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Horror Movies the New 'in' Indie

By Karen Melgar


 

MV5BMTA3MjY4NzIzNjVeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU3MDI3OTAyMTg. V1 Deep in the woods of Siberia, there is an abandoned building haunted by pain and suffering. Nearby, 34 unidentified bodies were found and never investigated upon.  Five people come in to film an investigation for the paranormal television series Darkest Secrets and are never heard from again. This is the premise of the 2013 Best Sci-Fi/Horror Feature winner at the London Independent Film Festival. The feature is called Entity (2012), and it was director Steve Stone's debut film. The
dsc00819horror genre has, in recent years, a certain clout that perhaps it didn't before. The reason is probably that box-office hits such as The Sixth Sense (1999), The Ring (2002), and The Conjuring (2013), draw crowds of regular moviegoers looking for a scare as well as the hard-core horror-genre aficionados. 

From the early days of film, there existed a subculture of horror-genre fans. The German Expressionist movement is synonymous with films like Nosferatu (1920) and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), which for their day were frightful and had their admirers. More importantly, these German Expressionist films influenced the next generation of directors with their advanced techniques and styles. These directors would go on to create some memorable horror films, like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). From these German roots, horror films have evolved to fit the times – the  ever-popular invasion films of the 1950s, like I Married A Monster From Outer Space (1958) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), externalized fears of a Communist invasion.

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Today, the horror genre is stronger than ever. On the list of Forbes' Top Grossing Scary Movies of All Time, only three out of 17 were produced before 1990, and on Business Insider's list of Twenty Top Grossing Horror films, only two were made before that year. While the surge in horror films' popularity can be attributed to a number of factors, including a desensitization of audiences and an ever-growing need to enjoy blood and gore, it isn't just big-budget films that are getting in on the action. Independent features are getting in on the horror movement. Horror-genre fans set up independent film festivals exclusively to enjoy their fascination with fright. Independent filmmakers are learning that you don't need a big budget to make a horror film.

ba11Independent director Jim Towns has been receiving praise from critics for his thrilling feature House of Bad (2013). House of Bad was shot with a small budget and in just eight days, with a couple of pick-up days. This film follows three sisters who have a stolen case of drugs they intend to sell. They decide to hide out for two weeks in two of the sisters’ childhood home, and that's when strange, paranormal activity begins. “Because it's a heist film and a horror film, you double up on where the danger is coming from to the girls. It's coming from outside, but it's also coming from inside the house,” says Towns about his movie. “It mixes with other genres really well because horror is so strong; it holds its own and tends to not get diluted by something else — it tends to get strengthened. The contrast of a thriller or crime element within it just makes the horror part of it stand out, and that's what we tried to do with House of Bad.”

This holds up when we look at other popular and independent worksshaun of the dead ver2 xlg. From England, we saw Shaun of the Dead (2004) sprout out of North London, and true horror fans embraced it. Director Edgar Wright has called the cult film a romantic-comedy that turns into a zombie film. It is a reflection of the way horror lends itself to a collision of genres, as well as what can come out of a hardcore horror fanbase. Shaun of the Dead alludes to the horror films that undoubtedly inspired Wright to be a filmmaker, with a title that harkens back to the 1978 George A. Romero classic Dawn of the Dead. Shaun of the Dead went on to be recognized in the horror, comedy, and independent categories, winning a number of awards. It also solidified the international careers of the main actors, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, as well as the genius Wright's career

MV5BMjAxNTUzOTkwOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODUwMzE1MDE. V1 SY317 CR250214317 The willingness to embrace the quirkier side of the horror genre, as well as the foreign features, can be attributed to what Towns calls the “collector mentality” of horror-genre fans. “I think horror is such a staple of indie cinema and low-budget filmmaking because I think there always will be a fan base for it.  . . . Even beyond the quality and how much they enjoy the film, you know, real horror fans just have to see everything that comes out. There's this need to see every single horror film and add to your mental collection,” says Towns. The Hollywood Studios, as well as any independent filmmaker, knows this to be true too. It's obvious with the attempt to bring in audiences on the sequels to the independent hit Paranormal Activity (2007), which grossed around $193 million worldwide at the box office with a $15,000 production budget.

paranormal activity movie posterUltimately, it comes down to what works. Entity director, Steve Stone says “If Paranormal Activity succeeds like it did — it was a box-office phenomenon — then so many are going to be spawned and that, in terms of the kind of risks that investors will make, narrows the field because they're less likely to [invest in other films].” Fortunately, filmmakers like Stone have the opportunity to broaden the scope. While Entity tells the story of five paranormal TV-show makers and uses some found footage, it is not a found-footage film; Stone mostly uses the third-person camera. The film is genuinely frightening, which can be attributed to the power of suggestion. “The biggest inspiration for me was the 1961 film The Haunting. The horror is what's around the corner . . . I was watching an interview with Steven Spielberg where he said that there is nothing more scary to an audience than what it has in its imagination,” and that's exactly how Stone executed his film — making the audience wait to see what's around the corner. “The thing I liked about Paranormal Activity is that it made the audience wait. I love that experience of waiting for something to happen,” Stone said.

It has, in recent years, become easier for independent filmmakers to have access to equipment necessary to make the kind of horror films they want to produce. “Digital technology. That's got to be the single biggest reason for why so many films are able to be made now,” says Stone. This is an exciting time in independent filmmaking for this reason alone. Filmmakers like Stone produce quality work that not only deals with scaring and thrilling audiences, but touches on the important aspect of filmmaking, the story. Even in gory films, the story matters. Stone says that “horror comes out of the human condition . . . I say we make films that are about the horror inside of us, inside of our own imaginations, inside our demons. Those are the kind of demons I want to talk about and make in film.”

With a strong fanbase with a collector's mentality and passionate filmmakers that continually take the horror genre into new depths, it's truly no wonder that that there's a surge in horror indie films. The desire to come face to face with demons of any kind, to force the past to meet the present, and to almost viscerally experience what we fear will keep horror films on the rise.

 

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Hollywood and the Civil-Rights Struggle: Why Now?

By Sa'iyda Shabazz


In the year 2013 you wouldn’t think that blacks would still be fighting for civil rights. It has now been five years since the groundbreaking election of President Barack Obama, and some would argue that things have gotten worse for African-Americans in the years since, especially following his re-election in 2012. While the struggle is nothing new, it has come to a new light, especially in Hollywood. It can be said that Hollywood’s fascination with the civil-rights struggle started with the 2011 release of the film The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel of the same name. The film grossed more than  $200 million and received mostly positive reviews from critics. Once it became a hit, it seemed that the floodgates were opened. On Christmas Day 2012, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained was released. The film grossed more than $100 million, was nominated for multiple Oscar awards, and won for Best Screenplay and Supporting Actor. The film was critically acclaimed, but not without controversy.

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The controversy? What could a white director (Tarantino) possibly know about the struggles of slavery? And then to have turned it into a typical Tarantino movie with the excessive violence and overuse of the n-word? The black community had every right to be up in arms. The topic of slavery is still touchy within the community, even some 150 years later. We are protective of our history, especially the negative. But the numbers are a testament to something. One could say that it was the filmmaker, the way the film was made or, the subject matter.

In 2013, three movies were released that portrayed the struggle of black men in America. First released was the contemporary film Fruitvale Station, a story of the murder of Oscar Grant III by a white police officer at a Bay Area Rapid Transit Station in 2009; followed by Lee Daniels’ The Butler, a heavily fictionalized account of the life of White House butler Eugene Allen; and lastly, 12 Years a Slave, a film version of the story of Solomon Northup, a free man taken captive as a slave for 12 years in the 1841. Oddly enough, the films were released in opposite chronological order. The most recent event was released first. One could say that we are watching our history in reverse, that to understand where we are now, we must look back at our past.

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The question that begs to be asked is, “Why now?” What is it about 2013 that made Hollywood decide these films needed to be released? It could be said that with the re-election of Obama, it’s a celebration of how far we’ve come as a people. On the other side of the same coin it could be said that while we have achieved something as monumental as a black president, we’re still embroiled in a bitter fight to be seen as equals. Because these films place so much emphasis on the struggle, it can be said that the latter is truer than the former. Really all you need to do is look at the subject matter of Fruitvale Station to see that the struggle is still intensely real. It can be said that by making these films and having them in wide release, light is being shed on the issue and will hopefully show the world that while things have changed on the surface, inherently the struggle is still very real. Unlike The Help and Django Unchained, which were directed and created by white authors, The Butler and Fruitvale Station were directed and authored by African-American men. The community would argue that these men would be more inclined to tell the story because they are entrenched in the struggle just by being black.

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“There is a level of awareness, alertness, and worry that black males have to deal with that others just can’t understand,” says Garry Bates Jr., a black male from Virginia when asked about these films’ importance. “Being seen as a threat for absolutely no reason except your skin color and gender is stressful enough as it is,” he continues. These reasons can be applied as the inner monologue of the lead characters of these films. This is the motivator for the filmmakers; they want to show the world what life is like for them and their peers. But what about Hollywood? “It is still a business,” says Saeed Shabazz, a black male from New York. “Blacks have close to a trillion-dollar spending power in the United States. Hollywood is finally using their wisdom by tapping into that spending power.” And while that is most definitely true, these films reached a much wider spectrum.

With white audiences turning out to watch these movies in large numbers, it can be said that while the stories are aimed at a black audience, they touched a much broader spectrum. While the jury is still out on the definitive reason why these films have been released now, one thing can be said: They left a lasting impact on us as a society. 

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Nicholas Gyeney – A Rising Talent Who Wants To

Make Seattle The Next Hollywood

By Brian Taylor


I had the pleasure to talk with the director, writer, and sometimes actor Nick Gyeney, and it was a lively conversation. Gyeney is an impressive individual who is fiercely determined, with a keen grasp on the business and how to create compelling, interesting stories while never losing sight of what is called show-business. He is young, but don’t let that fool you — he already has a decade or more of experience and continues to gain validation from those in the industry in the form of nominations, awards, and job offers. And I can tell you he is wise beyond his years.

Gyeney is the writer/director of Matt’s Chance, a darkly comedic tale of love, revenge, and the fickle nature of human morality. It includes a wide array of characters as Matt (Edward Furlong) learns the true depth of his fiancée’s betrayal; he comes across an eccentric pawn-shop owner played by none other than Gary Busey, an aging stripper played by Margot Kidder, and a barber with an agenda played by Lee Majors.

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Matt’s Chance will have it theatrical release in December, correct?

“Yes, Christmas day, actually. It’s going to be a very interesting indie experiment because generally, the films that are most successful on the holidays are the big-studio movies, but a lot of research has been showing that releasing alternative indie films on the same day because there are a lot of intelligent young couples you might be looking for something a little darker or not the latest family comedy.”

What was the catalyst for Matt’s Chance? In the film it says it was based on Matt’s life, but is there any truth to it?

“Yes, it is loosely based on a true story . . . a couple of years ago . . . I was looking for my next project . . . I was looking for something I could make in the million-dollar range, and I was at this bar in Seattle and I met this guy Matt, who’s now a really good friend of mine . . . and [it’s] just like in the beginning of the film when the two friends are sitting at the bar . . . one of the guys is Matt and the other is his friend, and he’s basically unloading his story about he met this girl . . . and when he told me all the details of how he walked in on her with this other guy and I thought, wow what a tragic Seattle tale. My twisted sense of humor got away with itself and I embellished a little bit…the movie has some supernatural elements that are not apparent until about three-quarters of the way through the movie. There is a big twist on the resolution…what I feel is what makes the film worth watching. It is a game changer and makes you look back at the events of the movie in a different way…it’s a very dark, dark commentary on society and where we are today, but hopefully laced with some stuff that makes people laugh.”

I believe it was Shaw who said, “If you are going to tell them the truth, you better make them laugh.”

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How did you establish such an eclectic and experienced cast?

“It’s a lot easier than you may think. I think one of the biggest faults that most young filmmakers have is that they don’t understand that you have to marry the creative and the business from the ground up. You have to think creatively in a business mindset. So you are making decisions that will only make the film better on a creative level, but also [from a] business standpoint. So, I kind of designed this movie to catered to have a few small roles for named actors and then, of course for Matt himself, and since this movie has the themes of falling off the path and finding yourself and he comes across these wise men characters who advise him and guide him along his path, I thought it would be really interesting to cast actors that may have gone a similar way in their career. On one hand that makes for an interesting package on a creative level. When you see a poster and you see Lee Majors, Gary Busey, Margot Kidder [you wonder,] ‘What have they been in?’ On the other hand, they are also more affordable and it makes it easier to attract this kind of talent when you are working with especially dollars. So basically, I sent them the script and they liked it. It’s that simple. All you really have to do is subscribe to IMDB Pro. That’s it. You call their agent, and you make them an offer…if you have money in the bank….if you have the financing…I’m also a huge movie geek, too. There are all sorts of references in there…there is a flashback scene where Edward Furlong wears the Public Enemy shirts from T-2. Terminator 2 is my favorite movie of all time, and so that was a real coup for me — he really did not want to get into that shirt, but he finally, finally put it on for me.”

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Seattle is where you prefer to work and shoot your films?

“Well, I grew up in Seattle, and it is such a beautiful, beautiful city that is really underutilized when it comes to film. Everything is shot in L.A. or Canada or New York, and Seattle has such a unique skyline I think it is a shame that not more films are being produced up here . . . it’s harder to get the film office to cut breaks and give deals to these incoming film productions because they are a little bit self-righteous and I am working on that part of it . . . There is a great crew base up here. It’s a small art community, so you can get a lot of really interesting deals and cut a lot of corners, i.e. you can have an amazing DP [cinematographer] who brings $200,000 worth of grip gear at no cost to your production. So you can do all of these things up here you would not be able to do in L.A. or N.Y. and only because of the personal relationships that you have built over time. On the other hand, I have also been focusing on Seattle as well because the definition of ‘insanity’ is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. It seems filmmakers, they move to L.A. and they try and try and try and make it, then they fall on their ass and go home…After seven years in film school at [University of Southern California], once I graduated I said, ‘You know, I’m not going to try to make it down here, I’m going to try and make it at home, and if I can try to make a name for myself up there, then I can come back to L.A.’ I might have more of an ability to walk in the door and have people take me seriously rather than just hang up the phone, and that’s been kind of my plan . . .I think it’s important to always grow and learn, and I’m hoping that fortune keeps smiling.”

Technically speaking, what did you shoot Matt’s Chance on?

“We shot on the Sony F-3. It’s akin to the RED — it’s a beautiful camera and captures image really well, but it’s a lot cheaper than the RED packages. Our team had a couple of them and full gear for all that, so that helped alleviate some costs.”

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Is there any advice that you can give to a rising filmmaker?

“You have to collaborate. Always. It is so vital to have people around you to riff off of and to someone around you to tell you, ‘That ideas sucks,’ and, ‘That idea is good.’ There is no ego when making a movie. You have to be able to work together and understand is that no great film is made by one person.”

Is there a project that you are passionate to do in the future, that you have been itching to do if budget and locations were no issue?

“Well, there are two answers to this question. One, I have seven screenplays that are fully developed and packaged with casts attached . . . and I am making my way through that . . . each one is bigger than the previous one. It culminates with a medieval rock musical . . . an intimate epic along the lines of Centurion with Michael Fassbender. My dream project, if there were no rules or limitations, would be a remake or reboot of Highlander or Terminator 2.

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You seem wise beyond your years and have had a lot of critical acclaim already. What’s the secret to your success?

“I’m 27 years old; I got a really early start. My father passed away when I was 12, and that is the reason I became a filmmaker. I grew up overnight . . . it’s like a game changer. I think anyone who really does something important or puts a lot of drive into their life does so because of some kind of event that pushes them into that direction and that happed way early for me . . . I made my first feature when I was 17 in high school, and that’s how I got into USC and [the school] gave me a full scholarship. It’s the biggest piece of shit you can imagine, but someone at the film school must have been [thinking], ‘Oh cute! He’s trying.’ I have always been really impatient, too, and that’s another fault of mine, and so when I was 19 in film school I made my first — I’m going to say legit feature because it came out, but it’s a really, really, really bad —movie . . . my last film Penitent Man and Matt’s Chance I am proud of. They are not perfect movies; there is a lot you could change to make them better, but they’re watchable . . . I learned from my first film that although it’s awful, it showed producers I know how to make a film and get a return. I started meeting a lot of producers and investors, and I worked for the next three years developing my directing skills and working with actors so the next time I try to make a movie, maybe it wouldn’t suck as much, and that’s what led to Penitent Man.

Read Brian's interview with Lee Majors here.

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Casting Director Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd

Talks Casting, Black Nativity, Being Mary Jane,
Her Favorite Films, and More

By Amber Topping


Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd is the successful casting director of music videos for many artists like Madonna, Notorious B.I.G., and Blink 182. She later turned to the casting of feature films such as Notorious, Fruitvale Station, Stomp the Yard and Sparkle. Her new movie from Kasi Lemmons, Black Nativity, starring Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, and Angela Basset was released November 27, just in time for Thanksgiving

Byrd took the time to talk to REAP about casting, her passion for storytelling, advice for actors, mentoring teenagers, and what she’s working on next.

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First of all, can you talk a little bit about your background growing up and where your creative passions may have come from?

I grew up in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York. A family of six: four children, two parents, a house, two cars, and a dog. So, I grew up on The Cosby Show, and we were the Cosbys.

How did you become a casting director?

I started casting in music videos in the ‘90s. My brother is a director, and The Cosby Show inspired me in terms of putting that type of family together with the dynamic and the humor and the love and the support of each other, and it just reminded me so much of my own family that I wanted to know more about that process. So I learned more about it by taking a meeting with the casting director of the actual show, and that got me started on my way to get the experience that I needed. But I interned for her—Julie Hughes. And while my brother was working for Spike Lee and different directors and started doing music videos, I interned for a music video casting director once or twice. I already had a business background, so I kind of got the gist of what was happening administratively. But the passion was already instilled within me; it was already a part of who I am before all of it. So I can say that my passion found me as opposed to me finding my passion.

Was that a difficult transition from the music videos into the casting of feature films?

It wasn't difficult. It was the same passion. The administrative is quite a bit more administrative, but that's what casting assistants are for. [Laughs.] It's the passion and the vision that's innate; that’s a part of who I am. I learned a lot of the administrative from my mentors, and as I go along from my different mentors at Screen Actors Guild and my different casting director mentors and such, I learned a lot of the administrative. But the passion and division has been the same since music video.

How do you build trust and connections with the producers and directors?

That's also something that's personal. It’s like any personal relationship. It's tried and true time and time again, and it's a learning process. Some relationships are really, really great, and some relationships are not for you. You learn something, but you never date them again, you know? Kind of like that. It’s like, you were a great learning experience, but I never want to date you again. And so it’s the same—relationships are all the same. They are a learning experience. You find the place where you fit, and you keep within that groove, and you branch out from time to time. And in this business you can have a number of different relationships that are awesome, and thankfully for me I have a number of different relationships that are awesome. But you’ve really got to put yourself out there, at least in my experience. You have to put yourself out there and get uncomfortable and go build those relationships.

What are some of the challenges then you have faced and continue to face in this industry?

Character, integrity, loyalty. [Laughs]. Life challenges. Those are some of the challenges that I face . . . Those are some of the challenges that everyone faces in life, I feel. Learning how to balance, that’s been a challenge. But I'm really digging into that one in 2013. So 2014 will be much, much better. Those are important things.

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What is your creative process when working with actors during auditions?

That's kind of like a Twinkie secret. It’s like, if I tell you, then I would have to— [Laughs] that's a Twinkie secret! I can't tell what happens behind the door. Oh, my goodness. Absolutely not! Just know that it’s special.

Do you ever meet an actor who auditions for you, and they aren't the right fit for the role, but you keep them in mind for a future project and then ultimately end up using them?

Yes. I do ultimately end up bringing them in, yes. “Using” them . . . yes, sometimes. But yes, for sure that happens, and it happens a lot. For me, they're on my list, or I stick a little pin in them in their headshot and résumé or flag it . . . Or I put them in a little folder saying, “Keep in mind.” I’ve got a lot of little tricks of my trade. That definitely happens.

How important is the right casting to a production. Is it a sink-or-swim kind of situation?

Oh, my God. It’s everything. I feel like it’s everything because I work very closely with my directors and producers, and I want them to have everything they need in order to have a smooth, positive environment with which to work. And there’s only but so much I can do. I’m not a wizard or anything, but you try to be aware of personality quirks and dispositions, and [be] aware of process, of people—the actor’s process. Some actors walk off into oblivion to work on something. Other actors are very talkative, and maybe overly so, and you try and keep all of that in your mind—keep all of those mental notes going on of each different [person]—each actor’s process is different . . . But chemistry-wise, you really hope that they’re able to dynamically perform together as a group with chemistry so much so, like in my show Being Mary Jane, the actors have become a family. It’s so great. They go out together, they hang out together, they invite each other to each other's birthday parties and functions and dinner parties; they've become a family, which is awesome.

You mention chemistry; is that something you ever audition for?

Yes, for sure. There are chemistry reads, and then there are brilliant people, brilliant actors like Lisa Vidal who (have) chemistry with anybody. You cast her, you don't have to worry about a thing. She and Gabrielle [Union] clicked so much right away it was scary. We had a table read of love and adoration and crying, and it was so emotional. It was beautiful. I’ve never had a table read like that before. So yes, I’ve done table reads and watched chemistry. I've had chemistry sessions and, of course, paid attention to chemistry, and there are times when it can truly blow you out of the room. The chemistry, it’s palpable; it can blow you out of the room . . . really.

Well, what advice do you have for new actors trying to book roles?

To not try to book roles. Yeah. Don't try to book roles. Study, study, and try to book the room. That's your job, and to be in class for one year is not enough. To think that you’re a natural is not enough.

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Are there classes you would personally recommend to actors to enroll in?

There are. It depends on each actor, and it depends on what the process is, because they are different. There are multiple types of techniques, and each technique speaks to a different person differently; so it depends on the person. But one of the huge and major problems is, in my opinion?and what I have felt from traveling around the country and from speaking and from auditioning and from traveling to schools?is that everyone wants it yesterday. It’s a microwave society. They want to be Will Smith tomorrow. They don't remember him from Fresh Prince of Bel Air. They don't remember or recall how poor of an actor he was during that time. They really need to understand that also it's not a lottery. You don't get into this business to buy your mom a house. You get into this because it’s your actual passion. If it took you 10 years to book your first role, would you still do it? That is part of the question you should ask yourself: Is it my passion? Is it who I am? Is it my deepest desire to be an actor? If it’s my deepest desire to be rich, then no, there are lots of other ways that are much quicker and way more lucrative than acting. But if it's your true, deepest desire to tell stories, to add to a journey, to be part of a journey, for your human physical form to be used in storytelling—that is really what you should be focused on.

Beyond acting advice for actors, do you have advice for anyone who is interested in becoming a casting director?

My advice is to watch tons of movies; create and be a part of the process; intern for anyone and everyone you can; and to have a huge vocabulary of film and performances and plays and theater and musicals and web series and webisodes and—it’s exhausting, but it's beautiful. It has got to be your deepest desire and your passion. Not just to tell people what to do. Not just to be behind the door. But to really be a part of the process.

What talents help to support being a great casting director?

That's subjective. It really does depend on the person. I can only speak for myself. I am great at it because it is instilled within me. You can cultivate certain things, like it’s in me, and I have learned to actually nourish it and cultivate it and to allow myself to be pruned by studio executives and directors and producers. When I'm sitting in meetings and they bring up a film that I have never heard of, or a performance that I haven't seen, I jot it down and Netflix it or Redbox it that night or the next day. So there needs to be a hunger and a thirst for it. And then there are other, different kinds of casting directors. Some are administrative and just by the book: A, B, C, or D. And then there are others who are more—it’s not just passion; it is innately a part of who I am. It's almost like I can't stop. Every time I watch a film, or every time I’m paying attention to kids playing. I’m a people watcher. Because I pay attention to characteristics, and body language, and the sound or inflections in their voice, I can tell across a crowded train station who is having a loving argument, and who is really in deep thought and who, from like body language?and it can be the noisiest train station on the planet?you can look across the platform and see what's going on with the person. Honestly, it's a part of who I am. I don't know how else to describe it.

And when you come in the room with that as an actor . . . you can see the people who act with their whole body, and they understand all of the different elements that are happening. They give you everything from the location, to the time of day, to the look, to the feel, to the vibe. Not just the words, but they give you the whole scene. You feel the whole scene coming together in the room. That is so awesome. That is the part that I love; that is what I like to capture; that's when I know that this is an actor who gets it.

You've worked on some great films like Fruitvale Station, Sparkle, Notorious. Can you tell me about some of your experiences working on those projects?

I had great experiences working on all of my projects! Notorious was close to my heart because I used to cast music videos for Notorious B.I.G. That and I’m from Brooklyn, so it’s very close to my heart. I came up casting music videos of a lot of those artists: Mary J. Blige, Lil’ Kim, 112, all the Bad Boy artists, so it was very near and dear to me. And it was an awesome experience to bring a lot of those characters to life, even those that are still with us living, to watch them unfold; to actually cast characters who I have actually cast for—the original. It's like to cast a Lil’ Kim when I have cast for Lil’ Kim. Put it that way. To cast a Faith Evans when I have cast for Faith Evans and actually know Faith Evans. It was a surreal experience.

Sparkle was my trifecta with a period piece, a musical, and a remake, which I absolutely love. I am so happy to be a part of that. I was just overwhelmed. And then, of course, being part of a feature film with Whitney Houston, the late Whitney Houston, and that unfortunately being her last performance. I'm just so honored that I was a part of that process and a part of that film in and of itself. And then getting Jordan Sparks: her first feature-film debut and her knocking it out of the ballpark, along with Tika Sumpter and Carmen Ejogo, who did an awesome job as Sister. I learned a lot about the actors and actresses who have other talents; casting CeeLo in there, casting actresses who can sing and dance unbeknownst to myself. At the beginning I didn't know that Tika was a singer, and then we found out she could sing and we were like, “Oh, my gosh. This is awesome.” So there wasn't a lot of voice-over going on in that area. It was everyone's voice; everyone had a chance to sing.

And then the Fruitvale Station of it all, that was just—that was a beautiful experience. Ryan Coogler is an awesome director. I met him at USC film school. I cast his first, his feature short film called Fig, at USC. I took that project on because I took a meeting with him and realized it was a meeting of the minds, it was a meeting of the heart, it was a meeting of the passions, and oh, my goodness, he came through with flying colors so much so that when he called me again, I was like, “Absolutely. Whatever you need.” I had no idea it was going to be the Fruitvale Station, of course, that it is today. But I did know that he was going to put the same amount of passion into it, and with that kind of passion, it was going to go far.

Black Nativity is coming out soon. Can you tell me anything about that?

Oh my gosh, Black Nativity. That’s Kasi Lemmons. Kasi Lemmons has been one of my 10 for, I would say, about 10 years. So to finally get a chance to work with and for her is, I mean, it’s the dream. I have my dream list of 10, so I can mark it off now. But she's one of those people that I don't mark off. I highlight, which means more, more, more. Because she is a visionary; I love her vision, I love the stories that she's trying to tell, and I love the passion that's behind it. And not just the passion, but the intelligence with which she tells stories, and how she tells stories through every, every part of everything, you know? There are some directors that just want to tell the story and push it on through. The story is being told, but not with every essence and with every part of the process. Kasi Lemmons, she directs with everything: with the lighting, with the location, with the music, with the wardrobe, and she has a handle on everything. In her mind's eye, every different aspect tells a story, which I love. To me, that's a true visionary.

And we have Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett—it is an all-star cast, let me tell you, it's an embarrassment of riches. We have Jennifer Hudson, we have Tyrese Gibson, we have?oh, my goodness?we have the fabulous Jacob Latimore, it's so awesome. We have these fabulous dancers from all different parts—Dance Theatre Harlem and a wonderful gospel choir. It’s fabulous. We have Luke James, we have Grace Gibson, who is the daughter of Lynn Whitfield and the late great [Brian] Gibson, the director. So it's an awesome, awesome film.

It is the Nativity told on three levels. And you've got to catch the third one; you really have to pay attention. It's full of music and love and laughter and heartbreak and joy, and it's great for this time of year when we all need to be reminded of joy, and that joy exists, and that we're still here to experience it. I'm thankful to be a part of it.

I can't wait to see it, it sounds awesome.

[Laughs.] It was awesome to do. It really was.

BattleoftheYear   filly-brown-movie-poster-2013-1020754660

So who, or what, inspires you? Are there any social causes or philanthropic organizations that are dear to your heart?

My father says I have a gift for teenagers. I used to work with an organization, and hope to work with more organizations dealing with teenagers and teens, for teenage girls in foster care. I was a mentor for four years, and that was an incredible experience, and I look to get into some version or some aspect of mentoring again. I'm always donating books and different types of things to the Mary Magdalene House. I was introduced to it actually by Ryan Coogler, the filmmaker, and from Fruitvale Station, because our first film that we did was dealing with teenage prostitution and sex trafficking. And it happens to be not too far for me, this organization. It’s here in Van Nuys, California, and it deals with sex trafficking in teens. I have been donating to them quite a bit: uplifting books—anything that I can donate to them: office supplies, things of that nature in order to just help them continue to maintain their administrative duties, as well as helping the minds. Because when it comes to sex trafficking, it's the mind that is the first line of defense.

It's the mind. And what these people prey on is your mind, and your feelings of your lack of self worth. I feel like empowering the mind is first and foremost, and reading helps to empower the mind. So I’m all about donating books to them. And I donate books to the Long Beach Job Corps—I’m all about donating books. So I gather from friends. I'm like, “Give me all your books. I know we're all doing this de-cluttering thing, and we're all cleaning and—hit me with the books, and I'll take them to the places where they need to go.” So I love doing that, but at some point hopefully I'll be able to mentor again and be able to sow into the lives of teens whatever it is that I've learned, whatever it is that they need or require from me. Yep. That's me.

What does the art of great filmmaking, great books, theater, TV, etc. mean to you?

The art is a journey. I can say it’s a journey. The narrative art can take you on a journey of self discovery, a journey of joy, a journey of the journey through pain. It can take you on a journey of not feeling alone. To know that others are going through the same or similar things. Sometimes there's a film out and you’re like, “Oh, I'm the only one going through this,” and then you go see a movie and you’re like, “I'm not the only one going through this.”

There's a whole feel about it. Whether it be a documentary or a made-for-TV movie or a feature film, it can take you on a journey of joy. And that part I love. The storytelling, it can take you on a journey of self discovery. To enlighten you and for you to discover who it is that you really are, like The Great Debaters. Melvin Tolson—I’ll never forget when I watched The Great Debaters, and of course Denzel Washington and the rest of the cast, it made me then go and do my research on Melvin Tolson, to learn more about him, to discover more about a real life human who had done all of these wonderful things and was a part of the beautiful fabric of America. He pushed his way into the senate and into government, and empowered young people with debate, and it sent off so many things spiraling in my head and in my mind and in my spirit. So to me, all of it is really a journey of storytelling. And it’s awesome. It's beautiful.

Do you have a favorite film that you watch on special occasions that re-centers you or re-invigorates your life?

Yes! Oh my gosh! [Laughs] Yes! Yes! Okay, you ready for the list? Here we go.

It starts with The Wizard of Oz, The Ten Commandments, The Sound of Music, West Side Story. Every time they’re on, I watch them. I own them all, and I'm a musical person. I love musicals and performances, and each time you watch it, you get something different depending on what you're going through in your life. And yeah, those are them. I grew up on them.

Besides casting, what other creative goals do you have?

Right now, I produce every year in conjunction with the Hollywood Black Film Festival, one of the largest monologue slams in the country. It's Twinkie Byrd’s Monologue Slam. And that happens every October. Next year will be our fourth year, and it is huge. I love it. I love watching actors perform their monologues. I love the auditioning process. I am looking to produce films. My focus is made for TV movies or VOD, videos on demand, I really feel like it's time to get back to the After School Special. It’s time for us to have those. Even though we have Up and Lifetime and all of these wonderful networks, the After School Special really helped round out my education and my life when I was growing up. And I guess I'm dating myself in saying that because it only happened during a certain section of time, but I don't care. I will date myself. I feel like there needs to be more, like the Wilma Rudolph Story for me was an after-school special; it was so awesome. [Laughs] It's time for those to come back. It's time to maybe put them on the Internet or something since young people now watch more Internet than they do television. And have a folder of all of those types of stories, whether it be sports based or music based or education based or what have you, like science based. We need to have those, and we need to tell those stories, and we need to talk about inventors, and we need to let people know about doctors, about lawyers, people that are changing the world and who started the Peace Corps. So I would like to produce those types of projects.

If you couldn't be a casting director or work on film, what else would you want to be?

Wife and a mother. Yes. A wife and a mother. I will be a wife and a mother. I am a wife and a mother. But yeah—and my father was a teacher, and being a teacher is something that I always dreamt of being. But it all seems to come to pass with my career. I just did a workshop in a seminar at a college on the college level, and I ended up teaching. I end up doing that with my career now. I was focused on one thing, and then it branched out into a number of different things. I travel. I always wanted to travel, I travel with my career now, so it's pretty awesome, the alchemy of casting.

What are your latest projects?

Being Mary Jane starts again in January, January 7, I believe, on BET starring, Gabrielle Union, Richard Roundtree, Lisa Vidal. And I just cast the two Gabbys for the Gabrielle Douglas story, which is the gold-medalist, all-around 2012 summer gymnastics—I cast the two Gabby gymnasts, the two actresses to play Gabby. And that comes out in February, Black History Month on Lifetime. That's what's happening. I'm looking forward to more independent projects, and I believe my next goal is to conquer the Sundance Lab.

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Review.final

Modern Baseball’s Sports Album 

By Andrew Mathwick



 ***WARNING*** This album may make you want to break your girlfriend’s heart.

ModernBaseball

What happens when four college kids in Pennsylvania set out to record a baseball-themed album? Surprisingly enough, you get heartfelt songs about relationships that everyone (born after 1990) can relate to in some sort of heartbreakingly great way. Modern Baseball released its debut album, Sports, almost a year ago, and delivers what we’ve all been waiting for - relationship-themed songs that integrate Twitter, iPhones, and Facebook (it was only a matter of time). And, with track titles such as, “I Think You Were In My Profile Picture Once” and “@chl03k,” you’ll be tweeting these lyrics in no time.

What really makes the songs on Sports a grand slam is the surprisingly great (but sad) lyrics and catchy instrumentals. Track 9, “See Ya, Sucker” opens with lead vocalist Brendan Lukens belting out, “I reckon you grew up in a town that said reckon all the time/ Oh, your time’s so vital, you’re concrete.” These lyrics are undoubtedly witty, but as this song rounds first and progresses, we are swung into a song with much more serious lyrics about a girl who won’t leave a town that she, “supposedly hates,” and the narrator doesn’t want to get stuck in that town with her, which leads him to say things like, “though it kills me to say if you get stuck/ I’m just gonna’ leave,” and “I reckon you grew up in a town that said reckon all the time/ but what gives you the right to wreck everything?” Combining witty lyrics with a serious and sort of depressing theme is part of what makes Modern Baseball unique, relatable, and very enjoyable to listen to.

While most of these songs are worthy of listening to in complete darkness by yourself, Modern Baseball manages to bring a few tracks that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to dance to when your friends are around. Track 3, “The Weekend,” for example, is a much more upbeat, pop-punky track, and considering “The Weekend” is a song about a “hipster with glasses,” everyone might enjoy it.

Track 2, “Tears over Beers” is also an instant classic that’ll have you single in no time. Personally my favorite song on the record, “Tears over Beers” truly makes you realize your girlfriend doesn’t actually like you (unless you’re a “meathead”). Let’s say your girlfriend or boyfriend left his or her Facebook open on your computer, and you could look at all their private messages if you wanted, but you weren’t sure you’d like what you see. That’s how “Tears over Beers” will hopefully make you feel.

Modern Baseball transitions us into a new era of alternative music with Sports, an era when we can expect great things out of bands that write lyrics about Twitter, Facebook, and new technology. I highly recommend Sports.

To learn more about Modern Baseball, visit their website.

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