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Wingman Wednesday

Sark Asadourian

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Taking on the leading role in a film at 10 years old is no big deal for newcomer Sark Asadourian. Sure, his new film “Cecil,” available now on DVD and VOD, was his first major acting project, but having previously worked with director Spenser Fritz – whose childhood the coming-of-age-comedy is based – helped to lesson any nerves that he when he arrived on set.

We recently sat down with Asadourian to discuss sharpening his basketball skills, binging a beloved ‘90s sitcom, and why he hopes to one day fly on screen.

TrunkSpace: Your new film Cecilis based on the real-life experiences of writer/director Spenser Fritz. As a performer in the piece playing the title character did you feel a responsibility to deliver on Spensers personal expectations of the project when hes seeing pieces of himself and his upbringing in the narrative youre helping to give life to on screen?
Asadourian: I was 10 when I filmed Cecil, so I don’t think I was thinking about that at the time. I was thinking more about how my own experiences related to Cecil’s experiences.

TrunkSpace: “Cecilis one of your first projects, and not only was it a lead role, but it was a lead TITLE role! Did you feel pressure going into production, and if so, how did you manage your nerves and focus on performance?
Asadourian: I don’t think I did have much nerves. I had acted in a bunch of smaller projects previously, so I knew how set would work. I also worked with Spenser to film the trailer for the Kickstarter campaign, so I was already comfortable with Spenser and some of the crew. From that experience I knew working with Spenser would be fun – I felt like I would be in good hands. So I was really just looking forward to the experience and I couldn’t wait to meet Abby (Christa Beth Campbell) and Martha (Sophie Harris).

TrunkSpace: What was the biggest challenge in slipping into Cecils skin and bringing him to life?
Asadourian: The lisp and the basketball playing. I had to put a lot of time into both. I had never really played basketball before the shoot, so we hung a net at home and I practiced every day. I also went to a speech therapist to learn to lisp realistically.

TrunkSpace: Was it helpful to have Spenser available to you at all times, especially with so much of himself in the character and story? Was he able to give you insight into Cecils journey that perhaps you wouldnt have been able to receive if he wasnt directing the film as well?
Asadourian: It was helpful. Spenser is really good at communicating what he wants in the scene, what Cecil would be feeling. We would rehearse each scene while the crew was setting up, so I was ready once it was time to shoot.

TrunkSpace: The story of Ceciltakes place before you were born in the mid 1990s. Was it fun getting to play in a period piece and what did you enjoy most about trying to recreate that on film?
Asadourian: I thought it was fun because the costumes were clothes I wouldn’t normally wear. I grew out my hair into a bowl cut. Putting on the clothes, the different haircut, all helped me feel like Cecil. Since Jenna von Oÿ was playing my mom, I binge watched “Blossom” before the shoot. It was fun to learn about the trends of the ‘90s. Most of the crew grew up in the ‘90s, so I think that did create a feeling of nostalgia and fun on the set.

TrunkSpace: For the audience, the most enjoyable part of a movie or series is the end product, but for those involved in the project, we would imagine it is the experience. For you, what will you take away from the production of Cecilthat will stay with you going forward?
Asadourian: The friendships. It was quite a small crew most days, so we all got really close. It’s harder to keep in touch with Christa, who played Abby, since she’s in Atlanta, but we still stay in touch. The relationships on screen are genuine except for with Zach (Hudson Pregont) and Chelsea (Avary Anderson). They weren’t really bullies. Sophie, who played Martha, is one of my sister’s best friends and her brother, Isaiah, who was in a bunch of the basketball scenes, is still one of my close friends.

TrunkSpace: In terms of performance, what are you most proud of with the film? Is there a particular scene or moment that you thought, Thats going in my reel!
Asadourian: One scene I’m proud of was where I was crying and upset in my bedroom because it was a hard scene for me emotionally. The other scene would be the spitball scene because it felt like an epic action scene and it was really fun to shoot.

TrunkSpace: We read that youre also into science. Is science fiction something about space exploration the kind of project that would interest you moving forward? What kind of project is the dream role for you?
Asadourian: I do like science fiction. I think it would be really fun to do a film like “Ender’s Game,” something where I would get to fly. I think it would be really cool to see the finished film because it would probably be somewhat of a surprise since so much would be CGI. A dream role for me would be a role that is challenging emotionally but still has good humor. I would love to be in a film that had a chance to go to Sundance.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Asadourian: I wouldn’t want to go in the time machine. I want to figure out my life as it goes because that is the fun of life.

Cecil” is available now on DVD and VOD.

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Chilling Out

Chris Conner

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Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with Chris Conner, star of the new film “The Harvesting,” which is available now on DVD and Digital HD.

We recently sat down with Conner to discuss the horror of isolation, playing in the fantastical worlds he loved as a child, and inventing Edgar Allan Poe.

TrunkSpace: The isolation of farmlands has been terrifying us since we first saw “Children of the Corn” way back in 1984. When you initially read the script for “The Harvesting,” what was the potential that you saw in it? Was it psychological? Was it jump scare-based? Something else entirely?
Conner: Yes, psychological. I think it was the feeling of isolation. It seemed that this family was at a breaking point and instead of communicating and working together, Jake retreats to the country. The farmland should be a place of quiet solace…

TrunkSpace: In the film you play that man, Jake, a husband and father who is enthusiastic about the idea of getting “away from it all” as he heads out to the country with his family. Is part of the terror in a film like “The Harvesting” the idea of helplessness as a parent to protect the family, because as parents ourselves, that’s certainly the vibe we felt in watching the trailer?
Conner: Sure. And the need to reconnect with our own childhoods through our children. If they can see where Dad grew up maybe they will understand him better. If everyone could just slow down and listen, the family could be saved.

TrunkSpace: Isolation certainly increases the creep factor in a horror film, but how does it impact production? In shooting the film, were you just as “away from it all” as the fictional characters themselves?
Conner: We weren’t too isolated as a production or as actors. It was made on a shoestring so we all were a big messy family shooting it. Dan (Shultz), our producer, was a little like Jake in the film, just keeping the family together.

TrunkSpace: What was it about Jake that you wanted to help bring to life? What aspects of him did you have the most fun inhabiting for the duration of the production?
Conner: It’s fun to play in the horror genre in general. Playing into certain tropes or against them is always a good challenge. And young dad roles are a new thing for me, so it was fun with the kids as well.

TrunkSpace: For the viewer, the final product is always what’s memorable when it comes to a film or series, but for those working on the project, we have to imagine that it is the experience that stays with you. For you, what was the most memorable aspect of getting to work on “The Harvesting?”
Conner: Lancaster, Pennsylvania is a beautiful part of the country. I’ll always remember the rolling hills and the kind folk there.

TrunkSpace: Horror as a genre seems to have a built-in audience. Is it appealing working on a project knowing that, in a way, you’re going to have eyes on it based on the interest in the genre as a whole?
Conner: Totally. I recently wrote a western and that is exactly why I did it. You watch things growing up and you want to play in those worlds. Sci-fi, horror, westerns – all those genres are places I want to play. They have an audience AND I’m a big fan.

TrunkSpace: We loved your character Poe in “Altered Carbon” and we were sorry to see him – spoiler alert – go. Is that one of those roles that comes along and you instantly know it has the chance to be special from a performance standpoint?
Conner: Yes and no. Poe wasn’t in the books and we had to “invent” him as we went along. Really great writing helped with that. And it seemed to click for me.

TrunkSpace: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Conner: Poe in “Altered Carbon.” It’s a really special character. And my first time getting to contribute more of myself in something that ends up on screen. You mostly get that in the theater, but I got a chance to do it on a really big Netflix show and that is just awesome.

Conner as Poe in “Altered Carbon”

TrunkSpace: Is there a character that you portrayed – perhaps even in a guesting capacity – that you wished you had more time to spend with and explore further?
Conner: Most everything I have ever done! A lot of TV and film gets rushed and I always think about how I would have done it differently. But then you gotta move on and be in the moment for the next story to tell.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Conner: Naw… I think being surprised along the journey is so cool. I turn to my wife all the time and say, “How did we get here?!” It’s been a helluva ride so far and in 10 years I’m sure I’ll be shocked at where I am.

Hopefully, in a good way.

The Harvesting” is available now on DVD and Digital HD.

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Wingman Wednesday

Adam Carbone

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This week we’re taking an extended look at the inspirational indie “Randy’s Canvas,” a moving tale about a young man with autism who is on a journey of love and self-acceptance. Starring Adam Carbone, Kevin G. Schmidt, Scout Taylor-Compton, Massi Furlan, Michael Emery, Richard Riehle and Marycarmen Lopez, the film is available now on digital HD.

Next up we’re chatting with star Adam Carbone to discuss fighting for the role, proving through his performance that he was the right choice, and why he’s hoping “Randy’s Canvas” will serve as a multi-layered calling card.

TrunkSpace: You began working on “Randy’s Canvas years ago.” Why was it important for you to be a part of this film and get the story out into the world?
Carbone: I think it is very important because, at least to me, it gives more of a mass understanding of autism in general. Even myself, before I started the movie, I didn’t really know too much about it. I knew friends who had it, but I just never understood it. Once I started researching for the film and studying with kids from the Autism Project, I really started to grasp what it was and really understood what it’s like to have autism, or to be anywhere on the spectrum. It’s very different. It’s not just a broad stroke, which is what I thought before. It’s individuality with autism sprinkled on top, and at all different levels and with all different capabilities. I think it’s important for the world to know that these kids, or anybody with autism, can still function and have a normal life. I think that’s the main point of the movie for me, to educate people.

TrunkSpace: Did you gain a better understanding of how Randy saw the world by sitting down with the kids from the Autism Project?
Carbone: Yeah, I did. Actually, a lot of them are still my friends and I do other films with them and stuff now, too. It was really cool, because they all have their own quirky personalities, and they’re all good at something. It’s just really cool to see the differences in them, and really realize that they’re just people who just happen to have autism at different levels of it. That was the eye opener for me, because I just didn’t know too much.

TrunkSpace: Randy is a big character to tackle because of the size and scope of the role. Did you feel pressure carrying the title character of the film?
Carbone: Yeah, definitely, because to me, when I first read the script, it was a lot of dialogue and I always consider myself to have a bad memory. I was like, “Oh, this is gonna be so hard!” (Laughter) But, it actually wasn’t. I kind of got right into it and I just became Randy. I literally just blocked everything outside of my mind, and I just got into it. One of the things that Sean (Michael Beyer), the director, taught me was just to listen to the other people’s lines. “Just listen to them and you’ll react accordingly.”

But still, it was little bit overwhelming because it’s the anchor of this film, and it’s all about Randy. It was very important to me to be accurate with the autism, and not to let the people at the Autism Project down, or anybody with autism, or anybody that wants to learn about autism. But, something deep down inside me knew I had it, and it was almost to prove people wrong, because I’m kind of a newcomer when it comes to drama acting. A lot of people didn’t believe in me. They were like, “Oh…” They were kind of questioning the director. To me, it was like, “Oh, that’s a challenge!”

TrunkSpace: You had a relationship with Sean prior to working on the film together. Did that make it easier for you… more comfortable… to just jump in and hit the ground running?
Carbone: I think that was the key to it. Sean just knew that I was right for the role. I think we both knew that, because I’m kind of quirky and strange like Randy is, in person, as well. Yeah, it definitely helped knowing Sean before. We had a working relationship for years.

Carbone with Richard Riehle in “Randy’s Canvas”

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that a lot of people didn’t believe in your ability to carry the role of Randy, but Sean did and he really fought for you. Was that a confidence boost?
Carbone: Yes, it was, because I felt like the whole world was against me being Randy, and then Sean was like, “Just trust me on this one. He’s got it.” That definitely helped. So that’s deep down when I knew that everything was fine, especially after we did my first scenes. I think the first scene we shot was when I freaked out at the gallery. Just in that scene alone, that was when I even felt it, because I was like, “Wow. Okay, I get who Randy is now. I get how he ticks and how he works.” It was another person and I was almost like a vessel for him – it wasn’t even me. It was like autopilot.

TrunkSpace: You served as producer on the film as well. Is it your hope that “Randy’s Canvas” will serve as a calling card of what you’re capable of, not only as an actor, but behind the scenes as well?
Carbone: Yes, absolutely. I think that would definitely help me in my career, because I definitely want to do more. I come from a comedy world – I do a lot of standup comedy and comedy sketches – so to me, just to prove even to myself, “Look what you did. Look what you can do.” It kind of gives me hope for the future stuff, especially producing. I wear many hats. I produce, I direct, I act, I write, I edit – all that stuff. So it’s exciting just to show the world, “Look, hire me.” (Laughter)

Randy’s Canvas” is available now on digital HD.

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Deep Focus

Sean Michael Beyer

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This week we’re taking an extended look at the inspirational indie “Randy’s Canvas,” a moving tale about a young man with autism who is on a journey of love and self-acceptance. Starring Adam Carbone, Kevin G. Schmidt, Scout Taylor-Compton, Massi Furlan, Michael Emery, Richard Riehle and Marycarmen Lopez, the film is available now on digital HD.

First up we’re chatting with director and producer Sean Michael Beyer to discuss on-set task management, fighting for his star, and why the Hollywood norm is conformity.

TrunkSpace: You wore many hats to bring “Randy’s Canvas” to life. How do you compartmentalize those various jobs and focus on set?
Sean Michael Beyer: A lot of medication, I think, was probably the best way to go about it.

When on set, for me, even though I’m a producer as well, I’m really hyper focused on directing at that point. During pre-production, development, and obviously in the writing and all that, then it’s a little bit different, but I really have to focus primarily on the directing part of it. I’m an actor’s director. I came from acting and theater, so that’s sort of my approach to the process. Performances are important, and obviously those have paid off given the accolades we’ve gotten, so that’s a good thing.

TrunkSpace: Does being an actor’s director give you a different point of view than other filmmakers during the casting stage of production because you’re so familiar with performance?
Sean Michael Beyer: I think so. I’ve always understood the Hollywood need for star power – that you need the recognizable actor to make your film. I don’t like that, but I know that it exists and I have to respect it, working in the industry. But I want to find the best actor for the role. That, to me, is what I find important.

I had a lot of resistance casting Adam (Carbone) as Randy because some didn’t feel that he was the right choice. I just knew that he would do this justice and he obviously did, but I did have a lot of resistance and was told, “You’re making a mistake.” I just knew he was going to bring what it took. He did such hard work and research… I was very, very proud of all the time and effort that he put into it and it paid off.

TrunkSpace: With all of the various distribution platforms available now, has the need for star power become less important to getting a movie made?
Sean Michael Beyer: To some degree. I think you have to sort of prove yourself before the people will listen. The caveat always is, are they going to put money into promoting the project? Is the distributor going to get behind it? And Vision Films has been very, very supportive of us. We’re a small movie and I’m very pleased with what they’ve done for this film, but you have to look at it from the standpoint of… Ang Lee was perfectly quoted once. “Either you need the 20 million dollar star or a complete unknown.”

TrunkSpace: And in finding the complete unknown, you’re then creating the 20 million dollar star.
Sean Michael Beyer: Right. Exactly. It’s always the catch 22. You need the big star, but then you need the big budget. We certainly didn’t make this movie for 20 million dollars. Not even close! But there is that issue. Look at “Napoleon Dynamite,” for example. That’s going back a few years, but Jon Heder was nobody. He got paid like a thousand dollars to do that film, but Fox Searchlight got behind that movie and it went gangbusters. It was a very unique film and that certainly helps, but if you can get the support behind your cast, then you can cast that unknown. The audiences want to support that. Hilary Swank is a great example. She had done television and then with “Boys Don’t Cry,” all of a sudden, she’s an Oscar winner.

Carbone in “Randy’s Canvas”

TrunkSpace: How important is a film like this and independent films in general to future filmmakers? It just seems right now, more than ever, everything that we’re seeing in theaters is a remake, reimagining, or based on an existing brand?
Sean Michael Beyer: It’s frustrating, as a filmmaker. The Hollywood norm is conformity. I call it the MBA attitude of, “Well, if this formula works, then if we duplicate that formula, but we change a couple of words, then it should work too.” And it doesn’t always work. Sometimes it does, but I think the independent films that stand out, that get noticed, are finding audiences. Audiences don’t always want explosions and Transformers. Those are fun movies. I call them popcorn flicks like a lot of people do. They are fun, I enjoy them, but I also enjoy a good, well acted film. When you don’t have a lot of money to make a movie… and we didn’t have a lot of money to make “Randy’s Canvas”… we relied on good acting, good storytelling.

And shooting in Rhode Island was just amazing, despite the humidity.

TrunkSpace: Being both the director and the producer, is there ever any internal friction between the creative you and the business you and sort of trying to find a balance between what the director wants and what you know you can give him?
Sean Michael Beyer: There’s always that. There’s always the… I don’t want to deal with paperwork. I want to call action and cut. That’s what I want to do. I’ve always said to people that I’ve worked with, “Just give me my allowance and let me be creative and you’ll be happy.” If you start having me looking through contracts and stuff, it’s gonna get messy.

You always have to think about your budget. You have to think about your schedule. You have your location issues or lack thereof. Okay, is this scene going to be able to be shot the way that I envision it, with our limited resources?” The business side of me does kick in when I do that. And even when I write a script, from a blank page on the screen, from the beginning, I think, “Okay, what budget is this movie going to be?” I have to write with that in mind. I don’t completely limit myself, but you have to be a responsible filmmaker. There’s a lot of directors that just throw caution to the wind and I wish I could do that, but I have to be realistic.

Randy’s Canvas” is available now on digital HD.

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Deep Focus

Harley Wallen

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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 Harley Wallen, producer, director and star of the family drama “Bennett’s Song,” which is available now on DVD and VOD.

TrunkSpace: You wore so many hats in bringing “Bennett’s Song” to life, which seems to be the way you’re used to working at this stage in your career. Does it feel odd when you’re on a set and not juggling that many balls at one time?
Wallen: You know what, in the beginning, when I got an acting gig, it was really hard to not want to help, especially when you see somebody make calls that you don’t agree with. But you just have to learn that we all have our own ways. So, I’m able to turn off and compartmentalize what I do pretty well at this point. Even in production, the key to be successful, for me, is generally I’ve been writing the stories – in this case my partner Nancy Oeswein wrote and so I didn’t have to write this one – but I do much of the producing, but the minute that we start being on set, I take off my producers hat and pretty much I hand it to Nancy and I focus on just acting and directing. I just focus on creative parts and when things take negotiating or any of that stuff, I step away from that unless I absolutely have to get pulled in. That way I can maintain creative during the production and put on my business hat in pre-production.

TrunkSpace: As you’re leading up to that point where you can split your business brain and creative brain, do the two sides ever butt heads in terms of what one wants and what the other one knows is possible?
Wallen: Yes, absolutely. I think right now we’re at a really interesting place. We’re really ready for a little bigger of a budget to take things a little bit further and to just demand a little bit more excellence, and that’s not the easiest step to take because you essentially have to earn your spot where you are fully first before somebody’s going to essentially grant you the next step. All of our films are privately financed so that makes it a little bit trickier as well because we have to go back to them and essentially hand them their money back and then start the next project. So, yeah, it’s tricky, but I really feel right now we’re sitting on this cusp of taking a fairly big step with some of our next films.

TrunkSpace: Strictly speaking from creative – from Director Harley – did you accomplish everything you set out to do with “Bennett’s Song?”
Wallen: No. Always, when I visualize, after I read the script, I have 100 percent of my vision and then that location didn’t quite measure up, or we have a performance that’s an eight instead of a nine, or a seven instead of a nine, or whatever it may be. So, you’re always chipping away at what it could be. Also, it was the first family film I’ve done so I felt that it was a little bit tricky because I didn’t want to make a traditional light, straight up goofy type of film. I wanted it to hold its own as a drama, I wanted it to hold its own as a romance, and also be a great family film. I think we succeeded to a degree with that, but I think we can do better and I really think the sequel is going to show that we definitely can do better.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned you’re always chipping away at what a film could be. As a filmmaker, is it hard to put that final stamp on a film and step away from it?
Wallen: Yes, I think a deadline is what keeps you sane as a filmmaker because you really could keep going and play around with it forever if nobody told you to stop. I always talk to my distributors and I like having firm deadlines that are realistic. That forces me to really not sit around and have that… what is it called… paralysis by analysis. I could see that happening. And it’s the same thing with having a good AD for me on set.

I remember reading about “Heat” and I know it’s not a family film, but they took, I believe, 17 takes… or 21 takes… of that diner scene between De Niro and Pacino and they ran dual cameras, which I know that he was not a fan of doing, but he did it for a specific purpose. They would really mirror each other. We don’t have that luxury all the time in these films and without a strong AD, I have a tendency to want another take and I have to learn to know what’s realistic and to keep a good schedule so as not to hurt yourself later. I would think through things if you let me.

TrunkSpace: At the same time, not having the big budgets to do something 21 times… it can lead to gems. It forces you to think outside of the box.
Wallen: Absolutely, and I think, even to take that a step further, the fact that I can’t hire all well-known cast members and have all these people with great expectations, you find amazing gems and people that step up and deliver a performance and give this character life that you just go, “Wow, I didn’t even see that. That was so much better than I even imagined because this took a life of its own.” So, yeah, I don’t dislike where I am at all. I think it has all its own charms just to be here, and I’m enjoying what we’re doing, but, like I said, I still feel we’re at the cusp where there’s a pretty big step in the works. I love what we did with “Bennett’s Song,” but I have a new cinematographer for the sequel, and some other things that I think will probably take us up a notch. This is going to be really exciting to see.

Wallen in “Bennett’s Song”

 

TrunkSpace: You sort of touched on this a minute ago, but the idea that it was kind of daunting to take on a family drama. We know you come from the thriller and action space, so what was it that made working in the family genre give you pause?
Wallen: I think the fact that I just haven’t considered this genre at all and when Nancy wrote it, I know she wrote it from the heart. Nancy has adopted kids and so it was just something that hits really close to home. We have a couple of filmmakers in town that do family film, and my first instinct was, “You should probably talk to them.” I had to calm myself down. When I read it, I read a really good romance, I read a really good drama, and then the comedy side of it as well, and I just didn’t want it to be anything less than that.

TrunkSpace: On the business side of what you do, with so much content and so many distribution platforms out in the world today, do you think that makes it easier for people to find a project like “Bennett’s Song” because they’re more open to films that aren’t hitting the big theaters or do you think it makes it more difficult because there’s more competition?
Wallen: I think it does a little bit of both. I think it comes down to, essentially if you get lucky or if you’re fortunate enough to find a good distributor. I remember when I made my first couple of films, I didn’t have any connections and I started reaching out to the distributors that I could find online and a lot of them get so much nonsense that they barely even go through it all because there’s so much garbage, in all honesty. Unless there’s somebody that can connect with a good distributor, half of the time you’re overlooked and bypassed and for me, finding Vision Films has been a really, really good opportunity. Our first batch of DVDs sold out in a flash. It was amazing. I ordered my own when it was in pre-sales and it was out of the warehouse and in back order before it was even out. I was like, “How does this even happen?”

TrunkSpace: That must be such a high to carry you into the sequel – to know that there’s an audience there?
Wallen: Absolutely, and you know, I gotta give Nancy a lot of credit. I wanted a more defined villain. I felt that we went villain-light with Tara (Reid) in the first one. Even though she did a good job, the character was only in six scenes or something like that, and even though she left her mark on it, I would like to see the villain have a little bit more balance and a little bit more power. She was almost not even introduced until the second act, so I feel that’s something that’s going to be a lot better next time.

Also, this is Dennis Haskins genre. This is where he’s golden and he’s going to have a much, much bigger character arc in this next one. I’m really excited to see that because I think that we’re going to see a little bit more of a balanced film the next time around. I love the script, so I hope that I can do this justice and put this on the screen, that’s for sure.

Bennett’s Song” is available now on DVD and VOD. The sequel is currently in development.

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