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Deep Focus

Kate Green

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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 Kate Green, Director and Executive Producer of the exciting new web series “NarcoLeap,” starring Chelsey Reist, Madison Smith and Aleks Paunovic.

TrunkSpace: “NarcoLeap” has such a great, high concept premise. Was there a part of you that worried how you would pull it off as a web series, particularly when it came to budget and time constraints?
Green: I wouldn’t say just a part, I’d say my whole being. (Laughter)

No, we’re really lucky in Canada. We have some amazing funding programs. STORYHIVE from TELUS, they had this amazing 100K edition competition, so we got that. We also have the Independent Production Fund (IPF). They came on board first actually, with just over half of the budget. Once I got that one I thought, “Okay, I’ve got a pretty good chance of kind of closing the financing with the other programs.” We’re very lucky here. And also, the project went through rigorous development when I was in the Women in the Director’s Chair program as well. So it’s not only financial support that we have here, we also have a lot of educational components and mentorship programs and things like that now.

Everyday was like, “How are we going to do this?” It was still very ambitious – lots of locations, lots of actors. It was pretty crazy, but we got it done.

TrunkSpace: Here in the States, a lot of creators use web productions as a way to establish a property and then work to get them set up as a full series. Was that the plan with “NarcoLeap” as well?
Green: My background is in documentaries. I started directing and producing in that for many years. I wanted to make the leap, pun absolutely intended, into scripted work. I’ve always loved science fiction, so for me I was looking for a project where I could do something in directing, and with the web series, it seemed like there were opportunities there to make the story happen. Yes, of course, we’d love to have a TV series, eventually that’s the big dream, but I’ve always wanted it to be able to stand on its own as almost like a prequel to the television series. The storyline that’s happening within the web series, it’s all prior to the TV. Once we get to network TV the show will have evolved and grown and be a bit more of a different standalone.

TrunkSpace: As a creator, is it daunting bringing something like “NarcoLeap” into the world knowing that there is so much content available to viewers these days?
Green: Absolutely, yeah. There’s so much great content out there on the web and TV. It’s so hard to have yours rise to the top. You really rely on your fans and for us we have a digital strategy and we’ve been working. The fans are the ones that lift it up. Before we’d even gone into production we had people making fan art and posters, and mainly they loved Chelsey (Reist) and they were followers of Chelsey. They were excited to see her in something different, but they’re the ones that really lift up your project, and we’ve just been overwhelmed and so grateful for their support. It seems to be getting attraction and attention so we’re really happy for that, and grateful.

TrunkSpace: It always seems that there is great support for great ideas, and something we noticed is, there’s a lot of really great original content coming out of the Vancouver production scene these days.
Green: Yeah, absolutely. We have an amazing service industry here. A lot of people work on the big Netflix shows and so that part of our industry is really thriving, but I think in Canada we recognize that can also go away in a heartbeat. The exchange rate could go up and all of that work could disappear. Then what are we left with? We have to create ourselves. We have to have that foundation of home grown talent and that’s, again, why we’re so lucky with things like STORYHIVE and the IPF, but they help support that and they help grow that home talent.

TrunkSpace: Does one sort of feed the other then? Do networks like Hallmark and the CW bringing their productions there feed into creators being able to create on the side when they’re not working on these other productions?
Green: Absolutely. I have a day job as a producer. I work on an HGTV show. In between shows or seasons I have the opportunity to grow my own company, KGP Films, and create content, but it’s a little different. Science fiction is very different than lifestyle television. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You were both Director and Executive Producer on “NarcoLeap.” Did Producer Kate and Director Kate ever butt heads? Is there something that you wanted as a director that you had to talk yourself out of as a producer?
Green: I was very fortunate that I had two really great producers, Emily Keller and Ross Vivian, and my Co-Executive Producer, Trevor Hudson, and I had a couple of other mentors as well. I surrounded myself with a really great team. There were some decisions that as a producer I just delegated to Emily and Ross and it was great. I didn’t have to butt heads too much with myself. You always want the crane shot and you always want explosions and you’d love to have the fight scene go on for longer. Things like that you have to compromise on, but when you can’t get what you want, the wonderful thing about that is that you have to be creative. You have to find a solution. You have to make a mark. I love that part of filmmaking, when if you don’t have the time or the money, then you have to have a great idea and a great solution. Finding that, that gets my juices flowing.

TrunkSpace: There’s been some talk of a content bubble burst looming. As a creator are you optimistic that your job as a creator is safe long term?
Green: Yeah. I see an opportunity in terms of short form digital content. When I first started my company I was looking at new features and documentary series and all of that, and of course, that would be wonderful to have projects like that, but I feel as a producer when I put the producer cap on, I see way more of an opportunity to be creating dynamic, fun digital content. It’s just getting eaten up right now.

TrunkSpace: In terms of a possible “NarcoLeap” Season 2, is that on the horizon?
Green: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been noodling away on the storylines and possibly putting in characters and what I’d like to see. Again, it’s like that dichotomy of trying to do the day job and do the producing job and the directing job and all of that. But yeah, we’re getting geared up for sure.

Season 1 of “NarcoLeap” is available now on YouTube.

Read our interview with series star Madison Smith here.

Read our interview with Aleks Paunovic here.

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Chilling Out

Simon

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Simon with Lisa Ovies

Jason had his hockey mask. Freddy had his glove. Simon has… his huggable, squeezable, loveable plush body, which he will use to lull you into a false sense of security before horrifically murdering you.

Yes, not only do we live in a world where we have to worry about deadly flu outbreaks, erratic weather, and an endless run of New England Patriots’ Super Bowls, but now we have inanimate felt killers to fear, at least according to the exciting new horror/comedy mashup from Lisa Ovies, “Puppet Killer.”

With the film set to hit the festival circuit throughout 2018, we recently sat down with felt-based star Simon to discuss whether or not puppets receive the same treatment as human actors within the industry, how he found his artistic motivation, and his personal goals as a puppet working in film.

TrunkSpace: Your new movie “Puppet Killer” features, pun intended, a killer cast. In 2018, does a felt-based actor receive the same equal treatment as flesh-based actors on the set of a film like this?
Simon: No, and I think it was bullshit! I was NEVER invited to eat with the rest of the cast or to hang out in their green room. I didn’t get my own chair… I was left alone every night in the props room. It was as if I was an actual puppet instead of an actor playing a puppet. I did get a really awesome handler though, I am grateful for that. Her name was Asia and we hung out a ton on set. It was almost as if everyone else was scared of me…

TrunkSpace: Can you give us a little insight into how you became involved in “Puppet Killer.” Was the part created for you? Were you created for the part?
Simon: I believe I was created for the part although I can’t see the film being anything without me. My mom and my dad (Jack Fox) met working on another puppet movie and spent about a year deciding exactly what I looked like. Personally, I think they nailed it.

TrunkSpace: This may be a bit too personal, and feel free not to answer if we are venturing too far down the Oprah rabbit hole, but do you still have an active relationship with your maker/designer?
Simon: YES! I live with Mom and spend time with Dad when I can. Mom is pretty good about taking me to meet fans and to attend conventions. She even took me to LA and Vegas to meet Jessica Cameron. SHE IS SO PRETTY! I was a guest on her show “Scream Queen Stream” with her bestie Heather Dorff and it was one of the best days of my life. They even let me drink!

TrunkSpace: For those who aren’t familiar with “Puppet Killer,” can you give us a little bit about your character and where the journey takes you throughout the course of the film?
Simon: Well, the story is really about the friendship between me and my onscreen/offscreen bestie Aleks Paunovic. His character grows up and starts to think he doesn’t need me anymore but I remind him that he and I should be together forever. Other than all the killing, it is a really heartfelt story about a boy and his best friend.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, you have to go to some pretty dark places in the film. What did you tap into internally/emotionally to bring yourself there?
Simon: I just let it sink in. You know, Aleks thinking he doesn’t need me anymore and what I would do. It was really easy once I realized it was them or me. I really enjoyed the experience.

TrunkSpace: From what we can tell, this is your first acting gig. What lessons did you take from the experience that you’ll apply to your career moving forward?
Simon: I realized as long as I am the star, I want to be in movies. I liked working with the crazy talented cast and really hope to work with Richard Harmon on “The 100” one day. He and I really hit it off so I really think it is only a matter of time.

TrunkSpace: Is there any concern at all that you’ll be typecast as a homicidal puppet moving forward? Did you put any thought into that when you accepted the role?
Simon: I don’t think it is a problem as I expect “Puppet Killer” to be a franchise that I can milk for quite awhile. It didn’t affect Chucky so I think I will be okay.

TrunkSpace: When you look back at the film, what are you most proud of in terms of your own individual performance?
Simon: The fact that I held my own amongst such talent. The cast is so good and I was really intimidated at first. I kept worrying I would fan boy or get nervous. I actually did a few times, especially when I had a bedroom scene with Lisa Durupt… she is so pretty and good at what she does, that was a nerve racking day but we were both really professional and held nothing back.

TrunkSpace: We know that you’re Canadian. In your opinion, do Canadian puppets have the same amount/quality of opportunities as those based in the States?
Simon: Given tax credits right now and how busy the Vancouver film community is, I think it is a great time to be a Canadian in film.

TrunkSpace: What do you think some of the biggest misconceptions are regarding felt-based actors?
Simon: That we are only puppets. We are actors, we are committed and we want to be included. Aleks and I hang out a lot and we just talk like people – he never makes me feel like “just a puppet,” but not everyone is so great. My agent puts me out for everything and I really appreciate it. My goal is to play a character without it being a part of the story, a character that just happens to be a puppet.

TrunkSpace: You’re active on social media. It’s a great place to promote projects and stay connected with family and friends, but it can also be a very septic place filled with hate. What are your thoughts on our social media society as a whole?
Simon: Sometimes it is a ton of fun, other times really intense. I pick and choose my moments and hope people start to understand the impact of social media and their responsibility. Be kind, people. There are already enough dicks out there, don’t be another one.

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Wingman Wednesday

Aleks Paunovic

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Just so we’re clear, TrunkSpace is not monkeying around with this interview.

And yes, while that was a terrible pun to lead into our chat with Aleks Paunovic of the upcoming “War for the Planet of the Apes,” we’re not going to apologize, and here’s why. As unfunny as it was, it actually applies. Paunovic is deadly serious about his craft, and even more so, he’s passionate about the work, right down to his memorable guest spot on the series “Supernatural.” The excitement he absorbs from playing his various roles, including that of Julius the vampire in Syfy’s “Van Helsing,” is apparent in every aspect of his delivery. This is a man who genuinely loves his job and is grateful for every opportunity he receives, which is a breath of fresh air in a world where it seems so many take so much for granted.

We recently sat down with Paunovic to discuss season 2 of “Van Helsing,” how he’d like to share even more, and how playing a primate means playing human.

TrunkSpace: We have to start with something that is a big guilty pleasure of ours here, which is “Supernatural.”
Paunovic: That’s awesome!

TrunkSpace: You guested as Gunner Lawless in “Beyond the Mat,” one of the more memorable episodes from last season and we’re curious if getting a small taste of that universe has opened you up to the very passionate fanbase?
Paunovic: Well, I was in two more episodes before that as two completely different characters.

TrunkSpace: That’s right. You actually played one of the skinwalkers in one episode, right?
Paunovic: Yeah! And it opened me up in that realm because the fans are so on point that it was surprising to me because I started getting people noticing me or contacting me and doing that whole thing because I was a part of the show. But then, Gunner Lawless and that wrestling episode, to me, was just a gift for a role. And everybody that’s a part of that show just embraced me with taking on such a great role. I got to learn the wrestling aspect of it and it was just a blast, man.

TrunkSpace: What’s so great about that series is that it’s sort of a hybrid of comedy and drama. When they do the comedy it’s gold and when they do the drama it’s heartfelt and that “Beyond the Mat” episode is a perfect example of that.
Paunovic: Yeah. I totally agree. I just love what they do with that show. There’s a reason why it’s going 12 years. I just love how they mix the drama and the emotionality with the humor of it. I just love how they make that work and not a lot of shows do that. So again, I was really blessed to be a part of that.

TrunkSpace: Going from a series that is often about vampires in “Supernatural” to a series where you play one in “Van Helsing,” from an actors perspective, we have to imagine that playing in that science fiction/genre sandbox must be a load of fun because you really get to step out of reality for a little bit.
Paunovic: That’s right on point. That’s exactly it. You nailed it. For me, it’s such a blast because you literally get to… when you’re a kid you play Cowboys and Indians or you play whatever your imagination can take you to. I’m kind of still doing it, so it’s kind of fun that I can jump into a show like “Van Helsing” and really kind of explore the “what ifs” and really drop it down into a reality based type of thing, even though it’s fantastical.

TrunkSpace: You’ll be returning as Julius in season 2 of “Van Helsing,” but do you have any idea where his arc will take you?
Paunovic: We’re in the middle of shooting it right now and all I can say is that I’m over the moon with the arc that has happened with my character. And even the show… the first year you kind of hope that fans connect to it, but as a well oiled machine, especially with Neil LaBute at the helm, we’re really gearing into season 2 and it’s feeling amazing. I cannot wait for people to see where Julius has gone.

TrunkSpace: In a time of leaks and spoilers, we understand why NDAs exist, but at the same time, it must be difficult to not be able to discuss something like that when you’re so excited about the work.
Paunovic: Dude, I’m busting at the seams. I’m rocking my mind about how much I want to talk about it or Tweet about it or Instagram about it because, no joke, when you see this season and what my character is going through, you’ll go, “How did he keep that in?” But for me, I get the surprise aspect of it and I’m really looking forward to the surprise and for people to kind of get blown away with a lot of the things that are happening with Julius. Yeah… I’m busting at the seams, man. I cannot wait for people to see this season.

TrunkSpace: Something else we’d imagine you’re pretty excited for people to see is “War for the Planet of the Apes.” When you landed that role, what was your initial thought with getting a part in such a storied franchise?
Paunovic: Well, it was a little trippy because, like you said, it’s such a storied franchise. I saved my audition side because I thought that was it. I was just celebrating the fact that I got an audition for it. I never thought that it would go anywhere further. To me, it was just like, “I got an audition for ‘Planet of the Apes.’ That’s awesome!” And end of story. That was it for me. And then it grew into about five auditions until I finally got the role and I was still shaking my head at it. And then going to work and… it’s next level.

Matt Reeves who directed it and Andy Serkis, who was phenomenal… Andy was an extension of Matt Reeves and them working on this project together was just a joy to be around. Being a part of it, again, is next level.

TrunkSpace: The last film in the franchise is, although fantastical, so grounded in reality. And the trailer for “War for the Planet of the Apes” seems to carry that torch forward while also playing off as very intense. It seems like a crazy ride.
Paunovic: It is. Honestly, the mood on set was never like the fantastical aspect of playing primates and playing apes. It was literally like, we’re telling a story and this is the story we’re telling in the most real sense. So there was no feeling of it being not in reality. That was the cool thing, especially with Andy. Andy took it all very seriously and helped everyone along with it. So, the new characters that were introduced… we got to basically be guided by Andy/Caesar, but the last thing we ever thought was that it wasn’t reality. That was the cool thing.

TrunkSpace: So in playing Winter, did a lot of it rely on the physicality aspect of playing a gorilla?
Paunovic: It’s interesting. You would think, and even when I was going to the auditions you would think, but the bottom line was the acting. It was the emotionality of the character and the story that these characters were telling. Each character has their own story and you cannot get away with… like, for instance… it’s emotionality and telling the story first, primate second. That’s just how it came down. When we first started, it was all about sitting and being vulnerable and open with the story that we were going to tell before we actually got up and did any physicality as a primate. Matt Reeves and Terry Notary were big believers in that it’s about story first and then everything else falls into it afterward.

TrunkSpace: Well, the key is that as an audience you stop seeing them as primates and start seeing them as characters, which was more than successful with “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”
Paunovic: Yeah. And that’s all Matt Reeves. Matt, Terry, and Andy… those three really helped everyone dive in. The last thing that we did was wanted to be apes. Everything first was story, so we got really lucky.

TrunkSpace: So it sounds like it’s more of a drama than an action tentpole?
Paunovic: Totally. Absolutely. Absolutely!

TrunkSpace: So with a movie of this size there’s obviously a lot of marketing materials and merchandising. Are we going to see Winter represented in any sort of cool merchandise and does it kind of blow your mind to see that kind of stuff?
Paunovic: You know what? You’re the first person to actually mention it to me and I just went, “Oh my God that’s right. I could actually be an action figure.” That just kind of blows me away. That would be cool.

TrunkSpace: I addition to your acting career, you have also been producing, particularly with one film that caught our attention called “Puppet Killer.” What is it that drew you to the producing side of the business?
Paunovic: One of the reasons why I love the producing aspect of the business, and I really got serious about it with a film called “Numb” that I was a part of, it’s the connection and relationships and troubleshooting on set that I really took pride in. Taking charge and jamming with the other producers and director and figuring out ways that we can make this work and make that work and help the story. I absolutely loved it. So when I had the opportunity to do that with “Puppet Killer,” which is a film coming out that happened to just be super fun… and Richard Harmon who is in “The 100” is a part of it also. We just had a blast shooting it and the producer role was basically one of those things where I just wanted to take on a little bit more responsibility and help the film along. I can’t wait for it to come out.

TrunkSpace: So is producing something you want to continue to pursue in your career?
Paunovic: Absolutely. I do love being a part of something more than just getting hired as an actor, do my thing, say bye to everyone, and then I’m out. I love the aspect of the long haul and being a part of it and building those relationships. Going through those trials and tribulations of making a film or a series and kind of everyone standing tall and believing what they put down. For the film “Numb” that I did, that was like four years before we actually went to camera. Almost five years before we went to camera. So that journey when we actually did go to camera and then we wrapped the last day… that was just way more emotional and rewarding than anything else where I just jumped in as an actor, so yeah, I’d like to do more.

War for the Planet of the Apes” arrives in theaters July 14, 2017.

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