An Interview With “Maya” Director Veemsen Lama

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By Andrew Buckner

Today I have the honor of talking to filmmaker Veemsen Lama! Welcome! Can you tell us about yourself?

I was born in Nepal and moved to the UK when I was 18. I am a storyteller, a filmmaker, and a YouTuber. I make a new video and upload it onto YouTube every week (www.youtube.com/veemsenlama) – they include short films, music videos, vlogs, etc.
When I was in Nepal and still a kid, we used to watch many Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Van Damme films, which have had a huge influence on me and made me want to tell my own stories. Once in the UK, I had the opportunities to both study film and start making short films.

You taught yourself how to be a filmmaker through YouTube videos and tutorials and similarly themed books while in the British Armed Forces. Later, you studied Digital Film Production at Ravensbourne in London. What was this process of education like for you?

When I was learning from the Internet and books, it was not formal education. Joining Ravensbourne gave me more confidence, more opportunities to network with other filmmakers. Filmmaking is all about teamwork and collaboration.

Film school also gave me the opportunity to use more kits such as good cameras, lighting kit, studios, sound gears etc.

How do you feel your work in The British Armed Forces helped shape the types of tales you tell as well as the narratives you choose to evoke through the medium of the screen?

I think my experience and journey in the military helped me to create and relate many stories. Filmmaking is all about teamwork and collaboration and I learnt exactly the same thing whilst I was in the army. Filmmaking and military exercises are similar in that sense. Also, neither is easy! I think a good director is a good leader because many people rely on his idea, and if he fails with his vision, then the whole film fails and so will the whole team. This is how we learn to complete a mission in the army – with good leadership, good planning, and good preparation, we achieve our aims and it is exactly the same in the filmmaking process.

Lama Maya pic

What brought you to create your wonderful 2015 short, “Maya”?

A couple of years ago, when I went to Nepal, I took a picture of some street kids sleeping next to dogs. I spoke to them on one of the following days and they told me they were homeless, but they still had those dreams, those hopes of being happy, of having a good life. And after that day, I told myself I wanted to make a film about street children, who -despite their horrible situation- still had simple and beautiful hopes and dreams.

There is obviously a theme of love and optimism amid darkness and danger in “Maya” that makes it all the more emotionally stirring. This is also a common theme in your catalogue. What draws you to these topics?

I just want to tell simple stories, stories of those who are poor, those who are suffering and those who keep dreaming no matter what, those who fight and are hopeful in their everyday lives. I like to tell stories people will be able to relate to easily and get involved emotionally with too.

“Maya” is still doing well in film festivals. Congratulations! How vital are these types of gatherings to a filmmaker? Why?

Thank you so much. Stories and films are like our babies. We spend a lot of time in pre-production, production and post-production. We – as filmmakers and storytellers – give our hard work, our sweat, our time and our everything in order to bring our characters to life.

The filmmaking journey itself is an emotional one that is connected to our life, our family and our dreams. It feels relaxing and pleasurable when you know your hard work is appreciated.

I think, as an independent filmmaker, I need this sort of recognition to encourage me to do more, always work harder, and simply keep going.

You have a new short coming out called “Chyanti”. It is currently in post-production and is scheduled to be coming out in the summer. What else can you tell us about this project?

“Chyanti” tells the story of Ram, a guerrilla fighter, a father and a husband who – in the midst of the Maoist revolution – returns home to celebrate the festival of Dashain, only to realize that if he is to feed his family and send his daughter to school, he must sell Chyanti, the family goat, so beloved by his daughter, Sani.

“Chyanti” was really hard to shoot and became a very expensive short film too. I wanted to capture the beautiful mountainous landscape because landscape is one of the characters of the film.

We had to travel to a remote Nepalese village, which was a 10-hour drive from Kathmandu. Furthermore, there were no proper Internet connection, phone signals and electricity. Those really were the main challenges! And then, all of the sudden, the crew started to get altitude sickness too and had to be evacuated by rescue helicopter.

But it was worth it – despite of all those problems, we completed the shoot and returned to Kathmandu safely.

Lama Chyanti poster

Also, you have your own production company. It is called Javiya Films. How did this come about?

I’ve always wanted to have my own production company and when I was in film school it just kind of happened and I created my own brand, which I named after my daughter, Javiya. She is my lucky charm.

You also have a feature length film in the works. What can you tell us about this?

We are in pre-production of some horror projects at the moment and planning for drama films.

What words of advice would you give those who are trying to get started in filmmaking and don’t know where to start?

Technology has made our life much easier, allowing anyone to tell stories, whenever and wherever. So my advice would be: Don’t make excuses if you really want to make films – just tell your stories! Find the best story that’ll get your audience connected and involved. If the story is poor, it doesn’t matter how good the actors are or what cameras you have used, it will fail. Finally, don’t talk about it, just do it. Take action and action creates results.

You have sixteen shorts under your belt. Your earliest was in 2013. It was called “Neema”. How do you think you have grown as an artist in the three years since this project was released?

In 3-4 years, I think I have learnt a lot. All the short filmmaking was part of the learning process. I feel more grown up, more mature in storytelling. I used to focus on cameras and gears but now I mainly care for the quality of the story and the best way to tell it.

Let me give you an example- A film is like a bus and the director is like the driver. All the passengers are like your audience. Once they are on the bus, they care about the journey from A to B. They forget about whether they are standing or sitting when the bus starts. As the driver of the bus, I have to make sure my passengers feel comfortable throughout the journey. Making a film is all about the journey and if the journey (story) is bad, then you’ll have a disappointed audience. It’s as simple as that.

Once your audience is connected and involved in the story, they can forget everything else. Nobody will care what camera you have used or what lighting you have used if the story is good. So the story is –in my opinion- the very first priority.

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You are also a screenwriter, cinematographer, producer, actor, assistant director and camera operator. What draws you to these particular facets of moviemaking?

As an independent filmmaker, you should be able to do a bit of everything, I guess. Sometimes, you might have to act as one army man and if you are lucky then you will have a team of 20-100 people, who will make your life easier and help you turn your vision into a potential blockbuster. It is always good to put yourself in other people’s shoes in filmmaking, but I’d say directing is my bag.

I actually started filmmaking as a cinematographer and I think a cinematographer is the eye of a film; he or she is the one responsible for the visual elements of a film. And I personally like the visual side of filmmaking better than the storytelling. I think I can show more. Which is why it is easy for me to communicate with my cinematographer about what kind of shots I want.

Also, I normally create my own story so that it is easier to envision a film. I am a good screenwriter but I am still learning to write. And if I can write a great screenplay then I won’t have to explain each and every element of my vision to the screenwriter, which would speed up the process.

I don’t like producing because I don’t really enjoy logistics, paperwork, finding funds, etc. I love to be creative and I like that creative process! However, should there be no producer, I’d know how to do the job as I have done that job before.

I played in a few films too when I was at film school and we couldn’t find actors, but I am not really a great actor.

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What modern artists (may it be writers, fellow directors, actors etc.) are you most inspired by? Why? Do you see yourself collaborating with any of these individuals in the future?

Alejandro Inarritu, James Wan, Christopher Nolan have always been massive inspirations. These storytellers have different styles of storytelling. Alejandro Inarritu’s Babel and 21 Grams are so unique in the sense that he connects many stories in one. James Wan style of horror has always inspired me and made me want to make horror films. The way he uses the camera slowly and smoothly, rather than making a lot of cuts, creates scary situations that make people scared and affect them psychologically. Christopher Nolan’s Inception is mind blowing. That will stay in my mind for the rest of my life. I want to make a film like that, one that people will never forget.

You have worked in the genres of romance, action, horror and drama. Is there any other categories you see yourself branching out into? Why?

I am a big fan of horror and drama films. So I will probably start with the horror genre and move to drama and why not become an actor later. Horrors can be done with a smaller budget, so it might be a good way to start.

Do you have any other upcoming projects you would like to discuss?

We are working on some horror features at the moment and plan to shoot next summer. I can’t disclose further information though.

Do you have any final thoughts for us?

Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to share my story and my thoughts. Cheers to you guys for supporting and helping independent filmmakers!

Thank you for your time! I look forward to checking out your upcoming projects!

Lama selfie

*The pictures utilized throughout are credited to ©Javiya Films (http://www.javiyafilms.com/).

 

An Interview With “Trinity” Director Skip Shea

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By Andrew Buckner

Today I have the great honor of speaking with writer, artist, actor and director Skip Shea! Welcome! Can you tell us about yourself?

Thanks for having me. I’m a filmmaker.

What were some of your earliest influences and inspirations?

I was in high school in the 70s. This may just be nostalgia speaking, but I think it was an amazing time for film and filmmakers. And for whatever reason, the people I knew not only talked about actors but we also discussed directors. It was a very small school and I was also involved with theater so we had to be involved in all aspects of production. So we grew to appreciate directors at a very young age. Martin Scorsese, in particular Taxi Driver, and Woody Allen were very big influences at the time. Annie Hall seemed like a revolution of storytelling to me. I was unaware at that point of the influence of foreign films by the like of Fellini or Bergman on his work and all of the rules they broke. I also grew up in a town with a drive-in. Quite a few in the area at the time. So I’d also be able to see films like Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left and Tobe Hopper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. These were not my mother’s Hitchcock films. Which I loved but, outside of Psycho, very safe films. And I loved them. So many films and filmmakers to list. Wicker Man, Don’t Look Now, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Midnight Cowboy, Lenny and All That Jazz. I wanted to create something like that.

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Before being a filmmaker, you were a visual artist. What can you tell us about this time period in your life?

That period has never ended. I started at a very young age. I loved to draw. I would study and copy Batman comic books when I was five years old. By the time I was in 3rd grade I had an illustrated book I put together on display at the Worcester Art Museum. Some sort of display about the local young artist. Something like that.

How did your visual artistry assist you when you first stepped into the director’s chair?

It assisted tremendously. I knew how I wanted to compose each shot. I could easily look at a space and block out what I didn’t need with ease. It makes it easier to communicate with the DP when you know exactly what you want.

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In 1999, you produced, penned and performed a one-man stage memoir called Catholic (Surviving Abuse & Other Dead End Roads). It shares many of the same themes as your 2016 debut feature, Trinity. What can you tell us about this work?

In a lot of ways it’s the same work. In some points, literally. Parts of the one-man show are in the movie. I had an art/poetry exhibit called Catholic Guilt on display in a very small gallery that I helped run, that no one would visit. A very safe way to pretend to be telling my story. A story about surviving clergy sexual abuse. One day two very lovely people came to the exhibit and told me I needed to get this exhibit to New York. And I thought if I could get an exhibit in New York it would be hanging there. But that old love of theater kicked in and I thought I’ll do a one man show in New York. I started writing in in June of 2005 and I was on stage in New York that December. Like Trinity, I felt it is important to tell the story not so much to educate the masses as much it is for others who have suffered through clergy sexual abuse or any type of sexual abuse as a kid. So many end up with addictions or worse, commit suicide. The one-man show had a lot of comedy in it. I wanted to show that is better to make fun of them then give your life to them. It takes work, years of therapy. But it’s worth it not to give another minute to them. Like Mark Twain said, “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”

In 2011, your poetry was used by Jon Faddis, a Jazz trumpeteer, for his Songs of Mourning. This took place at the September 11th Tenth Anniversary Commemorative Concert at Symphony Space in New York City. What was this experience like?

It still doesn’t seem real to me. That was such an amazing honor. Dignitaries like Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor were in the audience. Listening to a jazz great recite a poem I wrote. And it’s really not a poem about the attack as much as it is about grieving. I lost one of my twin daughters, Shawna, in a car accident in 1999. She was 16. Grieving is a very private thing. It has to be. Most people are uncomfortable around it. They don’t want to see it, it makes them feel unsafe. So we do things like give people three days bereavement leave and respect them to come back and be fine and productive. The level of ignorance around the grieving process is staggering. Or its denial. But it became a very public and shared process after the September 11th attack. For a short while anyway. The poem was about our ability to grieve together at that one moment, even if mine was more about my daughter than the nation. But loss triggers loss. Ultimately it’s all the same.

In 2013, you directed the horror short, “Ave Marie”. What inspired this wonderful work of art?

It was a sequel of sorts to “Microcinema”. A woman in a mask extracting justice. Microcinema created a little buzz so I wanted to keep it going while I was writing feature length scripts. I think it was a story on NPR where I heard about Alessandro Moreschi as the last castrato singer. Then I heard him sing. I thought about how insane the notion would be that families would gladly hand their son over to the church, to be castrated to sing for the Pope. And to consider it an honor. It’s crazy. But it really isn’t when you look at the global crimes of clergy sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Church. It’s so bad that the UN wrote two reports on it as crimes against humanity. But how has the world responded? So I wanted to make a piece avenging all of the boys who were castrated. It seemed only fitting to have women do this in the woods, considering how the church slaughter pagans during the Inquisition, destroying the cultural heritage of the regions and then stealing their property. And it was a huge bonus to find Moreschi singing “Ave Maria”, a song to the divine feminine. So the short was born.

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“Ave Marie” was the winner of the Audience Award at the Interiora Horror Festival in Rome, Italy. It was also entered in 20 festivals worldwide. During this time it received awards in Montreal, Canada, Providence, Rhode Island and Tallahassee, Florida. What was this experience like?

It’s a wonderful and very unexpected experience. In particular in Rome. It’s nice to know that a piece you’ve created can have an effect on people.

How important do you think film festivals such as those mentioned above are to making or breaking an Independent filmmaker?

I think it’s so important I’m involved with two film festivals myself. I help with the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival and the Shawna Shea Film Festival which is a fundraiser for the Shawna E. Shea Memorial Foundation, Inc. I work with filmmakers Chris Di Nunzio, Nolan Yee and Jason Miller on Mass Indie and we go to great lengths to support and push true indie artists. It sounds silly to say true indie artists but there is a level of filmmakers who generally pay for their own movie and don’t have big money producers behind them. So they have to be innovative and creative to make their films. And part of our philosophy is that we won’t show a film that we’ve worked on so every minute programmed goes to someone else. Not that festivals who do show their own work are wrong. That’s totally understandable too. It’s a great way to show your film to the people who’ve worked on it. Screening in any festival is important because, and here’s where I answer your question, in order to get to the next level where producers with money exist, a filmmaker needs to have a proven track record. It helps.

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“Microcinema”, from 2011, also had similar popularity and acclaim during its film festival run. What inspired this composition?

Microcinema was inspired by the very tired rape/revenge horror genre. I remember Last House on the Left and I Spit On Your Grave and the impact they had on me. There are so many that copied these movies but went to the gratuitous side. Making us endure brutally long rape scenes. And there is a sub-culture of viewers who get off on this. The types who rate horror movies by blood, gore and boobs. So I wanted to make the anti-rape/revenge movie. I tried to set it up like it would be a formulaic short but turn the tables very quickly where the woman never becomes a victim. And then have a short three minute or so endurance test of a man being brutalized. This isn’t revenge. He pays just for thinking about what he wanted to do to this woman.

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You have stated that “Ave Marie” and “Microcinema” helped make Trinity happen. What can you tell us about the deeply personal and abstract horror gem?

“Microcinema” and “Ave Marie” helped to make Trinity happen because of the success those shorts had, so I was able to gain a certain level of confidence from the cast and crew who would have faith that I could do it as well since most of them know the reason behind telling the story. As I decided it was time to take the next step and tackle a feature, I thought if this is my first, I should make the movie I want to make. The karmic aspects of Microcinema, justice exacted on a sexual predator, and Ave Maria, justice for castrating boys, didn’t get to the core of clergy sexual abuse. That danced around it. The movie I wanted to make would be directly about that subject.

What was the process of filming Trinity like?

My process is the same. I write it. I meet with the actors and DP. Talk about the characters and look of the film. Then shoot it. I know people often think the process of making these movies are cathartic experiences for me. They are not. I’m well beyond that. I would say the one-man show took care of that artistically for me. So it wasn’t as challenging as some may think. Plus it’s a tight schedule. Just have to get it done.

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Besides twelve directing credits currently to your name, you also have a dozen writing credits, five editing and cinematography credits, producer, camera, sound department and even a composer credit for a song you created for the 2010 short, “They Serve Breakfast Here All Day Long”. Have these different experiences helped shape you as a moving picture artist? If so, how?

I got into this late in life. I think this first short I finished was in 2009. I was almost 50 years old. So I viewed shorts like minor league baseball. Learn the process, see the mistakes in production, get it all under my belt so that when I did Trinity I was as prepared as I could be to face the challenges. So doing as many aspects in production on the shorts helped me to learn the process. And, probably most of the time, it was a necessity. Sometimes you just have to do it yourself to get it done.

What among these aforementioned traits do you find most enjoyable to do? Why?

I enjoy it all. I was born a creative type. I don’t know why but it’s what I love to do. As long as I’m creating I’m happy.

Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to tell us about?

I do and not yet.

Do you have any final thoughts for us?

I think I’ve taken up enough of your time. I can get longwinded. Thank you for having me.

Thank you for your time! Best of luck on all your future endeavors!

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An Interview With Actor Timothy J. Cox

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By Andrew Buckner

Today I have the one of a kind honor of speaking with a prolific character actor, Timothy J. Cox! Welcome! Can you tell us about yourself?

Thank you so much for having me, Andrew!

When I first moved to New York City 15 years ago, all I wanted to be was a good supporting actor in the theater. I wanted to do Shakespeare, Chekov, Ibsen…the classics. I loved all of those stock characters…they were all so much fun to play. So for several years, theater is all that I did, with an occasional film job, but in those early experiences, I wasn’t terribly pleased with my work or the overall projects.

In the last 6 years though, I’ve done more film and have come to really love it. I still love the theatre and I would jump into a play tomorrow if the project was the right fit, but right now, my focus and energies are in film.

What were your earliest acting influences?

Movies have always been an influence to me. Even before I was an actor, I was always a fan of the movies, doing impressions of Brando in The Godfather for my family.

From an acting standpoint, the biggest influence on me has been the work of Jack Lemmon. Lemmon was just so familiar up there on screen, with characters that dealt with the comedy and tragedy of every day life. The average Joes. Those characters really appeal to me. Those are the types of characters that I love to play.

What are some of your all-time favorite performances?

Aside from Jack Lemmon, I am also a big fan of anything that has Jason Robards, Albert Finney, Alec Guiness, Kathy Bates, Patricia Clarkson have done. Same goes for Paul Giamatti and William H. Macy. Allison Janney is wonderful in everything she does and to me, Bryan Cranston is a God.

The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) cites you as acting in 117 different titles! That’s amazing! Where do you get this drive from?

It’s simple. I like to work and try to work as much as possible. I get an immense joy from the process and the energy of a film set, plus I learn something new with every role, even the bad ones.

What was your first acting role?

When I was in the 8th Grade, there were auditions for the school musical being held during the school day, during Math class, so I decided to audition just to get out of class. I went into the audition, with no desires or aspirations to be an actor, but the director must have seen something in me because he cast me in the leading role and 25 years later, I’m still doing it.

How do you feel you have grown as an actor in the time since?

Oh, I’m still growing. I think as actors we are all works in progress. That’s the wonderful thing about this work, you never stop learning. You can always dig a little deeper, push a little more. The challenges are what make it great.

You are also a screenwriter. Your credits in this category are the 2011 short, “The Teacher’s Lounge” and “But It’s Valentine’s Day” from the same year. Also, you were the author of the up-coming “Finality” (2016). You also were among the top billed in these works. Comparatively, what is the experience like of conjuring up a character, penning it and then bringing it to life on-screen? Do you think you were successful at portraying the individual the way you imagined him on these occasions?

It was nice to experiment with screenwriting on those occasions. Some of it worked, most of it didn’t, but I will say that I loved to have the opportunity to try. Like everything else that I have done, those screenwriting assignments were interesting learning experiences.

As I mentioned, “Finality” is your latest effort in this category. What can we expect from this undertaking?

I wrote this script a couple of months ago, after reading an article about Bernie Madoff. I wondered what his final moments, before going to prison, were like. I wondered what he felt, if anything in those final moments, so that’s where the idea for the script came from. I presented the script to Matthew and Ross Mahler of 8mm Films, who I really enjoy working with, and they liked it. We had such a wonderful time on “What Jack Built”, that I was thrilled and delighted that they were excited about the project. I’m really looking forward to bringing that one to life.

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Returning to your incredible acting abilities, you recently played the part of Dr. Bradley in a short film which struck a chord with me called “Dirty Books”. What can you tell us about this character?

Dr. Bradley is a genuinely decent man who, I think, secretly admires what David is doing in the film. David’s fighting for something he believes in. Yes, Dr. Bradley needs to maintain order, as part of his position, but there’s also a little twinkle in his eye, especially at the end of the film. I think Dr. Bradley wishes that he had the passion and tenacity to fight for something like that when he was David’s age. That was so much fun to play, so I must credit Zach (director/writer Zachary Lapierre) and Ian (writer Ian Everhart) for penning such an original script.

What was it like bringing Dr. Bradley to the screen?

Zach and Ian wrote such a great script, with characters that felt very real, so I just trusted the material. When you have great material, it makes your job as the actor much easier. You just show up, trust the material and the people around you and great things can happen.

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Another depiction of yours that was tremendously powerful was in Mark Battle’s short film, “Here Lies Joe”. In it you play the head of a group called Suicide Anonymous. His name is Bill. What can you tell us about this experience?

It’s a beautiful film; a wonderful slice of life, served up in such an honest manner by Mark and Pam Conway. I read the part of Bill and I really gravitated to him. Like Dr. Bradley, Bill is a genuinely decent man, the kinds of guys we see every day. Not terribly extraordinary men, but men who go out there in the world every day and struggle and survive through all the madness that is thrown at them. There was an honesty to Bill, a sweetness that was very easy to play. I especially loved that even though he appears in one scene, Mark and Pam made him very real on the page. He jumped off the page for me.

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You were also in the 2015 comedy from director Sean Meehan, “Total Performance”. In it you played Walter Baron. Let’s talk about this character. What was it like?

Walter is a man in a very unfortunate situation. He runs a company with his best friend and the best friend is not cutting it, so he has to fire them, but he can’t get the words together to do it. Again, something drew me to Walter. The words. The character. The situation. Another average Joe. I really like these guys. They’re very relatable. I know them very well.

I knew that the film was going to be something special and unique, as all of Sean’s films have that quality. It’s such a delightfully unique film that cannot really be categorized. It has it all and I’ve been delighted at the reaction that it has received.

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You also brought to life Mr. Bowers in Foster Vernon’s debut comedy, “Hell-Bent”, from this year. What was that like? 

Yes. I just shot that movie a couple of months ago and I am thrilled that it’s out for people to see. I worked for one day and that was a fun experience. It was great to play a real hard ass in the Jason Robards from “All the President’s Men” mold. Just a no-nonsense kind of guy.

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I also see that you have a lot of works that you are featured in that are in post-production. Can you tell us about them?

I have the film One of Too Many written and directed by Amber Robinson of Sustained Entertainment in post. That’s the first part of a two part film series that addresses the recent rise in shootings that have been taking place in the country. I will be working on the second part of the series as well in the fall.

The comedy, “Gary from Accounting”, written by Phoebe Torres and produced by Chirality Films is also in post. I had a lot of fun working on that.

Lastly, I have the magical short, “Mail Time”, from writer/director Sebastian Carrasco. Just wrapped that a week or so ago. I played another average Joe, a real mensch, who gets a little taste of magic.

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Do you have any other up and coming projects you would like to talk about?

I am in pre-production on the web series Shade, in a recurring role, produced by 1 Brain Productions. It’s a great part, so I’m excited to jump into it.

In August I will be working with writer/director John Henry Soto on the short film “And on That Day”, in a fun supporting role. John’s a great guy and I’m really thrilled that I get to work with him.

I’m also in pre-production on a zombie film currently titled Project Z working with writer/ director Daniel Pozmanter. Looking forward to working on a zombie film as I am a big Walking Dead fan.

Do you have any final thoughts for us?

Thank you for having me, Andrew! It’s been a real pleasure. Hope to have more films to share with you in the coming weeks. Thanks for your support of my work and for your support of all film.

Thank you for your time! I look forward to checking out your future works!

You can find out more about Timothy J. Cox at his actor’s site here.

Mr. Cox’s profile can be found on IMDB here.

You can connect with him on Facebook here.

Director, Author Chris Esper Talks “The Filmmaker’s Journey”

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By Andrew Buckner

Today I have the tremendous honor of speaking with writer and director Chris Esper! Welcome! Can you tell us about yourself?

I was born and raised in New Jersey. Growing up, I have always had a lot of love for the arts. As a kid, I thought I wanted to be an actor/comedian like Robin Williams, who was always my favorite. I tried my hand at acting when I was in my teens and part of the drama club. I also tried doing stand-up comedy. I found some success in both areas, but I ultimately felt it wasn’t for me. I was also really interested in puppetry and tried my hand at that as well. Again, I enjoyed it very much, but I felt my talents were in other areas. All the while, I was always a big movie buff and had a love and fascination with movies and most of the arts that I enjoyed always lead back to movies. I think this when I knew I should be in filmmaking.

What was the path to becoming a filmmaker like for you?

My path into filmmaking came to me when I was about 17 or 18 years old, but before that almost everything I did somehow lead back to film and I never truly realized it. For example, when I was 10 years old, I wrote a thirty page script about a boy and his robot which I called Boy Bot. I think I wrote it because I wanted to act in a movie. I was a big Ghostbusters fan and enjoyed comedy and science fiction, so I wrote this story in a similar vein. I also discovered that two of the actors were also the writers, so that convinced me that perhaps I should write something. I kept telling all my friends in school that I was going to make a movie and everybody wanted to be part of it. I went about sending the script to Columbia Pictures, thinking that if they made Ghostbusters then surely they would make mine. About 6 months to a year later, the envelope came back to me with a “Return to Sender” labelled stamped on it. For some reason, this didn’t hurt or cease my passion, even at age 10.

By the time I did reach age 17, I started to see movies in a different way. No longer were movies entertainment, but it was an art form. I trained myself in learning about classic cinema, different directors, etc. I also received my first camera at that age and started making movies on my own. I made a documentary, stop motion animation pieces and most of the time small experimental films and narratives I would star in while also directing, writing, shooting and editing everything. YouTube was new at the time, so I went about uploading these films to a channel. The films were not good by any stretch of the imagination, but other amateur filmmakers were taking note of my work and started following my channel. It was after making these films that I truly knew I wanted to make movies for a living. I found that I could combine all the art forms I grew up to love into one medium while also satisfying my passion for film and storytelling.

Are there any movies or fellow directors you look to for inspiration?

The movie that made me want to make movies was Raging Bull. Martin Scorsese is easily my favorite director. His passion for cinema is contagious and he’s also a filmmaker that’s taught me about the importance of personal filmmaking. To me, Raging Bull demonstrates all that he believes in in cinema and while also showing his own personality on screen. I love how its shot, the atmosphere, the acting and the overall story and how it unfolds. I recall watching the audio commentary and behind the scenes documentary and hearing Scorsese talk about what he wanted to achieve really inspired me. I feel that the rest of his filmography also follows suit with films like Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Hugo, The Last Temptation of Christ, etc. All these films carry qualities of himself as a person while showcasing his deep cinematic desires.

I find that I enjoy movies by directors that are personal stories and also movies that challenge me and take me to another world. I tend to lean towards films by Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, The Shining), Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho, Vertigo), Charlie Kaufman (Synecdoche, New York, Adaptation, Being John Malkovich), Francois Truffaut (The 400 Blows, Day for Night), David Cronenberg (The Fly, The Brood, Naked Lunch), Charlie Chaplin (City Lights, Modern Times), Darren Arronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler), Walt Disney, and Jim Henson.

My other favorite films include dark comedies, animation, sci-fi/fantasy and psychological thrillers. I could go on and on!

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You’ve directed many short films. Among them is “Still Life”, a favorite of mine, which you have said is personal to your own experiences as a cinematic artist. How is this so?

I made “Still Life” when I was just finishing college. It’s a film about dealing with criticism as an artist and learning how to grow from it. At the time, I don’t believe I have ever been given an honest critique of my work until I entered college and we would present our projects to the class. I wouldn’t react negatively towards anybody, but I would beat myself up over any kind of feedback, thinking I failed. That side of me would show easily and many would try explain to me that it wasn’t a bad thing. I didn’t see it that way. So, I wrote the screenplay to “Still Life” as a way to express those feelings. In way, it was a therapeutic film to make because I learned something as I made it and it seems that audiences did too. My attempt was to show audiences that everybody faces of fears of criticism, but have to in order to grow as artists.

What is it like to release something that means so much to you individually out into the world?

It’s so surreal. On the one hand, you’re really excited to share your creation but at the same time you’re scared to death of how it’s going to be received. In the end, it’s one of the most gratifying feelings in the world when you’re sitting in a cinema and watching your film play and watching/listening to how the audience is reacting. This is especially true with comedy. You also know you do a great job when an audience member wants to talk with you further about your themes or how you made the film. That’s when you know your film left an impression on them.

You are currently producing your first feature called Higher Methods. It is going to be directed by Nathan Suher. What can you tell us about the project?

Nathan and I have been good friends for going on five years now. Higher Methods was a play written by Lenny Schwartz (who also wrote the screen version) which is about fame and the price we pay to achieve it. The basic premise is an actor, Matt, is in search of his sister who has been missing for 10 years. This search leads him down a rabbit hole where he comes across an acting class in which the professor employs unusual and sometimes sadistic methods in order to get a performance out of a student. The film then becomes an ultimate question of what is reality and what is fantasy.

I hadn’t seen the play, so when I read the script it was a huge treat for me. I was blown away by it. It’s exactly the kind of film I would direct and/or watch. Nathan had contacted me initially asking me to be the assistant director on the project, which I agreed to. Later, though, he asked me to be in a bigger position of co-producing with him. I was flattered and said “Yes”. We go into production next year.

You’re work has played at many different film festivals. You’ve also received a lot of acclaim for your material in these places. For instance, your short, “Steak Knives”, won the Festival Prize for Best Opening Scene in the Stories by the River Film Festival 2015 and In the Bedroom won the Outstanding Achievement Award for Writing in a Drama Series at the LA Web Fest in that year. How important do you think film festivals are to helping indie directors get their work out and recognized?

I think it’s extremely important. We live in an age filled with media saturation, so it’s very hard to stand out among everyone else who is also making movies. By submitting and then being accepted into a film festival, it shows that you’re standing out among the rest and that your piece belongs amongst other talented filmmakers. Awards are great, too, but just being accepted is a nice honor whether the festival is big or small.

You also have done several music videos. Among the most recent of these is Aaron K. Wilson’s “I Hear the Future”. Is directing a music video a lot like shooting a short film? If so, how?

I love directing music videos. I feel that I have more freedom in that I don’t necessarily have to follow a strict narrative structure with a complete beginning, middle and end. I can play with the medium and do something that is a visually narrative and experiment more so than I could with a short film. I also enjoy not having to think about sound when shooting a music video. It usually makes the day go by a little faster without having to worry about that factor. I do also enjoy doing music videos that include a complete story with dialogue as that’s not always done and its fun doing something different like that.

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You have a book coming out on June 24th, which I highly recommend to everyone, called The Filmmaker’s Journey. It is based on a popular vlog of yours. What was this transition like?

I started the vlog earlier in the year. I have been doing this for about six years and I felt that I had a lot experience to share, especially still at a young age. Ultimately, I wanted to help other filmmakers who are either just starting out or thinking about getting into the field. There’s a lot of things that many don’t tell you before getting into it and I wanted to be the one to say what the realities were while also convincing others that this career isn’t impossible and can be done. The transition from vlog to book wasn’t really too difficult. I pretty much had all the information I wanted to get out there. At that point it was just about expanding upon it in book form.

At what time did this occur?

At the time I decided to write this as a book, I had only been producing the vlog for about a month. I didn’t have a big audience for it at all, but felt it had a ton of potential to be something bigger. I also like to keep my videos short at 5 minutes or less as that usually works well for the internet audience. However, I was a bit frustrated in that there was so much more I wanted to say that I didn’t have to say on video. So, I decided that in order to share my larger ideas and advice, it might be best write it as a book. I had never written a book before, so it was different for me, but also easy because I knew the exactly what I wanted to say.

In the book you share a lot of personal stories, experiences and dispense a lot of helpful advice for aspiring directors. Some of this is your definition of what it means to be a director and detailed explanations of technology and filmmaking. You are even kind enough to give A Word of Dreams a shout out in the “Web Sites to Get Your Film Reviewed” section. Thank you! Of all these bits of wisdom can you share one with us that you feel is among the most important?

You’re very welcome! I would say that most important is knowing that everyone faces all the struggles I mention throughout the book. I cannot stress this enough. I would always read so many biographies about my heroes and film idols, but they hardly ever mentioned what their struggles or failures were before they became the success that we know them to be. I think it’s very important to know that you’re not the only one as it puts things in perspective if they could face failure, you can too. We have a tendency as humans to look down upon failure and try to ignore, but I feel that it should be welcomed in order to understand that as much as it hurts, it’s what drives us to become successful in life. Every career, especially this one, has no clear path. It’s filled with detours and by trying to compare your failures to someone else’s successes if just a waste of energy.

What are the differences and similarities between the process of writing a book and publishing it and creating a film and releasing it?

The most obvious difference is one being so visual over the other. With a book, the goal is to keep the reader interested by creating the visuals through your words. Because I have written screenplays in the past and because I tend to be a visual person this was somewhat easy for me. The hardest part for me was writing sentences that made sense while also getting the point across. With a film, the camera work and visuals usually fill in the blanks but with a book the writer has to do that themselves.

In terms of distribution and releasing, I would say the process is somewhat similar because it’s all about independently releasing your work by way of digital technology. I do have the self- publishing process to be a little harder because it’s so difficult to find people willing to review your book. Many of the writers I found either charge an outrageous amount of money for a review or you genre isn’t what they want. With a movie, I can easily get 20 reviews for a single short film for very little money and also find a number of avenues to show it.

You also have your own production company. It is called Stories in Motion. How did that come about?

I started Stories in Motion in March 2016. By that point, I realized that I had making a living as a filmmaker/videographer for 6 years. But, yet, I didn’t have an identity to follow other than my own name. I wanted to create a production company in order to market myself in a better way and perhaps even create further opportunities for myself. In short time that I have had the company, I am finding more success and opportunities than I did in just using my name for 6 years.

You are currently penning your first feature film. What is this experience like?

It’s a very difficult experience. With short films, I do a little bit of outlining and character development, but for the most part I just dive right in and develop as I write. With a feature, I’m trying my best to do more of that before actually writing the screenplay. To tell you the truth, too, I’m kind of impatient when it comes to writing because I like to just get started and see what happens and experiment. I often feel tied down by first formulating what happens on each page and when a certain beat of the story should happen. Perhaps it’s not the best way to work, but I find it works best for me. It gets easier though as I do more pre-planning.

What can we expect from this work?

I’m trying to keep the overall story and premise under wraps at this time, but, much like “Still Life”, it’s a very personal story. The main character is basically myself and it’s also a psychological drama with similar elements as the films of Charlie Kaufman.

What do you want your audience to take away from your material?

I like to make an audience think while also relating to them on an emotional and personal level. I would hope that an audience walks away from one of my films still thinking about it, relating to the characters and maybe even take action for themselves or for somebody else.

Do you have any other upcoming projects you would like to tell us about?

Yes, there’s lots of exciting things happening. My short film, “Please Punish Me”, is currently making its rounds on the festival circuit and just got into its 13th festival. I’m also in the process of finishing production on my latest short film, “A Very Proper Man”, which I’m hoping to release later in the year. My company also optioned a couple of short screenplays for this year including Pride and Money and Smartphone by the very talented Brian Pickard. Both will be produced in 2017. The company also recently optioned The Deja Vuers by Jason K. Allen. That project will be going into production later this summer. Finally, I’m going into production along with Massachusetts based production company, Stories by the River, this fall on a short comedy film I had written.

Do you have any final thoughts?

Thank you so much, Andrew, for the interview and your continuous support of independent cinema!

Thank you for your time! I look forward to all your upcoming works!

You can pre-oder The Filmmaker’s Journey on Amazon here.

You can connect with Chris Esper on Facebook here.

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An Interview With “Lilith’s Awakening” Director Monica Demes

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By Andrew Buckner

Today I have the great honor of speaking with writer and director, Monica Demes! Welcome! Can you tell us about yourself?

I’m a guardian of the old times, an owl, a storyteller.

What initially drew you in to screenwriting and directing?

I have always been a filmmaker. It’s part of me. I have no other way in which I can express myself better. Without it I would be lost.

Do you have any specific filmmakers or movies which you turn to for inspiration?

Repulsion from Polanski, The Hunger, The Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive (Lynch).

All of those are excellent choices! I highly recommend them as well. Your first short film, “Rose”, was made in 2003. What was that experience like?

“Rose” was shot in 16mm black and white in NY. And the first time I saw that short in the Theater was a big deal to me. I really felt overwhelmed. With that short I learned that a film is never completed until the audience sees it. And you know what? I also learned back in those days that film festivals are wonderful places. After all the work you have doing the film (and the one who makes films know the amount of work I’m talking about). There’s nothing like being surrounded by people who love films and that want to see your work. I really enjoy festivals.

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How do you feel you have grown as an artist in the thirteen years since “Rose”?

It’s funny… Somehow on one level, I feel I’m just the same, someone who uses dream and intuition to create, and “Rose” and “Halloween” were the natural steps of story-telling to get to Lilith’s Awakening. But on another level, I feel I learned so much.

You collaborated with the artist, Carmela Calvo, for your initial animated short, “Halloween”. How was this different than putting together a live action work?

When I direct actors I have the control of everything and I will also directed the DP towards what I want in terms of photography. I establish the mood, the look and the pace of the whole film. With Carmelo our interaction was complete. His work was as important as mine in terms of building the mood, look and atmosphere that “Halloween” had to have.

What was it like to hear that “Halloween” had received the interest of the cinematic maestro, David Lynch?

I was overwhelmed. And that was the only reason I got an airplane and decided to shoot my first feature in America.

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Your latest work, which you mentioned earlier, is your first full-length fictional film. It is a brilliant vampire picture called Lilith’s Awakening. What inspired this mesmerizing production?

Transcendental Meditation. I used it to dive into my unconsciousness and came up with one of the scenes. The one where Art meets the mysterious woman on the dark road. After I came to that scene through intuition, I asked my intellect, “Why did I write that scene? What does it mean?” And I came to the conclusion I wrote that scene because I was tired of seeing women raped in films, especially in horror. In those kind of films they are usually portrayed as victims. So I said, “What if it’s reversed? What if something really bad happens with the rapist instead? That was the seed of the entire screenplay. Also, when I meditate I connect a lot with the energy of the place. The Victorian times of Dracula can be easily found in the American Midwest nowadays. Long cold winters, distance, loneliness, sexual repression. And vampire tales are all about sexual repression. So I started to used the line “what if…” meaning: what if instead of a prince of the darkness, that seduces Lucy and take her away from her beloved Jonathan and society. It is a woman in his place, a princess of Darkness? What if …that princess lives inside Lucy’s head? In her dreams? What if she was Lucy’s shadow, her hidden part?

That is a fascinating insight into your creative process. Thank you. From the time the writing began until the work was complete how long did it take to create Lilith’s Awakening?

One year and 8 months.

In your latest masterpiece you are writer, director, producer and editor. What is it like contributing in all these different technical arenas for a single project?

(Laughs) It’s crazy. You are so much involved in the project that you don’t have a life anymore. It’s all about the film.

Do you think your studies in Law at Rio de Janeiro and lessons at the School of Actors TAI in 2001 helped shape your abilities and discipline as a filmmaker? If so, how exactly did they do this?

I certainly developed a sense of the civilization that surrounds me studying law and studying acting in Europe. And that certainly shaped my points of view. And when you make a film this is basically what you do: you show the world your point of view about something.

Acting also helped me in other levels, though. I don’t think I could direct actors the way I do if I haven’t acted, for example. And acting also helps me to write.

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What do you want audiences to take away from your work?

The experience I had until now is that people connect in very different levels with this film. Each and every experience is so different. I think that’s going to be between the film and the audience now. I was just a medium for the story to come out.

Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to tell us about?

I’m working on the screenplay for a thriller in a music conservatory.

Do you have any final thoughts for us?

It’s a dream come true to screen this project at Dances With Films at such an iconic theater as the Chinese. Come join me on June 11. It’s going to be fun!

Thank you for your time, Monica! Lilith’s Awakening plays at 11:45 p.m. on June 11th at the Dances With Films Festival in Los Angeles. You can get tickets here.

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