at Rob McAlister's" short as well?

JD:  I didn't score "One Night at Rob McAlister's".  I simply contacted the Jagger brothers one day as I was looking for a new project.  Dean called me straight away telling me they were looking for someone to score The Paddy Lincoln Gang.  I instantly loved the story, the concept, and the crew.  I simply felt straight away the amount of talent and the determination of Dean and Ben so I accepted to get in.  Let's say I have been lucky.

FCFR:  What attracted you to The Paddy Lincoln Gang?  Similarly, what do you look for in other films that will make you want to score the film in general?

JD:  I loved the story of the film.  I was really inspired by this character, Rob, who tries hard to make his way in the music industry and to keep his life together.  How do you not feel for this guy when you are a composer?  I really identified myself to him.  Moreover, when I saw the film, I was been blown away by its quality, its photography, the talent of the actors, the imagination and the hard work of the director.  Nothing was done approximately on this film and this attracted me a bit more.

For me, a film has to be well done -- well directed, I mean -- it has to be strong, well played and most of all it has to have a human aspect.  It has to have potential, a solid base where the music will be able to grow nicely to reinforce what is already here. It has to simply be inspiring.

FCFR:  As a modern composer, you had literally hundreds of instruments at your fingertips to choose from when it came time to compose the score for The Paddy Lincoln Gang.  How did you settle on the minimalist, rock tinged palette you eventually used?

JD:  Very simply, actually.  Rob, the main character, is a rock star. As the film is his story and the [main driving force] of the band, the choice of the instruments was quite easy to do.  He is the singer/guitar player of the band so I decided to focus on the guitar for this soundtrack. I used the guitar in every possible way, recording all the possible sounds you can extract from an electric and an acoustic guitar.  From the usual guitar chord to violining, smashing the instrument on the floor, breaking strings, playing with natural distortion, feedback . . . I did everything possible with the instrument in order to have a sound palette as large as possible to follow the evolution of Rob and of the band.  

I wanted a soundtrack as authentic and as true as this guy so I stayed minimalistic.  Then the more the character was evolving, the more I was enlarging my palette of sounds.

FCFR: What were you hoping to achieve with The Paddy Lincoln Gang's score?  What do you think of it now as a finished work, two years later with the film finally about to be released?

JD:  At that time, The Paddy Lincoln Gang was my first feature film soundtrack.  As a result my first goal was to make it, to make it on time and to make it well.  The score alone is 57 minutes long and we had four weeks to score it so my main concern was delivering the best score possible within the deadline. 

Then, artistically, I wanted it to be as honest as possible, as accurate as possible. We spent hours with Ben talking about his characters.  I wanted to be "realistic" in my approach, efficient and simple. Moreover I wanted the music to embody Rob's character and his deepest feelings. His relation with Leila was also something I really wanted to represent and to underline as it is on screen. Dean [S. Jagger] and Amy [Lawhorn] played so perfectly well those characters that I needed the music to be as true and honest as they were.

Two years after, I still think the goal has been reached thanks to the great work of the cast and crew who created this truly inspirational film and to the talent and dedication of the director.

FCFR: When you agree to work on a film, what is your working process like?  Do you absorb the film a few times before starting to work on the music?  Do you already have some pre-written motifs in mind when you start?

JD:  My working process is always the same: I watch the film with the director and do a spotting with him.  When this is done, I start scoring as fast as possible following the spotting.  Every time a scene is scored, I send it straight away to the director who can follow the progression of the scoring and give me feedback on what has been done.  Involving the director in the scoring process is very important to me as it allows me to better understand the characters, the story and to not forget anything. When we have the full score, we watch the film with music to see if we didn't forget a scene, a concept or anything and then we start the scoring process again from the beginning, reviewing every track, updating them one by one and focusing on the orchestration but also the synchronization.  That way of working allows us to have time to think about the previous tracks, what worked, what could be updated.  It gives us a fresh eye/ear when we review everything and this is very important to me.  When everything is reviewed, the score is complete.

I never watch a film more than once before I start scoring.  When I watch a film without music, I have straight away all the elements I need to score.

I never use pre-written motifs or previous work on a film.  I always want my music to be scored specifically for a film, I can have the ideas of the motifs coming to my mind when I do the spotting but most of the time I start scoring them on the film straight away.

FCFR: What projects can we look forward to from you in the future?

JD:  I just finished the soundtrack of a fifth feature film entitled The Spoiler, directed by Katharine Collins and produced by Orpheus Films, Wild Frontier Productions and the British Filmmakers Alliance.  This soundtrack should be available on my website in September.  Then for the future, I don't know.  I have a couple of projects in the pipeline but nothing is sure yet.

FCFR: And finally, what advice can you offer young composers just starting out?  What do you wish someone would have told you as a young artist?

JD:  I would love to be in a position to give advice to young composers, but I think scoring music on films is something that every person does in his/her own way.  The only "advice" I could give to any film music composer is to be as professional as possible, to get the director as involved as possible in the process and to never forget the goal of film music which is to serve the film.  Most of all, cultivate your passion.

I have been lucky enough to have composers, producers and directors, around me.  As a result, I knew what to expect from an artist life when I started my career.

* * * * * * 

Thank you again to Julien Diaz, the smart and talented film composer of The Paddy Lincoln Gang!  Don't forget to visit his website here and check out his original compositions.  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Strong Performances & Writing Bring The Paddy Lincoln Gang to Red Hot Musical Life!

THE PADDY LINCOLN GANG (2012)
Genre: Drama
Length- 1 hr 30 min
Rating:  R
Company: Belief Films
Website: Official

Rob McAlister (Dean S. Jagger) is living the dream of millions of wanna-be rockers worldwide: his band, the Paddy Lincoln Gang, are being courted by a major record label.  With promises of fame and fortune, a beautiful girlfriend (Amy Lawhorn) and her musical genius brother Tom (Demetri Watkins), it would seem like he has it all.

But something's not right in Paradise, and Rob can't quite put his finger on it.  Is it his bandmates?  His girlfriend?  The label?  Dan (Stephen Bridgewater), his manager? 

Or is it his own mysterious past and the strange hallucinations that have been plaguing him as of late?

Let's find out, shall we?

IT'S ALL ROCK AND ROLL

The Paddy Lincoln Gang is an ambitious rock and roll musical drama shot in England and Los Angeles, an expansion of a short film shot by the same group called "A Night At Robert McAlister's".  The feature length film alternates between an almost MTV style documentary feel and thoughtful, visually stunning sequences.  The result is intense and immediate, and its considerable dramatic weight is capably carried by Jagger in his first starring role in a feature film.

But a musical is nothing without great songwriting, and it is in this department that The Paddy Lincoln Gang truly shines.  From the moody soundtrack courtesy of talented composer Julien Diaz to the original rock songs, this movie really does rock, and it does so on its own terms.  For extra street cred, they brought in Glen Matlock from the Sex Pistols.  He plays himself, because that's what you do when you're a member of one of the biggest punk bands to have ever existed.

The thing about The Paddy Lincoln Gang is that, yes, it's about rock and roll, and how bands are always one bad decision away from imploding, but at the same time it's about creativity, and how difficult it is to try to live the creative life in today's world.  Creative work, whether it be music or a movie or a novel is born out of the writer's most internal struggles, his or her deepest and often most unstable emotions.  To then have that incredibly personal statement -- one's art -- reduced to a business person's financial investment and therefore ultimately disposable is incredibly disheartening.

When you get right down to it, that kind of stress is enough to drive anyone a little mad.

Other than a few missteps in the writing, which I'll get into below, I had a whole lot of fun with The Paddy Lincoln Gang.  It's one of those rare independent flicks that is both affecting and delivered professionally on every level.
 
Do NOT miss this one!

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing:  4 / 5.  Brilliantly written and thematically challenging and intimate script from Alistair Audsley with contributing writer credits to director Ben Jagger and his brother and lead actor Dean Jagger.  I didn't give a 5 because while the film is funny at times and almost heartwarming in others, the tonal shift at the finale was jarring and took me out of the film for a moment.  In addition, bass player Rick (Richard Wagner) came off as an aggressively mean pervert, which makes me wonder how Rob McAlister could view him as a brother in the first place.
Directing: 5 / 5.  Ben Jagger pulls out all the stops here with a really good documentary feel for much of the film, but he also brought out really stirring visuals and stylish shots, like that crazy basement hallucination scene toward the end.
Editing: 4 / 5.  Alex Fenn took on editing duties for this film and his work kept the film punchy by moving at a quick pace. 
Sound/Music: 5 / 5A beautifully understated, rock inflected soundtrack from Julien Diaz is a HUGE gold star for this film.  The original punk rock tunes recorded for the film are top notch, with "A Friend Is An Enemy" over the end credits as a particular stand out. 
Acting: 4 / 5.  Dean S. Jagger puts on a varied and very emotional show.  Stephen Bridgewater put in a perfect "I'm in control" performance, subtle but powerful.  Joseph DiMasso played Steady Eddie, the not so steady drummer, and he brought a devil-may-care attitude, humor and just a pinch of seriousness and sold me on his character through and through.  Lawhorn did well with what she had, which was basically the long suffering girlfriend stereotype.  Wagner and Watkins each have their "off" moments, but they both have enough charisma to make you ignore those faults.

Final Grade: 4.4 / 5.

If you like drama and rock and roll served up with a slice of pathos, you will LOVE The Paddy Lincoln Gang.  If you aren't so much into rock but you like movies, you will STILL love this film.  Don't miss out! 

Stay up to date on current updates and the coming DVD release by heading over to the official site and follow The Paddy Lincoln Gang on Facebook while you're at it!



Saturday, July 26, 2014

High Minded "Darkness Descends" A Thoughtful But Actionless Thriller

REDEMPTION: DARKNESS DESCENDS* (2014)
Genre: Action / Thriller
Length- 96 min
Rating: Unrated
Company: Blue Dragon Entertainment
Website: Official

* Also known as 20 Feet Below: The Darkness Descending.

Deep beneath the surface of New York City exists a warren of tunnels where the homeless, the discarded and the disenfranchised live as second class citizens.  Their plight is shared by a dangerous outlaw named Angel  (world renowned badass Danny Trejo) who runs a war of terror beneath the streets in an attempt to incite a riot that might unseat the government.

Enter Jake (Frank Krueger), a tortured ex-cop now living in the underground since his wife was murdered a year ago.  When he encounters Chelsea (Kinga Philipps, best known for TV's "Legend Quest"), a city woman filming a documentary on the underground society, he realizes that he is the only man capable of stopping Angel and his reign of violence.

And . . . ACTION!

Hopefully?

LIFE IS SO COMPLICATED

Redemption: Darkness Descends is a spinoff from the 2009 TV series of the same name, and it's  meant to be a big budget action/thriller -- that much is evident after about five minutes.  Its extremely low budget is made to stretch as far as it possibly can, but the end result makes for a messy, messy film.  It alternates between chronological cinematic coverage of scenes, the stark handheld footage Chelsea is gathering for her film, and white tinged flashbacks.  It's much needed visual variety when most of the scenes looks like a bunch of actors floating around in darkness and/or exchangeable "post-apocalyptic" sets.

Krueger wrote the screenplay in addition to playing Jake, and it is to his credit that the story works at all.  He injected emotional depth into a "been done" plot and actually had me tied into the goings on via Jake's lost wife.  His acting was solid throughout, too.  When he told Chelsea about his wife, and her presence, it was far more affecting than I expected.

Most of the actors put on professional showings, delivering their thin roles as well as possible.  Trejo, on the other hand, is kind of hung out to dry.  Angel basically stands around in shadows and makes remarkably well read (Tennyson, anyone?) speeches to brainless thugs who stand around and nod. 

As well as the emotional side of the script holds up, there are major "dumb moves" that bring the story down.  For instance, Jake chooses to say nothing and FLEES the POLICE after being framed for murder, not even going so far as to shout "I didn't do it!" to his old police friend.

GENRE EXPECTATIONS

For a thriller, there's not much suspense on hand.  There are too many characters, for one thing, and they're all either happy go lucky idealists or goofy lunatics or some combination of the two. No real development takes place.  There are vague threats from Angel, but that's about as far as it goes.

Added on to that is the fact that there is hardly any fighting, with Angel never ONCE getting to put the smack down on anyone, except for a couple "sneak attack" moments.  When Jake punches him, Angel just stares at him like, "I can't believe you just did that!" and then darts back into the shadows.

WHAT?  He's the big bad guy!  He can't wuss out and go running away behind his thugs!

Well, he did, and when the final confrontation comes, and you get to see Angel's true colors . . . well, it's pretty disappointing. 

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  There is a surprising depth to Krueger's script: he makes explicit the class warfare that Americans live with on a day to day basis and addresses the difficulty of creating meaning in a chaotic existence. To some degree, the story is necessarily limited by his budget, but with too many characters (a.k.a. chess pieces) in motion, we never get to know any of them.  In particular, what was Angel's backstory?  He mentions that "we are the unemployed" or something to that effect, but I have difficulty believing he just used to be that guy at Best Buy who gave you the Evil Eye because you beeped going through the detector. 
Directing: 2 / 5.  Marc Clebanoff directed the film and he does what he can, but he has ZERO visual appeal to work with.  All the sets are exchangeable and generic and so dark that you can't see much else but the actors and the occasional graffiti covered wall. 
Editing: 2 / 5.  Austin Anderson is stuck with the unfortunate job of sorting through handheld footage, flashbacks and "ordinary movie" film.  We're shown the same "Those are neat tattoos, what do they mean?" bit about three times.  At a little over an hour and a half, the film STILL feels over long and it sags in the middle.
Sound/Music: 2 / 5.  Nothing sticks out as good or bad.  I enjoyed the end credits song, for what it's worth.
Acting: 3 / 5.  I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the actors on hand, most of which I'd never seen.  Philipps, Krueger, Kristoff St. John as Jake's cop buddy, Louis Mandylor as bad cop and Michael Rene Walton as crazy Skeeter all delivered big time, above and beyond the call of duty for this film.  On the negative side, Angel's Chosen -- ex-wrestler John Hennigan (John Morrison) and Darren Darnborough ("True Blood") among them -- were all flat. 

Final Grade: 2.2 / 5.

Pick up a copy of Redemption: Darkness Descends on Amazon (link for Region 1 -- go here for UK!) and don't forget to visit the official Facebook page and the website!