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April 2018

Wingman Wednesday

Megan Park

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Photo: Megan Park Credit: Copyright 2018 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Kailey Schwerman

Fresh starts and new beginnings. That’s what spring is all about. For Megan Park and Jonathan Keltz, stars of the new Hallmark Channel movie “Once Upon a Prince,” which caps off the network’s Spring Fever programming event this Saturday, that meant portraying characters in search of their own individual do-overs. Landscape architect Susanna (Park) has recently discovered she’s not in her boyfriend’s long term life plans while heir to the Cambria throne Nate (Keltz) must appease his mother and find a Cambrian bride. Serendipity brings their two lives together, but it’s love that will place them on the same path.

We recently sat down with Park to discuss seasonal pitfalls, why she enjoys being a part of the Hallmark family, and what her pillars of happiness are.

TrunkSpace: Your new Hallmark Channel movie “Once Upon a Prince” is set to serve as the icing on the Spring Fever programming event cake. We’re located in the Boston area where spring hasn’t exactly decided to show up yet. What are some seasonal elements of this movie that will help us feel that we’re putting winter (and snow!) behind us?
Park: Brrr, I’m sorry it’s still cold in Boston! I’m in California where it feels like summer all the time so I especially appreciate the seasons and the fresh start they give people. I think springtime is super romantic and this movie perfectly captures that. The energy of new beginnings is such an exciting feeling and I think because it’s all about two people deciding to start anew, there’s so much gardening and beautiful florals in this movie, viewers will hopefully be inspired by that and forget about winter!

TrunkSpace: Hallmark Channel productions are great at putting the viewer in the spirit of a particular season, but as is the case with this movie, you shoot during a very different position on the calendar. Were there any logistical issues that the production had to overcome to help put the audience in that April showers/May flowers mindset?
Park: SO MANY! It was totally worth it but we shot the movie in Canada in the middle of the winter and this was supposed to be spring. We were dealing with rain, freezing temperatures, gale force winds all while wearing spring clothing and trying to look like we weren’t freezing. Production was great and they had heaters for us and I literally was wearing an electric heated vest with a battery pack underneath my wardrobe in half of this movie and they did wonders hiding it all!

TrunkSpace: You’ve worked on numerous Hallmark Channel productions over the course of your career. What is it that keeps you coming back and working for this particular company on these particular types of productions?
Park: I always come back and work with Hallmark because it’s always such a wonderful experience. The scripts are feel-good, the stories are feel-good and that makes the viewers feel good, which I think it’s much needed in this world. Plus, the network and the executives are really amazing, smart, genuine people and I love being a part of the Hallmark family.

TrunkSpace: How did this experience differ from your previous Hallmark Channel experiences? Did the character/story put you in a position to take a different approach?
Park: I’m always playing someone different and the story is different so each experience feels totally different in a good way. This movie was really FUN. The story is such a common fantasy – you meet someone and you fall in love with who they are, their heart, and THEN you find out they are royalty. I got to just have a good time with this one and lean into the fantasy.

TrunkSpace: We recently chatted with your costar (and onscreen prince) Jonathan Keltz. He had mentioned that the two of you had known each other for years prior to reconnecting on the project. Did having that familiarity with your costar allow you to hit the ground running and find that in-story chemistry?
Park: YES! When I signed on to the movie, Jonathan was attached already and I was thrilled. It’s always fun to meet someone new but there’s something special about already having a history and built-in chemistry with someone. Jonathan and I have known each other since we were both teenagers in Canada but we hadn’t hung out in a few years so it was extra special to reconnect and there was a sense of familiarity that was really nice. He’s a wonderful person.

TrunkSpace: In the movie you play a landscape architect, which is not a profession you often see represented in film/TV. From an outside perspective, one of the things that would be fun as an actor is getting the opportunity to inhabit not only different characters but different professions as well. Did you pick up on any interesting landscape architect tidbits by playing Susanna and what are some other memorable on-screen trades that you’ve had a chance to temporarily take on?
Park: It IS fun to get to play so many “different” jobs as an actor. My mom is an amazing gardener and has a green thumb – my sister too actually! I did NOT get that gene. I have a hard time keeping a cactus alive and since we were filming in the winter in Canada all those flowers you see are FAKE everywhere (shhhhh), even tied into the trees, so I can’t say that I learned a LOT about gardening but I do appreciate it even more now.

Photo: Jonathan Keltz, Megan Park Credit: Copyright 2018 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Patrick Shaw

TrunkSpace: As far as your actual career is concerned, was acting a choice or the only choice? Was this the path you always anticipated taking?
Park: Acting chose me. I have NO idea why at six years old I was soooo determined to get the role of Gretl (von Trapp) in a local production of “Sound of Music,” but something about it all just made sense to me. I still remember that audition and then getting the role. I was totally hooked and honestly never looked back. It’s a really demanding and unique job. Lots of high highs and low lows, but it’s all I know and I really love it. I recently started writing and directing as well and it’s given me a whole new appreciation for the business and a fun different side of my brain to explore. I can see myself doing a lot more behind the scenes stuff in the future as well.

TrunkSpace: As mentioned, you’re also a writer and director, with a number of projects in the can and a number of others in development. Are you finding it increasingly more difficult to focus on your acting career as you expand upon your behind-the-scenes experience?
Park: I’m not finding it more difficult to focus on acting. I think it’s added to my knowledge and understanding as an actor. Since I started directing and writing, it’s given me a new skill set to approach a script, a scene, the way I communicate with other actors and directors. It’s more of a 360-degree understanding of the business and I think it’s helped me in front of the camera as well.

TrunkSpace: What is the ultimate dream for you, and, are you currently living it?
Park: Wow, what a question! I feel incredibly lucky to be healthy, have a partner who is my best friend and endlessly supportive family and friends I adore. I think those are the pillars of happiness for me so yes, I am living my dream. I have a LOT to be grateful for.

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?
Park: No, part of the fun is not knowing. Life unfolds as it’s supposed to and I think it’s most magical to live in the moment and not know what the future holds just yet.

Once Upon a Prince” premieres April 7 (9 pm ET/PT) on Hallmark Channel.

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Wingman Wednesday

Donald Tran

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For years people have been finding new and innovative ways to create masterful works of art. Donatello used marble and bronze to sculpt impeccable sculptures of biblical characters during the 1400s – fast forward over 600 years and Donald Tran is sculpting mind blowing pop culture characters out of, what else? BALLOONS! Though inflatable rubber toys may seem like an unlikely medium, Tran is redefining the way people think of balloon-based art, one creative twist at a time.

We recently floated over to Tran’s workshop to talk magic, Marvel-elous characters, and the super-related power that artwork can have on its audience.

TrunkSpace: Through the wonders of social media, we stumbled upon your Instagram and we were completely blown away by what we saw! It appears you are redefining balloon art and what is really possible in the medium. You’re not just making a balloon sword, you’re creating complete works of art. How did you find yourself drawn to balloon sculpting and how many years has it taken you to get to the level you’re at?
Tran: I started twisting balloons around 12 to 13 years ago. I bumped into a magician at a street festival giving away balloon swords and flowers, and it immediately caught my attention. I became good friends with him, and we’re still pretty close today. (Shout out to Alfonso!) I was a naïve and arrogant magician when we met, but he took me under his wing and even gave me my first real bag of twisting balloons. In other words, he gave me high quality balloons that didn’t pop easily like the ones you’d find at a dollar store. The good balloons kept me motivated and it allowed me to create more intricate sculptures without them bursting as often. I played with LEGO bricks a lot growing up, and balloon twisting gave me the chance to practice my creativity again. The progress was slow, but I would continue to make smaller things for several years. It wasn’t until around 2013 or 2014 that I got much better at balloon twisting, and I can thank my fellow balloon artist friends for that as well as many a balloon art tutorial found online. When I eventually met and befriended other twisters, they were showing me designs, techniques, and other things with balloons that I didn’t even know existed. Seeing what others were making inspired me to learn even more.

TrunkSpace: We also saw on your Facebook page that you’re not only a master balloon artist, but you’re also working on becoming a master magician. Do you combine the balloon art and magic together? It certainly seems like you would have to be a magician to craft some of the sculptures that you do!
Tran: Maybe there is a way to combine the two, but I like to keep them separate because they’re both very different art forms in my opinion. So no, you don’t have to be a good magician to be a good balloon twister. Magic is a performing art and balloon twisting wouldn’t exactly work without a crowd. As a magician, I am performing for people and not for the man in the mirror. Balloon twisting on the other hand is more of a visual art, and I don’t necessarily have to rely on good social skills or cheesy jokes to do it. Also with balloons, I don’t have to do it live in front of an audience; I can be anywhere by myself doing it. When I’m out twisting balloons for people, I only get a few minutes with each guest. When I’m at home though, I have the freedom to spend as much time as I need to sculpt the bigger pieces you see on my Facebook and Instagram. Because I don’t have that luxury when I’m at a party, my most intricate balloons usually only get seen online. On special occasions though like when I go to Comic Con for fun, I’ll bring a few fancy balloons with me. I’ll turn them into balloon hats, and a few of my friends will be goofballs and wear them around with me. But sorry, I digressed. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: What is it that drives you to entertain and delight others through your work? Do you find magic or balloons to be more rewarding? Or do you get the same sort of satisfaction from both?
Tran: Magic and balloon twisting are both very rewarding, but in different ways. When I saw my first magic trick as a kid, I was filled with delight, doubt, and wonder all at the same time. I don’t think there are many art forms out there that can make a person feel that way all at once. That indescribable and innocent childhood-like feeling people get when they see a good trick is why I love magic, and it’s that feeling that I hope to instill in others every time I perform. Nowadays you can find the answers to almost anything at the push of a button. In a world where mystery has become increasingly rare, it’s really rewarding when I perform magic and can get people to question what they just experienced. Magic is also really universal in that it doesn’t matter the age, the ethnicity, the gender, or even if the same language is spoken. It has a way of uniting people to see something wonderful together. It’s satisfying knowing that I can do that with just a bit of sleight of hand. Bringing people together is the real magic for me.

Balloon art allows me to express myself in ways I normally can’t with words. On top of that, it keeps the creative juices flowing because there’s so much I still want to make. Another thing that makes balloon twisting so gratifying is the responses I get from people that appreciate the work. I’m thankful that adults can find beauty and joy in balloon art, but it’s the responses that I’ll get from kids that gives me the fuzzies. Seeing their faces glow after I give them something that I crafted makes me really happy. I’ll sometimes run into the same kids at different parties and they’ll tell me all about how they still have their shriveled up balloon months later.

TrunkSpace: Do you have a favorite subject matter to build in balloons? We were geeking out over your “Ash Vs. Dead” and “Little Shop of Horrors” creations. Are you a fellow geek at heart?
Tran: Glad you enjoyed the “Ash vs Evil Dead” balloons! I’m a big fan of the series and with horror in general, especially with old school slasher films. I have to admit though, I haven’t seen every single scary movie out there, but there’s something so interesting about the genre that makes me always come back to it when I’m thinking of new stuff to make. Ghost, goblins and other movie monsters all look so interesting, unique, and grotesque. That makes them the most challenging but also the most fun to build. I love and will never stop making balloon cartoon characters, princesses, and other cute animals, but people have seen all of that already. It’s not often that they’ll see a bloody headless zombie (*ahem* pardon me, “deadite”) or creatures with razor sharp teeth made up of squishy colorful balloons. When I’m not making frightening things, I enjoy making sci-fi characters or superheroes especially from Marvel comics. Actually, I’m currently working on as many Marvel characters as I can right now in order to celebrate the release of the upcoming Infinity War movie.

TrunkSpace: You attended the World Balloon Convention this year. For those of us that didn’t know there was such an event, what was that experience like? What does one expect to see at a convention for balloons?
Tran: That was like less than two weeks ago! Would you believe that it was my first balloon convention? It was everything I was hoping it would be, and more. I follow many balloon twisters on Instagram, so it was really fun getting to meet some of them for the first time. I must admit though, I felt like an amateur twister all over again after marveling at the stuff these guys were creating. People from all over the world attended, and they all take their crafts very seriously. There was a competition in different categories held at the convention, and every balloon submitted was breathtaking. From larger than life sculptures to smaller tabletop bouquets, there was a contest for everything. One of my favorite categories was the fashion/costume contest. There was this beautiful and WEARABLE blue gown made entirely out of balloons, and it was definitely one of my favorites. I was fortunate enough to speak to the artist that made it, and apparently it took her four days to complete it! And yet here I am complaining about spending just a few hours on a project.

TrunkSpace: Is the balloon art community a tight-knit group? Do you all get inspired by one another’s creations and push each other to see how far you can go with the craft?
Tran: Yeah, it’s a pretty tight-knit community. People are always coming up with new and innovative ideas though, which can make it pretty competitive at times. We all want to be credited for coming out with the next big thing, and so for that reason, we might keep a method or two to ourselves. I do share, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t hold back on a few tricks of the trade. The truth, though, is I would love nothing more than to see this art form flourish. Having said that though, I think spoon feeding every idea and technique we have to one another will discourage people from experimenting with their own creativity. In my eyes, there isn’t really a “right” or “wrong” way of making balloons, but people may begin to think so if all they’ve ever done is recreate other balloon twister’s work move for move. It’s better to teach maybe a few basic shapes, and then let them take what they’ve learned and go in their own direction with it. That’s certainly how I got better. No one taught me how to make many of the characters I’ve crafted, but they did teach me a few fundamental moves to help me get there.

TrunkSpace: Twisting all of those balloons together and getting to where you’re at, creatively, you must have had a few balloons pop in the process of learning your craft. Are you ever nervous you’ll get to that final balloon of a masterpiece and they will all explode?
Tran: A few balloons popping? More like a few hundred. The sound of them exploding doesn’t startle me as much anymore. But yeah, I’m never nervous about a limb or piece accidentally blowing up when I’m done because it can easily be fixed. The biggest challenge actually is that each sculpture is a race against the clock. As you may know, balloons don’t have a very long shelf life once they’re inflated. Unlike an artist that might paint on a canvas, I can’t put aside my work and get back to it days later. I’ll spend hours nonstop working on a project. In fact no matter how exhausted I get, I’ll get so paranoid sometimes that I won’t even take a break because all I want to do is make sure that the completed sculpture is as fresh as possible. Even when I’m finally finished with something, they’re usually gone in just a few days. Whenever I’m working on a balloon just for fun, (usually a superhero or movie character of some sort) I’ll drop them off at my local comic book shop to be put on display. I figured, hey it’s going to shrivel eventually anyways, so better to showcase it somewhere to people who might appreciate it instead of keeping it locked away in my room. Sadly, other than taking photos of them, I can’t do much else to preserve my work. If I can find the silver lining in all of this though, it’s that balloons really teach people to appreciate what they have while it’s still around.

TrunkSpace: Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Where do you think your magic and balloon art will take you and what do you hope to accomplish?
Tran: The future is a mystery to me. I have goals in mind, but life is unpredictable. If you told me several years ago that I’d be performing at birthday parties or teaching magic and balloon twisting to kids at a school one day, I wouldn’t have believed you, and yet here I am. I’ll tell you this though; I do hope to showcase a very different side of my balloons at an art gallery one day. I want to change the way people see balloons. Think about this for a moment; at little Jimmy’s birthday party, there are decorations, cake, and what else? Balloons. Is someone graduating? Let’s celebrate by bringing balloons. Perhaps someone you know isn’t feeling well, so what do you do? You get them a get well card, and of course, a handful of balloons. Even in the world of balloon twisting; life size sculptures, cool superheroes and costumes… people are captivated by what twisters are making and they’re beginning to see its potential now, but that kind of sums up what every twister is doing. What do all of these balloons and scenarios have in common? They are generally tied to positive emotions and experiences. Balloon art, like any other forms of art, should be able to trigger people in more ways than one. Sure I’ve delighted some people and maybe woo’ed a few others, but I want to do more than just that. When I’m not assembling characters, I’m making sculptures that I hope will set off other emotions like hurt, anger, disgust, sadness, jealously, etc. I once had a lady get teary eyed after showing her a balloon that I made, and I inadvertently almost made someone puke once after I unveiled something else that I created (although that’s a very unusual and extreme example).Call me insane, but I believe that if I focus more on stuff like this, then I’ll be one step closer to getting people to look beyond the balloon dog and sword. More than anything, I want to convince people that balloon sculpting is just as acceptable as any other form of art. I want to surprise people by taking what is widely known as a children’s play thing and create something with it that will move people in ways that they never thought balloons could.

TrunkSpace: For those who want to get in touch with you regarding your magic and/or balloon art, how can they go about reaching you and what venues are best?
Tran: If you’d like to book me for your next event, or if you simply just want to see more of my work, you can find me on Facebook here or on Instagram here.

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Wingman Wednesday

Jimmy Bellinger

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Photo By: Ken Arnold

Combining the collective comedic tones of ‘80s sex comedies with the teen-geared appeal of the “American Pie” films, “Blockers” is ready to flip raunchy comedy on its head and lay the foundation for the laugh-inducing cinematic trends to come. Following a group of protective parents who are looking to stop their teen-aged daughters from losing their virginity on prom night, the film takes a familiar premise and tells it from a different perspective, creating something that is both recognizable and fresh at the same time.

Jimmy Bellinger plays Chad, a would-be sexual target of Gideon Adlon’s character Sam, the onscreen daughter of Hunter, portrayed by Ike Barinholtz. As one would imagine, hilarity ensues.

We recently sat down with Bellinger to discuss where-the-sun-don’t-shine beer tubes, why he thinks the comedy in the film will connect with a broad audience, and the culinary wizardry of the incredible, edible egg.

TrunkSpace: This movie further establishes something that we’ve been preaching about for a while now, which is, John Cena is a funny dude.
Bellinger: Yeah, very funny.

TrunkSpace: Was it a weird experience to go to set for the first time and not see the wrestling persona, which is so larger than life?
Bellinger: Yeah. When you don’t even see them in real life, when you see them on TV, or wrestling, or whatever they’re doing, it’s always interesting to see them in person. But him, because of also the wardrobe that he’s in too – he’s in these shorts and this button down shirt – it’s very funny. But he’s still that big dude, and he’s very, honestly, he’s very professional and very polite in real life. Talking to him and stuff, he’s a very proper guy. That’s what’s funny too. He’s not throwing people around all the time. He’ll just stand there and talk to you, not a single body slam.

TrunkSpace: And he’s got one of the best qualities when it comes to comedic delivery, which this movie sort of spotlights for everybody involved, including yourself, which is to not be afraid to laugh at yourself.
Bellinger: Right. Exactly. It’s true. That’s the whole thing is that you’ve got to be willing to just… you just can’t care. You’ve just got to have fun and do the crazy thing, because at the end of the day it’s what makes it great. He was great. He did all of his stuff, and he’s a hard worker. He’ll do it all, even take a beer tube in his butt.

TrunkSpace: Comedy in general can always be so subjective, but when you’re working on a movie like this, just in terms of the general feeling, did you get the sense that it would translate to a broad audience?
Bellinger: I feel like at the end of the day, you never really know, but I sure thought just the script alone was really funny, and so just reading that gets you excited, and got me excited. But then actually going there and shooting it, working with the people, and seeing how it’s going, yeah, you can see it. There are some scenes where maybe I’m not necessarily doing as much, or they’re shooting something else while I’m there before I shoot something I’m doing and you try and get a little peek and watch what other people are doing. There’s just some really funny stuff coming out of everybody, especially the adult cast, who are so funny. Ike Barinholtz, who plays Sam’s Dad, who’s my date – Chad’s date in the movie – seeing some of the crazy stuff he was coming up with… he was so funny. And working with Leslie Mann and John as well. Just all of them. Getting to see some of the scenes that they’re in, watching them shoot, you can tell that it’s just really funny, so you definitely get excited.

TrunkSpace: You’re also a musician. Is the act of delivering jokes a bit like writing a song where when it’s working you just know it?
Bellinger: The thing about comedy is that it’s really subjective. You hope it’s going to connect, but it’s never going to connect with everyone, so you’ve just got to find the best thing. Honestly, I think I’m much better at comedy than writing any sort of song, so let’s just be honest there. Comedy, you’re trying to cater your jokes to a certain audience and stuff, but you’re never going to make everyone happy, so just come up with the funniest stuff you can.

This movie is funny. I think what’s cool about this movie too is that they have jokes for everybody, because there’s a lot of stuff in this movie that people don’t even know about, and I’m not going to spoil today. There is some really crazy, hilarious, raunchy stuff in this movie. That is a certain kind of comedy. There’s a lot of one liners, a lot of jokes like that. But then there’s also some smarter comedy too in it. And there’s subtle stuff. It’s got stuff all over the place. People are going to be laughing throughout the movie. It’s going to be different people laughing at different parts, because it’s going to hit everybody differently.

TrunkSpace: A lot of people are calling the movie an “American Pie” for a new generation. Did it sort of have that vibe for you as well, where it could be one of those comedies that sets the pace for comedies to come?
Bellinger: It definitely could. I think what’s good about this movie is that it is American Pie-ish, but we’re getting this from the woman’s perspective, from the girls, the seniors. You don’t really get to see too much of that, because there has always been a lot of that BS stigma around women. You can’t talk about women doing that stuff, which was just bull. It’s time to do that kind of thing, and so you’re getting that. But then, there’s a big adult perspective in this. There’s a lot of stuff with the parents. You’re getting to see what they’re going through, and how they’re coming to terms with if they’re okay with this or not, and trying to figure it out. I think it definitely could set the pace, because it’s just giving you a lot more perspectives in a story that you’re not normally getting. I think that’s what’s interesting, is there’s some focal points that you don’t get to see in a lot of films. The trend is happening. Eventually I think this will start, like you’re saying, start the next thing, because this is going to be the norm now. I think we’re going to get a lot more of this, and that’s the way it should be.

TrunkSpace: You gained a lot of attention for a Skittles commercial you starred in a couple of years ago. Was that a strange experience, being recognized as a character that really only inhabited a 15 to 30 second spot? It must have far exceeded any expectations?
Bellinger: Yeah, that really did. I will tell you, that was a surprise, because when we filmed that, which was years ago – I can’t tell you exactly, obviously there’s a date somewhere, but it’s been three or four years at least. I never thought that it would be like that. I don’t think anyone did. It’s so funny now that it’s become this thing. At the end of the day, I’m laughing, because it’s great for me. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) It’s the gift that keeps on giving, right?
Bellinger: Yeah, it’s been just this amazing thing and I’m so lucky that it happened. But yeah, everyone has seen that commercial now, and it’s become this big thing. It’s constantly played during all these major sporting events – all through the NFL playoffs, all through now basketball and stuff, and it’s just constantly going and going. It’s this weird thing. I really can’t explain it. I mean, thank you Skittles for constantly showing it, and may you never shoot another commercial. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: At this point, more people have probably seen it than “Game of Thrones.”
Bellinger: You are probably, definitely correct. It’s online. It’s playing in movie theaters. It’s playing on networks and cable. It’s been the most fascinating project I’ve ever done, that it’s lasted this long. I have to say, it was really fun for me to do, because in that commercial, I got to have a lot of fun. There was a lot of improv. We shot it so many different ways, and I did so many different things, that I had no idea what it was going to be when it came out. I had a great experience working on it.

TrunkSpace: You enjoy cooking. When you’re getting ready to slip on the apron, what’s your go-to dish?
Bellinger: My go-to dish? Well, this is kind of boring, but I love to cook eggs. I love eggs so much. Eggs are so good, and they’re so versatile. They’re in everything. Well, they can be. If I’m home, that’s what I cook.

TrunkSpace: Are you rocking eggs skillet style? Huevos rancheros? How are you cooking them up?
Bellinger: Usually my favorite thing is to do eggs, butter, and then just constantly stir them until they’re basically scrambled eggs – until they’re really nice. But they’re just super soft and delicious. Sometimes there will be nights where I’ll be out… maybe I went to a bar or something with a bunch of people, and I get home. Most people are getting weird things. I’m grabbing a pot, and grabbing eggs, and standing there for 10 minutes stirring the pot, so I can eat these eggs before I go to bed. I don’t know, that’s always my go-to, because it’s so simple. It’s really not terrible for you, you’re just getting protein and some fat. That’s why I always go towards eggs. I do love huevos rancheros though. I love Mexican food. Poached egg is good. Man, poached egg, bacon, mushrooms on toast, that’s good. Man, there’s so much stuff.

TrunkSpace: Now we’re hungry.
Bellinger
: I know. Look what you did.

Blockers” arrives in theaters on Friday.

Featured image by Ken Arnold.

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Wingman Wednesday

Brock Ciarlelli

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Photo By: Catie Laffoon

Portraying Sue Heck’s very best BFF Brad in the long-running family sitcom “The Middle” has been a dream come true for Brock Ciarlelli. Not only has it been a creatively-rich training ground for the young actor who grew into adulthood while working on the show, but it is literally a case of “The Middle” actually turning out to be the beginning. After nine seasons, the series will officially sign off in May, but Ciarlelli will have already turned the page on the next chapter of his career, one that promises to bring surprises around every corner.

Next up, Ciarlelli is set to star in the one man show “Fully Committed, which is scheduled to run April 13 – April 22 at the Two Roads Theater in Los Angeles. In the show he will portray 35 different characters, each with his or her own unique personality and delivery.

We recently sat down with Ciarlelli to discuss what “The Middle” has meant to him, the way the audience has embraced Brad’s self-confidence, and why the unpredictability of show business makes it a business worth showing up for.

TrunkSpace: With “The Middle” signing off in May, does it feel like a chapter of your life is coming to an end? Have you viewed your experience on the series as more than just a job?
Ciarlelli: It does feel like a chapter is coming to an end. I didn’t quite know how I would feel when the final day of filming arrived. But after I finished my last day, while it was sad, I felt content. I was just so grateful and elated to have worked on a show that I’m a genuine fan of. While “The Middle” is definitely a job (a job that I love by the way), the amount of feedback and response I’ve gotten from fans made me realize just how much it touched them. A character like Brad doesn’t come around that often – which is why I’m so thankful I get to play him. I think a lot of times we see gay teens struggle with their identity because they’re petrified of what the world will think of them. Right away in Season 1, Brad was written as a character who was so confident in himself at such a young age, and I think that really resonates with viewers. And so yes, “The Middle” is important to me because I pay my rent with my salary from the show, but I know it’s so much more than a job because of how Brad is presented to the world… and I love that I’m the one who gets to do that.

TrunkSpace: Has it been a bit of an industry boot camp as well, at least in your early years where you were still learning the ins and outs of how everything worked? It seems that in this business in particular there are many things you can only learn by doing.
Ciarlelli: No doubt it’s been a boot camp. And I’m still learning. There’s still so much of the industry that I am completely ignorant to. No amount of acting classes can prepare you for what will be thrown at you on set. And so the thing I learned right away was to show up to set fully memorized and prepared with strong comedic choices… and if the director redirects you, he/she redirects you. There’s nothing wrong with that. Starting out, I got really upset and self-conscious when a director would give me an adjustment. But what I had to learn quickly was that this whole industry is one big collaboration; you’ll never be doing anything completely on your own. And now that makes me really confident in my work because everyone is collectively working towards making the best final product possible.

TrunkSpace: What are some surprise perks that have come out of your time on the series that you could have never anticipated when you first stepped foot onto the set?
Ciarlelli: First, I never anticipated just how cushy network TV is. And while I still think some stuff is really too ‘boujie’ and unnecessary, as I started working more, I understood it. Take the idea of a trailer. Starting out, I thought having my own trailer gave me super-star status. However, I see the importance of a trailer now. An actor’s energy needs to be in front of the camera. And more times than not, as an actor you need a space where you can recoup and prepare to make sure you’re giving all the energy you have when you’re on set. If you’re doing your job right, it’s easy to get drained because you’re putting forth so much energy while you act – so the trailer, while it’s a nice perk, is an important necessity to ensure you’re giving the same amount of energy in the following scene.

TrunkSpace: You have spent over 50 episodes inhabiting Brad. What did you like most about him over the course of your time playing him, and are those things different from what first drew you to the character? Did you learn to love different aspects of who he was as time went on?
Ciarlelli: The thing I like most about Brad, and I think audiences would agree, is how good of a friend he is to Sue. He’s loyal. The thing that drew me to Brad originally was the phone call saying, “You booked the job!” (Laughter) But obviously, after 50+ episodes, the character really starts to take on layers. And that’s so much fun to play around with. I mentioned this earlier, but the thing that has always remained a constant with Brad is how confident he is in himself… and that’s something I always knew, even from when I auditioned for the part. But as time has gone on, I’ve started to appreciate it.

TrunkSpace: In many ways you grew up in front of the camera. Many of your costars were going through the same experiences. Did you find a kinship in that, navigating those big life changes while also being in the spotlight?
Ciarlelli: Growing up with “The Middle” gave me such a level of comfort. I went through some of life’s biggest changes while working on this show. I graduated high school, had my first love, had my first heartbreak, graduated college, did my own taxes for the first time (that was an experience, let me tell you), and so much more. And so many of those things are tremendously scary. But something that was so comforting was having “The Middle” through all those transformative moments. I’m a creature of habit. So when things inevitably shift, I look for the constant in my life. My constants have always been my family, my friends, and “The Middle.”

TrunkSpace: We read that you started acting in community theater when you were in the first grade. Did you know even then that this was your life’s path… that being an actor was your calling?
Ciarlelli: I would say yes. I knew I loved performing from an early age. When I first started doing theater I was too young to grasp that performing could be my job. In 3rd grade I was just kick-ball-changing during show choir performances in sequined vests and jazz shoes because it was a fun thing to do during the weekends. I didn’t really anticipate it as a career pursuit until I made the decision to leave community theater after 10 years to sign with reps in Los Angeles.

TrunkSpace: “The Middle” has shined a spotlight on your comedic talents for years, but was comedy something you were always comfortable with? Did the timing and delivery aspect come naturally to you?
Ciarlelli: I’ve always known comedy was a skill I’ve had. I love to laugh, and even more so, I love to make people laugh. That being said, I think the more I’ve worked and the more classes I’ve taken, the more refined my comedy has become. I’ve also started to grasp the different kinds of comedy. So while I think comedy comes naturally to me, it’s constantly something that needs to be worked on. It’s the only way I’m going to produce my best work.

THE MIDDLE – “The Core Group” – (ABC/Michael Ansell) Ciarlelli with Jameson Perry and Dexter Mayfield

TrunkSpace: Having spent so much time working on a comedic series, are you looking for material that is more dramatic moving forward, or is it less about the type of work and more about the quality?
Ciarlelli: Oh, the type of project doesn’t matter. Frankly, the work I’m looking for is anything where the casting director says, “You’re hired!” (Laughter) I will say, my strength lies in comedy. But my favorite types of projects, as an actor and viewer, are things that can both make me laugh and cry. That’s why I’m such a fan of “The Middle.” I love comedies that have a lot of heart. A perfect example of that is the movie “Love, Simon.” I just saw that this past weekend… twice.

TrunkSpace: You have a one man show, “Fully Committed” running in Los Angeles at the Two Roads Theater from April 13 – 22. How did that come about, and with only a few weeks before you take the stage, are you off book and ready to rock it?
Ciarlelli: I saw Jesse Tyler Ferguson from “Modern Family” do “Fully Committed” on Broadway a few years ago and I was flabbergasted. He was incredible and the show is such a cool concept. And when we officially announced the final season of “The Middle,” I wanted something lined up, so I bought the rights. I’ve been working on it for months and I asked one of my favorite directors from “The Middle,” Melissa Kosar, to direct the show. She graciously said yes and has been doing a phenomenal job. Doing this scares the hell out of me – but that’s exactly why I should do it, right? I’ve been off book for a few months and have been spending time running it over and over, buying props, working out technical aspects with sound, and many other things that I never anticipated when I decided to do this… like buying insurance! Who knew that’s something the theater would require me to have?! I’m learning as I go.

TrunkSpace: You’re set to play 35 characters in “Fully Committed.” Who are some of the favorites you’ll be inhabiting and why are you looking forward to climbing into their particular skin?
Ciarlelli: Each of the 35 characters has a certain tick as well as a specific accent, pitch, or inflection to their voice. Like Gwyneth Paltrow’s assistant, Bryce, loves to exaggerate his “S’s” and is constantly texting. The chef is a former frat boy who’s always grabbing his crotch and barking out orders. And poor Judith Rush is a frail, 84-year-old woman who doesn’t understand the concept of a tasting menu and just wants the AARP discount. Bless her heart. I’m so excited for it. It’s been an amazing challenge as an actor. Because more than just learning 35 characters, I’m learning how to carry an entire show on my own. I’m the sole conductor for taking the audience through a gamut of emotions and making sure they’re entertained during every second of the show.

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?
Ciarlelli: My curiosity wants to say yes. However, I would pass on the futuristic peek. This industry is so unpredictable. That’s part of why I love it so much. Getting a hint for what’s to come would take away a major component of what makes show business… well, show business.

The Middle” airs Wednesdays on ABC.

Fully Committed” opens April 13 at the Two Roads Theater in Los Angeles.

Featured image by: Catie Laffoon

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Trunk Stubs

The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale

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Series: The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale

Where To Watch: Netflix

Starring: Joel McHale, Paul Feig, Brad Stevens

Reason We’re Watching It: If you’re like us, you were sad to see the day when E! drained the broth on “The Soup.” Joel McHale’s weekly look at pop culture in all of its hilarity was a bright beacon of laughter at the end of a long work week. Well, our entertainment prayers have finally been answered thanks to Netflix! McHale is back with a weekly show on the streaming service that is pretty much just like “The Soup” but perhaps with a wider spectrum of material to mine for comedy gold.

What It’s About: McHale takes a look at the week in pop culture and delivers a comedic take on reality shows, news programs, scripted TV series and more. You can pretty much guarantee there will be a celebrity guest or two on each show, especially if they’re also involved with a Netflix show they are looking to plug.

Whoah! Rewind That!: In Episode 6 of the first season, McHale had Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant on the show for a guest spot that had us cracking up. There was a great play on words using the movies that Olyphant and Barrymore had been in that you just have to watch to appreciate. It might make you… “Scream 2.” (See, scream as well.)

Watercooler-Worthy Tidbit: An interesting side note, McHale is also on the Netflix series “Santa Clarita Diet” playing a rival real estate agent opposite Olyphant, whose character’s name just so happens to be Joel.

And that’s why we’re giving it…

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Wingman Wednesday

Amy Aquino

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Photo By: JSquared Photography

Amy Aquino has been lending her talents to memorable projects for decades, and in turn, leaving a lasting impression on our pop culture processors. From “Working Girl” in the ‘80s to “Picket Fences” in the ‘90s and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in the new century, the New Jersey native continues to take on projects that not only entertain audiences but spark shifts in both the method and delivery of content within the industry itself.

For the last four years Aquino has portrayed Grace Billets on the series “Bosch,” which is set to kick off Season 4 April 13 on Amazon Prime. Based on the novels by Michael Connelly and starring Titus Welliver, the episodic crime drama was already greenlit for a fifth season before the fourth ever reached an audience, a rarity in the business of television.

We recently sat down with Aquino to discuss gorilla filmmaking for Larry David, dealing with the fictional bureaucracy of being a captain, and why she feels so lucky to be doing what she loves.

TrunkSpace: We were recently re-binging our way through “Curb Your Enthusiasm” for at least the third time. Is there something extra special about being involved in a series that people don’t only watch, but will watch again and again?
Aquino: That one was so much fun because it is actually improvised. What they do is – you’re probably aware of it – they write a prose description of what happens in the scene, but without any lines, and you don’t actually say any lines. They even do the camera blocking with you just kind of saying, “Well, alright, I’ll walk over to the table here and greet Larry, and then I will go and find my table over there and ask the waitress for something.” You never actually say lines until the camera’s rolling. They get absolutely everything fresh and it was so much fun to do.

TrunkSpace: Sounds a bit theatrical in a way.
Aquino: It’s a little like theater, it’s a little like improv. A lot much more fun than theater because you get to write your own lines. And it’s a little like the real life theater in a way because they shoot on location and they don’t have all the big fancy set-ups. It’s like, “Where should I change?” “Well, I think there’s a bathroom over there.” “Okay. I’ll go in the bathroom and I’ll change.”

TrunkSpace: Gorilla filmmaking. (Laughter)
Aquino: Yeah, with Larry David and HBO. So, the biggest budget of anybody, of any professional company on earth. (Laughter) But it was really fun.

TrunkSpace: “Bosch” returns on April 13. What has the experience been like for you getting to return to the character for four seasons now?
Aquino: It’s pretty lovely being able to kind of live with her and find out more about her over a long period of time. It really is. I haven’t had that experience. I’ve recurred on a lot of shows, and I was able to do it on some levels with “ER” over the course of 15 seasons, but not as intensely as this. It’s lovely to have regular work, God knows, as an actor… and as an actress of a certain age. That’s just great. And certainly, the relationships get enriched, and watching Maddie (Madison Lintz) grow up, literally, from a little girl to a young woman, has been extraordinary. I feel very grateful.

TrunkSpace: Where have you seen Grace grow the most from when you first discovered her to where she is now in Season 4?
Aquino: Well, the big growth has been professionally, but in the sense of understanding where she’s headed and what she really likes to do, and what her limitations are. Obviously, the affair that she had was a terrifically bad idea, which she didn’t really understand at the time. But the fact that that prevents her from being a captain made her sit back and appreciate what it is she is doing, and that there’s value in what she does, and that she wouldn’t necessarily flourish, or want to be dealing with the bureaucracy of being a captain. There’s something very satisfying about being far more directly involved with the solving of crimes. So, she’s kind of coming to terms with that, although this season is interesting because she gets a real taste of what life might have been like.

TrunkSpace: That must help to keep things fresh for you as well because she’s physically being put in different circumstances, which would force anyone to change their p.o.v. over time?
Aquino: Oh, completely. Absolutely. And the other piece where she’s having to really kind of stretch and dig deep is having to do with her relationship with Bosch, because as he has been more and more internalizing his pain, and there has been more and more pain to internalize, she’s finding it more and more challenging to reach him. You know, I look back at some of the first season and second season, when we’d have a difference of opinion about how he should behave, we would have a flat out conversation about it, and now he’s, as you’ll see in this season, contending with solving his mother’s murder, and he’s contending with other major personal tragedy, and he hasn’t had a lot of therapy. Where he goes, and where he’s learnt to go, is to just shut down, and it’s made him much more of a challenge to deal with, and to balance the friendship and the professional relationship. That’s been kind of an interesting, and frustrating, ride to be on recently with him.

TrunkSpace: Season to season, “Bosch” episodes are rolled out all at once. Does that that change the experience for you?
Aquino: I guess so. It doesn’t make an enormous difference to me, except for, on some levels, to talk about it once it’s released. Once it’s released, we don’t have to worry about spoilers. You’re on your own. Although, I don’t know that everybody sits down and watches it right away, binges all the episodes, but I suspect that the vast majority do. It’s only 10 episodes and people, our fans, are so crazy about the show and they have been waiting for nine months or for a year, most of them, for it to happen, that I don’t think they’re gonna waste a whole lot of time. But, as I said, I don’t know that it changes my experience of it that much. I still wait for each script to see where it’s gonna go. I have a general sense of what her story’s gonna be, but even I can get surprised by some of the things that happen, just as you would with a show that goes for a longer period of time.

TrunkSpace: It must be nice to know you have a fifth season already greenlit before the fourth even comes out.
Aquino: How lucky am I? Yeah. And we’ve known, actually, for a while and we just couldn’t talk about it. Look, Amazon really respects Michael. They have a great relationship, and while they won’t talk about the show, or they don’t talk about numbers, we can certainly assume that based on that, that it’s tremendously popular and therefore it’s a valuable commodity to Amazon. And that’s nice to know.

TrunkSpace: Well, and that’s just it, it must be refreshing to not have it be about the numbers, but instead, about the quality of the show itself.
Aquino: Yeah. I mean, look, we all know that Amazon has got algorithms for everything. There’s no question that they have figured out that there’s tremendous value to their company to have this show up there for whatever reason. I mean, maybe people who watch “Bosch” buy a lot of stuff, so it’s just a completely different outlet on some levels and they keep it to themselves and that’s fine. But also, because of Michael and his worldwide popularity, I think it is tremendously valuable for them to be associated with him, and to have Amazon, as a media outlet, associated with him. That has to mean a lot. The way I gauge how popular the show is by how much I get recognized, and it is startling to me. Because there are no numbers I don’t really know, but I know that wherever I go, and in the oddest places, people will stop me and say, “Oh my god, I love ‘Bosch’.” “Oh my gosh, oh my God, that’s you! Wow, it’s Grace Billets. Wow, I love the show.” It’s extraordinary.

Aquino in “Bosch”

TrunkSpace: Most other streaming platforms seem to be in the content business, and by that we mean, they’re churning out new shows on a regular basis, but Amazon seems focused on the ones that are working for them.
Aquino: Yeah. They are going for quality and not quantity, that’s for sure. There’s no filler. They don’t need to be doing content because they have so many other avenues by which they make their money, so they only do content that they really believe in, and that’s kinda special. You don’t have 24 hours of the day to fill up.

TrunkSpace: Do you still enjoy the process of acting as much as you did the first time you stepped on a set? Is it still as exciting for you as it was then?
Aquino: I think I would be lying to say that it was. I still feel incredibly grateful to be able to do this thing, and I love being challenged, and I love trying the process of figuring out what is actually going on here, you know, looking at these words on a page and digging behind them because I’ve got a very analytical mind and that’s where I love to go. At this age, after 30 years in the business, it’s not gonna be the same. I remember when I shot “Working Girl,” and I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I don’t think it is that. That is precisely the same. Because, I guess knowing how the sausage is made too, and especially in film and television, it’s certainly different from theater. I probably still get the same thrills in theater, getting on the stage when I’m doing plays, which I continue to do, because that is just that immediate moment.

TrunkSpace: And it must change night to night depending on the audience as well?
Aquino: Absolutely, every night is completely different because you do have a relationship with the audience, and you have a relationship with the people on stage with you, but the audience is your costar in a big way and not everybody understands that, how wildly different your evening is depending upon who’s out there taking the ride with you. It’s more comfortable, certainly more contained, in a film and television set, but I still love it and wonder how fortunate am I to be able to do something that does challenge me like this, and to be compensated for it. I’ll never forget how lucky I am.

Season 4 of “Bosch” premieres April 14 on Amazon Prime.

Featured image by: JSquared Photography

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Trunk Bubbles

Thomas Pitilli

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Name: Thomas Pitilli

Website: www.thomaspitilli.com

Favorite Comic Book Character Growing Up: Batman

Favorite Comic Book Character Now: Daredevil

Latest Work: “Riverdale” (Monthly series from Archie Comics)

TrunkSpace: How would you describe your art style?
Pitilli: That’s always a tough one. For the longest time, I used to say it was “comic book inspired,” but now that I’m working in comics, I feel like that’s a bit redundant. (Laughter) I would say it’s sort of inky, with a combination of both loose expressive lines and more controlled ones. I try and keep it kind of sexy as well.

TrunkSpace: How important were comic books in your life growing up and is that where you discovered your love and inspiration for drawing?
Pitilli: Yeah, definitely. Comics as well as animated cartoons were the two things that inspired me to draw from a very early age. I can still remember burning through sheets of paper with drawings of Peter Pan and Batman and Robin. Comics gave me this overwhelming desire to create and tell stories.

TrunkSpace: Was there a particular artist or title from your childhood that you remember being drawn to and inspired by?
Pitilli: Oh yeah, there were a few very pivotal ones for me. I was a huge fan of Archie Comics and my favorite artist on those titles was Dan DeCarlo. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized just how influential he was on so many artists and just how prolific he was inside and outside of Archie. When I got a bit older, I was definitely inspired by the whole Image Comics style, particularly that of Jim Lee and J. Scott Campbell. Bruce Timm and his whole art deco inspired version of Batman was also super influential on me growing up. In a way, my style is almost a combination of all of those early influences.

TrunkSpace: How did you decide to approach your career in comics? Did you formulate a plan of how you wanted to attack what is known for being a hard industry to crack?
Pitilli: I came into comics in a sort of indirect kind of way. I had been working as an illustrator for editorial and advertising clients for close to 10 years before breaking into comics. Although I studied cartooning at SVA in NYC, I focused on other illustration work opportunities after graduating. At the time, comics seemed like a very overwhelming task (which they can be) and I didn’t think my skills were up to par in terms of telling a story visually. A few years ago though, I connected with an old classmate from SVA who was an editor at Archie Comics at the time and he gave me my first assignment in comics, creating cover art for one of their titles.

TrunkSpace: What was your biggest break in terms of a job that opened more doors for you?
Pitilli: In terms of comics, everything I’ve done for Archie within the last few years has lead to lots of exposure as well as some cool opportunities opening up because of it.

TrunkSpace: A lot of people say that breaking into comics is the hardest part of working in comics. How long did it take you before you started to see your comic book dreams become a reality?
Pitilli: Like I said, I had already been a working illustrator before breaking into comics, and during that time I wasn’t all that concerned with working as a comic artist. Throughout my career, a lot of the projects and opportunities that have presented themselves have come out of the building of relationships with various people in the design/illustration/comics worlds. And breaking into comics has been no different. Luckily opportunities in comics have presented themselves at the right time and I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of an industry which I believe is going through a new golden age.

TrunkSpace: Is there a particular character or universe you always find yourself returning to when you’re sketching or doing warm-ups?
Pitilli: Not really. My warm up drawings and sketches almost always consists of a random female figure. During Inktober however, I am more likely to do a warm up sketch of a famous comic character. Some of my favorite Inktober drawings of mine have been Madman and Death.

TrunkSpace: Is there a specific title or character that you’d like to work on in the future and why?
Pitilli: Growing up, I was a big fan of the “Generation X” series by Chris Bachalo. I have fantasized about working with those characters, especially Jubilee. I think that would be a lot of fun!

TrunkSpace: What is your ultimate dream when it comes to your career in comics? Where would you like your path to lead?
Pitilli: I’m sort of just seeing where this whole journey takes me. I don’t really have an end goal in mind. I want to continue to evolve as an artist, work on my craft and hopefully be able to contribute artwork and stories that a wide audience can enjoy. I think as far as the genre itself goes, the sky is the limit these days and that’s really exciting to know.

TrunkSpace: What would you say is the greatest strength as an artist?
Pitilli: I was inspired by so many amazing artists growing up. So much so that it has informed my entire career path and vision as an adult. I think there is great strength in the kind of an impact that art and artists can have on others. Thinking that my work can one day have an impact on a young kid the way others had on me, that’s kind of an amazing thing to think about.

TrunkSpace: How has technology changed your process of putting ideas/script to page? Do you use the classic paper/pencil approach at all anymore?
Pitilli: Technology has been huge for my process as a comic book artist. I do all my comic work digitally. These days, the deadlines are so tight and often times my workload can be pretty heavy that working digitally is really essential. It saves so much time on scanning and sending artwork, as well as being much more convenient for making revisions when necessary. I would LOVE to be able to draw my comics traditionally, using real ink and paper, but time just doesn’t permit that these days. I use the Wacom Cintiq Companion 2 as my drawing tablet of choice. I highly recommend it. In terms of quality, nothing is lost compared to the ‘old fashioned’ way.

TrunkSpace: What advice would you give another young aspiring artist who is considering a career in the comic industry?
Pitilli: Keep at it. Comics, like all other artistic professions, require a lot of dedication and consistency to not only the craft itself, but the self promotion aspect as well. Also, learn how to best manage your time. Comics is a deadline-based job, so if meeting a deadline seems challenging for you, practice how to best utilize your time while creating art. I’m constantly trying to find ways of being more efficient. The guy or gal who always meets their deadlines and is pleasant to work with will always get more work than the ultra ‘talented’ artist who can’t seem to get the work done on time.

TrunkSpace: Making appearances at conventions: Love it, leave it, or a combination of both?
Pitilli: I did my first convention signing at New York Comic Con this past October and I loved it! I’ve never had a table at a big convention before, but maybe in the future.

TrunkSpace: What is the craziest/oddest thing you’ve ever been asked to draw as a commission?
Pitilli: Generally, I’m a bit picky when it comes to commission requests. I like to have a lot of fun when creating a commission, so that it shows through in the art and the patron is happy with it. If the request is something super weird that doesn’t interest me, I have to decline.

TrunkSpace: What else can fans of your work look forward to in 2018?
Pitilli: Definitely more “Riverdale” and Archie work. Also, I’m looking forward to finally being able to announce a super fun project that I’ve been working on. It’s an exciting one, so stay tuned!

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