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February 2018

Wingman Wednesday

Jesse Ray Sheps

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With buzz around the film “All Square” continuing to build, 12-year-old actor Jesse Ray Sheps is poised to lead the next generation of great on-screen performers. While he possesses a natural star quality, the kind built for the brightest of spotlights, it is his acting chops that will propel him to a long and successful career in the world of entertainment should he choose to follow that path.

In “All Square,” premiering at SXSW on March 9, the young thespian goes toe-to-toe with Emmy nominees Michael Kelly and Pamela Adlon and does more than just hold his own. Sheps plays Brian, a young boy who befriends John (Kelly), his mother’s ex-boyfriend who uses his experience as a bookie to take bets on Brian’s youth league baseball games. It’s heavy, dramatic, and as most likely the case, a game changer for Sheps and his career.

We recently sat down with Sheps to discuss his approach towards finding characters, any pressure he’s experiencing in light of the aforementioned “All Square” buzz, and what Marvel super heroes he is most drawn to.

TrunkSpace: You have done work both on-camera and as a voice actor. Do you enjoy voice acting as much as you do the onscreen work? Does it feel the same?
Sheps: Yes, actually, because with the voice acting, I still get to portray all of the emotion, it’s just without my face. So I still have to act it out and I still have to think about everything and make sure that my character is real. He has to have his own self. So obviously my character, Fluffy (from “Zack and Quack”), he’s always very scared, so I have to always make sure that his character is.

TrunkSpace: Speaking of voice acting, one of your costars in “All Square” is Yeardley Smith, who has done something like 635 episodes of “The Simpsons,” which is just crazy. What a great talent to be around and learn from if voice acting remains a long term interest of yours.
Sheps: I know. She plays Lisa Simpson. I was completely amazed when I found out that I was working with her.

TrunkSpace: There’s a lot of buzz swirling around the movie. Do you feel any pressure being a lead in a project that is getting so much attention this early in its cinematic journey?
Sheps: No, because I actually find it really amazing that I got to work with such great people. I got to work with Michael Kelly from “House of Cards” and it was just incredible. Pam Adlon. Yeardley.

TrunkSpace: Michael is such an accomplished actor and the scenes that you two share are at times very heavy and very dramatic. Did you pick up any advice or take anything from him through his performance that you think you’ll carry with you for the rest of your career?
Sheps: Yeah, when I was watching him perform and whenever he was doing these scenes, he always took a while to perfect what he was doing. He stepped back for a second before we called action and I found that really interesting.

TrunkSpace: Like he was tapping into or connecting with his character?
Sheps: Yeah.

TrunkSpace: What does that process personally look like for you? How do you find a character or make a connection, such as the case with Brian in “All Square?”
Sheps: Well, Brian is a very abused kid and his father doesn’t hang out with him and he’s barely even seen his father. He’s close with his mom. I have a very close relationship with my father, so I just have to imagine, just place myself as if my father wasn’t close to me. I just used the emotion that I felt that I would have.

TrunkSpace: As you look forward in your career, is there a type of character or a particular genre that you’re hoping to get to tackle?
Sheps: Well, I’m actually a fan of Marvel movies, so maybe a super hero movie or something. If I wanted to stay within the concept of what I’m doing right now, more dramas, then I would want a character like Brian who really just shows a lot of emotion. And I play guitar and I write my own songs, so maybe a character who’s trying to discover his art, trying to make it big.

TrunkSpace: We can’t argue with you on the Marvel movie front. Getting to play a super hero is pretty much the ultimate dream. Is there a particular character from the Marvel Universe that you enjoy the most?
Sheps: I think Iron Man is really funny, but if I had to choose someone, I would either choose Spider-Man or probably Black Panther because they show a lot of emotion.

TrunkSpace: Excellent choices. So, getting back to “All Square,” as is usually the case, so much time passes between the moment a film wraps and the time it is released. Is it kind of odd having to reconnect with Brian now to promote the film after you’ve already moved on from him?
Sheps: Not really because I feel like Brian is a part of me. I took some of my emotion and then I mixed it with emotion that the character naturally has.

TrunkSpace: And when people sit down to watch the movie, what do you want them to take away from it?
Sheps: Maybe to never give up and also to always believe in your friends.

All Square” premieres March 9 at SXSW.

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Sit and Spin

Olden Yolk’s Self-Titled Debut

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Artist: Olden Yolk

Album: Self-Titled

Label: Trouble in Mind

Reason We’re Cranking It: Are you folking kidding us? We’re having a difficult time finding a reason not to. Each song off of the self-titled debut is a nostalgic joy ride, the kind that places us in the backseat of our father’s lime green van circa 1983 as he popped in his favorite 8-track cassettes and took us on a Sunday drive down by the coast. This album doesn’t just pass along a feeling, it gives us the feels!

What The Album Tells Us About Them: The songwriting tag team of multi-instrumentalists Shane Butler and Caity Shaffer are committed to the idea of making all that is old new again. From their beautifully blended vocals to the sooth-induced pacing of the album as a whole, they’re tapping into an era of music that is not well-represented in modern music and doing so in a way that is still completely modern.

Track Stuck On Repeat: “Verdant” is folk with a psychedelic stimulant injected into its bloodstream. Hypnotizing in the way that it floats through you, it stays a part of your subconscious long after the music fades from the speakers.

Coming To A City Near You: Olden Yolk tour dates can be found here.

And that means…

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Wingman Wednesday

Shoshannah Stern

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Cheryl Hines as Stella, Shoshannah Stern as Kate – ThisClose _ Season 1, Episode 2 – Photo Credit: Gunther Campine/SundanceNow

For Shoshannah Stern, her new series “This Close,” which airs on SundanceTV’s streaming platform Sundance Now, is more than a career game changer. As a deaf actress, she has struggled with booking jobs. On those projects that she was cast in, a sense of dignity always accompanied the paycheck, one that went beyond her thespian ambitions. Getting to see the fruits of her creative labor come to life is a dream come true, but having a hand in employing nearly 20 deaf people throughout the production of “This Close” is a piece of the artistic puzzle that she has immense pride in.

We recently sat down with Stern to discuss the transformative journey of the series, Post-it note excitement, and why she mourned the loss of her “Supernatural” character Eileen along with the rest of the fandom.

TrunkSpace: You have put so much of yourself into “This Close,” from developing the story and characters to inhabiting one of the characters onscreen. What are you most proud of when it comes to the series?
Stern: I have gone months, even years without working. This isn’t a unique story when it comes to the acting thing, because I know something like 90 percent of actors at any given point aren’t working. However, actors who aren’t deaf usually don’t have any trouble finding a day job, and that’s something that’s very challenging for deaf people. The statistics are actually kind of staggering. Something like 70 percent of deaf people in America are either unemployed or underemployed. I know whenever I booked a job in the past, I got this sense of dignity that went beyond just the acting thing – I felt a real sense of having earned a place at a table as a contributing member of society. And then whenever that job wrapped, I’d go back to not being able to have a seat at that table anymore. I’d feel as if I was kind of standing in the back of the room staring at all the people that were sitting there and just yearning to be at that table again. So the fact that we were able to create around 18 different positions through all stages of production, both in front and behind the camera, that went to deaf people, and not only seeing, but feeling from them that same sense of self-worth, that’s probably what I’m proudest of.

TrunkSpace: When you first sat down to develop “This Close,” were you writing Kate with yourself in mind, and in doing so, did you consciously/subconsciously put elements of yourself into who she is?
Stern: The very first iteration of “This Close” was a pilot Josh (Feldman) and I made in one day for $250 and then put on YouTube. In that iteration, Kate and Michael were pretty much identical to Josh and I in real life. But along the way, after it became the webseries and then the television show, the characters gradually took on lives of their own. But because the writing process for “This Close” was so compressed (we wrote the first season in around seven weeks) I really didn’t have a chance to think about actually playing Kate until the day before. I was so in writing mode that once I shifted to acting mode I was kind of like, “Oh shit.” But while her and I are very different in reality, I think she’s someone I would want to be friends with. There’s a lot I admire about her, like how light and bubbly she is and how she always sees the best in people while trying to be better herself.

TrunkSpace: Projects seem to linger for a long time in Hollywood before they ever see the light of day. How long was “This Close” gestating in your mind before you started putting words to page and ultimately stepped on set to shoot your first scene?
Stern: We had our big cast and production dinner the night before we started shooting, where I finally met Zach Gilford for the first time after casting him, and during that time, Josh turned to me and we realized that we had shot the first pilot for YouTube exactly two years ago to the day. But there’s so much of our lives and experiences in the show, saying it only took two years seems like cheating a little bit!

TrunkSpace: As you mentioned, the concept began as a webseries and ultimately became the television show it is today. Would you say that it has exceeded expectations for you in terms of how far you had hoped it would go, both creatively and from a business standpoint?
Stern: Definitely. I don’t think I ever allowed myself to hope or think about anything else than the step directly above the one we were standing on at the time. I mean, I encourage my 3-year-old daughter to fantasize as much as she can because I think that’s one of the healthiest thing you can do whether you’re 3 or 33, but fantasizing is different than hoping. All I knew is that I hoped we could keep going, and I wanted to get to that next step. It’s a bit mad being at that point now where we’re able to look back the way we’ve come and see all the steps that we’ve taken.

Shoshannah Stern as Kate, Josh Feldman as Michael – ThisClose _ Season 1, Episode 3 – Photo Credit: Gunther Campine/SundanceNow

TrunkSpace: When the series expanded to a different format, did it force you to take a different creative approach to the pacing and overall storytelling? Did it become a different show in any way than what you originally envisioned?
Stern: Absolutely. It became a different show every time. When we did “Fridays,” the YouTube version, we knew we had a budget of $250 so we had to limit the location since we only had one. So it was basically just 20 minutes of two characters talking about nothing and everything. When it became “The Chances,” we knew we had a bit more to work with, so we knew we could make the world of the show a little bit bigger and include more people. But with a seven-minute platform, we felt it would be better to focus on more of the humor of their lives and interactions. However, when we got the green light to take it to television, we always knew we wanted to make their world darker now that we had a bigger sandbox to play in. So I’ve always felt like we made three different versions of the show before it became “This Close.”

TrunkSpace: As far as creative fulfillment is concerned, what was the moment like when you discovered that “This Close” was picked up to series? How did you celebrate?
Stern: I remember my sister asking me how I celebrated and like, celebrating hadn’t even occurred to me. I was just so excited about getting to write and have it be an actual job and not just on spec. I was thrilled about getting our own office and being able to put Post-its on the wall. That was my fulfillment because that’s always been a dream of mine. But after being scolded at by my big sister I was like, “Yes, ma’am.” So I vaguely remember Josh and I getting some champagne somewhere one night, but then we talked about work the whole time. Being able to create, that’s where the celebration is at for me.

TrunkSpace: Do you feel like this is just the beginning for you in terms of creating and developing content? Do you have more stories to tell?
Stern: I hope it is. I have a whole plethora of ideas I’d love to bring to life, but going through this process has taught me so much. One valuable lesson is that you can’t create alone. It’s all about collaboration, and that takes a village. I’ve learned so much about collaborating through all the brilliant people that came aboard to do this crazy thing with us, and I feel like that connection you make when you’re making an idea come to life, that’s pure magic. I’d love to seek out that sort of collaboration for the rest of my life.

TrunkSpace: We’re big fans of “Supernatural” here at TrunkSpace. How much did guesting on that show as Winchester ally Eileen change your life?
Stern: “Supernatural” came along at a very auspicious time in my life. I got the offer to play Eileen when I was creating “Fridays,” and so it validated a lot of questions I had in my mind that might have unconsciously been holding me back. Creation begets creation, and so getting that creative energy I got being on set and playing her really fueled a lot of what I put in the show. In my mind and in the heart, the two are intertwined, kind of like these trees you see that have grown around the other.

TrunkSpace: There was massive social media uproar when Eileen met her untimely demise. Was it flattering to know that the fandom was so invested in not only your character but in you as a performer?
Stern: I grieved Eileen. I mean, like, I literally grieved her. She was written as such a badass that she kind of forced me to find my inner badass too. So even though I was only on the show for two episodes before she died in her third, just having her alive in the back of my mind helped me channel strength from her. So because she meant and represented so much for me, I felt her loss for quite a while. So while I hadn’t anticipated the fandom’s response in the least, the love I got from them became a real support system for me. I felt like they helped me heal from that loss and now I’m just very appreciative that I got to have Eileen for as long as I did in a time when I needed her to be there.

Stern as Eileen in “Supernatural”

TrunkSpace: “Supernatural” is in its 13th season. If “This Close” were to go 13 seasons, where do you think Kate and Michael will be in their lives in 2031?
Stern: Oh wow. While we’ve talked and thought about the show’s future, I think the furthest I’ve ever thought about it is Season 6! But okay. In “This Close” in 2031… Kate and Michael will have settled in their skins and their lives a bit more. I see them having houses and families, possibly even a merged family of sorts, and going on vacations together. I feel like both Kate and Michael are the kind of people that will never stop evolving, so they’ll never stop growing. But I know one thing for sure, they’ll still be the very best of friends.

This Close” premiered Feb 14 on SundanceTV’s streaming platform, Sundance Now. New episodes arrive every Thursday.

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Trunk Gaming

Plague Inc.

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Game Title: Plague Inc.

Platforms: Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Microsoft Windows

Price: FREE

Latest Update: February 8, 2018

Developer: Ndemic Creations

Like the bacteria and viruses featured, this game about creating and spreading a cataclysmic plague has been around for some time. As was the case every weekend in high school, we just showed up late to the party.

Here’s the thing, given the terrible flu season we’re having this year, getting lost in a game where your entire purpose as a player is to wipe out the human population, it feels a bit in bad taste. Once we got over our own guilt, however, we were able to really embrace our handheld role as grim reaper and rain a germ-riddled storm down on the digital people inside our phones.

When you start the game, you’re shown seven types of in-game directions you can head: Bacteria, Virus, Fungus, Parasite, Prion, Nano-Virus and Bio-Weaon. Each type of plague has its own set of rules and spreading mechanisms, but out of the gates you’re only allowed to access Bacteria, which is a good thing because the game itself takes some getting used to.

Here comes the best part, at least according to our prepubescent selves. You get to name your plague. That’s right, Fartatingus has been unleashed on the world and it’s raising a big stink! (Get it?!?! Is this thing on?)

After naming your plague, you can modify the genetic code (customize your game settings) through in-app purchases or by completing tasks within the game itself. From there, the race to infect the world is on.

You pick the country of origin that you want, in this case, Fartatingus, to begin it’s long apocalyptic journey and as things get rolling you can manage the transmission, symptoms and abilities of your plague using DNA points that you score in game. Utilizing air travel, shipping routes and organic carriers (insects and rats, for example), you spread your plague around the globe, hoping to stay under the radar long enough so that the countries of the world don’t pool all of their collective resources into finding a cure.

If you succeed in taking out all of the humans on the planet, you then can unlock the next stage (Bacteria) and try it all over again with a different set of rules.

There are a few really great scenarios that you can access by purchase as well, including the Necroa Virus (zombies!) and Simian Flu, which ties into the film “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

While we wouldn’t hand the phone over to our little ones to play this game, we would put them to bed a tad earlier so that we could get some extra time spreading Fartingus to every corner of the globe. And that’s not just us blowing smoke up your you know what. No, that’s just the Fartingus taking hold. (Diarrhea is one of the symptoms after all!)

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Sit and Spin

Caroline Rose’s Loner

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Artist: Caroline Rose

Album: “Loner”

Label: New West Records

Reason We’re Cranking It: Infusing a fusion of pop and electronica with the bread and butter storytelling vibe of the singer/songwriter camp, Rose has bloomed into a unique voice that feels like the musical mashing of Poe (Anne Decatur Danielewski) and Butch Walker. “Loner” isn’t so much a loner as it is a standalone.

What The Album Tells Us About Her: While Rose takes her art seriously, she also isn’t afraid to have a little fun in the creative process. “Loner” is the kind of album you listen to in the car with the windows down, one hand thrust outside the vehicle as it rides the continuous oncoming current of air. Surfing the breeze while shooting the breeze with Rose on such subjects as loneliness and monetary fixation, these are the kinds of conversations you find yourself having with friends on extended road trips. When Rose hits the road again with her next album, we’re calling shotgun.

Track Stuck On Repeat: “More of the Same” is the first song off of the album and does a brilliant job at establishing the musical world you’re about to step ear into. Catchy with an infectious chorus, it’s like the perfect bag of trail mix, a commingling of sweet and salty that, no matter how much you convince yourself of having only “one more bite,” you continuously revisit over and over again.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to sit back and listen to “More of the Same” just ONE more time. Or 20.

Coming To A City Near You: Caroline Rose tour dates can be found here.

And that means…

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Wingman Wednesday

Holland Roden

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After spending six seasons on the hit MTV series “Teen Wolf,” actress Holland Roden is used to dipping her toes into the supernatural water, but like the nightly news so often teaches us, human nature is far more disturbing than those things that go bump on a full moon night. In Season 3 of the horror anthology series “Channel Zero” (subtitled “Butcher’s Block”), Roden’s character Zoe is battling demons of the personal variety while being dropped in the middle of an unsettling mystery that would make anyone question the sordid capabilities of humanity. The troubling journey offers sights, sounds and an atmosphere that blurs the line between reality and fantasy. It is the worst case scenario for a character grappling with her own soundness of judgment.

We recently sat down with Roden to discuss tackling mental illness onscreen, why she was excited to dive into the “stripped down” nature of Zoe, and the reason acting satisfies her gypsy soul.

TrunkSpace: You portrayed Lydia Martin in 100 episodes of “Teen Wolf.” Does stepping into a series like “Channel Zero” have a different vibe as an actress, knowing that it has a single season ceiling? Does it feel more like you’re working in film rather than in television?
Roden: It feels just like a different story. Playing Lydia I had a certain feeling and Zoe a certain feeling. She’s an adult, she… well, I think of her as living in the real world. Lydia lived in a supernatural one, for all intents and purposes. Zoe has a much more realistic approach despite what she deals with mentally.

TrunkSpace: From a character’s journey standpoint, did you have a clear take on what Zoe’s beginning, middle and end would be when you signed on to play her, and if so, does knowing that journey beforehand make it easier to make choices for a character in the early stages of finding who she is beneath the surface?
Roden: I don’t know how much of the plot I can give away. There was one aspect I found out only when I read Episode 2. I had recently seen a movie called “Raw” and loved it, so let’s just say I was excited to be able to play some of the same urges that were for the characters in “Raw.”

TrunkSpace: When we first meet Zoe we learn that she is suffering from a genetically-inherited psychotic break. What kind of research did you do beforehand to get a sense of what that would look like for Zoe and how you would portray it onscreen?
Roden: Lots of YouTube, articles and books. One book that Nick (Antosca) and Arkasha (Stevenson) recommended and I read was “No One Cares About Crazy People.”

TrunkSpace: Zoe seems very different than any of the previous characters we have seen you take on in the past. Creatively, was that part of the appeal for you in “Channel Zero,” getting to tackle a character and territory that you have yet to in your career?
Roden: Exactly that – I play an adult. I play a character with a lot of responsibility and hopelessness at the same time. I was enthralled to tackle Zoe. There is a stripped down aspect to her – no makeup, baggy clothes – the opposite of Lydia.

TrunkSpace: “Channel Zero” plays in various genre sandboxes, but the one that is most apparent (and the big draw for viewers) is horror. One of the things the show does so well is setting a really uncomfortable, creepy tone for the audience, and based on early feedback, this season is firing on all creepy cylinders. What are you most excited for viewers to see and experience as the season rolls on?
Roden: The dinner scenes for sure.

TrunkSpace: One of the things that we are always fascinated with is how actors can tap into fear, which we would imagine, is one of the more difficult emotions to find on set just because it is so specific and needs to read so honestly in order to be believable for viewers. From a performance standpoint, how do you go about that? What are your tricks to finding fear within a scene?
Roden: I just pile myself to the best of my ability in the situation – sense memory to a certain extent. I write backstories on characters I play. Some days are better than others. We all have bad days at the office, but ultimately, once you are there, it is real to me.

TrunkSpace: Again sticking with the idea of performance, what was the most difficult part of shooting “Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block” for you? Where did you feel the most out of your comfort zone?
Roden: Hmm. I don’t know. Well, smoking for me was a big one. I am allergic to nicotine. Of course, these don’t have that but getting the smoking thing down was tough for me. Now I don’t think twice when I have to smoke a rose cigarette, but for a long time I dreaded it.

Roden in “Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block.”

TrunkSpace: Do you still love acting as much today as you did the first time you stepped foot on a set and began your career?
Roden: I don’t act at any cost anymore. If it makes sense then great, if not – from either end – there are so many amazing professions and lives to live out there. Too much to see and do to fret if this life doesn’t work.

TrunkSpace: We read that you were originally on a path towards a career in molecular biology. Had you not left your studies to pursue acting, do you think you would be a different person today? Would you have a different view and outlook on life?
Roden: I would probably be the same person but with a sharper mind at this point, yet with more curiosity. The amazing opportunity with this profession is it really feeds the gypsy, curiosity path. Nothing shocks me anymore. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You’re still so young with so much career in front of you. If someone came to you tomorrow with a blank check and said, “Holland, go develop any project you want for yourself,” what type of project would you greenlight and why?
Roden: Wow, great question. I would explore different types of mental illnesses. One hundred percent, I would strive to only make stories we haven’t seen before.

Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block” airs Wednesday on SYFY.

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Trunk Stubs

7 Guardians of the Tomb

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Movie: 7 Guardians of the Tomb

Rated: NR

Genre: Action, Adventure

Release Date: February 23, 2018

Run Time: 1h 30m

StarringKelsey Grammer, Kellan Lutz, Stef Dawson, Chun Wu, Li Bingbing, Yasmin Kassim

Directed By: Kimble Rendall

Written By: Gary Hamilton (story), Jonathan Scanlon (story), Kimble Rendall, Paul Staheli

Reason We’re Watching It: You had us at Kelsey Grammer, but we certainly stayed for the action and adventure aspect of the movie. The truth is, it’s hard not to enjoy a story that involves chasing after a sought-after artifact in China while dodging danger and solving potentially deadly puzzles in an ancient tomb.

What It’s About: Luke (Wu) is on an archaeological dig for businessman Mason (Grammer) when a discovery gives way to a horrifying past that was best left buried in the tomb. Mason alerts Luke’s sister, Jia (Bingbing) about her brother’s sudden disappearance and Jia joins Mason and a crew of adventurers to find him… though Mason has ulterior motives that are soon revealed.

Whoah! Rewind That!: Spiders… why did it have to be SPIDERS!? There is a climactic scene that involves hundreds of spiders and one very massive boss-looking spider that literally rips another large spider in half. How can you not rewind that a few times and cringe in ooey-gooy awesomeness?

Watercooler-Worthy Tidbit: Lutz came up with a game during the last week of filming for the cast and crew to play that involved throwing a toy spider into a hole in a box, Cornhole style. If the spider made it in, they won a prize like on TV or in video games. Google is suddenly not the most fun place to work anymore. Thanks Lutz!

And that’s why we’re giving it…

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Sit and Spin

Joey Dosik’s Game Winner

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Artist: Joey Dosik

Album: “Game Winner”

Label: Secretly Canadian

Reason We’re Cranking It: Dosik’s latest offering (being re-released with four bonus tracks), loosely inspired by the game of basketball, is a soulful, shoulder popping good time… a slam dunk. With a natural and seamless ease in the way he delivers on each track, the impassioned piano man ignites recollections of long lost pick-up games with friends while the radio sat on the blacktop pumping out songs that would forever be tied to memories. There’s a shared sentimentality to the EP that makes everyone who listens to it a member of the same team, and in crafting it in such a way, Dosik has created a true game winner.

What The Album Tells Us About Him: Looking past the fact that he’s a Lakers fan (we bleed Celtics green here!), Dosik is impassioned and wears his heart on his sleeve, combining two of his loves, basketball and music, into a tell-all tale of who he is at his core. We can’t wait to hear what he shares with us next.

Track Stuck On Repeat: To steal yet another term from the world of sports, the title track is deserving of an instant replay. If “cool” had a signature sound, “Game Winner” would be it. Picture Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield, cruising around in a long lost scene from “Pulp Fiction,” one hand on the steering wheel and another holding firm to a Big Kahuna burger, as he grooves out to this song en route to lay out some epic monologue that people will recite for generations to come. That should give you a pretty good sense of just how cool this song is.

Coming To A City Near You: Joey Dosik tour dates can be found here.

And that means…

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Deep Focus

Prem Singh & Michael Pugliese

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In our ongoing column Deep Focus, TrunkSpace is going behind the camera to talk with the directors, writers, and producers who infuse our world with that perennial pop culture goodness that we can’t get enough of.

This time out we’re chatting with actors-turned-screenwriters Prem Singh and Michael Pugliese, the creative behind “Tiger,” a moving film that chronicles the true life journey of Canadian boxer Pardeep Nagra (played by Singh) who is banned from the sport for refusing to shave his facial hair, an act that is against his Sikh religion. We recently sat down with the pair to discuss the timeliness of the film, how they’re hoping it will ignite a much needed conversation about acceptance, and why they’re honored to be called “the next Matt and Ben.”

 

TrunkSpace: There seems to be no right or wrong way to get an independent film made these days. So much of it is really finding what works best for a particular project. As you guys were putting together “Tiger,” how much of it was you thinking outside of the box to get the project made and how much of it was the stars aligning?
Pugliese: I think it’s a little bit of both, actually. When we first started, we were really just following our passion and something that we truly loved to do. We love to be storytellers and filmmakers, and when this story stumbled across our desks, we just felt like it was a good opportunity to buckle in and make something that we could call our own.

We met in acting class a good many years ago. We’re both from Toronto and we weren’t happy with the auditions and the whole process and even the roles that we were going out for, so we just decided, “Let’s make something that we’ll both be happy about, and both be proud about,” and so we put our heads down and blinders up. You just have to go for it.

TrunkSpace: And did you guys have an existing relationship with Pardeep Nagra or was his story just one that called out to you?
Singh: I was watching Pardeep Nagra battle this thing when it was actually happening, while we were doing acting classes, and it wasn’t a couple years later that I actually said that I really wanted to go forward with this. I saw Pardeep give interviews and talk to a lot of the Canadian media, and he was talking more about fighting for what he believed in, and I thought this was a great story to tell, but maybe would have been too early. And now’s the time. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for a story like this to come out. It gave us this push to say, “Listen, there is really nothing going on right now with what we’re doing, acting-wise, so let’s try to to create our own destiny and do what Ben Affleck and Matt Damon did and just write something for ourselves that we know we can do justice to.”
Pugliese: Like you said in your first question, you worded it like the stars are aligning, and I think now it kind of feels that way. It kind of feels like if we would have tried to make this when it was happening in 2000, I don’t think it would have been the right time in the world or that the world would have been ready. I don’t think North America… I don’t think everybody would have been ready for a film like this. Everything happens for a reason. It’s like the stars are aligning. I feel like people should be watching something like this, and it should be inspiring others to stand up and speak up for what they believe in. Now is a perfect time for “Tiger” to be out.

TrunkSpace: It certainly seems like, at least here in the States, that the division between everybody politically and socially is widening, but a movie like this coming along, it could actually help the conversation and get us back to a place of acceptance.
Singh: That’s it. We totally agree.
Pugliese: It can help the conversation, and that’s our goal with this movie is to create that movement and start the conversation. When you walk away watching this film, yes it’s about a Sikh character, a guy in a turban and beard, but it’s much more than that when you actually watch the film. There’s a lot of people that are going to relate to this, whether you’re immigrants new to the country, whether you’re black, white – it doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is or your gender – everybody can relate to a movie like this. The worst case is that this movie is going to start a conversation, and that’s more than enough for us. At least we started a conversation.

TrunkSpace: In terms of bringing your vision to reality, how long did it actually take to see the film come together?
Pugliese: When did we start writing this, 2010? Maybe 2011? We went to camera in 2015. And I think it was just more of having a burning desire to accomplish something. Whether it’s filmmaking or whatever you want to do in life, I think it’s really important to actually truly love and having that burning, aching desire for success, no matter what success means to you. It can be very broad. But I think that’s what made us continue to push forward through the five, six years that we were making it, because we just had that desire to do so.
Singh: It can get you a lot of rejections. There were a lot of rejections that came within those years that we didn’t get it made, and being new writers, people don’t tend to gravitate towards a screenplay or the subject matter, but that didn’t stop us.

TrunkSpace: Sometimes that rejection best serves the project, because had you not received those early rejections, it may have never been brought to life in its current form with your cast, such as Mickey Rourke, and creative team. In an alternative reality, it may have been a completely different film.
Pugliese: Absolutely. And it even builds character. I think it just makes us understand how this industry works and you filter out all of the people, all the naysayers, or all of the people that are just blowing smoke into your ears. You just learn a lot. And I think the longer it takes, the more you understand it, and the more you feel extremely grateful when it does come to camera and you do start. That first day, when the cameras were rolling, it was very special, because it took four or five years of just hard work, and to finally get there, it was really, really special.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned early in our conversation about taking an Affleck and Damon approach and just doing it yourself, and we have actually heard that comparison made about you guys from other people as well. Does being compared to those guys, especially given what they have done in their careers, put pressure on you beyond “Tiger” itself?
Pugliese: I don’t think it puts any pressure. Look, we had heroes and we had icons we looked up to, especially in this industry, and Matt and Ben were guys that we looked up to. They both decided to write a screenplay and push forward and get to where they are now. We always tried to follow the path that they paved for younger filmmakers, and we thought if they could do it, so can we, so that’s what we kind of did. And to even be mentioned in the same breath of air or the same sentence as those two individuals, it’s just extremely… it’s really special.
Singh: I just hope they don’t mind. (Laughter) They paved the way for guys like us. Those guys struggled just like we struggled, and if we didn’t know about this story or they didn’t do what they had done, we wouldn’t have been inspired to do this, or to try to get this off the ground.

TrunkSpace: So with that in mind, if “Tiger” takes off and more opportunities present themselves, do you see yourselves pursuing both acting and filmmaking in the same way that those two guys did following the success of “Good Will Hunting?” What is the goal moving forward?
Singh: Well, I’m gonna play Batman. (Laughter)

We have a company, Running Tiger Films. We want this company to create a lot of content that sparks a social message. I think a lot of films have that, but there’s sill not enough of them. When people used to ask us, while we were just trying to get this off the ground, “What is your company all about?”, we couldn’t really give them an answer. And then after “Tiger” was done filming, we sat down and we had a meeting and we said, “This is about a social message.” And we’re very pleased and very proud to spread the message.

Tiger” fights its way into theaters this spring.

Featured image by: Valentina Socci

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Trunk Stubs

Black Panther

BlackPanther_TrunkStubs

Movie: Black Panther

Rated: PG-13

Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

Release Date: February 16, 2018

Run Time: 2h 14m

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Letitia Wright, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett

Directed By: Ryan Coogler

Written By: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole (Based on Marvel Comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby)

Reason We’re Watching It: We were introduced to the Black Panther character in “Captain America: Civil War.” Seeing such an iconic comic book character finally brought to life on the big screen left everyone wanting more. “Black Panther” delivers that and so much more with a mighty roar of a back story and action-packed battle scenes with shining performances by the impressive cast.

What It’s About: “Black Panther” chronicles T’Challa’s (Boseman) rise to the throne of Wakanda, a technologically-advanced civilization hidden from the rest of the world. T’Challa struggles with wanting to help the world by offering their resources to those in need, but he faces opposition from those within Wakanda. An outsider, Erik Killmonger (Jordan), appears in Wakanda to not only reveal the dark past of T’Challa’s father, but challenge for the throne in an attempt to rule Wakanda and spread mayhem and violence across the globe.

Whoah! Rewind That!: There are SO many moments you will want to see again and again, but what really stole the show for us was the car chase scene. Black Panther rides atop a Lexus that is driven remotely by his sister, Shuri (Wright). You really get to see just how bad ass Black Panther can be and why his suit would even make Batman jealous. Okoye (Gurira), also shines in this fast-paced chase scene, riding on top of a car and stopping an SUV dead in its tracks with a throw from her vibranium-powered spear. You thought Gurira’s portrayal as Michonne on “The Walking Dead” was intense? Wait until you see her tackle the role of Okoye!

Watercooler-Worthy Tidbit: Wakanda is mentioned on a S.H.I.E.L.D. monitor in “Iron Man 2.” The location, according to the monitor, is centered around Lake Turkana on the border of Kenya and Ethiopia. In reality this region is known for holding rare mineral deposits much like Wakanda in “Black Panther.”

And that’s why we’re giving it…

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