Someone's in the house. He's watching. He's creeping round, only you can't see him. He's watching you from the walls. He's right behind you now. Looking over your shoulder. He wants the remote control. He's a bad boy. He wants to watch bad movies. Bad bad Ronald...

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Shane Ryan's PAPER KIDS (2015)

PAPER KIDS (2015) 

Shane Ryan has been a filmmaker who deserves to be recognized for his great craftsmanship, and his serious risk-taking content.  But, secretly, I kinda want him to always be that struggling artist, dabbling on the fringes. Not being mean about it. It's just that his hunger and his unconventionality and his nonconformity and his unruliness and originality could just very well fade if he were to find success in the movie world.

I mean, look how success has tarnished a filmmaker like David Gordon Green.  I think he's on his way back to sanity, now, with some nice projects in the works.  But, when I saw George Washington and Undertow and All the Real Girls, there's no way I'd believe the crystal ball that showed his next batch of films would be comedies for Seth Green, Johah Hill and Danny McBride.  That's just crazy. And I wouldn't wish that kind of dubiousness on Ryan.  Well... I mean, I wish he'd have money to fund his work, and live a comfortable life, yes.  But, I wouldn't wish Seth Green and James Franco upon anybody.  That's just mean.

But seriously, it's Ryan's station in life that defines his great art.  He's had a hard go at things, with a foster home childhood, being at the smashing fists' end of bullies, cutting, and lingering pain from serious injuries.  Through this all, his art is never selfish.  We never see him calling for attention, or begging for pity, or even drawing to himself.   Instead, he asks for the audience to notice, and recognize the pain of those who suffer around us.  Even with the more exploitative films, like the Amateur Porn Star Killer, Ryan escapes the glare of the shocking title and premise, to demonstrate the real life dangers that can befall our troubled youth, or our castaways.  And then there are films like My Name is A by Anonymous, which brilliantly paints a portrait of a child who murders another child, where we are never asked to defend her actions, but rather asks us to understand her life, her troubled mind, and her desperation.

These are not easy films to watch. Ryan makes a habit of testing the audience, as he enlightens them.  It's so easy to turn your head from the pain and degradation, and the sorrow and misfortunes, portrayed in a Shane Ryan film.  But, for those who can brave the probing and disturbing themes, there is a reward in humanity.  We are revealed the underbelly of our own lives, and of those around us, down the street, in the areas we don't dare tread.  We are seeing this world, so that we can do something the fuck about it.  Ryan never puts on a display for us to be entertained, but rather for us to wake up and look!

In this light, I highly anticipate the release of one of his new projects Paper Kids (aka God Git Ill).  Ryan kindly gave me a sneak peak at a twenty minute short he's made of the larger project Got Got Ill, which he has released some teasers for over the past several months.

Paper Kids is a fictionalized flow of poetic scenery and shots, depicting the lives of a handful of trouble children.  These are not the troubled children we are used to seeing in the Lifetime or Family Channel flicks, who break things and scream and torment others.  These are quiet, introverted kids, who live down the block.  They are the kids we choose to ignore, because they don't always look and dress like those we approve our own kids playing with.  They're the kids we probably figure are not in the best of situations, but -- hey, we can't do anything about it.  This is life.  I got my own troubles.

In Paper Kids, each child has their own story that reveals itself, in true Ryan fashion, in beautifully captured images.  this seems to be the understanding that the world we live in is really a nice place, with beauty all around.  These kids certainly soak it all in, stopping to enjoy the fantastic view of fireworks, the electric joy of Christmas lights, the natural beauty of the sunsets.  Not only is this beauty right there for us to see, with our eyes, but it's inside these unfortunate children, hidden in their hearts.  But, we choose not to see that, because we get too wrapped up in judging the cover.  We don't ever look long enough to see that their interior light is being slowly snuffed out by hateful or neglectful parents, peer pressure and shaming, or a million other things that we don't consider important to us.  These are real kids, with real and important lives.

Paper Kids is poetic and real and shocking and tender, and very powerful.  It gives the common person incredible insight into the world of the children we've decided aren't good enough for our own kids to play with. Like My Name is A by Anonymous, it is an important film that aims not for forgiveness or judgement, but for understanding and change.

These kinds of films, with lessons and ideas that aim to show the true measure of a troubled childhood, are the kinds of films that we need to see -- that our kids need to see -- in order for all children to to have an equal chance at the life they deserve.

I think this is why I don't want Hollywood success for Shane Ryan.  It's because, even with the struggles of our own common lives, we've still found much to insulate us from the harsher realities right under our noses.  Knowing Shane Ryan, like I do, he would never lose that insight, or his heart.  It's really that I don't ever want Hollywood to ever get to use his keen mind to make them more money.

But, seriously, someone please fund this guys work!!!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl: Book One

             Sunshine Girl's New Adventures - 

          Haunting Bookshelves Near You! 

  It was in the Summer of 2011, and I was tooling around YouTube. I was checking out trailers for upcoming scary movies, and searching through good creepy short films.  The sidebar recommendations were providing great undiscovered related titles, so I was flipping through its
suggestions, when I saw this very intriguing title: The Haunting of Sunshine Girl.  The title was just too cool not to click on.

Before I knew it, I'm deep into the playlist of stacks of 1-4 minute videos, detailing the adventures of a very engaging and charming teenage girl, named Sunshine, who is doing quirky little vlog entries about school and pop culture... AND who just so happens to be haunted by some weird ghostly beings. The curious part of it all was that these videos weren't full of wide eyes and bated breath and pounding pulse atmosphere. Oh, it would go there, with some real chilling moments.  But, instead of drowning in the horror movie tropes of contemporary genre movies, HAUNTING nestles itself in the real world, giving Sunshine an average teenage life, with average teenage problems -- and then there's the strange girl in the corner! Or the odd lady standing out in her yard! Or the bloody words on the wall!  The Haunting of Sunshine Girl was
I don't wanna look!
simply the freshest thing I had seen, in any medium, related to the horror genre, at that time.  And it still delivers after over four years on the interwebs.

In case you're not familiar, The Haunting of Sunshine Girl is a YouTube program created by Nick Hagen and Mercedes Rose, and stars Rose's daughter, Paige McKenzie. They debuted the show back in December, 2010, and it quickly amassed over a million viewers (and still rolling them in by the thousands a day!).  They followed up HAUNTING with spin-off shows, and added new shows to the line up (featuring zombies, Bigfoot, another haunted girl, and screen printers!), and made their own grassroots horror movie, Sunshine Girl and the Hunt for Black Eyed Kids. Paige has been busy, herself, with connections to Seventeen magazine, making appearances in other films, and shooting videos on the sets of director Guillermo Del Toro.  And now she's authored her first Haunted Sunshine novel -- The Haunting of Sunshine Girl: Book One.

Paige and her Mom have always been very cool, granting me interviews. I first spoke with them before their show had reached the one-year benchmark, and had several chats since. With the coming of Paige's first book, I'm thinking they might get too big for my little blog, though.  You see, the book is being released by Weinstein Books, a joint publishing venture between The Weinstein Brothers and The Perseus Book Group. In case that went over your head, that would be the Weinstein Brothers -- Bob and Harvey!  The Oscar winning movie moguls!!!  So yeah, I'm expecting a secretary the next time I try and
contact Paige and her Mom, who will politely reply "Sorry, they're in a meeting."

The book is out now.  Check out the book trailer they made, below! I suggest you get a copy and become acquainted with Sunshine and her world. I've got my Kindle version, and will check back with a review!  In the meantime, here is my chat with Paige "Sunshine" McKenzie...  (her responses are in bold)

So… Wow, right?  A book! What has been the coolest thing about the whole book thing?

Well, I LOVE books and reading so just being part of the whole literary world has been a dream come true. I get to talk about story and hang out with authors and go to bookstores and just surround myself with all things BOOKS!  

When you and Nick and your Mom first ventured off into the Haunted Sunshine thing, did you expect it to blossom like this?  I know you all probably had great hopes and dreams of big things – but, Weinsteins!  Did that ever factor into your dreams?

I think we thought there would be more "steps". You know, make a film that went to a small film festival and then a little bit bigger film with a "name" in it and maybe after that have a film go to Sundance and get a sponsor for the Youtube. We have always had big dreams and chose to go a more non-traditional route to get Hollywood to pay attention. So it makes total sense that the most creative, think-outside-of-the-box film studio in Hollywood is the one to see the potential of Sunshine! 

Alright, you have  a dodgeball match – who do you pick for your team, Bob or Harvey?  

Oooohhh, tough one! Dodgeball is scary stuff! So I guess I have to say Bob! He IS the one that loves the scary stuff after all! 

You’ve had a lot of cool experiences in the past couple years, with the book, the magazine, the Del Toro House of Horrors set shoot, acting roles outside of Sunshine...  What has been the big highlight of all your adventures, so far?

You are right this has been an amazing adventure so far...if I had to choose one, I have to pick the book and the collaboration with Weinstein. I mean, it's Weinstein! And all the book people are so nice and chill and so very genuine. I feel like I have made life-long friends and that is an amazing bonus. 

Can you tell us a bit about the novel?  Is it stories from your YouTube show, or new adventures?

Book one is basically the 1st playlist or so of the channel. Think of it as Sunshine's "origin story"! Fans of the YouTube will recognize some of their favorite moments from the videos and find "Easter eggs" that they will love. Some changes had to be made, and additions were necessary but the basic idea is the same. But if you have never heard of The Haunting of Sunshine Girl YouTube, no worries. The books are a complete adventure all on their own! 

Will there be more Sunshine books? 

At least 2, maybe more! ;) 

How cool is it to have book buds like RL Stine and Wes Craven?  Those were great endorsements.

Any good review makes me happy but when it is an iconic expert of creepy, the feeling is amazing!

Welcome to Sunshine's world
With the Weinstein connection, is there any talk of turning these Sunshine books into a movie series? 

Most people don't even realize that Weinstein has a book division, movies is the logical next step. But who knows, TV might be an option too! 

What’s new on the YouTube scene?  You, along with Mom and Nick, have been madly producing a variety of shows to run along with Haunting of Sunshine Girl on your network. Are there any new things on the YouTube horizon that we can look forward to?

I have been madly creating content to go up while on my book tour! There will be plenty of scary and creeptastic stuff plus some fun other videos from other Tubers. Plus, I'll be posting all kinds of behind the scenes book tour stuff which will be fun! 

We have talked before about how important it was to have Sunshine be a positive role model for girls. Now that your reach has expanded out from just the YouTube show, what are your hopes for further spreading the message of girl power and a positive media image for females?

I think for many girls there are plenty of "cool girl" role models...the Jenners and Taylor Swift and even JLaw seem so perfect and stunning. I mean, Jennifer Lawrence can make tripping look effortless. Sunshine, however, is very accessible and real. Her flaws (real or imagined) are on full display for all to see. She has zits and out of control hair and is scared and brave and confused and positive. And she is your friend.  

The landscape of home entertainment is evolving and growing. How do you see the future of the Internet and streaming television changing?  And where will Sunshine fit in!  (Whoa! -- this is the 60 Minutes interview all of a sudden now!!!)

The changing landscape is one of my favorite things about this time in the entertainment world. Technology has made storytelling faster, easier and far more accessible than ever before. And I only see that growing. For creative thinkers, the sky really is the limit. We are right now brainstorming how to incorporate platforms like Meerkat and Snapchat into how we tell a story. And I love that! 

One last question -- Sunshine has been a part of your life for going on five years. How has Sunshine effected your life, your world?  How has Sunshine changed? (Now I'm Barbara Walters!)

My life is so much different than I think it would have been had I not started the youtube. College would have been the next logical step. Instead I have discovered all these different hats I like to wear: actor, producer, author, creator, Tuber... who knows what is next? 

Throughout the series, and also the book, Sunshine's kind of grown into herself. In the book especially, she find more people to help and guide her in her journey of discovery. She realizes her potential and her destiny. 

The book is out now, folks, on all your bookstore shelves and on your mobile devices.  If you're a fan, drop a line and let me know what you think about the book!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

MY NAME IS A BY ANONYMOUS Finaly Gets a Wide Release - A Talk with Shane Ryan

To commemorate the wide release of MY NAME IS A BY ANONYMOUS, I'm posting some past interviews I've had with the films director Shane Ryan, and some of his key cast members.

I can't say enough good things about this film. It certainly is not everyone's cup of tea, but it is important nonetheless. The film hits on some relevant, and sensitive and raw social issues, without ever laying judgement. We live in a era where things like child murder has become sensationalized on an acceptable level. Major news networks make millions of dollars off these troubling acts, making up their own versions of what happened and why, but never ever really discuss the truths of teen violence. Bullying has become the cause of the day. Teen depression and suicide are trivialized by clever, hip youtube campaigns. People are talking, sure. But, is anyone getting to the truth? 

MY NAME IS A BY ANONYMOUS digs into the reality of teens in trouble. By not playing with a deck stacked with teen delinquent troupes and Disney style beauty and fashion sens. Shane Ryan dutifully crafts together performances, from his players, that are raw and sincere, while being sensitive and relatable. The kids in the story aren't glamorous prototypes of envious nerd passion, they are just your average teens. They have troubles and they have fun and they have homework. And they also have secrets. 

The story is based on the true life crime story of 15 year-old Alyssa Bustemante, who is serving time for killing her 9 year-old neighbor, Elizabeth Olten. Alyssa had confessed to killing the girl for the thrill of it. The story is sensational at it's most basic, but what really drives someone to do such a thing? Especially someone so young and virtually innocent. This is the question Shane Ryan seeks an answer to. He doesn't find it, of course, because who can? But he explores the story from many angles, using different faces, various lives and personalities and situations, to try and dig down to the root.

This is not Larry Clark's KIDS. Ryan doesn't make the mistake of trying to find the sexy in the story. He's not looking to thrill the audience with sensation. MY NAME IS A BY ANONYMOUS is about kids doing scary bad things, yes. But, the narrative is so far different from KIDS, and so is the point of view. Larry Clark's films are raw and real, but as frightening as the social statements are, so are his intentions with the performers. His camera is very voyeuristic, and many times even lecherous. He clearly is infatuated with the people in his films, and that can overshadow his intentions, and his message. ANONYMOUS, however, is very clear in it's motives -- to try and understand what drives kids who enact such violent behavior. Ryan's camera never lingers and leers, it studies the characters. It's poetic, examining in an unbiased manner. It makes the audience an observer, not a voyeur. There's no wild behavior to emulate. No cool character values to subscribe to. ANONYMOUS is more powerful than that, leaving a heavy emotional weight. I absolutely would not imagine any kid watching ANONYMOUS and wanting to be that person.

Another reviewer had written that they thought ANONYMOUS should be shown at schools. I'd have to agree with that sentiment. Like the Lee Hirsch documentary BULLY, ANONYMOUS is hard to watch, and truly unsettling. AFTER SCHOOL SPECIALS did their good by soft peddling the issues to the teens of the 70s and 80s. But, unfortunately, these are different times. Children today are seemingly more culturally sophisticated. I don't know that that's a good thing, but it is what it is, and we can't deny it. Kids don't really understand the topics they're seeing on a daily basis. They become familiar with them, but that doesn't mean they can comprehend it fully. But, if I reflect back to the past, the one sure fire way of getting a message through to a kid is by scaring the shit outa them. And ANONYMOUS would surely do that. Without sensational violence or blood or titillation, Shane Ryan delivers a hard story filled with truth. The situations may not be a part of the lives of many in the audience, but I'm sure the strong emotions and state of adolescent confusion is familiar. ANONYMOUS could be the film that opens their eyes to their own needs and desires, or to make them more alert to the others around them. 

As a life lesson, or as a character study, either way -- MY NAME IS A BY ANONYMOUS is a brilliant and frightening story, filled with hard truths. At times I was so bound by this film, I found myself holding my breathe.  I can't imagine anyone not being moved by what they see. 

Out NOW on DVD from Wild Eye Releasing, and on VOD (under the title ALYSSA: PORTRAIT OF A TEEN KILLER)

Here is a conversation I had with Shane, some time ago...

What was it about the Alyssa Bustamante story that inspired you?

Initially, I’m not sure. I end up quickly drawn to the right idea the same way I usually tend to shoot, whereas I just grab a camera and jump right into the situation. It’s usually as I’m on the journey that  I start realizing things, or seeing things I want to capture. What I guessed caught my interest, though, were several things. One, being psychology (which is what has always inspired me). I want to know -- if this girl really (killed the other girl), what was going on inside her mind? And, if she didn’t do it (as I started thinking later) what is she thinking now, being accused of it?

Another major thing that instantly caught my attention was the self-inflicted scars on her left arm featured in the infamous picture the media used to try and convince us that she’s crazy and definitely did it. I’ve suffered from self abuse, and have the exact same looking scars in the same exact spot on the same arm, so it instantly hit home for me in many ways. One, is people tend to think self abusers are crazy, and are more capable of hurting other people than people who don’t, which is totally untrue. Self abusing is simply one way of relieving emotional pain, which we all suffer from, from time to time, regardless of how happy a life we live.

Some people relieve their pain through drinking, through drugs, through extreme exercising, through road rage, through screaming at people, through physical fighting, through overeating/not eating, etc... If you haven’t done at least one of these things, I’d be shocked. The difference with cutters/self abusers is that we end up with visible wounds. People who don’t do it see it and it scares them. And the problem of self-abuse grows, we become more insecure about it because it’s not accepted the way these others things are -- you’re deemed crazy, instantly. But if you get drunk at a bar and start a fight, it’s more accepted, like “dude, you had a bad night”, or “maybe you shouldn’t drink.” Other than that, something like getting drunk is okay with people. But if you self abuse just once, you might end up with scars for the rest of your life and always be looked at like you’re crazy.

Another problem (with self abuse) is that - it works. It releases endorphins, a natural high, and you do feel better, so it’s tempting to do it again. It’s a major problem, and many self abusers have ended up (inadvertently) killing themselves. The initial reason for [cutting] is no more crazy than getting depressed and thinking a bottle of vodka will rid you of your problems. I instantly felt the isolation Alyssa must have felt, and I guess wanted to understand why and how she could turn her pain onto somebody else. What I found very strange is that a self abuser would kill somebody, especially an innocent child. Usually, they’d just kill themselves if it were that bad. And that’s when I started thinking there was more to the story. She did try to kill herself a couple of years before that, when she was 13, and she also tried to kill herself in her jail cell shortly after being arrested. So, the murder still doesn’t make sense to me. I have a huge problem with authority, have seen them turn on people, and have been very mistreated by cops when I was her age. And I wasn’t buying something about what had happened. I started thinking maybe she had been forced to confess. Then, after we finished the film, we found out her confession was thrown out because it basically was coerced. I almost think she might be the fall person for this murder. I had suspicion that Elizabeth was murdered due to the fact that her dad was a drug dealer (in prison at the time) and that it was a retaliation. He’s believed to have been responsible for this lady who’s been missing (and probably murdered), so I thought maybe that’s why his daughter was murdered and this neighbor girl who’s known to cut herself and attempt suicide was the perfect person to take the fall, explaining why her confession was coerced and why she tried to kill herself right after being blamed for this horrible crime. I mean, the girl tried to kill herself by ripping open her arms with her finger nails, that’s a pretty gnarly way to go, but makes sense given her type of self abuse was cutting her arms.

Finally, what really interested me was the mainstream media’s bullshit take on this. They instantly deemed this girl a crazy sicko within hours of hearing her so-called confession and started attacking this CHILD. Not that I don’t have sympathy for what happened to Elizabeth, I can’t fathom the idea of this happening to a human being, let alone a child, but there wasn’t any time in this whatsoever before the media acted like they had the whole story. It was simply, “hey this is a great story, let’s put this on the air, get ratings, and act like we care.” A perfect example would be this clip of this Nancy Grace bitch who is such a disgusting human being watching this again nearly made be fucking vomit.

(from 1:30-2:35 is what really gets me)

Grace acts like she cares but she cares no more than Robert Downey Jr’s character did in Natural Born Killers. It’s such an act. She’s making fun of a CHILD for trying to kill herself. This girl might not have even done it. And then Nancy Grace goes on to claim Alyssa made a lame suicide attempt because she wanted attention and to get into sick bay to get better food and whatever bullshit, like that’s what the fuck Alyssa was thinking. A known suicidal girl with self-abusive problems who is either “crazy and killed somebody” or “innocent and scared shitless” is really thinking about better food and privacy?! What a nutcase evil bitch (I’m talking about Nancy Grace). It just sickens me.  If you look at Alyssa in court she looks frightened and ashamed, either because she didn’t do it, or realizes what she did, but either way she’s doing anything but trying to get attention. She did everything she could to not even be filmed.

And that really came down to a big reason. Originally the film was called “The Columbine Effect” because it reminded me of the media attention Columbine received. I was just months out of high school when Columbine happened, so it really hit home (especially being a kid who suffered extreme abuse at school by fellow students, I felt terrified that I identified with the killers more than the victims, even though I didn’t believe in what they did at all). But what really did it in for me was a special one hour Columbine event I saw a trailer for. It was real footage of the shooting, cinematic slow motion shots mixed in with the music from the movie “Platoon.” What sickened me about it was the fact that they turned this real footage into a stylish looking experience. When you watch “Platoon”, even though stuff like that really happened, you’re still watching actors. But this was real, real children, and it sickened me and frightened me, to see the world profit off of real footage like that. It wasn’t news any more. That day, on that very day, I stopped watching television.

Now, with the internet, we’re bombarded with news even if we don’t watch TV, so I heard about Alyssa. And when I saw the kind of attention it was getting, I instantly was reminded of Columbine. The way the media handled this sickened me. Not to mention, the press I received a few months earlier when I was trying to make a sincere human trafficking film, really did it in for me on how disgusting I feel the mainstream media and the world in general is. Nobody wants to understand anything, I guess is my point, they just want to hear gossip, talk shit, eat some frozen fucking yogurt, and go to sleep and if anybody clearly doesn’t believe in that lifestyle, they’re a goddamn weirdo. But no, fuck that, I need to understand why bad things happen. I need to know what it feels like to lose a child, to cope with rape, to die a violent death, to hurt another human being. I need to know how such evil exists. THAT, I guess, would be the ultimate reason why I was attracted to this story. I need to understand how, and why.

This film has such a poetic visual style to it, in stark contrast to the APSK films (which had a different, but very effective style). Through the cinematography you were able to display the girl's pain and isolation with such grace. How did you conceive the visuals?

Originally I was going to shoot it like the APSK’s, on just a camcorder, like Alyssa is making her own documentary. But Art (the D.P.) said he could shoot it, and he had a nice Panasonic camera with a special film-like lens. We had worked together once shooting the Abducted Girl trailers, though I knew he wasn’t going to really have time on this shoot to set up shots, use a tripod, light, etc., so he had to hold the camera non-stop and work the lens at the same time, which must have sucked, but it gave it the gritty doc-style. If I had time and a budget I probably would have liked to have had that camera be set up shots and less shaky, but in the end I don’t mind handheld, obviously. Adding that camera gave extra volume to the shoot because instead of just having it be their perspective as if it’s a doc, we also get to watch them from the outside as well, though still closely enough that it feels real. And then finally, I had the idea of shooting on a 3rd camera, on DV, the format that is the shrunken image you see throughout.  I liked the idea that they were making their own documentary of sorts, and that the DV format was like somebody was following them with a camera doing a separate documentary on them, and the final camera of highest quality was capturing it more like a traditional, but gritty, indie. So, we constantly had multiple angles covered for each take, and that really helped keep the realism of it I think, which is always my biggest concern; if it looks like shit, whatever, as long as it feels like you’re right there in it. Sort of a journalism approach I think, which I’ve always considered. But as stated with my anger towards the news, I think truth is many times best told with fiction, so I basically re-create real situations and do my best to make it feel real, whatever happens, happens, as long as you get the shot.  And then I got to the editing room and was like, shit, how the hell do I put this together? I have 3 angles/formats for almost every take! Eventually I figured it out.

The performances from the girls were so powerful -- how did you work with them -- improv, rehearsals?

Katie Marsh did a lot of homework on Alyssa, at least what the media presented to us, which was the point of that character. The other characters were all of the other ways I thought this girl could be. A person isn't just one face (all evil, all smiles, etc.), like the media portrays them. So, I had to set a mood with each actor. “Katie, you're very loud, confrontational, bored and acting out, intimidating, etc. Demi, you're her sidekick, so just play along with her.” Sometimes I'd want her irritated with Katie so I'd just keep the camera going and keep pushing them, "more, more, get louder, really attack her verbally, don't put up with it this time." What happened was Kaite was actually rehearsing with her acting coach, Vicki, and Demi is Vicki's daughter. So, Katie was filming herself acting the part and Demi was in the video with her. So, because of Katie's preparation, I came across Demi Bauman, and immediately wanted to use her. Which was awesome, because that's how we got Vicki, who helped out enormously, and also Kaliya Skye, who was perfect; the sweetest, most innocent and intelligent child, somebody you would never want to see harmed. What it all comes down to is really everything just came together. I saw things, and just had to know when to grab them and what to grab, what to keep, and let everybody do their own thing for the most part, and just throw out ideas here and there to keep them going.

Teona Dolnikova I studied up on, since she had the most amounts of work and fame. I just watched every video I could find on her and got to know her as a singer and as an actress, or I guess as a fan mostly. I became a huge admirer of her work, and that was basically equivalent of if you cast an actor you're a fan of, you already know pretty much what they're going to do, so just let them do it. I don't recall giving much direction during the film. Maybe I did and don't remember it because I was busy, and just having a good time making it, but I remember spending lots of time trying to nail down the people I needed, figuring out how we were going to shoot, spent a ton of time finding the locations I wanted to shoot, and then when it came time to film, I just kind of had it all arranged and the rest in my head, so I just told everyone, “this scene is about this. Go. We’ll just follow you around like it’s really happening, don’t mind us” (aside from once in a while when it was something specific). If anyone needed help along the way I was there. I believe the only person who knew anything about Alyssa was Katie, maybe Demi since they were hanging out. But Alex and Teona didn't need to know anything to prepare, since they were playing parts of Alyssa I believe existed but were not shown in the media. Caring, sweet, abused parts of her.

There is a scene with "Angst" that really shook me, in which she's looking at her reflection, then, suddenly she punches herself in the gut, and then issues several more blows. How did scenes like this develop?

A lot of that was Alex Damiano. I actually freaked out when she did that. I ran up to Alisha and was like "what the fuck is she doing?!" I believe that was the one scene everybody went to film on their own while I was doing something across the street. I came over and saw that and freaked, though couldn't help but partially smile that we were capturing this. Again, when she did the cutting scene I panicked and thought she was really doing it. That, she wasn't, but I think she really hit herself hard, I could hear it. She was just a great find. As mentioned I try to treat things like a documentary, just find the right subject and then let it go and film it. My job is finding the people, what they do is more them. We almost cast the wrong girl, somebody I really wanted to use because we met and had a great re-pour, but with Alex I did as well, so I was really conflicted, but Alex fit the part way more and Alisha pushed for her so I went ahead and chose Alex and it paid off. Her interaction with Domi really freaked me out too. It actually felt like we were filming a documentary, watching a man force himself on his daughter, very unnerving. And I cut them early sometimes because I was the one who wasn't comfortable, and figured if I wasn't, the actors surely might not have been. But they seemed fine, so.

The actual casting search must have been difficult.

We had tons of submissions, actually, and nobody really fit until I saw Katie. But she was only 14 and I wanted somebody 18 to look younger because of the content, nudity, and having to work around a kid’s schedule, etc. But she fit so perfectly I decided to see her and just do without the nudity. But then when she was rehearsing with Demi (who also slightly resembles the same look) I got the idea of using her as well, and having the idea of Alyssa be told through multiple characters. Demi was in, so then I started looking for more girls. That’s actually when it got to be more difficult. I think Teona had applied to be in “Abducted Girl” but since I decided to shoot this first I asked her if she wanted to be in this instead. Her schedule didn’t seem to be working but I insisted on getting her, I just felt I had to have her no matter what, so that became difficult to work out. And then I needed Alex’s character, and we hadn’t met Alex yet. Multiple girls ended up being considered for that role, but some never showed up, some weren’t comfortable with it, and the rest weren’t right for it, or I just didn’t connect with the actress artistically (aside from the one girl I mentioned who I wanted to cast, but ultimately Alex was better suited for it).

See, I don’t audition usually, and I didn’t for this. I just search for the right person. When I find them, I meet them for coffee and talk with them. Then I decide if we can work together. If they’re a great actress/actor, but we have no artistic connection with each other, there’s no way I can direct them. But if even a so-so actress came along and connected with me on a project, I think they’d do great because directing somebody, especially an actress working with a man director (and with the subject matter that I do), is all about comfort ability, trust, and connection. Teona I had seen in action, so I knew what to expect, and after we met and connected that seemed set. Alex I had no idea but she seemed to get it and was psyched about it, so it was an experience along the way. Katie I hadn’t seen in action either, but she fit so well, was so easy to talk to about it and so eager to do it, I just knew it’d work. And then Demi I saw in Katie’s preparation video, so I just took her on knowing what she was like based on Katie’s video and knowing that she wanted to do it. Kaliya I trusted based on Vicki’s recommendation, so I cancelled seeing other girls who had applied for it, and Kaliya couldn’t have been more perfect for it. I guess it all comes down to instinct. If I were doing a Hollywood film, of course it’d probably be nothing like this, at all. Audition after audition until I puke, I bet.

Were there any surprises in the performances?  

Well, Alex, of course. And probably Kaliya. She was just a last minute perfect find. I expected a lot from Teona, Katie and Demi based on what I already knew, so that was more I got what I wanted and was totally happy. Kaliya I had to take a risk on and it paid off. Same with Alex.

How has the film been received so far?

Not too many people have seen it, so not really sure. From the few who have - some are really shaken up by it, a few hated it - my usual reactions I guess. Very extreme differences, not so much middle ground. My one friend, a girl my age, couldn’t even talk to me about it, it just had her in tears of how powerful but disturbing she found it, it hit too close to home for her. Though another friend of mine, a lady, my Mom’s age, absolutely hated it, completely chewed me out for an hour straight, and she’s only absolutely loved everything I’ve done, so it was surprising. Maybe because she’s got a young granddaughter now (plus her daughter), I don’t know. She totally loved “Warning!!! Pedophile Released” and “Amateur Porn Star Killer”, so it blew my mind that she despised this so much. You never know how people will react. Each film, each person, creates such different reactions.

Have you heard from anyone involved in the case?

Someone from the major local news up there contacted me for an interview. I agreed but then never heard back. I did an interview for Alyssa’s high school newspaper. But at the time didn’t attach my name to it because I didn’t want all of the bullshit that happened with me trying to make “Abducted Girl” to happen with this. I figured if I at least get the film done first, then I’ll attach my name so if the bullshit media gets a hold of it and starts their circle of complete bullshit fucking bullshit, at least it won’t stop me from making the film, since it will already be finished. The media can go fuck themselves in their own bullshit-filled ass. Aside from that some locals are pissed at me for making it, of course. Saying why didn’t I make a murder about my own town? But that’d be dumb because I WOULD have insider information and might cause serious damage. With this I had no insider information at the time, so it’s just total imaginative story-telling.

There was a murder on my quiet little street, the girl next door to me was killed by a drunk driver, the lady across the street killed herself after her husband died, some lady went missing from our town years ago and just recently her jaw bone was discovered in one of the parks I usually go to, a girl from some of my films stabbed a guy in the throat (supposedly he died), and a friend of mine lived with this girl who stabbed another girl to death in self defense, then the girl ended up hanging herself to death in her jail cell even though she was getting out on that self defense plea (and family of the girl she killed worked at the juvenile hall where she supposedly killed herself, hmmm), then on top of that after she supposedly hung herself her little brother was found hanging to death just weeks later in the play ground (supposedly this was an accident the little boy did to himself even though he didn’t know how to even tie a knot). Hell, the guy who cashed my checks got so mad at one customer (a teenager) he gunned him down at the liquor store I cashed them at while he was working, and a black man was gunned down right by my work simply for being black (this is when I worked at a restaurant where I was the only white guy, so all my fellow employees were paranoid to walk home just down the street and needed rides, so they wouldn’t get fucking shot).

All of this (and I could go on and on) happened in our tiny, tiny little town the past few years. I point this out because crazy and bizarre stupid evil shit happens around me all of the time. But I believe I’m too close to it. NOW THAT, I believe, could hurt people. It wouldn’t be speculation it would be fucking with the truth. I’m too close to it. And as said before, sometimes the best truth is fiction, so it’s better if I just do the good old fashioned “torn from the headlines.”

Friday, March 21, 2014

BadRonald Talks to Roxsy Tyler and Mr. Potent About Apocalypse Kiss

I Just Want Some Extra Time and Your...

Apocalypse Kiss!

If you're looking for a primer on how to make your own low-budget movie (and do it right!), then go check out the bad asses over at Potent Media. Check out the list of projects, and then peruse the names on the cast lists. Pretty impressive for a production team whose film's budgets wouldn't even foot the Starfucks coffee bill from The Walking Dead.

Carmela aka Roxsy Tyler

Potent founder Christian Jude Grillo (aka Mr. Potent) impressed us with his shocking and titillating feature Deer Crossing (check it out at Netflix and RedBox), and certainly got a few panties all bunched up with its "controversial" content. And now he's back, along with his wife and business partner Carmela Hayslett -- also known as the familiar BadRonald favorite Roxy Tyler -- to deliver a steamy SciFi laser thriller Apocalypse Kiss.
Christian lights it up

Christian and Carmela were good enough to sit down and take some questions about their new film, and also chat about the state of indie film, in general. Enjoy...

BadRonald:  Apocalypse Kiss looks to be leaning a lot more towards Science Fiction. What inspired you to step away from the horror/thriller stuff?

Carmela Hayslett: Christian writes films that are meant to be dramas, really. He never means for them to be pegged as "horror" movies but his tone is quite horrific from a reality stand point. I would actually be really curious if he wrote something that was meant to be a horror movie. I'm glad he went the Sci-fi route with this one though. I know it's a genre he's most passionate about.

Mr.Potent: After doing Deer Crossing and Booley I felt the desire to challenge myself as a film maker. I'm not the type of person who finds a niche and stays in it. That would completely bore the hell out of me. I have always loved Dark Science fiction. Alien, Event Horizon, Dark City, Time Bandits, etc... Doing a film of this nature at the budgets we work with creates an enormous challenge. How do you create a whole world with a set design budget less then $2K. It is this challenge that drives me as a film maker and an artist. I am a true believer in the school of thought that imagination out-ways budget 10 to 1. I think Apocalypse Kiss will prove that.

All Star Cast

Give us a quick little storyline of the movie.

Carmela: Government security agent Jerry Hipple has been unsuccessfully tracking the city's most infamous criminal The Red Harvest Killer. When two nomadic lovers, Katia and Gladys enter the city the death count rises and are being credited as Red Harvest killings. Obsessive compulsive Adrian, the actual Red Harvest Killer becomes furious that the sexy serial killing duo are grabbing media attention under his alias. Not only does Adrian attempt to reclaim his rightful reputation but he also decides to cleverly aid his detective counterpart through the case. All the while, killers and victims alike are unaware the world is about to reach an abrupt catastrophic ending.

The trailer has a very Doctor Who feel to it -- staying in budget with more intimate sets. But also has a Blade Runner feel with the action. How did you guys come up with the set designs?

No. The pumpkin mask doesn't come in 'til here
Carmela: I really wish I could take some credit for those set designs. They looked spectacular! Christian and a lot of the crew (even some of the actors) worked tirelessly actually building and creating the world of Apocalypse Kiss. I was really impressed when I stepped onto the sets and even more impressed when I saw what they actually look like in the movie.

Mr. Potent: Carmela, My daughter Katie and I are all huge fans of Doctor Who. But there are three major influences in the set design and the entire backdrop of Apocalypse Kiss. Hardware: A low budget Sci-Fi from Director Richard Stanley. This film is fucking amazing and is truly my biggest influence on Apocalypse Kiss. From the lighting to the pre-apocalyptic environment to the dark satire to the style of production.
I loved the esthetics of Blade Runner, (The big world feel) and the old school Noir detective story within it. I wanted to do this even though we had hardly any money. The sets for Katia and Gladys are what I consider trashy New York life 1975.

It's about to get hot in here
You guys have a knack for attracting some genre idols -- Tom Atkins, Michael Berryman, Pinhead! That has to be a testament to the potency of Potent Pictures. How tough was it to score these cast members?

Mr. Potent:  The most difficult part is getting passed the agent. If the agent feels it's worth while offer, then you can start the dance from there.

You have used the social crowd-funding sources to an extent. But you get your financing through the traditional avenues, correct?

Carmela and Tammy Sizzle
Mr. Potent:  We do have a loyal investment team who have been with us since day one. They believe in us. New investors get on the train every time we shoot. But we do really a little on the generosity of the contributors who donate to us. As far as the big timers using crowd funding... more power to them. If you can get funded to make your films by multiple donations you eliminate so many stress factors. You don't have to worry about the movie making money, no one has a contract to sue you with and you don't have to pay it back. I would totally fund an entire film with it if I had the celebrity leverage to do so.

Carmela: I dress up as Roxsy Tyler and ask for money.
What are your thoughts on the millionaire filmmakers who have been flocking to the crowd funding sites, and taking the share of the pie from the filmmakers who don't have the other avenues -- or bank accounts -- of these 1%-er filmmakers?

Carmela: I'd like to know how they raised money before they became millionaire filmmakers and why aren't they doing that now? Part of me thinks it shows the same passion the underdogs have for making their films. Another part of me thinks very differently. Those filmmakers are capitalizing on their past success while real independent filmmakers are on there trying to make their success. People like us have to do it the hard way. We always had to do it the hard way. If these millionaire filmmakers wanted to keep making movies why didn't they think about that when they were making money? Christian tells me all the time that if he ever gets rich... he's making more movies with that money. Screw any chances of having a mansion someday he just wants to make more movies.

Mr. Potent:   As far as the big timers using crowd funding... more power to them. If you can get funded to make your films by multiple donations you eliminate so many stress factors. You don't have to worry about the movie making money, no one has a contract to sue you with and you don't have to pay it back. I would totally fund an entire film with it if I had the celebrity leverage to do so.

Okay, I know I left my coffee around here, somewhere
Carmela, I enjoyed what you did with the supporting role in Deer Crossing. What inspired you to take a lead on this new film? And Christian -- what are your thoughts on her stepping up?

Carmela: When we were filming Deer Crossing I told Chris I aspire one day to play a lesbian or a serial killer. Before I knew it he pooped out this awesome script featuring me as a serial-killing lesbian. The next step was being ready for it. I was ready for it before he even started casting.

Mr. Potent:  This role was Carmela's idea from day one. (Like she said) after Deer Crossing she told me that she would love to play a lesbian serial killer. Of course I took major interest in this idea. (We had just watched GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and ) I love Noomi Rapice!  Carmela, like Noomi, is a petite little porcelain faced girl who can exploit a sinister presence. I knew she had it in her. I modeled her character Katia after this idea. It's actually what set off the complete exploitative side of the film.

The Stuff Hits the Fan

 What were the good and not so good aspects of having your spouse direct/act for you?

Carmela: I probably drive Christian crazy when we work together because we're both artistic and any two artists will bump heads. The fact that we're married doesn't really register when we're on set or while we're doing post-production work. He doesn't treat me any different than he does the other actors. It's all business. I like having someone that I can collaborate with and be creative with all the time.

Mr. Potent:   Good side... I shot some hot scenes of my wife dominating Tammy. Bad side... I had to say "cut".
Bring the Troma
  The role you take on, Carmela (from what I see in the trailer), looks to be pretty heavy. How excited or nervous were you, and how'd you prepare for the challenge?

Carmela: I was more excited than I was nervous about it. I took six months to prepare for my role as Katia. I didn't take on any other projects at the time because I was so committed to Apocalypse Kiss. I took acting lessons, Tammy and I rehearsed well before the movie even went into production... there was just so much I did to prepare for the role. I would ask my friends who are actors to meet with me and critique my reads... I learned sign language. I had a coach who taught me how to sign the lines I had in the script but I went well beyond the script and started trying to learn ASL full-time. I also learned a lot about deaf culture to the point where Christian had to make some revisions to the script. I even went as far as putting ear plugs in my ears while we were filming. I really couldn't hear anything. That way I would react accordingly and have no choice but to read people's lips.

Getting the Mood Right
The role also looks (old man term alert!) racy. Was there any hesitation from either of you? Or is it another day on the set?

Carmela: I never did anything like this before so I was nervous but I never once hesitated. I'm glad I did it and I would do it again. I think the experience helped me really grow as an actress.

Tammy Jean looks to do an impressive job. Where did you find her, and how was it working with her?

Carmela: Tammy Jean was an absolute joy to work with. She took the role seriously but she was also very fun to be around. I never worked this close with another woman before. I was a little worried about it because of some of the things we had to do together in this film. After a couple of times of meeting and rehearsing with Tammy my nervousness was gone. She's just so easy to work with.

Mr. Potent:   We have known Tammy for a couple years. She is related to one of my good friends Christopher McMullin who is also an actor in the film.

Who would be your dream catch, to play a role in one of your films?

Mr. Potent:   I have always wanted to work with Paul Rubens.
Carmela: I want to work with Michael Keaton in the worse way. Come on, he was Batman! That would be a nice full-circle sort of thing for me.

The Power Couple. Like Bill and Hillary... Only Better

 You've had some negative reaction to the nudity and gore in Deer Crossing (from the a-hole RedBox crowd, right?). I don't see your films as gratuitous, but more along the exploitation line. To me there's a difference. There's a commentary that goes with exploitation that is left out of the more gratuitous films, even if it's not fully realized. It's all in what the story has to tell -- and your films have some good character development going. What are both of your thoughts on sex/nudity and gore in film, and how do you see it in your own work?

Carmela: I actually wrote a Redbox review saying that Deer Crossing didn't have enough sex and violence (true story). I mean, it really didn't. Christian never intended for it to either. People were more bothered by what they thought they saw. By my standards as a horror fan the film was actually very tame. The fact that it got such a reaction despite showing so little is a real statement. Christian disgusted thousands of people with not his visuals but with his writing. That's a great compliment to his abilities for story-telling. I don't have sex and nudity in anything I write... at least not yet. As far as sex/nudity/gore in general-- it is what it is. Gore is fun to look at and sex/nudity is a part of nature. You can pretend you're not naked under your clothes and that you don't have sex but it's more than likely not true. Why shouldn't that stuff be in movies?

Mr. Potent:    I feel most accomplished when someone either loves or hates my movie. I never want a mediocre reaction. Luke warm sucks. I guess by now it's very obvious that I am a Writer/Director who wreaks of exploitation. I want people to feel something... get something... from my films. I want a reaction. I feel most comfortable when my audience is uncomfortable. Gore... sex... who the hell cares. You can do both and make them boring. I had the biggest backlash on REDBOX for the "Extreme sexual content" in Deer Crossing. There is only one short scene with nudity in it. The scenes that piss everyone off the most... show nothing. It's all up to the viewer's imagination.

Apocalypse Kiss is looking to be really awesome. How soon can we expect to see this.

Mr. Potent: Coming April 8, on DVD and streaming sites across the Internet.


What's next for the Potent Gang?
Check out the IndieGoGo campaign for Sugar Skull Girls!


Check out the red band trailer (NSFW), and look for the DVD release, coming soon!!!


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

BadRonald Celebrates Women in Horror Month -- Haunted Anna!

Women Girls in Horror Month Celebrates

HAUNTED ANNA: Awesome Teenage Ghost Buster!

Capture from: Girl Possessed by Ghost - Haunted Anna #20
While we’re celebrating Women in Horror Month, let’s not forget the girls of horror. As a fan of horror, and a great supporter of women behind the cameras, I’ve been in awe of the major talents that have burst onto the horror scene. The Soska Twins had a huge indie horror hit with American Mary, and are now directing the hotly anticipated See No Evil 2. Female directors made a big splash at Sundance this year, capturing major awards, including Best Director, won by Ava Duvernay. This win notes the first time a Black woman has won for best directing. Also creating buzz was Ana Lily Amirpour, who directed A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the first “Iranian vampire western.”

I’d always heard those stories of filmmakers, like Spielberg or Robert Rodriguez, who started making movies in their backyards, as little kids. It’s a nice change to learn that Amirpour had been making movies since she was 12 years old, her first being a horror flick she filmed during a sleepover.

I’ve shared some interviews with girl filmmakers on this blog before, including Emily Hagins, the now 21 year old director, who has made four feature length films (yes, feature length!) since she was 12 years old. Also, I’ve featured a couple chats with PaigeMcKenzie, better known as Sunshine Girl, from the popular YouTube show, The Haunting of Sunshine Girl. McKenzie has been very active in developing her own show, plus a couple movies featuring her Sunshine character, and a stash of other programs which she hosts on her very own YouTube channel, The Haunting of Sunshine Girl Network.

And this is where we found another in the blossoming crop of girl filmmakers – Anna Bishop, otherwise known as Haunted Anna (she’s also known as AJ Bishop, a singer – but more on that later). Haunted Anna is another of the teenage video bloggers, like Sunshine Girl, who have discovered their inner-Scooby Doo, after finding strange goings on in their homes. Anna is the youngest of the teen ghost hunters featured on THOSGN, starting her show when she was just 13 (however, she had been making films, like Ana Lily Amirpour, since she was younger).

BadRonald: How did you come upon the idea/concept for the Haunted Anna videos?  Were they inspired by anything in your life?

Anna: My idea for the Haunted Anna series came from my love of a good mystery, and psychological thrillers. I have been doing short horror videos for years, but never a series with clues and surprises and unexpected twists.  This was an opportunity to expand on something I already loved to do.

Your videos are shown on the Haunting of Sunshine Girl’s YouTube channel.  How did you guys hook up?

I replied to a request from The Haunted Sunshine Network for a story idea and sent a sample of my work. Then I talked out the premise with the Director Nick Hagen and Sunshine and her mom and we agreed on the direction and storyline. 

Capture from: Girl Pulled Off Bed by Ghost - Anna Haunting #13

Are you a spooky movie fan?

I am a HUGE horror movie fan - but not slasher horror – (I like) psychological thrillers.  I love old classics from Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho, The Birds, Rear Window).  I am a big fan of The Shining. Great example of a thriller with very interesting characters (Jack Nicholson is brilliant) and the anticipation of what might happen just leaves you exhausted! So many moments in that movie: 'REDRUM' and 'Here's Johnny' and the sound of 'Danny' on his big wheel riding through the lodge on and off the carpet...chilling.  I also really love The Bad Seed, The Others, The Conjuring, The Exorcist, and I just watched Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense.  I watched it twice in a row actually.  What a clever movie - the ending shocked me. 

Speaking of The Bad Seed, I see that you did a stage production of The Bad Seed, playing the lead character.  Absolutely one of my all time favorite movies! How was that experience?

Who's the wickedest of them all?
I had never seen The Bad Seed, so before I auditioned for it I watched the original 1956 movie.  What a twisted story!  The main character, young Rhoda Penmark, is a psychopath.  She is very smart and very cold and calculating and manipulative and deliciously evil.  She is willing to kill for what she wants.  And, she has absolutely no remorse.  The movie was nominated for 4 academy awards, it is truly a classic must see.  I was THRILLED to play this role. This role was the highlight of my theater roles to date. I even dyed my hair platinum blond and cut bangs for this role.  I was really into it.  Interestingly, the staged play is VERY different from the movie at the end.  It's even darker and more sinister.  Apparently the filmmakers had to follow the motion picture association 'Hayes Code' that censored movies from 1930-1968, and the staged play ending was not approved.  You must read the play to see the full impact of The Bad Seed!! I don't want to give away the ending!
The Bad Seed

From what I’ve seen, on your music videos, and from your tweets and posts, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that you’re a pretty nice, sweet person – right?  How did you manage to get in the head of Rhoda?  She’s such a terrible little girl!

The role of Rhoda Penmark WAS totally out of character for me...but I love being an actress! So this was a great and rewarding challenge for me.  I did a lot of research on psychopaths before the production to prepare.  I learned that psychopathy is a disorder people are born with, and it is often hereditary. They are bold and fearless risk-seekers and they do not understand social norms. With this knowledge I was able to slip into Rhoda's head before the show, and shake her off afterwards.  You don't want to take any of that behavior home from the theater.  I must say my mom accused me of some Rhoda-like behavior during the run of the show.  I might have been trying out some of her manipulative tactics.  But that's the thing with
Capture from: Ghost Doll Spotted in Basement - Haunted Anna #15
performing.  To be convincing you have to fall into your character completely and then let her go. Otherwise you would be a bit unbalanced!

Was it difficult to play bad?

Playing a bad character is really quite fun!!

Now, you’re also an accomplished singer, as well as an actor.  Is there a preference between the two?

That's a tough question.  I love both singing and acting.  I think that's why I started in musical theater.  I know some people are not fans of musical theater and don't like characters breaking into song.  Some theater folks don't consider musicals 'real' theater.  But I like a great musical and a great dramatic performance and a great concert.  It's all entertaining.  And, I think really great singers are also great performers.  You have to believe the lyrics, and that takes a good performance as well as a good song.  So I think I would say I can't decide what I prefer!!

Looking for Ghosts

In the Haunted Anna videos – I enjoy the contrast between your videos and Sunshine’s.  Paige has a very quirky personality and the supporting characters all give her storylines a very Scooby Doo like quality. Sunshine’s storyline starts off as a personal vlog, and then snowballs into some pretty high adventure! Your videos, on the other hand, are pretty much just you (with your mom sometimes making an appearance), and your persona is this “real” girl who is looking for an explanation to the weirdness that is going on around her.  Buuut, things are starting to evolve into some real creepy creepiness. Like black eyed weird creepiness.  What’s it all leading up to? (no spoilers, of course!) Thanks - I was hoping for a real 'girl next door' feeling to the Haunted Anna videos.  Yes things were getting really creepy with Antonina and the mystery of her death...and now… what's next?  I'm not sure.  You will have to stay tuned!!!
Capture from: Ghost Dolls and Orbs; My Dog Sniffs Out a Ghost - Haunted Anna #17

Some of your posts and tweets have mentioned, or hashtagged, things like “girl power”, or have had a teen-centric theme.  You have also done a video on bullying.  Are you driven to put out a positive image for kids and teens?

I am very focused on the impact I might have with young girls and other teens.  I have observed some terrible Middle School bullying and it is really ugly. My video for “This Too Shall Pass” addresses the issue of bullying.  My message is that girls need to support other girls, and you should stay positive and optimistic.  If I have any impact on my peers I want it to be positive and empowering.  I am not a fan of overtly sexy teens and sexy “selfies” and trying to use shock and skin and drug references for attention.

I’ve discussed this same topic with Paige and her mom, as well, about
how today’s teens are portrayed in television and music.  There seems to be an expectation of teen and tweens, in the entertainment industry, that tends to portray them as more mature.  Do you see this? How do you work or deal with these expectations in your career?

Capture from: Ghost in Attic - Anna Haunting #4
It's funny because when you perform a lot, especially with adults, you have to be a bit more mature.  And the entertainment industry definitely makes young girls look really mature.  I'm not a fan of this.  I don't like how rushed everyone is to get through their teens and be more 'mature.'  I want to enjoy being a teen!

It seems as if most TV shows/movies aimed at the younger crowd are about crushing on guys, or “mean girls”, or fashionistas, and even more adult themes.  It’s rare to find a show, like, for instance Bunheads, that seems to portray kids who deal with more typical teen problems. So, it’s good to see portrayals of teens – like with you and Sunshine -- who deal with other things, on their programs, besides the typical love and angst we see everywhere else.  Is this something you considered ahead?  Or just the way you are?

With me you get what you see.  I am a typical normal teen girl.  Unless I am playing a role on stage I try to stay true to myself and my's OK to giggle with girlfriends and paint your nails and play with your little sister.  It's a waste of time to get wrapped up in what's in or out or who is in or out or trying to be someone you are not.

Follow @AnnaJaneBishop on Twitter

From what I’ve seen in your work, you focus on the positive.  Do you, or would you, consider yourself being a role model for other girls and teens?

I would like to think that I would be a good role model for other girls.  I am not perfect, I have ups and downs but try to stay positive, and I am really focused on school (education is #1), family and friends.  It's a good way to be!

You spoke about the other horror shorts you've done.  Are those available to view anywhere?

No, my horror shorts are done with friends, edited at home and not online.  I just do them for fun...but maybe I should start posting them...there are some really great ones!  

What's your process for your show?  Do you come up with an arc for a "season" or develop the storyline with each segment?
My process was a general idea of the storyline for the 'season,' then focusing on each episode moving the story forward...with a little scare in there, or a mystery, or clue, or an unexpected twist.  Sometimes I had an idea for the episode, and sometimes it was a little more impromptu and my mom and I would brainstorm, check out the spaces and angles, and then just film.  Very spontaneous, to keep it fresh and “real.” 
Listen in at ReverbNation

So, tell me more about your singing career?

I started singing, really singing, when I was 8 in a professional musical theater production of The Wizard of Oz.  I caught the performing bug and just kept on going: musical theater, dramatic theater, film work, training in acting, singing (opera/classical, choral and musical theater) and dancing (tap, ballet, contemporary and jazz). Last year I decided to branch out into pop music starting with some cover songs and then doing an original with a local singer songwriter, Brent Rogers (&Kelli Caldwell).  I put up a YouTube channel, a Facebook Page and got on a music site (ReverbNation) and just let it all go out there.  Just recently, Kevin DeClue, an LA based multi-platinum producer, found me. He has teamed up with HollyWood Records, Capital Entertainment, Arista Records etc. I have started to work with him, and I am learning so much! We are working on an original EP (5 songs) to be released in February. Our first song is AMAZING.  It's really exciting!

What music or musicians have you been influenced by?  And who, if dreams ever do come true, would you wanna duet with?

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I like so many musicians, but the common thread is great vocals, melodies and lyrics.  I like older bands like The Beatles.  I love Elton John and really love older jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald.  But I also listen to more current musicians like Norah Jones (love her sound and style), Wilco (90s),The Decemberists (love them-they are from Portland!!), Kimbra (she is so talented), Ellie Goulding (great layered vocals and lyrics) and Lorde (great lyrics and creative unique sound). I also like classic rock.  My dad plays guitar and we are always singing and listening to classic artists like: Neil Young, The Allman Brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Johnny Cash, Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, etc.   I am not a fan of overly manipulated music, or dance club music.  You know with the recording software anyone can 'sing' these days.  I like authentic voices, and authentic sounds. My new favorite song right now is Indina Menzel singing Let It Go from the movie Frozen!  So my tastes run wide:)!!! This is a total GIRL POWER song too!!

Ella! Elton! Ellie! Johnny Cash -- yes!  Where’d you develop such an eclectic range of music taste?

I am lucky to be surrounded by music. My dad plays guitar (electric, acoustic and banjo) all the time.  He's very into classic rock so we listen to a lot of vocally driven 70s rock. Love Johnny Cash - now that's 50s and 60s - classic songs, and great heart in his music.  I love the At Folsom Prison Album. What passion and grit and raw emotion you hear in that album. Our theme song on the drive to school is Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Free Bird' - haha!!  Thanks dad!!  And my mom brings in musical theater (which she loves, as do I) and the more soft rock melody centered artists from her past like Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel (I actually really like him - his voice and the PIANO - no making fun of him!), James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkle, Phil Collins and Norah Jones to name a few. We are often sitting in the car at the curb finishing listening to a song with my mom whi is singing all the lyrics.  And then we talk about why a certain phrase was so meaningful.  Yesterday we were talking about 'they're sharing a drink they call loneliness, but it's better than drinking alone.' - Billy Joel, Piano Man.  Now
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obviously I don't drink, but we were talking about how people need other people and they come together (in this case in a bar) to listen to music and 'forget about life for awhile.'  Music can have a huge impact on people.  And I love all the cool images.  True story, last Christmas, at Christmas eve dinner, my dad and I sang a couple songs for the family (we have a huge family) and my 85 year old Grandfather with advanced Parkinsons Disease, who had barely been tracking all night, sat up and started belting out an old irish tune.  The family was stunned.  The music brought him out of his dark place and helped him join in the festivities.  I have never felt so happy.  Now whenever we visit I try to sing to him...anything I'm working on...classical, musical theater, whatever. 

That’s an amazing story!  How about in acting?  Who are your influences/idols?  And what actors or directors would you give your left pinky to work with?

In the acting world I am in awe of talented stage actors.  They don't get multiple takes...they are the best my opinion and they study their craft. Meryl Streep probably stands out as the BEST actress ever.  I also love Julia Roberts and Jennifer Lawrence (she can play so many roles well!). And I'm a new fan of Kristen Bell aka Veronica Mars (she studied musical theater and performed on Broadway BEFORE moving into film!).

I enjoyed your retweet of the Rookie article Kids Won't Listen: "Why I’m sick of articles about teenage girls written by grown-up men."  I had a good chuckle at the title, seeing that I'm a "grown man." But, the article is great, and it makes lots of good points. As a father of two young daughters, I've become very analytical of how young woman and girls are portrayed in entertainment. But, I'm also acutely aware that it's not the GIRLS in the business who need to be analyzed and criticized --It's the producers and creators.  Where the limitations lie, in the portrayals of girls, is in the creative.  I love discovering projects and productions where girls are encouraged to be positive, about themselves, and about the world around them.  I respect that Nick and Mercedes and Paige are doing their best in finding talent like you, to push better images of girls. 
Yes - that was a great article in RookieMag (it's a super Mag for teens)...and SO true.  When I first talked to Mercedes and Paige we talked about 'adorkable.'  And that was what clicked because that's me too.  Sunshine has this adorkable, carefree persona, and I too wanted to really be myself in the Haunted Anna series...curious, open minded, eager and positive.  I never dressed up or put on makeup to film, I did it all in one take and I was open and honest.  Not everyone loved what I did every episode.  It's hard not to be hurt by the YouTube comments (I stopped reading them) - of course it's 'fake' its a web series people!!  Everything on television is 'fake' and you don't see people analyzing every minute and every glance and every word of their scripts!  But I was proud of my work and my creativity and of staying true to myself.  That's the way I am, that's the way I dress, that's the way I talk, and so you get what you see with me. I hope I have helped to portray a better or more real image of a young teen girl!
Capture from: Giggling Heard on Camera - Anna Haunting #11

Susan Bishop, Anna's mom wanted to join in on this topic:                     
I think when we first looked at this project, Anna and I appreciated that Mercedes and Paige were looking for something real and age appropriate.  Anna was just 13, and a young 13 at that, and we wanted her to be herself.  She loves mystery and horror and psychological thrillers, so we took it from there...creating a mystery, finding clues, and moving the story forward.  We did not want to create a character 'Anna,' but a real version of Anna...just haunted.  This is very similar to 'Sunshine.'  She's a great role model.  A really nice genuine young woman, with a funny sense of humor, a bit goofy (which is cool), and no attitude.  Hard to find these days!!  It was super fun being a part of the Sunshine Network, and Anna really appreciates her ongoing connection with the Sunshine cast and crew.  They are great, hard working people. There may be continued collaboration in the future, so stay tuned!!

Is there anything, other than the Haunted Anna videos, that you will be appearing in?

Capture from: Ghost Doll and Orb - Anna Haunting #16
This year my focus is on my transition to High School activities and ACADEMICS, so I am not pursuing outside performing opportunities. I have spent the last 6 years going to rehearsals and performing and I have not been able to do normal teen stuff like sports, clubs, sleepovers, hanging out with my friends, etc.  That said, I am interested in doing my high school musical - Beauty and The Beast (I have never been in a school production!!).  And, I am trying to do some non-performing things.  I was on my HS Cross Country Team this fall.  Our team placed 2nd in the state, and I made Varsity - which was so much fun (I have never done a school team sport either).

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever seen or experienced that wasn’t a ghost?

There's a haunted house up the street...I'm not kidding.  We film it all the time.  Odd stuff is going on there!  Maybe Haunted Anna will need to investigate!

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