Conversation with John C. Williams, Co-Founder & Executive Director, of Reel Works

John C. Williams, Co-Founder & Executive Directorof Reel Works is an award-winning film and television writer, producer and director. Reel Works is an organization providing free filmmaking programs to inner-city youth in NYC. Their Annual Benefit Gala (April 16) is a fundraiser for the organization, and also a chance to honor industry leaders who are paving the way in terms of diversity and representation. This year they will honor Hasan Minhaj (Netflix’s “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj”), Ruth E. Carter (Academy Award-Winning Costume Designer of “Black Panther”), Michael Houston (CEO of Grey Group), and James F. Lopez (President of Will Packer Productions).

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Before the upcoming Annual Benefit Gala, we talked to John and here are the excerpts.

What does REEL WORKS mean to you and why do you think it's important?

Reel Works is a community where teens are mentored by professional filmmakers to tell their stories and have their voices heard.   It’s a powerful combination that changes young lives and reaches millions with their remarkable films. As teens discover a passion for filmmaking, they learn about careers in media.  In fact, over half of our graduates make careers in entertainment.

I am proud that nearly two decades, Reel Works has contributed to building a more diverse workforce in the film industry.  We really believe that when you change the storytellers, you change the world.

What are the primary challenges for your organization and how can people help?

Reel Works is focused on building stronger partnerships with filmmakers and craftspeople to mentor and support our filmmakers.   We are also seeking stronger partnerships with media and production companies to create opportunities for our young people to build pathways to careers.

What has been the most satisfying thing/incident as part of your journeyThe most satisfying part of this journey has been watching young people develop and mature as young artists and citizens.  Students often stay with us throughout high school and into their young adult years. At first it’s about telling a personal story.  Through that process a passion is ignited - leading to a lifelong journey of growth and discovery through filmmaking. Seeing our young filmmakers on stage after screening their films is the way I personally recharge my enthusiasm for the work.

How do you pick the honorees and why these people?

This year, we will be celebrating Change Makers, whose accomplishments in various industries have made an indelible cultural impact and encourage our students to envision a future where their voices are represented and respected:

  • James Lopez, President of Will Packer Productions for reinventing the American mainstream in film and television.

  • Hasan Minhaj for mercilessly taking those in power to task through humor to engage and awaken audiences of all backgrounds

  • Michael Houston, CEO of Grey Advertising for bringing a new generation of leadership to the creative renaissance in marketing and advertising worldwide

  • Ruth E. Carter - Academy Award Winning Costume Designer for Black Panther - the first African-American to win an Academy Award in that category.  

What is your message to all budding young filmmakers and storytellers?

First -  Be an active creator rather than a passive consumer of media.  The world needs to hear your stories.

Second - This is a great time to pursue a career in entertainment - especially in NYC where there has been an explosion of production and post production jobs in recent years.  

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John C. Williams, Co-Founder & Executive Directoris an award-winning film and television writer, producer and director whose credits include independent shorts, features, documentaries, television programming and corporate communications. Prior to founding Reel Works, John created original television for WNET/Thirteen, Oxygen, WE: Women’s Television and Metro Channels. John has produced numerous major market television commercials and independent films. John holds an MFA in Film & Television from New York University and a BA in English from Boston University.

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Reel Works is an organization providing free filmmaking programs to inner-city youth in NYC. Their Annual Benefit Gala (April 16) is a fundraiser for the organization, and also a chance to honor industry leaders who are paving the way in terms of diversity and representation. This year they will honor Hasan Minhaj (Netflix’s “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj”), Ruth E. Carter (Academy Award-Winning Costume Designer of “Black Panther”), Michael Houston (CEO of Grey Group), and James F. Lopez (President of Will Packer Productions).

Students of Reel Works are from all over New York, and over 50% go on to be employed by the entertainment industry. Their programs develop students as young artists and citizens and help them graduate, get into college, and launch careers in media.

Previous honorees include “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler, Alex Gibney, Danai Gurira, Phoebe Robinson, Gabourey Sidibe, Jeffrey Wright and more.

For more details, checkout the link below
https://www.reelworks.org/

Chat w/ William Fichtner - "Be more fearless than you ever thought you were."

William Fichtner is an actor’s actor. With a expansive resume of work in TV, film and theater, he’s well respected as a character actor who can perform equally well in a comedy or drama or action or whatever you throw at him. He’s well known around the world for his roles in movies such as Black Hawk Down, Heat, and Armageddon, and his collaborations with top directors like Christopher Nolan and Michael Mann. He is also well known for his roles on TV as Sheriff Tom Underlay in Invasion and Alexander Mahone on Prison Break, and now on Mom as Adam Janikowski.

You can see more of William in his new action avatar, in Matthew Hope’s new film ALL THE DEVIL’s MEN. All The Devil’s Men is a hard, relentless and explosive action-thriller about a battle-scarred War on Terror bounty hunter who is forced to go to London on a manhunt for a disavowed CIA operative, which leads him into a deadly running battle with a former military comrade and his private army. William plays an experienced CIA operative, the old guy who’s been around forever and should’ve gone home ages ago.

We talked to William about the film, his career, his upcoming turn as a writer-director in his directorial debut COLD BROOK, and New York City. Listen to the whole interview below:

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Exclusively on DIRECTV: November 8, 2018

Theatrical Release Date: December 7, 2018

Directed By: Matthew Hope

Written By: Matthew Hope

Produced By: Amory Leader and Hannah Leader

Starring: Milo Gibson, William Fichtner, Sylvia Hoeks, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Joseph Millson

Running Time: 100 minutes 

All The Devil’s Men follows a team of hardened military operatives on a relentless manhunt through the backstreets of London. The explosive action-thriller finds a battle-scarred mercenary in the War on Terror who is forced to go to London on a manhunt for a disavowed CIA operative, which leads him into a deadly running battle with a former military comrade and his private army.

Chat w/ Matthew Hope - Director of 'ALL THE DEVIL's MEN'

An immersive action thriller which draws the audience into the deadly world of modern covert warfare, All The Devil’s Men follows a team of hardened military operatives on relentless manhunt through the backstreets of London.

Writer-director Matthew Hope delivers a gritty and unflinching portrayal of the modern elite soldier, as seen through the eyes of Collins (Milo Gibson), an ex-Navy SEAL operating as an assassin for the CIA. Co-starring alongside Milo – and The Wire’s Gbenga Akinnagbe is one of world cinema’s brightest new stars, Sylvia Hoeks, in her first role since her career defining standout performance as the deadly cyborg Luv in Blade Runner 2049. Theses exciting young stars are complemented by Hollywood veteran and true icon of action cinema William Fichtner.

We had a chat with Matthew Hope, about this film, his love for the subject of war, independent filmmaking, social responsibility of filmmakers and LONDON. You can listen to the full interview here:

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Exclusively on DIRECTV: November 8, 2018

Theatrical Release Date: December 7, 2018

Directed By: Matthew Hope

Written By: Matthew Hope

Produced By: Amory Leader and Hannah Leader

Starring: Milo Gibson, William Fichtner, Sylvia Hoeks, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Joseph Millson

Running Time: 100 minutes

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.