Chat w/ actor Jeff Lima - "it’s an actor’s responsibility to be involved"

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Jeff Lima, is a New York City-based actor who is best known for his recurring role as Leon Cruz on NBC’s Chicago Fire.

Jeff got his start in theatre at the age of 11 after gaining acceptance to the “by audition only” junior high school, Tito Puente Performing Arts Academy. Jeff was immediately immersed in the teachings of Meisner and Stanislaski with ambitions to secure a seat in a premiere performing arts high school. His tenacity and diligent preparation earned him a seat at the Talent Unlimited High School where he’d study theatre all throughout his high school years. Fortunately for Jeff, preparation met opportunity. The year right before high school, Jeff landed a role in a short film titled ‘Gowanus Brooklyn’, which would later become a feature length Oscar-nominate film. He embarked upon his high school years having already starred opposite Ryan Gosling in ‘Half Nelson’.

During his tenure at Talent Unlimited, Jeff was not allowed to audition for any professional productions, as is the case with most Manhattan performing arts high schools. His insatiable approach didn’t allow him to align himself with the aforementioned school policy. Jeff would often sneak to auditions and one in particular would serve as the catalyst he’d been hoping for!

During an audition in which Jeff spent about an hour with the director and producer during a first session, a spectator observed from afar. At the conclusion of the audition, that spectator followed Jeff to the elevators and asked that he submit his headshot and resume to her agent for consideration. The spectator would go on to win the 2015 Emmy for best Actress in a Comedy Series… it was Gina Rodriguez!

Having remained a client with the agent to whom Rodriguez introduced Jeff, he secured a commendable amount of work in film and television. Jeff has guest starred on CBS’s Blue Bloods, Netflix’s The Get Down, and NBC’s Taxi Brooklyn. He eventually landed a series arc on the HBO mini-series Show Me A Hero and currently recurs on NBC’s Chicago Fire. 

Jeff hopes he can be as influential as many of the educators he’s come across. He is a founding member of the Achievement Lab After School and Summer Camp, which serves 150 at-risk children, annually. Currently, he is shopping to finance short films penned by serious filmmakers. His goal is to identify films that are prevalent to today’s society, and to see the films to fruition.

We talked to Jeff, and here are the excerpts:

  • What do you love about being an actor?

I love that I can be a catalyst for someone feeling an overwhelming emotion. Those instances wherein we’re consumed with feeling are scarce. We don’t feel enough. We go through life being numb.

But in those moments in which we’ve fallen in love like Glen Close in Fatal Attraction or when we’re stuttering from shock after cheating death like Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips, we’ve reached a level of living that is incomparable.

I love that the art of acting affords this to me. If I can stir an audience’s inner being, I’ve done my job and I’m happy because I know how rich it is to be moved by a performance. As an actor, I get that platform.

And, as an actor, I love having a makeup artist- and if you’ve judged me for that- wow!

  • Why do you think it’s important for actors to be involved in social issues? What are the causes/ things you are passionate about?

Without trying, actors influence. This holds for both actors who take action and those who are ok with inaction. None of those two approaches are more powerful than the other. For that reason, it’s the actor’s responsibility to be involved.

A certain somebody recently made the decision to break their career long silence on politics and it resulted in a surge in voter registration.

Our convictions on all issues are probably as unique as a fingerprint. Whatever our convictions are, we should be part of that conversation.

Something that plagued me as child was bullying. Here I am years later, an actor, and I’m active in the discourse on bullying. It’s my social responsibility. I can affect change.

  • Whats your practical advice, based on your own experiences, for other aspiring minority actors.

I always ask myself if I belong in certain rooms. I’m sure folks who aren’t part of a minority group don’t feel this way, at the same frequency.

Now here’s the issue I take; if I’m part of a minority group and I’ve merited access, then I must be pretty darn good. But I struggle with the practicality of this theory. Too often I’m inundated with thoughts that lead me to believe that I am not deserving. Instances in which I walk into a room not questioning myself are rare but feel great.

Being part of a minority group means overcoming a lot of hurdles but it really makes all the difference in the world to remember that you belong exactly where you are. Your work has earned you the right to be in that place. Embrace it.

  • What are your favorite films and filmmakers?

I like a lot of old movies. Its hard to find someone who will sit with me to watch Sophie’s Choice, Scent of a Woman, and other oldies.

Oh my god- I’m obsessed with Stanley Kubrick. I could watch The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut everyday! His films are hypnotizing. Maybe I just like an eerie movie score!

  • What’s your most favorite and least favorite things about NYC?

My favorite thing about NYC is that you can literally walk to any audition, in character, drilling lines, and no one will look at you twice. We all assume the next person is crazy.
My least favorite thing is the parking. The parking restriction signs are like reading an algorithm. There’s a fire hydrant every 20 feet and the traffic agents are relentless- God bless them. You don’t know true heartbreak until you’re running late to an audition and realize your car was towed.

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Here’s the full audio/podcast of our conversation with Jeff.

Chat w/ Faraday Okoro, director of 'Nigerian Prince'

NIGERIAN PRINCE, directed by Faraday Okoro, is the first winning film from AT&T Presents: Untold Stories created by AT&T and Tribeca. NIGERIAN PRINCE follows Eze, a stubborn first generation Nigerian-American teenager, and his cousin, Pius, a desperate Nigerian Prince scammer. After Eze’s mother sends him to Nigeria against his will, Eze retaliates by teaming up with Pius to scam unsuspecting foreigners in order to earn money for a return ticket back to America. The film is currently in theaters and available on demand.

We had a chat with Faraday, here are the excerpts.

  • How did you come up with the idea for this interesting and compelling tale of deception, passion, and self-discovery?

o    The idea came to me while I was working in a computer lab in college. I realized I could tell a story that was both thrilling and personal. 

  • What was the most challenging and most rewarding part of making this film?

o    For me, the most challenging part of filmmaking is finding funding. The most rewarding part is screening the film.

  • What role does being from an immigrant family, and being a person-of-color play in your storytelling?

o    It plays a huge role. I want to tell films that not only included people of color; I also want to portray them honestly.

  • What's next on your plate?

o    I’ve started working on several new projects. Since I’m still developing these films, I can’t talk about them just yet.

  • What are your favorite filmmakers, films, and TV shows?

o    The Remains of the Day, Schindler’s List, The Thin Red Line, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Animal Kingdom, Michael Clayton, The Apartment, The Verdict, Half Nelson, Chinatown, Dr. Strangelove, Jackie Brown, Crimes and Misdemeanors, just to name a few.

  • What's your practical advice to other aspiring filmmakers and storytellers?

o    I think aspiring filmmakers should learn about the history, craft, and business of filmmaking, and watch as many films as they can. Also, I think aspiring filmmakers should soak up as much knowledge (politics, literature, sports, music, science, etc.) as possible in order to tell stories that are thought provoking and entertaining.

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ABOUT FARADAY OKORO

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Faraday Okoro is a New York City based Nigerian-American filmmaker. Named after Michael Faraday, a 19th century English physicist and chemist, the idea of pursuing a career in science has been instilled in Faraday since birth. Though, despite his upbringing and name for that matter, Faraday was inspired to pursue a career in filmmaking after watching 20 minutes of the film Road to Perdition.

He graduated cum laude from Howard University, a historically black college in the heart of Washington, DC. At Howard, he was awarded the Trustees’ Scholarship, which allowed him to attend college tuition-free. Currently, Faraday is completing an MFA in filmmaking at NYU’s Graduate Film Program, where he is a recipient of the Peter D. Gould Scholarship.

Faraday’s debut short film Full-Windsor has screened in 14 major film festivals, including the Los Angeles Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival and the Montreal World Film Festival. His short film Blitz premiered at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival and was also selected to the Palm Springs International Shortfest. Additionally, his work has aired nationally on PBS Television and GaiamTV, and is streaming online via Indieflix. In 2016, Faraday was included in MovieMaker Magazine/Austin Film Festival’s 25 Screenwriters To Watch list.

Faraday is the inaugural recipient of AT&T / Tribeca Film Institute’s ‘Untold Stories’ prize, a $1 million production grant intended to support underrepresented filmmakers in the making of their first feature film.

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You can listen to the full chat/podcast of our conversation with Faraday below (updated 10/26).

 

Chat w/ Sara Zandieh, director of SIMPLE WEDDING

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SIMPLE WEDDING starring RITA WILSON, had it’s world premiere at Los Angeles Film Festival this year. It’s a romantic comedy about a young Iranian-American woman and the lengths she goes to in order to appease her parents and their need to see her settled down.

We had a chat with the co-writer and director of the film, Sara Zandieh. Here are the excerpts.

- What was the most challenging and most rewarding part of making this film?

Working with a limited budget is a huge challenge so when you overcome it, it’s rewarding. It forces you to be crafty and economical in how you execute the story. I worked hard to create a strategy with my shot choices and directing technique that would be compliant with our production and 20 day shoot. Since I couldn’t have all the jibs and cranes that I wanted, nor copious days to shoot, I designed a “simple” approach to the film language of SIMPLE WEDDING. The scenes in Nousha’s world—her apartment, her time with friends—are all handheld because her world is more “free.” The scenes with her family, we shot all on sticks to create a more formal shot language to speak to her parent’s world and contrast with hers. The shot language then changes again after one pivotal scene (I won’t give it away, spoiler alert!) I also tried to focus on my actors—one of my film’s greatest assets— to ensure we got the best possible performance for each character. These simple strategies made story and production work with our budget. Bringing my story alive within these constraints was one of my most satisfying accomplishments as a director. It was like solving an epic puzzle.

- What was the casting process for the film like? How did you find Rita and what was that experience like?

SIMPLE WEDDING is a mash up of the rom-com genre and the family comedy. I knew that I needed a great ensemble cast to pull off the familial world of SIMPLE WEDDING. This is the type of script that is all about character, character, character. I had Rita Wilson in mind for the role of Maggie from an early stage of writing. I had seen her most recent work on Lena Dunham’s GIRLS where she played a colorful mom character. My great casting director, Meghan Lennox, also suggested Rita. Given that the movie is both a multi-cultural story and a female story, it seemed like something in her wheel house and when she read the script, she liked it. In our initial conversation we clicked on so many levels. We both had multicultural upbringings and big ethnic families. We talked about how we had a similar experience in high school. We just connected on a heart and soul level and I think that’s what made the experience of making the film so magical. It was a heart and soul effort with so many wonderful, kind-hearted people. Rita is generous, good-natured, smart, talented, and spirited. She is truly a “model citizen.” I loved working with her everyday. It was such a joy. Rita also connected me to Shohreh Aghdashloo who I always dreamed would play Nousha’s mother, and then what was just as incredible was that Shohreh pulled in her husband, Houshang Touzie who I always hoped would play Nousha’s father. I knew this particular combination would be special for the Iranian audiences because they haven't been on screen together as a husband/wife couple for a long time. My entire cast Tara Grammy, Christopher O’Shea, Maz Jobrani, Peter Mackenzie, James Eckhouse, Rebecca Henderson, Aleque Reid, Angela Gibbs, RJ Hatanaka, Keon Alexander, were the best. We turned into a real family on set.

- How was your experience at LAFF?

It was fantastic. The film independent family and everyone at LAFF were super supportive, positive and professional. I really appreciate that they were willing to support my film and by extension my interest in making commercially viable films with diverse characters and storylines. They showed a wide array of films, great documentary films, fresh voices, and had great panels as well. We also had an amazing red-carpet premiere where Rita and her husband Tom Hanks attended. My entire family was there and sharing the moment with everyone I love felt amazing. Tom was so generous with my family. I think everyone posted a selfie with him on social media the next day. It was a special and lovely night. 

- What's next for you?

I would love to direct a studio comedy. If someone were to give me the “golden keys”, I know I could revamp a studio script so that it played with lovable, three dimensional characters, and a compelling “heart and soul” story. In the meantime, I’m developing my own pilot about a mother/daughter breaking bad and a new feature film comedy about a female con-artist. Both are comedies with drama.

-What are your favorite romantic comedies and favorite filmmakers that inspire you? 

My favorite romantic comedies are “The Apartment”, “When Harry Met Sally”, and “Annie Hall.” I also love the silent era comedy filmmakers like Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Llyod. It’s hard to name my absolute favorite filmmakers, there are too many to name, but I can think of a few that have been particularly helpful in the last few months. Alexander Payne for his satirical wit and complex, tragicomic characters. Mike Nichols for his ability to work across a wide range of genres and for his skillful direction to get the best out of his actors. He’s an actor’s director and I aspire to be the same.

-What's your message to other aspiring filmmakers and storytellers?

It takes years to get something across the finish. Choose a story that you are passionate about so that you can take it all the way. Love your characters, know what you are saying and why it's important. And most of all, don’t give up! Making an independent feature film is like pushing a truck up a mountain. There’s no question it’s hard and it might seem impossible, but if you take it one day at a time you’ll find a way!

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You can listen below for the full interview with Sara Zandieh.

Chat w/ Mtume Gant, Director of a Radical New Entry into Black Independent Cinema - 'I DON’T LIVE TODAY' #NoKingsHere

I DON’T LIVE TODAY follows one night in the life of a Black abstract artist who has become disillusioned with the morally corrupt art world in New York City. On this night, Robeson has declared his exodus from the city and in doing so wanders the streets for one final time getting into misadventures that force him to face his own toxic hypocrisies.

Gant intends to unveil New York City with a focus on rarely seen parts of the city to reveal the fuller truth about his hometown where he has lived his whole life. The film is a modern-day morality fable that takes place in the darker ends of the New York arts economy, where the subjects of race, family, loyalty and ethics are put on trial.

Here’s excerpts from our chat with Mtume.

Why do you think it's important to get this film made at this time?

In today's world its important not only that we have films that address important issues - we have plenty of those - but films that are not going to shy away from looking at the harsh reality of these issues which I believe many films that purport to be socially relevant actively do. The issues we face of exploitation in all its forms are of incredible importance and as artists we have a duty when making a 90 minute film to not sugar coat. This film does not sugar coat one bit from form to function. We need to really step up our conversations in this country and add more urgency, this film will be vital in pushing that. 

Why do you like about being a filmmaker and what does it mean to you?

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I love the totality of cinema. I am a multi-disciplined artist who comes from a background of drama, music and literature so to be able to find a medium that can host all three in a complex way is incredible gratifying, you feel like their so much possibility when making cinema. It also means I have a lot of responsibility because the image is so vital to shaping minds in societies and our society that is obsessed with concepts like “representation.” People are shaping their lives off of the characters they see in cinema, so its my duty to not do what mainstream cinema is doing and providing people with false senses of humanity that placate and engineer people to believing the world is something other than it actually is. 

Who are your favorite filmmakers that inspire you and why?

I have many. A few are Andrei Tarkovsky, Wendell B. Harris, Lucrecia Martel, John Cassavetes, Glauber Rocha, Bela Tarr, Krystoff Kieslowski, Lee Chang-dong and Lina Wertmueller. I could go with many more honestly. The reason why I say these names is because these people made films that exist beyond the market, this is cinema that stands as tall as the pyramids in Egypt, they made monuments of humanity. They expressed, not only their personal visions, but captured the pulse of the globe so it was never singular. I could talk about each one specifically but we would be here for hours. But just know that these filmmakers made pieces of art that will exist forever, out live social systems and social conventions, that are now a part of the human fabric wether they like it or not. 

What's currently on your Netflix (or Amazon/Hulu) queue? What do you love about these shows?

I actually watch Filmstruck and Mubi more. I know it probably sounds pretentious but it's the truth. Last thing I watched on Netflix is Bojack Horseman, I do enjoy the snide commentary on Hollywoods decadence. Other than that I mostly watch the doc series on Netflix. On Amazon Prime I love that they have the Fandor extension I have been able to see a lot of great films, I just watched Tetsuo The Iron Man again, such a fantastic film. I also watched some films by Tsai Ming-liang, who is another filmmaker I have a great amount of respect for. 

What's your most favorite and least favorite thing about NYC?

I grew up here and my favorite thing will always be the ability to walk and take mass transit, even with mass transit these days being as wonky as its ever been. I still feel like I have a certain amount physical freedom that I don’t feel in other cities like Los Angeles which always feel so confined and segregated. Much of it is illusion but life is perception. What I don’t like about NYC is how Capitalism has turned this city into a dreamland for those who have the money. The blatant disregard for the people who made this city what it was. New York is no longer what it was, artists can’t thrive here anymore. As a native I find the gentrification and constant answering to the bottom line of capital inhumane. 

About Mtume Gant
Mtume has been circling the arts industry for decades as an actor of theatre and film. He travelled the world as a hip-hop artist under the name Core Rhythm, and now focuses on making socially aware films. Mtume’s previous short films SPIT and WHITE FACE have screened at numerous festivals garnering countless awards including New York City’s Coney Island, Bushwick, Harlem, Lower East Side, and in San Francisco, Woodstock, Aspen, Ashland, and Manchester.

I DON’T LIVE TODAY is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram as @IDLTFilm
and under the hashtag, #NoKingsHere

A crowdfunding campaign is currently on its final week offering a feature film to be executive produced by the Duplass Brothers. Mtume Gant’s I DON’T LIVE TODAY has just raised $20,000 reaching 50% of the campaign $40,000 goal.

In addition to raising the remaining funds, Gant and team must raise 1000 followers to successfully complete the campaign by October 17th 2018.

Individuals can visit the campaign page and click the FOLLOW button which is simple, easy, and free!

Individuals can show their support by clicking the FOLLOW button on the campaign page or pledging amounts upwards from $25 here
www.seedandspark.com/fund/idltfilm