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Episode 46: Play the Diamond with Matias Ponce




Sidekickback returns with a midnight special! My friend and former co-star Matias Ponce hopped off the Mark Taper Forum stage on Tuesday night to come over and chat with me about the wonderful revival of Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit going on at Center Theatre Group. Matias stars alongside Demián Bichir as Henry Reyna in the critically acclaimed production that has received an unprecedented third and final extension at the Mark Taper. We chat about his humble beginnings in Toledo, Ohio, his unconventional journey as an actor doing “the LA thing,” and the pretty positive turnout of his first understudy assignment.

Grab whatever Zoot Suit tickets you can at Center Theatre Group’s website!

Mind Blown: Mozart in the Jungle Goes to Prison

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Well, the holidays are behind us. The time of festive fun and great food, sparkling lights and age-old traditions…families gathering around to spend time together. Perhaps to Netflix and Chill together.  Or in this case, Amazon and Kick It together?  The television is at the top of the list of great time-passers as you wait for your turkeys to roast and/or your latkes to fry.  You can gather ’round and watch some instant classic football games, a classic holiday movie or even experience a bit of completely new and cutting edge mind-mushing, brain-bashing, reality-wrecking episodic television.

This year, I got treated to such an experience when my family decided to forge ahead with their viewing of Amazon’s award-winning Mozart in the Jungle, even though I’m still on Season 1.  I was totally fine with skipping ahead as I’m not terribly invested in the show.  I found it to simply satisfy the need for a half-hour bit of comedy decompression after an intense drama like its Amazonian counterpart The Man in the High Castle. Nevertheless, the episode next up on the queue for my family would change everything.  It was no comedy to me…it wasn’t quite dramatic either…it was odd, dare I say cubist, almost sans-genre, and it has earned itself a coveted spot here in our Mind Blown series.

Episode 7 of Season 3 is titled, “Not Yet Titled” and already the existential crisis-like nature of this episode is established which will hopefully allay your fear of missing out on the previous two and a half seasons. Because what unfolds is a transcendent piece of I-don’t-know-what; a blend of reality as we know it, with the reality and surreality of the show, commenting on the surreality of our reality as we know it.  The episode takes a mocumentary approach without mocking anything but instead revealing the freeing power of music on the mind through an experiment, cleverly crafted by the show’s creatives including Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman.  Schwartzman returns as his on-screen persona, Bradford Sharpe, to lead the charge of this experiment. The subjects? Detainees at Riker’s Island Prison Complex.  A real film crew follows a sort-of-faux film crew capturing the real reactions and interviews of real prisoners after a very real concert performance by real and not-so-real musicians (the orchestra in each episode, including this one, is filled out by actual musicians from The Chelsea Symphony and the New Westchester Symphony Orchestra to add authenticity to the on-screen performances alongside the Mozart in the Jungle cast members). To top this whole brain-bender off, the pieces of music chosen for the performance were by Olivier Messiaen. Messiaen wrote the featured works of the episode (such as “Quartet for the End of Time“) while in prison during World War II.

How are these prisoners going to react to an avant-garde orchestral performance, challenging pieces of classical music, that were born out of a man’s captivity?

“It took me a way from where I’m at, definitely did.”

Do yourself a favor and go check out the results.

Watch Season 3 of Mozart in the Jungle on Amazon Prime here!

The Mozart in the Jungle cast includes Gael Garcia Bernal, Saffron Burrows, Lola Kirke, Bernadette Peters and Malcolm McDowell. Watch out for cameos from all over the music world including Gustavo Dudamel, Joshua Bell and acclaimed pianist Emanuel Ax deeply engaged in a game of Dance Dance Revolution.

 

Episode 45: Winter Has Come with Janet Graham Borba

janet graham borba game of thrones production




On the latest episode of Sidekickback Radio, I get to chat with HBO’s Senior Vice President of West Coast Production, Janet Graham Borba. As an executive, Janet plays quite a major role in the making of some of HBO’s wonderful projects, the most notable of which being the grand epic series known as Game of Thrones (sorry GOT fans, no spoilers in this one. Well maybe one…) Additionally, she recently wrapped production on the upcoming feature film The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, starring Rose Byrne and Oprah Winfrey in the adaptation of Rebecca Skloot’s book of the same title about an African-American woman whose cells are used in trailblazing medical research in the 1950’s . In our episode, Janet and I chat about the rapidly shifting landscape of subscription-based television, what makes a great line producer, and how Pizza Hut might have changed Janet’s life forever.

Some of her earlier projects include Hackers (starring Angelina Jolie and Jonny Lee Miller) and one of my personal childhood favorites, Camp Nowhere (starring Christopher Lloyd and Jonathan Jackson).

The Game of Thrones production machine is without a doubt one of the most massive undertakings in television history. As evidenced by such scenes as The Battle of the Bastards (into which Janet gives us some insight) the process can take months to prepare and weeks to rehearse, with so many factors like seasonal weather and actors’ schedules creating a giant jigsaw puzzle that someone like Janet has to piece together. Game of Thrones production is now under way as they film its 7th season and as Janet tells us in the episode, with such a great writing team led by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the production crew is firing in sync on all cylinders, ready to deliver the final episodes of a truly epic era in television.

Catch up on Game of Thrones season 6 with HBO GO here!

Episode 44: Director of My Own Journey with Rich Delia

One of the first steps in the filmmaking process is the somewhat mysterious, often underappreciated art of casting. On the latest episode of Sidekickback Radio, I sit down with Casting Director extraordinaire Rich Delia.  You can see his fine work in such films as Dallas Buyers Club, Short Term 12 and currently in theaters, Lights Out. We chat about how he transitioned to casting director from acting, what it takes to find that perfect actor for the role in the casting process and some suggestions for actors strugglin to break through

Coming soon, Rich’s upcoming projects include:

Transpecos – with Clifton Collins Jr. and Gabriel Luna, directed by Greg Kwedar, 2016’s SXSW Audience Award winner tells the story of three border patrol agents that make an unnerving discovery revealing possible betrayal amongst their own unit.

Fist Fight starring Charlie Day and Ice Cube as two high school teachers who have a score to settle…in the parking lot, after school.

To the Bone – from previous guests of the podcast, Mockingbird Pictures, To the Bone stars Lily Collins as a young woman dealing with anorexia who meets an unconventional doctor (Keanu Reeves) that challenges her to face her condition and embrace life. Written and Directed by Marti Noxon.

The Masterpiece – directed by James Franco, the star-studded cast includes Seth Rogen, Josh Hutcherson, Bryan Cranston, Sharon Stone and Franco himself as they recreate the behind the scenes “magic” that led to the cult classic that is considered to be one of the worst movies ever made, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.

Stay up to date with his IMDb here!

Episode 43: Put The Toppings On It with Drew Kilcoin

In this episode of SideKickBack Radio, I sit down with Highway to Havasu‘s radass editor Drew Kilcion.  As a lead editor, he has cut some great projects such as the fascinating documentary Craigslist Joe, episodes of FX’s gone-too-soon comedy Legit with Jim Jefferies and Split, soon to be released on iTunes. Drew also assisted Jeremiah O’Driscoll on Robert Zemeckis’ films Flight, The Walk and Drew is now at Illumination Entertainment, working on the upcoming animated feature film Sing starring Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon and Seth MacFarlane.  We chat about his approach to cutting a scene, what its like to have a dream come true, and why his trips to the bathroom got quite dramatic at one point.

Check out Craigslist Joe on Hulu!

Check out Drew’s website!

Check out Drew’s IMDb!

 

Episode 42: Persistence Pays Off with Julie Lynn and Bonnie Curtis

About a year and a half ago, I had the great pleasure of attending the world premiere of Last Days in the Desert at the Sundance Film Festival 2015.  Written and Directed by Rodrigo Garcia, this stoically beautiful, captivating film features an incredible performance by Ewan McGregor in two roles (Jesus and the Devil), mesmerizing natural light cinematography from Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki (winner of the last three Academy Awards), and this week I got to chat with the two amazing ladies who helped bring it all together.  Julie Lynn and Bonnie Curtis of Mockingbird Pictures have been making movies long enough to know how to make a damn good one, and with some incredibly exciting projects in the works this is one juicy episode that I hope will inspire you to check out/stay tuned to their work…you will not be disappointed.  We talk about the effect that digital media had on their business model, what their favorite part of moviemaking is and which one of them is “Spendy Wendy?”

Last Days in the Desert is in select theaters now! Head to www.lastdaysinthedesert.com for more info.

Also coming soon from Mockingbird Pictures…

Wakefield – in post-production, starring Bryan Cranston as a man whose nervous breakdown causes him to leave his wife (Jennifer Garner) and live in his attic for several months. Written and Directed by Robin Swicord.

The Sweet Life – premiering at the LA Film Festival, this romantic dramedy road trip film stars Chris Messina and Abigail Spencer as two depressives who first meet by chance in Chicago and form a pact to travel across the country to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge together. Written by Jared Rappaport and directed by Rob Spera. Also might feature a cameo from yours truly 🙂

To the Bone – in post-production, Lily Collins stars as a young woman dealing with anorexia who meets an unconventional doctor (Keanu Reeves) that challenges her to face her condition and embrace life. Written and Directed by Marti Noxon.

Julie and Bonnie are also producing Life alongside David Ellis of Skydance Pictures. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and Rebecca Ferguson, Life tells the story of a crew on the International Space Station discovering life on Mars.

Episode 41: I’m Gonna Frame It with Jenelle Riley

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SideKickBack is back! This week I sat down with Variety’s Deputy Awards and Features Editor, Jenelle Riley.  You might recognize her from almost any SAG Foundation screening Q & A, as she has moderated discussions with some of the best and brightest talent in the film industry today.  We chat about the politics of Oscar nominations, the common thread between the immensely talented folks she interviews and why it would be unwise to make a bet with her.

Not surprisingly, in addition to Jenelle’s journalistic excellence in covering the entertainment industry, she also writes on the creative side of things, having worked on quite a few scripts in her day. She even directs! Some of you may have seen her short film/sketches such as Grand Gestures on Funny or Die.  She also frequently partakes in Sacred Fools Theater Company’s late-night smash-hit playwriting incubator, Serial Killers.

Check out Jenelle’s writings here!

Mind Groan: Ready Player One Open Casting

There are a few things I want to make very clear from the very beginning of this entry.

  1. I loved the book Ready Player One.
  2. I was thrilled to find that the film rights to Ernest Cline’s awesomely geeky and adventurous novel were in the hands of one of (if not, the best) blockbuster film director/producers of all time.  I mean, come on…this has all the makings of a new Goonies kind of journey with a completely fresh and modern source material.
  3. I couldn’t contain my excitement when it was announced that I was up for the lead role of Wade Watts…yup, the casting for the part was open!
  4. When Deadline Hollywood broke the news that Tye Sheridan landed the most coveted young-male role in recent history, I was beyond pleased…I love all of Tye’s past work and I am so excited for his future performances; if I lose the part to anyone, I’m so glad it would be him…

But I gotta call bullshit.

I was cleaning out my email inbox today and found two messages regarding my participation in the open casting call for Ready Player One. One was a confirmation from Cast It Talent (the service that hosted all entries via a website they built) of my video submission, and the other was a free one-month subscription to Cast It’s parent site.  Free subscription, you may ask?  For those unfamiliar with the casting processes for “emerging talent” today (aka “actors starting out”…regardless of their level of passion, training, expertise, connections) there are numerous services we “have to” subscribe to so that we may be considered for acting jobs. Imagine a semi-private social network…each actor has a profile, complete with headshots, video clips, and resumes.  A job listing goes up, actors or their Agents/Mangers click “submit” and their full profile goes through to the casting team for further review.  There are a couple major must-have service providers, and it costs about $15 to $20 per month to maintain a profile on each…this does not include the added cost of uploading new photo/videos which can run anywhere from $15 to $60 for each individual upload. There’s a bit more to this process, but you hopefully get the idea: actors shell out decent portions of their monthly income for the opportunity to have their profile land in a digital pile of headshots that can be at least 3000 deep for a paid gig.  And this isn’t the only area in which actors are “encouraged” to pay-to-play…see the Hollywood Reporter’s Casting Workshops investigation for a whole other side to the shady financial equation of pursuing an acting career in today’s film industry. Anyways, there is a revolving door of new “must-have” services for the modern day actor and it appeared as though Cast It Talent had suddenly become the latest now that they were running the RPO search.

Around the time of the casting call announcement, I noticed Cast It Talent ads were popping up on my Facebook news feed…a lot.  Banner ads on websites too. It’s as if Cast It Talent paid for a major digital marketing boost targeting Andrew Fromer.  Or perhaps young actors just like him, that displayed a digital interest in being a apart of the Ready Player One movie.  And by the way, when I did submit, I followed their odd video encoding procedures.  What I ended up with was a two minute scene/slate as requested that (in my opinion) was so low resolution it completely distracted from the performance; the video/audio bitrates were so reduced and displayed in an outdated frame size that it felt like I had converted a BluRay to VHS. It is understandable to think that each actor’s entry would have to be limited to a certain amount of data when there are thousands of submissions coming into their servers…but then I asked myself, what’s the point? Now that free one-month subscription starts to seem more and more fishy to me. And as we all know, there’s no such thing as a free lunch…especially in Hollywood. Unless its craft services. But that’s after you book the gig…I digress…

Now, I want you to imagine you are a casting director of a big budget movie directed by Steven Spielberg; you have an incredibly juicy and super cool role to fill.  You could practically pick anyone you want, right? Don’t forget to take into account that you’re in an industry where social media presence is an increasingly important factor (projects are literally casting based off of who has more Instagram/Twitter followers). And the margin for error in filmmaking is slimmer than ever.  You could cast any rising Disney Channel/Nickelodeon star, or an independent film darling.  Now go check out some of the Wade Watts auditions on YouTube and ask yourself…would you and your team comb through thousands of these to find an unknown star from Middle of Nowhere, USA or would you rather start going through your inbox packed with emails from Hollywood, USA’s top agents? Who is really going to sell this movie at the box office?

Now maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Cast It Talent wasn’t trying to tease thousands of unknown looking-for-stardom-actors and passionate RPO fans into subscribing to their services. Maybe it wasn’t a charade, even though the Tye Sheridan news conspicuously broke one day after the submission deadline for the open call. But it wouldn’t be the worst marketing move by Cast It Talent if their goal was to up their game in the ongoing exploitation of fledgling actors…and the Ready Player One PR team certainly earned a spike in internet traffic for their film.  Do I blame either of them? Absolutely not…I recognize that this is indeed show business.  But I feel Cast It Talent set out to prey on those who believe in the age-old lie of instant success; thousands, maybe even millions of people who believe they can just show up and carry a $100 million dollar movie without putting their nose to the grindstone.  It is no easy task and one I am happy to see Tye Sheridan take on.

I can’t wait for this movie!

Episode 40: Keep Your Eyes Open with Jessica Howell

My guest on this weeks episode is the lovely actress, writer, producer Jessica Howell. She’s been a part of such great projects as Eleanora: The Forgotten Princess, the phenomenal stage production of Re-Animator: The Musical and Showtime’s Masters of Sex. Her latest short film, Susie Sunshine, will be premiering at the LA International Women’s Film Festival on March 25th. We chat about running a successful Indiegogo campaign, the quality of life in Los Angeles vs. New York, and how we have both always been old people.

Grab your tickets to Susie Sunshine at LAWIFF here!

Episode 39: See You at the Maccabi Games with Jessie Kahnweiler

This week’s episode of SideKickBack Radio features Jessie Kahnweiler, creator, writer, director and star of The Skinny. Her well-crafted, dark-comedy web series premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and it’ll take you places you might not expect.  Jessie and I chat about why listening is better than trying to change people, why being rejected as oneself is more important than being accepted as someone else, and man bun executives.

Check out The Skinny at Refinery29 here!