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Survivors Guide to Prison

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Movie: Survivors Guide to Prison

Rated: Not Rated

Genre: Documentary

Release Date: February 23, 2018

Running Time: 1h 42m

Featuring: Susan Sarandon, Patricia Arquette, Danny Trejo, Jesse Williams, Ice-T, Quincy Jones, Tom Morello, Danny Glover, and more

Directed By: Matthew Cooke

Written By: Matthew Cooke

Reason We’re Watching It: Featuring commentary and insight from a who’s who of high profile activists and social commentators from the worlds of film and music, including Sarandon who not only executive produced the film but narrates alongside of Trejo, the brutally honest documentary is a pull-no-punches look at the American justice system and the overcrowded prisons that exist from sea to shining sea.

What It’s About: By delving into the stories of two men who were wrongfully convicted of murders that they didn’t commit, the film serves as an informational tour guide into the inner workings of our criminal checks and balances. As Trejo offers up at the start of the film, the United States may be the land of the free, but there are more people imprisoned here than anywhere else in the world. In fact, there are so many laws on the books that, according to a terrifying tidbit by the Wall Street Journal, the average American commits three felonies a day without ever realizing it. If you end up being wrongfully (or rightfully) sentenced for a crime that you didn’t (or did) commit, “Survivors Guide to Prison” breaks down the 411 you’ll need to get through life on the inside.

Whoah! Rewind That!: Some of the not-so-fun facts that are shared throughout the course of the film are, at times, hard to come to terms with and often require a rewind just to make sure you heard them correctly. For example, did you know that 13 million Americans are arrested every year? That’s more than the combined populations of Los Angeles and New York City. Most people would agree that’s far too many Miranda Rights in need of being read, but what solution can be reached? Is there one? And if so, how do we clean up the mess we’ve already made?

Watercooler-Worthy Tidbit: Prior to beginning his acting career, Trejo spent a span of 11 years moving in and out of cells, including a stint in the infamous San Quentin State Prison in California. He knows firsthand how the system works, adding an extra layer of credibility to the core concept of the film and its unfiltered honesty.

And that’s why we’re giving it…

 

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Sit and Spin

Screaming Females’ All At Once

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Artist: Screaming Females

Album: “All At Once”

Label: Don Giovanni Records

Reason We’re Cranking It: Seven albums in and the DIY-punk trio is still getting better, finding a seamless track-to-track studio groove with the return of producer Matt Bayles who previously worked the control booth on 2015’s “Rose Mountain.” It’s a beautiful marriage, the kind of best-case-scenario coupling that would make others in creative relationships jealous.

What The Album Tells Us About Them: For a band called Screaming Females, there’s not a whole lot of screaming going on and that’s perfectly okay with us because lead singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster’s resonating vibrato is best delivered when under control. It’s a mesmerizing serenade that calls out to you like a siren, and it’s an instrument she knows how to use to perfection in any given musical circumstance.

Track Stuck On Repeat: Sure, those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks, but those who rock will be unable to throw “Glass House,” at least out of regular spin rotation. If cassettes were still a thing (not in a collector’s way) and we were putting together a mix tape, this track would get the call.

Coming To A City Near You: Screaming Females tour dates can be found here.

And that means…

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Wingman Wednesday

Ray Santiago

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Dispelling belief is part and parcel for fans of “Ash vs Evil Dead,” the small screen continuation of everyone’s favorite time traveling, Deadite killing, chainsaw wielding anti-hero, Ash Williams. An appetizing stew of genres, the main ingredients being horror and comedy, the Starz series (kicking off Season 3 this Sunday!) often requires a bib to consume because while delicious, it can and does get very messy.

In order to buy into the weird and wild plot points and chuckle along with the awkwardly-timed one-liners, there needs to be an element that grounds the show in reality and serves as a surrogate sherpa, guiding the audience inside. That’s where Ash’s endearing sidekick Pablo comes in. Played brilliantly by Ray Santiago, the Bronx native brings an irresistible naiveté to the part, winning over the fandom with a huggable humor that no one saw coming when the show first premiered three years ago.

We recently sat down with Santiago to discuss the diversification of the franchise, why having fun means you’re doing something right, and how his expressive face can work for and against him.

TrunkSpace: How are you doing?
Santiago: Oh, you know, just living the “Evil Dead” dream.

TrunkSpace: There are a lot of people who have been fantasizing about living that dream for decades. You’re in the minority of people who have actually achieved it!
Santiago: I know. I’m very honored to actually be part of that and, you know, it’s interesting that you say minority because in a lot of ways I feel like what we’re doing on “Ash vs Evil Dead” is diversifying the franchise and it’s been really awesome to be able to do that.

TrunkSpace: And to be able to do it in a way where, at least from what we can tell, there are no restrictions… that’s got to be very exciting?
Santiago: It’s funny that you noticed that. Yeah. We really get to do a lot of what we want and I think it comes from having Bruce (Campbell) on board as an executive producer. He’s an amazing leader, and he definitely works really hard to keep the franchise on the right path. Also, too, having been through the jumping through of some hoops for Sam Raimi to be initiated into this franchise… I made a promise to him that I would fight for my character… the good of the character. It’s really interesting this season, we had a meeting before the season with the showrunner and I went in there with a bunch of ideas and 90 percent of the stuff that I wanted to do… short of shaving my head on camera… I got to pretty much do everything that I wanted to do with the character.

Also, being away in New Zealand and having such a small, close group of people working on the project, who originated the project, we really trust each other and know that we’re making the right choices. As Bruce taught me, if you’re not having fun then you’re doing it wrong.

TrunkSpace: One of the things that Bruce has always done so well is having fun on-camera at his own expense, which really brings the audience in on the joke.
Santiago: Yeah, and I think it’s definitely something that we sort of do with Pablo in the sense of, he’s consistently being thrown into a blender of torturous situations. How many times can this guy actually believe in the idiot Ash to save the world? How many times can we watch this guy be tortured by these, you know, not-so-strong Deadites? That’s kind of what makes it funny.

TrunkSpace: We recently went back and watched the first two seasons start to finish. Admittedly, one of our wives offered her take on things, which was, “This show is a little much for me.” Between the gore and the… well, gore, she was having a hard time with it, BUT, and here’s the kicker, she felt that Pablo was the inroad for her that helped ground it in reality.
Santiago: We really do feel like Pablo, in a lot of ways, is the heart of the unit and Kelly’s sort of the brains and Ash is the muscle. Yeah, I’m glad that she picked up on that because that was sort of what we were going for, because we knew that Ash is sort of limiting in who he can appeal to. Maybe not every woman loves him, but we wanted to bring other things to the franchise that would support and help this guy’s story. I think that Pablo definitely does that in being the heart of the unit and sort of the eyes of the audience, and a new audience.

TrunkSpace: From what we could tell, this is the longest you’ve ever spent with one character. What has that experience been like for you as a whole… the idea of being in someone else’s skin and seeing him grow over an extended period of time?
Santiago: I’ve been in every interrogation room in Los Angeles. I’ve played a gang-banger, a drug dealer, but ultimately you just get to see them for 30 minutes or 60 minutes. With Pablo, I got to really build on a character that I didn’t actually know I was getting into. When I auditioned for the part, I felt like he was written very stereotypically. He had an accent and I was just like, “I don’t know…” But then, the way that we created it is we got rid of the accent, we made him more relatable, and to me, I think the key is that Pablo was born into a situation, born into an ethnicity, a culture… people decided before they knew him, before they look at him and know him, what he is going to be, and for me as a person, as an artist, that was the parallel between me and Pablo, it’s that we both really want to leave our marks on the world. We want to change the world and we want the world to see us as a hero. Pablo had no idea that he could be a hero. He was sort of just admiring Ash, not because he wanted to be like him, but he’s like, “Wow, if this guy could be a hero, then maybe so can I.” I think along the way he sort of steps into his own manhood and he realizes that he himself might actually have a little bit more than he thought he was supposed to have.

I think this season we really dive into that and the evolution of Pablo goes full-throttle in getting to see him embrace the lineage of Brujos that he comes from and how this power that he has within himself could be used for the good or the bad of the team.

There, right there, everything that I just said, was just like, “Wow, sweet.” I get to do so many things on this show that I’ve never done. I get to have prosthetics, I get to do stunts, I get to do horror, I get to do comedy. For me, this was an amazing field day of an opportunity because it was like going to camp for every possible genre and television show that you could possibly ever be thrown into. So, now I feel ready to go in any direction. I feel like I’m pretty efficient with stunts and improvising. It’s been an amazing experience.

© 2018 Starz Entertainment, LLC

TrunkSpace: Again, going back and watching the two previous seasons in a single session binge, you can really see Pablo’s growth, but at the same time, he doesn’t lose that innocence that makes him so relatable. There was this great line from Season 2 in the episode where Ash is trying to eliminate the Necronomicon (you!) and you say something along the lines of, “We used to watch ‘Monday Night RAW’ together.” It’s stuff like that, lines that retain his innocence, that makes Pablo a character that the audience roots for.
Santiago: Yeah, yeah, he’s always going to have that softer, naïve side – always going to be the guy who looks past people’s flaws and believes in the hero that they have within themselves. That’s just who he is. I remember who was up against me for the role and who they had talked about for the role, it was definitely a different direction. There was definitely a harder edge to the other people that they had considered. I think that going with my… what people have called cow eyes… it makes you sort of feel like there’s a vulnerability to Pablo that will never go away, purely based off the way that I look, and also just the way that he operates on the show. I think it’s a really nice layer to have when you have Ash and then you have Kelly, who both are ready to go – they’re such bad asses – so it balances it all out.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, one of the things that we love so much about what you bring to Pablo is his expressiveness. Is that something you brought specifically to the role, or do you feel that it is part of who you are as an actor?
Santiago: Well, it’s funny that you bring that up because that can be something that works for me or works against me. You know, the cartoonish vibe of the show sort of allows for that. I started to realize how far I could take it when they were like, “Yeah, you can have your hair be taller.” I was like, “Okay, cool. We’re going full cartoon mode here.” Just in the looks and the aesthetics and… I probably have more lines in Sumerian than I actually have in English. For me, what I decided to play with was like, “Oh, I’m going to make my facial expressions my one-liners,” because so often, it’s like we’re putting him in this situation and Ash is going to have the one-liner and then they’re going to cut to me for the reaction.

Photo by Geoffrey Short/© 2016 Starz Entertainment, LLC

I do have a lot of influence from Sam Raimi loving “The Three Stooges.” On this show, I can get away with that. But, it’s really interesting because when I audition for other stuff or when I work on other material, people are like, “What are you doing over there? Why are your eyes over there? Why do your eyes look like you’re just like a bobblehead?” I’m like, “Fuck!”

Pablo, feeling like he’s in this crazy scenario that he needs to react to… yeah, it’s one of those things that it became a Pablo-ism that is kind of me. I mean, I have three mustaches, basically, on my face, and a really big hairdo, so it’s kind of hard not to look crazy or cartoonish.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been working since the early 2000s in film and television, but when “Ash vs Evil Dead” hit, did it feel a bit like people were labeling you as a newbie or an overnight success?
Santiago: Actually, I’ve been lucky enough to work on jobs throughout my career that really can be sort of like game changers. What was interesting was that people always remember “Meet the Fockers” and they’re always like, “Jorge, Jorge, Jorge!” But, with Ash, once the show hit, when I started walking down the street, people actually started to call me by my name. They were like, “Oh, hey. Are you Ray Santiago?” And I was like, “Oh, shit! This is awesome. They really like knowing who I am as an actor.”

There’s people who have never seen “Meet the Fockers” or “Girlfight” and then they got to know me on this show. For me, it’s always just been this upward climb and this upward journey and I’ve liked the pace of it because if you hit big too quick, where do you have to go? I think having spent like a decade in Los Angeles, working and going into rooms trying to prove myself, I’ve grown up a lot and I’ve become a better actor. It’s really allowed me the confidence that I needed to have going into this franchise, moving so quickly, in a different country, and just being sort of trusted with things.

All of the things that I’ve done that have led me here have led me to do this with the utmost confidence and that was something that I felt like I really needed to have coming into the franchise. People ask me, “Were you nervous? Were you scared?” And I don’t want to sound too pompous or arrogant, but I was like, “No, I was actually very confident and ready to go because I had been prepping for something like this my entire life.”

Season 3 of “Ash vs Evil Dead” kicks off Sunday on Starz. Groovy!

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Wingman Wednesday

Ellie Gall

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Fans of the Stargate franchise are directly benefiting from the brave new streaming world that now dominates our content consumption habits. Airing on Stargate Command, a brand-specific streaming platform, and serving as a what happened when, “Stargate Origins” tells the story of a young Catherine Langford as she looks to uncover the secrets of the Stargate, all while having to outrun and outsmart Nazis. Catherine is played by Ellie Gall, an Aussie actress who oozes likability and charisma in each and every scene she adventures her way through.

We recently sat down with Gall to discuss her excitement in joining the franchise, how she tackles the fantastical aspects of a world where anything is possible, and why people need to tune in to Sunday’s Season 3 premiere of “Ash vs Evil Dead” to see an entirely different side her.

TrunkSpace: The Stargate brand has a very rich history and a strong, passionate fandom behind it. Was it exciting coming into a series knowing that it would already have eager eyeballs lined up to watch it?
Gall: I was so excited coming onto this project and getting to play a beloved character. It’s intimidating to join a series with such a passionate fan base – you want to make everyone happy and do the franchise justice.

TrunkSpace: We mentioned the rich history behind the brand, but with this being an origin story, your character Catherine Langford actually plays a big part in sort of writing the parts of the history that we as an audience have yet to see. Can you tell us a little bit about how Catherine sets the table for all past (but future in terms of story timeline) versions of Stargate?
Gall: Catherine’s intelligence and strength of character is established in this installment, and that is carried through in all versions of Stargate.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, what aspects of Catherine’s personality appealed to you most when you first read for her and how did you go about finding who she was in order to bring her to life?
Gall: I was immediately drawn to how headstrong and uncompromising Catherine is – she never second-guesses herself, and does everything with a fiery passion, even if it’s a situation that might get her into trouble. I spent some time thinking about what her life would look like, having spent the last 10 years in Egypt with her father, making a name as a researcher. I was basically creating a world view and making sure Catherine has strong opinions because she is always observing everything around her – nothing goes unnoticed. In every scene I tried to make sure she was always one step ahead.

TrunkSpace: When you’re getting to play in the science fiction sandbox, often times anything is possible. As a performer, is it interesting being a part of a project like “Stargate Origins” where you can show up to work and be thrust into a scene that is both grounded in reality and at the same time, so far removed from it?
Gall: Every day was fun and exciting, working in this genre really allows you to play and use your imagination. You have to be fully invested in what’s happening in any scene that’s not grounded in reality – you have to know everything that’s going on. It calls for a lot of focus.

TrunkSpace: Science fiction fans can be very protective of their favorite worlds and characters. Knowing what you know about “Stargate Origins,” are you confident that existing fans will embrace it as part of the universe they already know and love?
Gall: I can’t say with confidence that everyone will embrace this new chapter with open arms, although I’m sure anyone with an open mind will love it! It plays more to the fans of the film and anyone who’s excited to see Catherine’s new story. We had some really positive feedback at LACC and on various social media platforms before and after the show came out. It’s impossible to please everyone of course and because Stargate has chronicled so many stories over the years, fans have their own favorite stories they would like to see.

TrunkSpace: The audience who watches something always remembers the final product, whether it’s a film or a series. For those involved in it, we imagine that the experience becomes the most memorable part. Looking back over your time on the series thus far, what are the highlights that you’ll carry with you through the rest of your life?
Gall: The people I worked with for sure! I met so many amazingly talented artists on this set who really inspired me and with whom I became good friends. I hope we get another opportunity to work together in the future.

TrunkSpace: You’re also set to appear in Season 3 of “Ash vs Evil Dead,” which is a personal favorite for a lot of us around here. We imagine you can’t give too much away, but what can you tell us about Rachel? Will she be sticking around or does she become a victim of the Deadites?
Gall: Hmmm, this one’s tough without giving too much away…

Rachel is the best friend of Brandy (Ash’s long-lost daughter) and we encounter some evil early in the season. It’s the start of Brandy’s mission to follow her father’s footsteps and fight evil. I don’t get a chance to stick around, but if you want to know my fate you’ll have to tune in and find out.

TrunkSpace: Both series will hit audiences at about the same time. As far as your own personal expectations for 2018, is this shaping up to be an exciting year for you in terms of your career and what lies ahead?
Gall: 2018 is shaping up to be an exciting year! I have nothing lined up yet, but I’m back in Los Angeles for pilot season looking for the next gig.

TrunkSpace: If the success of these projects catapults you to a level of stardom where you’re recognized frequently on the streets or in coffee shops, is that an aspect of the job that you think you’ll be comfortable with? Is fame a benefit of living out your dream or is it an unwanted side effect?
Gall: I value my privacy and I love the normalcy of my life but it would be strange to have people approach me in public. I will say it is exciting to think that my work could reach a level where people recognize me in a public setting – it means it’s impacting people’s lives and that’s a big part of what I love about my job.

TrunkSpace: If someone came to you with a time machine and offered you a chance to have a glimpse at what your career will look like 10 years from now, would you take the futuristic peek?
Gall: I think if you had of asked me that question 10 years ago I would have said yes but now I would have to say no. Part of the human experience is living in the unknown, in the present moment, having goals for the future drive us. So much unhappiness comes from either living in the past or the future, it’s more fun to not know where you are heading. I trust that I’ll end up exactly where I need to be in 10 years and it might be different from what I want now.

Stargate Origins” is streaming now on Stargate Command. The first three episodes are available to watch for free with new episodes arriving every week.

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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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