Director Robert Lieberman on commercials, science fiction and his CDGA nomination

Lieberman on the set of The Expanse.

American director Robert Lieberman is no stranger to accolades. Having directed commercials for 30 years, Lieberman has been awarded 29 Cleo Awards, has attended Cannes three times, and won the Director’s Guild Award for commercials the first year it was given. His resume is impressive, his experience extensive, but for Lieberman, receiving a nomination from the Canadian Director’s Guild Awards is an honour, and an entirely new one at that.

“I’m a new Canadian,” says Lieberman. “I’ve only been here for about a decade. I’m honoured to be recognized by my peers in the country I’ve chosen, especially given the competition.”

Lieberman has been nominated for the CDGA award in television direction for his work on the science fiction series The Expanse. The show follows a United Nations executive, a detective, and a ship officer uncovering a conspiracy that threatens the peace and survival of the human race in a colonized solar system. Shohreh Aghdashloo plays the executive, Thomas Jane plays the detective, and Steven Strait plays the officer. The show is based off of the book series by James S. A. Corey, a pen name for writers Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

Lieberman was initially a fan of the book, and joined the television adaptation halfway through its first season. “The show they were approaching wasn’t the show I had in mind when I read the book,” explains Lieberman. “[The showrunners] agreed with me. We decided to revamp the look of the show.”

Changing the look of a show partway through the first season is risky, but the creative team behind the show liked Lieberman’s vision for the show and ran with it. It paid off. The show is now entering its third season and boasts an 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Lieberman describes his take on the world created in the book as crowded — real estate is at a premium in space, so everywhere you look there’s stuff. It’s different than the cold, minimalist space so iconically portrayed in movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s realer, it’s gritty, it’s not very different from our current reality.

“They wouldn’t fill up cubic yards of oxygen just for the sake of filling it up,” says Lieberman. “I recommended they fill the sets with gack [set decoration] so that it all looked grungy and worked. For the episode I’m nominated for, the set was called the Winnebago of space crafts.”

Lieberman didn’t start out directing television, and didn’t even start out wanting to be a director. His first foray into the entertainment industry was as an actor. While growing up in Buffalo, Lieberman was one of the few working child actors in the area. In University, however, his goals shifted.

“I started to realize I was more of a control freak than I thought. I didn’t like being told what to do and I like telling people what to do. Directing is the perfect profession,” jokes Lieberman.

His heart was in the arts, but Lieberman says his aptitudes were pointing towards mathematics. There are a couple of ways to marry the two and directing is one sure way to do so. The combination of technology, planning, number crunching, and coupling an artistic eye with a logical one made the choice for career clear to Lieberman. And the first big destination that choice brought Lieberman to was Hallmark commercials, where he made a name for himself in the industry. “I love stories about humankind and interaction between people,” he says, “I imbue my films with really in-depth characters.”

Lieberman does bring up a good point: no matter the genre, the stories we are invested in are always about people. If we have no characters, no relationships, nothing human to identify with, then engagement and enjoyment become that much more difficult. Science fiction is no different. While the setting is concerned with technology, machinery and futurism, the story is always revolved around the people within these worlds. But what Lieberman says also draws him to the genre is the aspect of a blank canvas.

On another set for The Expanse.

“You have to invent everything,” says Lieberman. “It’s challenging to create worlds that don’t exist.”

Lieberman’s creativity is clear in The Expanse, but also shows in his eclectic body of work. Looking into his ear future, Lieberman shows no sign of becoming pigeon-holed into a particular genre or position.

“I’m doing a package of Toyota commercials,” says Lieberman. “I’m writing a personal play I’d originally intended as a movie, but I decided is better on stage. I’m writing three things simultaneously — there’s a sci-fi YA novel, which I hope turns into the next Harry Potter.”

With projects scheduled for the coming years and an inexhaustible work ethic, it’s no wonder award nominations such as the CDGA keep heading Robert Lieberman’s way, and despite the “I’m just happy to be nominated” phrase being a bit of a cliche, Lieberman did tell me, very seriously, that he is happy just to be nominated.

You can visit Robert Lieberman’s website here.

A Conversation with Peter Kuplowsky on Midnight Madness 2017

Midnight Madness is certainly not for the weak of heart. But those who were feeling a little brave this year decided to take part in the Toronto International Film Festivals lineup of horror films, led by Peter Kuplowsky. No stranger to the festival circuit, Peter trained under Colin Geddes for four years before taking the reins himself.

At just 30 years old, Peter already has quite an impressive resume. He is not afraid to take risks and, because of his meticulous planning, creates a safe space for a memorable movie-watching experience for all to enjoy.

We had the opportunity to chat with Peter about this year’s lineup, and to see where we can find him next.

Kimberley Drapack: How did you first become involved in film?

Peter Kuplowsky: I’ve always been interested in movies and I’ve always wanted to make film. When I was eleven years old my mom took me to the TIFF offices back when they were at 2 Carleton and I interviewed Steve Greystock, not realizing that over a decade later that I would be working with him. TIFF seemed in the cards for a long time.

I was an undergrad student at the University of Toronto specializing in Cinema Studies and at the same time I was helping out with an emerging festival called Toronto After Dark. I enthusiastically volunteered after just having come back from Montréal and experiencing the Fantasia Film Festival. It was an eye opening experience to me and was my first introduction to film festivals because back then Toronto was an 18+ festival and I couldn’t get into any screenings, although I definitely tried and was turned away.

U of T had a student union that had a very generous budget to rent movies so I became a programmer there, selecting films to the student union to show other undergrads. I heard that Colin Geddys, who used to run the midnight madness program, had a large kung fu film collection and I was really into Hong Kong cinema, I reached out to him and started renting prints from him and at the same time I was working at the Bloor cinema as a concessions jockey. I really wanted to start putting on movies there, specifically this one film, Troll 2, considered one of the worst films ever made. I found it so entertaining. I ended up booking the Bloor and putting on a screening of the film there, it was a big success and got Colin’s attention, and he referred to me as the “T2 kid.” We organically began to hang out in the same circle and he noticed my enthusiasm for film programming and putting on shows and eventually asked if I wanted to be an assistant and help him on some of his projects. Initially, it wasn’t Midnight Madness, we collaborated on a festival in South Carolina called Action Fest, I think it was sort of a trial run. We worked on the festival for two years and then after that, I had just finished another job and didn’t know what I was going to be doing and that’s when he suggest I start working with him on the Midnight Madness program.

For the last four years I was the the programming associate, working with Colin. In January he retired, and he generously passed the position to me, which I was completely thrilled about. As bittersweet as it was, I’ve been such a huge fan of this program since I first started attending, I’ve always felt that it was kind of a state of the union of genre films for the year because it was so tightly curated and it spans such a diverse array of different type of genre films, not just horror movies, but martial arts films, films from the around the world… it’s surreal to have that responsibility now but it’s something that I feel really privileged and excited about.

K: Your goal for Midnight Madness over the next five years is to create a lineup of not only horror films, but also a broader genre of films and to emphasize movies that discuss important hot topics. What does this mean to you?

PK: My favourite kinds of genre films or “movies to watch at midnight” are movies that really upset expectations because one of the attractions or appeals of great genre cinema are not really their generic properties, or the generic formulas you expect, it’s the stuff that you don’t expect and the fun is watching the movie that starts in a very familiar place, as many horror movies and action movies do, but it’s how those movies subvert the formula and subvert the expectation of what people are really looking for when they watch genres. They’re looking for something that’s recognizable and familiar but they’re looking for something to surprise them and I think the best genre films do that. I’m very interested and passionate about the films that go out on a limb and take those risks and try to challenge expectations and transgress those boundaries. In putting together this year’s lineup, I was really interested in finding a mix of film makers who had a history with the program and filmmakers that were brand new and trying new things. I think I achieved that with films like, Let the Corpses Tan and The Crescent, respectively, one is an action film and one is a horror film but they are told in very esoteric and eccentric ways. The style and form in which they articulate and express their story has it’s own identity and is not something you can compare easily to other films.

K: It’s great that you found films that deliver important messages and aren’t just there for their jump-scares. 

PK: It was important for me to deliver a wealth of different experiences. I have a film such as David Bruckner’s, The Ritual, which is a traditionally scary movie about campers getting lost in the woods, it’s also from an emerging filmmaker who has spent the last ten years has making a number of short films and anthology projects but he has yet to make a feature. He was someone I wanted to support but his film differently assumes a traditional trajectory, where as, a film like The Crescent is a lot more esoteric and psychedelic and unpredictable.

K: When putting together the line-up for this year, or previous years, is there a certain way in which you go about choosing your films?

PK: I think that a good programmer, especially one that is putting a section together that is as tightly packed as something like the Midnight Madness section, it’s something that I learned from Colin, you have to consider how they flow together. You don’t want a program of ten zombie films or ten martial arts films. You want to deliver a different experience each night and in putting this line up together I was thinking about how I wanted to start, what I want to do in the middle and how I wanted it to end. There is an audience that tries to come every single night so I’m very considerate of their experience each night so I want to change things up.

In terms of how I found these films, you watch a bunch of films that have been submitted to the festival and you’re watching films that you have been contacted about, sometimes by the filmmakers themselves, or their sales agents/distributors. We’re also going out in the world and looking for these movies. I have a background in short film programming, I programmed short films for the Toronto After Dark festival for eleven years and I currently do short film programming for Fantastic Fest. One of the other things that I do when I first started working on the Midnight Madness program was that I emailed a lot of short film makers that I had been a fan of to see if they were working on features and a few said they were, such as David Bruckner.

I try to be thoughtful in terms of putting things together. For instance, it was very important for me that the first film be something that would have a lot of impact, and the film that I chose, Joseph Kahn’s Bodied, is a movie that I thought wouldn’t make sense to have anywhere else but at the start of the festival because I think it’s a sort of film that can start a conversation that can carry through the festival.

I wanted to end the festival on a lighter and fun note, and Vampire Clay ended up being my choice because I really like the story behind the making of the film, it’s the first feature of a filmmaker who is in his late forties, and has worked in the industry of special effects and as a makeup artist on much lower budget productions and I have seen some of his short films and I was really impressed with them and excited to see what he would do with a feature. I found the film really resourceful and fun and unpretentious. I think it is a great counter note to some of the other films in the program where this is a fun way to end the festival experience, not a heavier way.

K: Do you have a particular film that you are most excited for audiences to see this year?

PK:  I’m excited to see how the audiences will react to Brawl in Cellblock 99, simply because I’ve broken the tradition. Historically, every Midnight Madness film begins at midnight, or 11:59 PM, but I’m starting this film at 10:45 PM. The reason is that I really feel that the first hour and seven minutes are not really delivering the Midnight Madness experience. It’s more of a gritty crime drama that’s rather sober and measured and deliberately paced, but about halfway into the movie, a big plot detail emerges that begins to escalate and bring a momentum to the story that makes it feel a bit more Midnight Madness oriented. When it finally gets to the climax and delivers a really brutal and bloody sequence, that I think is going to shock and satisfy the Midnight crowd. I’m looking forward to see how that plays in the room, the steady escalation where people aren’t going to be sure of where the movie is going and then what the movie will deliver in its final scene.

K: Are there any current trends in the horror genre that you were hoping to include or avoid within the lineup?

PK: It’s interesting, while watching the submissions this year, I did see a few trends emerge. I think that you can look at a number of films this year and see a lot of parables of broken masculinity taking place. At the same time, what I was hoping to see more of is women working in genre, and I did see a small, but a presence of women that is just great. A lot of this is a systemic problem where a lot of emerging female directors just aren’t getting a chance to make that jump from short films to feature films as quickly as their male peers are. Last year, we had the amazing film, Raw, directed by Julia Ducournau, and this year we have Hélène Cattet returning for Let the Corpses Tan along with Coralie Fargeat’s debut, Revenge.

A really common genre that gets submitted to a genre festival is the rape-revenge film, or a sort of female-vengeance story, but the fact that this was directed by a woman had me really interested and I think Coralie gives you a really new perspective on how this story gets told, specifically in how she puts the scrutiny and the gaze of the film more centred on male bodies than female bodies. In a rape-revenge story, that’s a really substantial detail.

I’m hoping for the industry to allow more voices to tell stories, because I do think we are seeing the same story over and over again. The amount of times I’ve seen a horror movie or action movie hinge on a protagonist that just wanted to ask a girl out and the whole movie is just so that he can win that girl… it’s a trope and it’s been around for hundreds and hundreds of years and there’s nothing wrong with that type of story, but there’s more than that.

I’m encouraging filmmakers to think about their films and if it’s a story that’s already been heard before, then why do they feel they should tell it again? What do they want to add to the conversation? That’s something that I’m interested in finding in future editions of the program.

K: Along with your many years of experience as a festival programmer, you also have a lot of producing credits, such as: Manborg (2011), the concluding segment Z is for Zygote in the anthology film The ABCs of Death: Part 2 (2014), The Interior (2015), The Void (2016), and the short film adaptation of Dave Eggers short story Your Mother and I (2016). Do you see yourself more as a producer, or would you rather be programming festivals?

PK: Both roles I’ve stumbled into somewhat organically. I’ve always wanted to make movies but early on I found myself more preoccupied with showing other people’s movies. While doing that I’ve made a connection and friendships with short film makers and then those friendships eventually turned into collaborations where I asked a short film maker what they were working on and they would start talking about their process, and because I was gaining contacts and experience working alongside distributors and exhibitors and sales agents and financiers, I was able to parlay some of that experience and some of those contacts into helping some of these short filmmakers make new projects including features.

I found that in my desire to want to make movies I feel like I realized that maybe I’m better at other people make their movies. I really enjoy that sort of collaborative process. Career wise, I’m trying to see if I can balance programming for festivals six months of the year, and helping people get content and getting their films off the ground the other six months of the year.

The most valuable thing about programming is seeing what other people are making and the quality. A lot of the stuff I’m seeing, by objective or conventional standards, might not be up to snuff, or “great works”, but I feel like they’re always teaching me something or establishing trends, some to potentially follow or some to maybe avoid. They are also revealing filmmakers, actors, or cinematographers that I may want to work with. It’s one of the reasons why I want to continue programming other festivals because I feel by watching short films, it’s allowing me to see a couple years into the future because I’m looking at filmmakers that are starting out. I hope to notice them and put them in touch with people that can help them make their films.

K: You’re part of that process with them.

PK: A lot of programmers see a movie well before it’s finished. A few of the films I saw this year, in their assembly versions, or their first drafts. There was a back and forth between me and the filmmakers and their producers about what I thought was working and what I thought wasn’t. While I never intend to say, “I think you should do this,” I try to be candid in terms of what my reactions are. Sometimes it has an effect on someone and sometimes it doesn’t. There’s a real feedback loop between festival programmers and filmmakers these days.

K: It’s always best to do what you love.

PK: Fortunately enough I still like movies. There’s always that period where I’m in the eye-of-the-storm watching stuff and maybe haven’t seen something in three weeks that I’ve liked, and that’s when you get worried because at that point if something good comes around you’re not sure if you’ll notice it because you feel so beaten down. The thing is, every time I’ve gotten that feeling, every time I do see something that I think is strong and good, you notice it within a few seconds. It can be the subtlest decision on the director’s part but I feel that it’s so apparent. As subjective as it may be, there is a way to direct a movie or a way to tell a story that can immediately convey to the viewer that someone is in control and steering the ship.

When someone asks me what I consider as constituting a good film, or what I look for as a programmer, it sounds like a simple thing, but I look for direction. I look for a film that I feel is articulating it’s ideas of clarity. Whether it’s the movements of the camera or the staging factors, I don’t feel like things are arbitrary or left to chance. Even if it’s a movie where things are improvised, or a documentary, the assembly or decisions that are made in putting the package together just feel like decisions.

I like hearing the voice of the filmmaker or the collective voice of the team that has made a certain movie.

K: It must be like a lightbulb that comes on when you do see something special.

PK: When I do see something I like, I have a tendency to stand up and start pacing a bit. I get rather excited when that lightbulb goes off.

K: It must be really exciting to be in the screening and to see the same reactions that you first had.

PK: I love watching the audience watch something in a program. Going to Fantasia in Montréal and then my first Midnight Madness in 2005… it’s the reason I do this. I love sitting in an audience that for ninety minutes or two hours there is a feeling of complete unity where everyone is in line or joining the wavelength of the story being told.

I think Midnight Madness is one of the programs that really delivers that because it often plays with big emotions and is able to create that feeling to get everyone as energized and charged.

K: What’s next for you?

PK: I go straight into Fantastic Fest where I do a shorts programme that is broken up into three sections. There is a horror section, a general comedy section and a section of more experimental, arthouse genre exercises.

After that, the machine sort of beings to start up again for next year but before it does, in earnest, I will likely be trying to work on my many projects with various filmmakers and it kind of depends on what is ready and what needs the help.

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A Conversation with Tazito Garcia

In life, and often from a young age, we are often taken with the idea that we must map out our life. We are expected to know what career path we want to follow and wholeheartedly put everything we have into achieving our goals. When was the last time you reflected on your personal dreams and hopes for your future? Can you remember? We lose sight of what we first intend to do with our lives, pushing it aside for a more realistic career paths.

Actor, director, and pro-athlete, Tazito Garcia knows exactly what he wants in his life, and he does everything possible to achieve his dreams. Since he was very young, Tazito has been involved in many different high level sports, while maintaining an urge to perform at any given moment. He was born for the spotlight.

We had the opportunity to get to know Tazito and discover where he comes from, what he’s up to now, and where he plans to be.

Kimberley Drapack: Can you tell us a bit about your early years?

Taz Garcia: Where do I start? I travelled around the world, thanks to my parents. I have a big mix in my family, so it was inevitable that I would go and visit my cousins and then visit my other cousins. They were on two completely different continents, not even countries.

It was fantastic. I got to see the different cultures, different food, different religions, and different architecture. It was such a great experience.

K: It’s fun being on the road, but did you ever feel like you wanted to settle down at certain points?

TG: I did. I did my pro-sports, that was one of the reasons that I had to travel around a lot when I was young, and it was a little tough when I was in junior school. You make friends in your early years, and then you have to say goodbye, and then you go and meet brand new people.

It came to a point where in 2002, I landed in Toronto and I decided to start University here, and I’m going to settle here for at least the next ten years. I’ve seen enough of the world, for now.

I had a little breather to sit and settle and when I get bored of the snow, I guess I’m going to fly out again.

K: I’m sure the first winter here in Canada was a shock for you?

TG: It was really interesting when I got to Toronto. It had the taste of Europe, and it had a mix of the U.S., and some of the other cultures all meshed into one, so it was really cool.

Weather-wise, I don’t know if I’m really fond of having six or seven months of winter… I like my sun. Other than that, it’s been really kind to me.

K: What was the first sport that you played? When did you realize you were such a gifted athlete?

TG: Since I was a kid. I can almost envision myself coming out with a jumping kick out of my Mom. Or rolling out, or some kind of stunt.

Fortunately, I’ve had very athletic parents and they always believed that having two boys, if they could channel that energy into something productive, they found a certain outlet for us, which was sports, we would do well for ourselves. We wouldn’t use that energy for something bad.

I got enrolled into tennis and soccer. I always had something for martial arts, which they declined for a big portion of my life and kept saying, “no, you’re hyperactive the way you are, so if you learn to kick and punch, we don’t want you doing that in school and then getting suspended.”

I was committed, and in a way, stuck doing tennis and soccer but it turned out to be really amazing for me. I ended up playing with a lot of the tennis pros. Nick Bollettieri, who was the trainer of Andre Agassi, and Pete Sampras. He took me under his wing and I went to his academy which was very militant, but very awesome.

When I was thirteen, I ended up playing for Manchester United, and it was really fun. I grew up with my “older brothers”: Kasper Schmeichel, Dwight Yorke, and David Beckham. Not just myself, but all the juniors, really hated the first team. It’s the older brother syndrome, where they say, “no, no, no, we’ll do it ourselves, and when we’re tired, and we feel like it, you can sub for us.” It’s 88 minutes, and in the last two minutes they would let us on. I was like, “shut up!” (laughs).

Funny story: I saw David Beckham get famous in front of my eyes, which was really cool. Before that, he was just known as “Becks.” He was sitting on the bench, and it was just like acting, sometimes you have to be at the right place at the right time, and you get that one opportunity, that one shot. It worked out for him, he ended up becoming a starter after scoring a very long-range goal. It was really inspirational in a way, sometimes if it feels like the right thing to do, and you just do it. I’ve taken that and translated it into my acting or directing. In this industry, it’s really hard at times and you get people asking why I don’t just go and get a normal job, something routine, something safe. But that little voice inside you tells you to keep going.

K: With all of your successes, I’m sure it just pushes you to keep going and to get rid of that little voice and say, Look at what I’ve done and look at what I’m about to do. 

TG: You’re absolutely right. I get this all the time. They’ll see a certain award that I’ve won and ask why I don’t just chill, or relax. I’m up here right now and if I don’t keep going, you’re going to have someone that’s going to pass you because they’re just as hungry and where you were a few days or a few weeks ago. If you go into cruise control, someone is going to pass you.

K: What transitioned you from sports to acting? Was it a big change?

TG: I was born a performer. I strongly believe that some people were born to perform or entertain, whether they’re mimicking actors or cartoons, or something they’ve seen in a commercial. That was me. I told a lot of my family that it was eventually something I wanted to do. I was probably seven at the time.

It wasn’t hard at all because as an athlete at a very elite level, you have to perform. It’s the same mechanics. You have to have your fans and you have to be a good performer in order to maintain your fans or gain new ones. You have to push, or you become old news, and someone who is better, faster, and stronger than you will out perform you.

K: So, you have to keep a lot of energy up.

TG: On point, you have to be. You’re on your toes all the time.

K: The Briefcase (2011) was your big-screen debut in Hollywood, as the director and star of the film. It earned you several nominations and awards, notably the “Breakout Male Action Star” (2013) at the AOF International Film Festival in Los Angeles. Can you tell us a little about this experience?

TG: The Briefcase is a homage. You go back and you want to relive some moments from a certain time. That’s exactly what I did with The Briefcase. There are people that sit back with their hands tied back and wait for the phone to ring, and there’s people that get up and make things happen. I didn’t go to film school for it, it was my second production as a director and said: “let’s make this happen.”

I wrote the story, directed it, cast the actors, and starred in it. It’s sometimes hard to star in it, because to direct yourself, you have to break out of character, but it turned out really well and was well received by the audience. All the funds that we made for our screenings I donated to Sick Kids Hospital.

K: Do you prefer one role more than the other in terms of either directing or performing?

TG: I’ve worn many hats, but at the end of the day, I think everyone would call one hat their favourite, and I call acting my favourite.

I can’t deny that being behind the camera has made me become a better actor. You have an idea and a vision and know why you’re standing this way, and you know why it may take a little longer for someone to set up the lights, because you have been on the other side. You know how to get that perfect picture that sometimes takes a little bit of a set-up.

As an actor, you can sometimes get a little impatient, and ask, “what’s taking so long? You just move the camera from the left to the right. Just hit that rolling button.” But when you’re behind the camera, you see. Just two degrees can make that massive difference between lighting and how it’s hitting your face, whether you have your marks, the depth of field. You learn a lot and you get to appreciate everyone’s role from behind the camera to in front of the camera. Everything makes that complete picture in the end.

K: Did you feel as though you had a team behind you that could help you spot those little things, or was it a little hard to get into at the beginning?

TG: One of the toughest things is when you are directing yourself, but once you have a solid team behind you and have a good Director of Photography, or a good First Assistant Director, that’s there when the actual director is not available for whatever reason, it’s one of the easiest things. It’s smooth sailing and you trust their opinion and their vision and you share it. You don’t want someone to come up with their own version of what you want.

K: You starred in Lost in the Pacific (2016), one of the largest Hollywood/Chinese co-productions where you were the sole Canadian actor selected to join the international cast alongside Brandon Routh (Superman Returns), Russell Wong (Romeo Must Die), and Vincent Ward (Walking Dead). Tell us about this experience.

TG: It was amazing. They called me up and said they had a mercenary role for me. I wasn’t sure because I’ve done way too many army/mercenary/police roles, and I asked if they had anything else. They called me back and they had a prince role, and I thought, “sure, I’ll play Prince Charming.”

It was a really fun cast and crew to work with. We shot it in Malaysia at Pinewood Studios. I’ve never been to Malaysia, so it was another experience of culture and food and everything that makes Malaysia beautiful.

K: Working in film, you’re often on set in various locations around the world. Is it ever too much? Do you ever feel like just being at home?

TG: I’m not going to lie, if you’re in this industry, it is expected that you’re going to live out of a suitcase some of the time. I always say that I live at 22 Suitcase Avenue. My friends understand why, they will call me up and ask if I can come out, and I’ll reply with, “sorry, I’m in Vegas.” It’s really cool and a blessing. It’s something positive.

I’ve spoken to a lot of people who have said they’ve never been out of town except to go to Niagra, or Montréal. I’m not going to bash it.

K: You are known for performing your own action scenes and stunts. What are the challenges of this, or do you see it as just another part of your character?

TG:  It’s always part of my character. I love it and I always look forward to the action.

I never see it as a bad challenge, but as a positive challenge and an opportunity for me to grow. If in every movie I do something that I’ve done before, it’s boring for myself and for the audience. You always have to create something. They’ve seen you jump out of a car, and then they say, “ok, let’s get this car moving.” Or, let’s jump out of a helicopter. You always want to push yourself that much more and not only is it a challenge for yourself, but it’s that much more pleasing for your audience and your fans.

If you keep doing the same thing, it becomes like a bad joke that you keep repeating, or, it was really good back then, but now it’s not funny anymore. It’s the same thing with the action, you always want to reinvent some of the older stuff; put it in a blender and come up with a new mix.

You have to listen to the fans. They are your compass.

K: What is the best way that you get input from your fans?

TG: Social media right now is huge. It’s one of the easiest ways for us to connect way across the oceans and borders. I can just hop on social media and check their feedback to see what they like and what they want less of. You’ve got to deliver it because that’s what they look forward to.

K: What can we expect from you in the near future?

TG: I’m at the Action on Film Festival right now in Vegas and I’m returning as the youngest recipient of Dr. Goldman’s Icon Award from last year. This year it’s huge for me and a for a lot of the stunts in the action community because they are commemorating all of the action stunt heroes and performers. It means a lot to me to be here. You may have recently read what happened on set of Deadpool and Mad Max. You hear about all the accidents and these performers and talented people who put their skill, sweat, bones, and sometimes even life on the line and then they just get a pat on the back. This is one of the few times that someone actually stood up and wanted to give them a proper thank you.

K: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

TG: In five years from now I see myself as the next top, or highest paid action star. I’ll make Canada proud, because I don’t remember the last time the highest paid action star was a Canadian. I would use that to inspire the younger generations and help the younger generations.

K: Do you have any family members that come with you on big trips?

TG: I travel with friends and family and a crew. If I can have fun, why can’t I share the fun? There’s no point in success if you keep it all to yourself. There’s no true happiness unless you can share it with people. It’s that family feel that I love.

K: That must be really exciting.

TG: It is. This is why I always tell people, and I tell them all the time, to remember that you are going to hear that people find this industry unorthodox. It’s not your typical doctor, engineer, sales position. It’s tough. You have to listen to the little voice inside and give it a thousand percent. Not one-hundred percent. You have to go all in, have that thick skin, and show them that it can be done.

K: Do you feel as though you often have to fight to prove to people why your dreams are valid and prove to them why this is what you are supposed to be doing?

TG: It’s kind of like a hiccup. If I run into someone and they say they’re a doctor, or in sales, and I reply that I’m an actor, they don’t know how to follow up with it. To them, it’s unorthodox and usually hits them in the head.

I always felt that you should listen to your voice. If you can give up the typical path, the nine to five, if you stop for one little second and go back to when you were a little younger and remember your dreams, what would have happened if you pursued that? Maybe you would have been phenomenal or one of the top ten people in the world within that field.

K: Of course. You don’t want to be ten years down the line and feel as though you haven’t pursued what you wanted most.

TG: I strongly believe you never want to look back and wished you had spoken to someone, or played more of a certain sport, or spent more time with family. Do it right now, just do it now.

K: Do you have any films in the works at the moment?

TG: I have something that is still in the preproduction stages and is something we want to be camera ready early 2018. It’s based on a short film called First Bust. It’s an action-comedy with a touch of fantasy. We’re looking to have A-listers and B-listers, but my main goal is to have it as the biggest Canadian-Chinese co-production.   

We are finalizing everything with the script, locking in producers and locations. I don’t think there has been any Canadian-Chinese co-productions, but I know that Hollywood and China have done a couple in the past year.

We’re looking at shooting in Shanghai right now. They just opened a brand new mall that is the size of ten football fields. It has an indoor beach and the entire thing is marble.

To stay updated with Taz Garcia, you can follow his many social media accounts on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook and continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

5 Women Working in Hollywood You Should Know About

If you ever watch the credits after a film, whether you’re staring at your laptop screen half-awake, waiting for a post-credit scene after a Marvel flick, or delaying having to re-enter real life after a particularly good escape, you see hundreds of names scroll by. It takes an enormous amount of effort to get a single movie onto the big screen, and these behind-the-scenes heroes never get as much press as the top-billed movie stars.

For women in these positions, that recognition is even harder to come by when working within a boys’ club. But despite the difficulties facing them, there are so many women working in Hollywood today who are creating incredible art and telling stories that need to be told.

We thought we’d tell you about a few of them.

Jane Goldman — Screenwriter & Producer

Image source.

English writer and producer Jane Goldman has left huge marks on action films so far in her career. Her writing credits include Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, and Kingsmen: The Secret Service, showing her to not only have a knack for writing over-the-top action scenes, but also for bringing much-needed campiness to the screen. Regardless of whether you liked Kingsmen or not, it was definitely memorable. She was in the news a great deal because of her marriage to British TV host Jonathan Ross, but it’s important to note her own accomplishments and presence in big-budget Hollywood. In an article in the LA Times, Goldman’s work is described as quirky and eccentric, and Tim Burton is quoted saying that Goldman is “…very creative, very intelligent…” With praises from well-known directors like Burton, and with more projects set for the coming years, including a just-announced Kingsmen 3, Goldman’s momentum shows no signs of slowing.

Jane Goldman’s IMDb.

Autumn Durald — Cinematographer

Image source.

While the directors of movies are responsible for the sequences of shots, cinematographers add their own vision and flair to the work. They are usually in charge of camera operations and lighting and make technical and artistic decisions related to each shot. They are also the ones to thank in that moment where you are overcome with the need to say, “That’s a good shot.” American-born cinematographer Autumn Durald is best known for her work on Palo Alto, Gia Coppola’s directorial debut based on the short stories written by James Franco. That isn’t the extent of Durald’s resume, however. She has also worked on music videos for Arcade Fire, Tiesto, and London Grammar, as well as on commercials for Smirnoff and Coca-Cola. Durald has also leant her talents to a number of shorts over the years, but it looks like her next few years show more feature film productions, including Max Minghella’s directorial debut Teen Spirit starring Elle Fanning.

Autumn Durald’s official website.

Hannah Beachler — Production Designer

Image source.

If you’re wondering exactly what a production designer does, they are generally responsible for the overall “look” of the production, adding to set design and decoration. If Hannah Beachler’s name sounds familiar in that category, it may be because she is the production designer behind Beyoncé’s incredible Lemonade special, a fantastic collection of shorts and music videos that was actually nominated for multiple Emmys. While I would argue Lemonade is a film in its own right, Beachler’s feature film credits include Fruitvale Station, Creed, and the Oscar-winning Moonlight. While these three movies all had production design that was more raw and real, Beachler also has a knack for the more stylized and fantastical as seen in her work on Lemonade and in the upcoming Marvel picture Black Panther. The latter, of course, hasn’t been released yet, but based on the trailer alone, it’s clear that Beachler has a strong vision and talent. I’m so excited to see more of her work.

Hannah Beachler’s official website.

Lisa Lassek — Editor

Image source.

Continuing on a slight Marvel theme, let’s talk about Lisa Lassek, an editor who has worked within the franchise. This is surprising to some, but the majority of editors in Hollywood are actually women, and their job is to cut hours and hours of footage down to a cohesive sequence that is palatable to a mainstream audience. I want you to imagine editing something like Lord of the Rings. Just picture attempting to do that for a moment. Lassek has impressive credits, having worked as an editor on The Circle, The Cabin in the Woods, Avengers, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Lassek also has extensive experience with television, having edited episodes on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Community, and, most recently, The OA. Editing is a daunting task and is one of the main reasons post-production on films can take so long. The movie needs to have a decent run time. It needs to make sense. It needs to line up with the director’s vision. When all of these requirements come together, we are left with the movie we actually get to see, the one that’s played in cinemas. Some of what remains is put on DVDs as deleted scenes or put in a five-hour-long director’s cut.

Lisa Lassek’s IMDb.

Ava DuVernay — Director, Writer, Producer

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Ava DuVernay has truly become a household name in the last few years, gaining recognition for her work as director and producer on acclaimed films such as Selma and 13th, as well as her work as a film distributor with her own company AFFRM (the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement). Her powerful work and strong directorial point of view landed DuVernay a handsome amount of nominations and awards, including an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature for 13th. That documentary also landed her a BAFTA in the same category. While DuVernay has also directed a few shorts, TV shows and TV movies, a great deal of her time in Hollywood has so far been in miscellaneous roles in production and promotion on the Hollywood circuit. It is clear, however, that DuVernay’s talents lend her to different roles in film production, working in a diverse amount genres and subject matters. Upcoming projects for DuVernay include directing the TV movie Battle of Versailles, on the 1973 Palace of Versailles fashion show, and the fantasy flick A Wrinkle in Time, which is set to be released next year.

Ava DuVernay’s official website.

Director, Producer, Trailblazer: Ida Lupino

In the 1940s and ’50s, in what is considered by many to be the “golden age” of the film industry, few women were working behind the scenes. They could be seen on screen, usually portraying polarized female stereotypes: the virgin and the whore, the good girl and the villain, the love interest and the mother. Behind-the-scenes positions for women virtually disappeared after WWII, coinciding with the societal shift to focus on the nuclear family and feminine ideals. Any role that did exist were always given to white women — women of colour, if they appeared on screen, were generally only given roles that either cast them as servants or fetishized them. That’s an issue that’s still being addressed today. When it comes to contemporary female directors, we are finally seeing support and recognition for their works, but we are only still at the very beginning.

It was the same in the 1940s as it is now: in order to see the stories they want to see, women needed to make the movies themselves.

Ida Lupino did just this. In the 1940s, she was a big ticket actress, working alongside high-profile actors like Humphrey Bogart. She was top-billed, talented, and beautiful, but she wasn’t finished. She wanted to make movies. While on the set, she would watch the directors and the camera operators and learn from them, probably one of the best education a young filmmaker could ever get. While she was always a student of film, Lupino didn’t get a chance to direct until she sat in for director Elmer Clifton for the 1949 film Not Wanted when Clifton fell ill. Lupino was not credited, but it was her first unofficial project.

Ida Lupino. Photo via TIFF on Twitter.

In 1950 she opened her own production company with her husband, Collier Young. There, she wrote, directed, and distributed a number of films without studio backing and without famous actors. These were films with strong female characters, complicated women, women on the outside of society. Her topics were controversial for the time — sexual assault, unplanned pregnancy, and mental health to name a few —, and even now, despite more open dialogues on these topics, the stories Lupino told and the films she created are still very relevant.

“She’s a humanist,” says Anne Morra, Associate Curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. “She doesn’t pack her films with known movie stars, so the audience has a character without a story attached to them. Her films could be documentaries.”

In her official directional debut, Never Fear, the subjects are professional dancers and lovers with Carol and Guy at its center. Carol contracts polio and loses the ability to dance, causing feelings of worthlessness and inferiority. In Outrage, Lupino tackles sexual assault, depicting a violent attack on a young woman and the subsequent emotional fallout and police investigation.

A still from Outrage (1950). Source.

These are topics that big production companies would never touch since the box office payoff would have been minimal at best. Who would want to see such terrible and unromantic things? Generally, films at the time were much more formulaic, falling under romance or crime. Think of the noir thrillers from the 1940s and the romantic comedies of the 1950s. The main characters are cool, competent men and the women are seductive, soft speaking side pieces. Lupino’s realistic, female-driven narratives were hardly what audiences at the time were used to consuming.

“She’s quite avant-garde in her role,” says Morra. “She learned from other directors but it’s important not to compare her because her works are very unique.”

Despite not fitting in with her contemporaries, Lupino’s works have staying power. This month, TIFF is hosting Lupino’s first-ever retrospective, showing a restored selection of her works as a director and an actress. Morra, who has done extensive research on Lupino, introduced the screening of Never Fear last Wednesday at the Bell Lightbox. The retrospective celebrates Lupino as both a pioneer for women on screen and in independent filmmaking.

“I hope [viewers] take away the idea of Ida as a revolutionary filmmaker. She was a woman working without a blueprint,” says Morra. “I hope they’re able to rediscover her or discover her for the first time.”

As someone who wasn’t very familiar with Lupino, I discovered her for the first time through Outrage, a movie that tore me up emotionally but impressed me with how it handled a story of sexual assault, arguably better, despite some religious overtones, than some television shows aim to depict it now. I was surprised by it, shocked by it, and thrilled to have discovered such a strong point of view from a female director. We now have many more female perspectives. We have Ava DuVernay, Ana Lily Amirpour, Jennifer Kent, and Kathryn Bigelow, all talented filmmakers with distinct perspectives and styles. It doesn’t make sense to compare them with one another, just as it doesn’t make sense to compare them with Lupino, who worked in a very different time and industry. What cannot be denied is Lupino’s effect on cinema, her legacy of a phenomenal body of work and the ground she broke in her time.

As Morra put it, “She’s someone who deserves to be seen.”

Tickets to Ida Lupino’s retrospective can be found here. The retrospective runs through September 2nd. Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.