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Ariel Marx: Music to filmmakers’ ears

15 Feb

For as long as she can remember, Ariel Marx has been surrounded by musicians. From her family to her friends as a youth, and then to her college roommates, her world has been filled with music and with those making it.

Ariel Marx and Jason Ritter SundanceAriel with actor Jason Ritter at the Sundance premiere of “The Tale”

Ariel Marx has been making it as well for a long time, including for two films that premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. In Park City, her scores included the highly-regarded Jennifer Fox film “The Tale,” which stars Laura Dern, Jason Ritter and Common, and has been acquired by HBO; and a short film called “Hair Wolf” that takes place in Brooklyn. That film hit close to home, as she lives in New York City and is a member of the Adjunct Faculty at New York University.

She has also scored for dramas “West of Her” and “By Jingo,” as well as comedy TV series “UnChartered” and “The Prisoners.” You may have enjoyed her contributions to “Blind” starring Demi Moore and Alex Baldwin, Showtime’s “The Affair” with Dominic West and Ruth Wilson, and “Wonder” with Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson.

An accomplished musician on keyboards and many string instruments, she found her way to composition when she realized that “my biggest inspiration for music was through visual images. I love the multi-media experience, and the idea of not just writing for writing’s sake. I love being part of a team. It’s what drew me to filmmaking.”

Ariel Marx and Melanie Lynskey

With actress Melanie Lynskey at Sundance

While studying for her Master’s Degree at NYU, she was chosen to participate in the Columbia/ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop. She wrote music for a film called “Dear Mother,” and one of the filmmakers was also involved in the early development of “The Tale,” which led to Ariel’s meeting director Jennifer Fox.

“She had a vision for ‘The Tale,’ which is really a portrayal of a woman’s relationship with a memory,” Ariel says of Fox’s powerful and touching film. “With ‘The Tale,’ the cut was locked (finally edited) when I started working on. So, I was able to take the sentiment of the film and started playing around with a melody.”

She dug into the film’s pivotal moments first, “writing four or five minutes of a suite. It’s different with every film I’ve done, but I think it’s most valuable to start with those moments with the largest emotion. I knew the score for ‘The Tale’ had to honor the juxtapositions of the story—it had to mold to Jennifer’s view of the story she was telling. It’s been a very gratifying experience working on this film.”

For composers, every film differs as much as its director. Ariel said deciding where to start is always the biggest challenge, because not all films are locked cuts. Sometimes, she has to compose based on a filmmaker’s concept, before some scenes are shot.

“I love experimenting with different sounds,” she said. “My ideal project is just a bit of a playground, breaking a few rules and then getting back to the convention. I’m very interested in modifying sound, and I love collaborating with other composers because we often need to depend on each other—we can’t play everything.”

Sundance audiences loved “The Tale.” Though the story is a bit dark and certainly disturbing, its message resonated with those who gave Fox and the cast a standing ovation. Ariel was proud to be part of the creative team.

She is busy finishing the score for a film nearing completion and has plans to work on another feature after that. Still, she says that “I’m somewhat new to this world, and I’m looking forward to getting a lot more involved. It feels like this is a great and amazing time to be in the business. A lot of creative voices are being heard. Technology has afforded people from all different backgrounds a chance to come into this industry. You don’t need a huge orchestration background. It’s a very explorative time.”

Photos by Impact24 PR (Jason Ritter) and Tom Haraldsen (Melanie Lynskey)

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John O’Hurley is singing the standards in Utah

2 Feb

For many of us, we know John O’Hurley from his years playing J. Peterman on Seinfeld, or for famously winning the first season of Dancing with the Stars. But that’s only the beginning of the amazing talents that O’Hurley possesses, one reason he’s considered by many to be the most versatile entertainer of our time.

Now he’s bringing his hit show, A Man with Standards, to one of Utah’s newest venues—the DeJoria Center in Kamas. He will perform on Saturday, February 10, starting at 8 p.m. The program has been nominated for Best Show by BroadwayWorld, just the latest accolade for this Screen Actors Guild winning singer, actor, composer and pianist.

o'hurley   The genesis for Standards came shortly after O’Hurley had finished a three-week engagement at the famed Café Carlyle in New York City.

“A friend of a friend of a friend and I started talking, and we came up with the thought that music from the Great American Songbook could tell the story of my life,” O’Hurley told me. “Growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, those songs are a great retrospective on our country. I was lucky enough to be raised around men with standards, the idea of being a gentleman. My parents use to go out with friends for dinner and dancing, and everywhere you went, there seemed to be a five-piece combo and a supper club. I had that feeling after playing in the Carlyle.”

So singing the tunes of artists like Sinatra and Mancini, O’Hurley set out touring the country about two years ago. This will be the first time he’s told the story of his life and performed his show in Utah.

 

As he tells in Standards, “I remember that even at the age of 3, when people asked me what I wanted to be, I’d point to our black and white TV in the corner. I’d say, ‘Well l am an actor, so that’s what I’m going to be.’ I knew I was an actor. I’d see other kids on TV and knew that’s where I was headed. So my life was something where I connected the dots from there to there.”

At age 27, he took the giant leap of faith by moving to New York City, working in public relations for five years until “I realized I was living a lie. I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do.” He auditioned for his first show and was cast in 48 hours, a show called Eternal Love.

“It was a three-hour musical without a single laugh,” he recalled. “It was terrible, and it died a merciful death about six weeks after it opened. But I got my Equity card and an agent. Every time a see a fellow actor who was in that show, I stop and ask them ‘How are you?’ We all shared that experience together, and we have empathy for each other.”

His career continued to blossom, and he recalls singing to Frank Sinatra himself at 2:30 a.m. before an audience full of celebrities, all who had stayed around for that late hour to see him perform.

O’Hurley has done so many things that he says he sometimes feels “like the guy who’s trying to keep five plates spinning. Each thing I do satisfies a part of my brain.” He’s in a film called Swing Away that was shot in Greece and will soon be released, and he’s going back to Crete to film Red Door and Lemon Tree, another independent film about a young actress who goes back to her homeland to reconnect with her youth.

So what can audiences expect when they see A Man with Standards?

“I can promise three things,” he says, “music, laughter, and one tear. We’ve lost our sense of melody and lyric writing—all of that is gone. Nothing is memorable anymore. I’m a big fan of performances that lean towards the large, dramatic style of the standards. For me, it’s melody and lyrics. That’s what I bring to audiences with each performance.”

–Tom Haraldsen

 

Radha Mitchell: Keeping us in suspense—as usual

22 May

There’s been a tendency in horror/suspense films to make the female protagonist the victim, the innocent bystander who waits for her heroic male co-star to save the day. Not anymore, which is just one reason why the recently released film “Sacrifice,” starring actress Radha Mitchell, is so appealing.

Radha 1

The other reason is Mitchell herself, the talented Australian actress who has been working in TV and films since her debut on “Neighbours,”an Australian soap opera, in 1985. She moved to Los Angeles in the late 1990s and made her mark as a cast member of “High Art” in 1998. Among her other films are “Pitch Black,” “Finding Neverland,” “Silent Hill,” “Surrogates,” and “The Crazies.” One of my personal favorites was her lead role in the TV series “Red Widow,” which ABC sadly cancelled after just half a season three years ago.

In “Sacrifice,” Mitchell plays surgeon Tora Hamilton, an American doctor who moves with her Scottish husband to the Shetland Islands—100 miles off the coast of Scotland—in a career-changing move prompted by her recent loss of an unborn child. What she soon discovers in a vacant field near their home is much more unsettling than her miscarriage: the body of a young woman with strange symbols carved into her flesh and her heart ripped from her body. And that’s in the film’s opening minutes. From that point, Mitchell, known for her performances in a number of suspense thrillers (she stars opposite Kevin Bacon in “The Darkness,” which opened in theatres nationwide on May 13) begins to unravel the mystery behind this woman’s death.

“I think this film is an evolution of the genre,” Mitchell said during our interview for On and Beyond from her home in Los Angeles. “We’ve not seen a lot of suspense films like this one that I think appeals to a broader female audience—really, women of all generations.”

Radha 2

What audiences will learn, much as Mitchell did when filming in Ireland, is about the legend of the Kunal Trows, characters in Scottish mythology. What her character finds leads her to believe that the corpse is a victim of a contemporary ritual based on that folklore.

“Peter Dowling wrote and directed the film, and he has an impressive resume of work, which was one thing that attracted me to this part,” Mitchell said. Another attraction was the plot, a female-centric story where a close friendship develops between Mitchell’s character and a police sergeant (actress Joanne Crawford) looking into the woman’s murder.

“It’s a very satisfying, complicated and interesting plot,” Mitchell said. “There’s a buddy aspect between these two women which attracted me. It’s a mystery like a jigsaw puzzle that keeps the audience guessing all along.”

Mitchell met with Dowling in Beverly Hills before the production started, and plans called for the shoot to be done during July. But filming actually took place during November in Dublin.

“It was cold, dark and wet, but that added to the brooding look and feel of the film,” she said.

What unfolds is a journey of discovery for Tora—finding her vulnerabilities but also her strengths.

“I was drawn to the emotional potential of Tora,” Mitchell said. “She’s a character I think many can empathize with. Often the characters you play as an actor teach you about life and help you expand your horizons. I think those are the kinds of characters we can relate to, because very few of us wake up and feel we can just take on any challenge. I love playing those types of characters.”

Mitchell joked that despite her surname, “I didn’t know much about Scottish mythology, history, or really the country itself. I didn’t know about these preserved bodies or Celtic culture. The movie gave me the opportunity to look into these ancient worlds. So I learned a lot even in the short time we were on location.”

Does she discover these continuing roles in suspense film projects, or do they find her?

“I guess you could say it’s Kismet in a way, kind of fate that these parts come to me,” she said. “I also love working with people I respect, like I did with Peter and the cast and crew of this film. It’s very much a process that we all share on set. And while I like the genre of suspense, I look for roles that reacquaint me with the craft of filmmaking, and that show respect for it. When I can find roles like those, I’m all in.”

“Sacrifice” had its premiere in New York, and is now available via Video on Demand(VOD). Mitchell is very much in demand as well. She’s readying for her next project to be filmed in southern California and around the Pacific Ocean she loves. More about that in a future interview! (Photos courtesy if IFC Films)

Lauren Ashley Carter: The ‘Darling’ of Indie Horror

24 Apr

When I first met actress Lauren Ashley Carter, it was in Park City during the 2013 Slamdance Film Festival. She was part of the cast of “Jug Face,” where her character, pregnant with her brother’s child, tries to escape from her backwoods community after learning that she is to be sacrificed to a creature that lives in a deep pit. Yeah, it was a creepy, spooky independent film—but extremely entertaining.

Lauren 1Since that time, she’s taken on the Indie Horror genre with aplomb, using her innocent-victim looks with Susan Sarandon-like eyes to cast her spell in a number of films, as well as in both New York City and regional theatre productions, and an episode of “Law and Order: SVU.” She’s the star of writer-director Mickey Keating’s recently released black-and-white thriller “Darling,” a film Entertainment Weekly had on its Top 10 “Must List” in its April 1/8 double issue.

But don’t be fooled. This Ohio native, who earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dramatic Performance at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, is a multi-talented performer who is far from just a typecast victim. She’s had classical training in both vocal and piano, and can do accents in five different languages. She has her own production company, and she’s collaborated with comedian and friend Lewis Black on a web series called “The Mentors.” Life and career are going along nicely for Lauren Ashley Carter.

“I grew up watching these types of movies,” she said in an interview from her New York City apartment. “I always wanted to be involved in movies like these. The stories work themselves into our brains, and sometimes we can’t sleep. They actually make you think a lot and, at times, laugh a lot. That’s how you deal with the suspense. And working with the casts I’ve been part of has been amazing.”

Lauren Ashley Carter 2One of those cast members is veteran actress Sean Young, who starred opposite Lauren in both “Jug Face” and “Darling,” where Lauren plays a young woman looking after a New York brownstone that has a haunting past—and present. Her performance is garnering rave reviews.

She was wrapping her newest film, “Imitation Girl,” at the time of our interview. Her character is actually two in this film—that of an alien being who falls to Earth’s shores and takes the human form of a semi-successful actress hoping to change careers and become a classical pianist.

“The actress makes adult films, but she wants to take her life in a different direction,” Lauren said. “She needs to make some money, and stays in the ‘movie’ business longer than she thought she would. The alien imitation finds herself taken in by Iranian immigrants in New Mexico, and her understanding of these strange human species begins to expand. So it becomes a great contrast and a challenge for both of them—the alien imitation inside the real girl.”

Eventually, the cosmic twins meet as the film concludes, each finding how they complete the portrait of a woman.

Once filming in both New Mexico and New York ended, Lauren began the ritual of all actors living in the city—heading to auditions, looking for parts, scripting new ideas for her production company and planning ahead. For her, the future includes a desire to do more writing for the stage or screenplays. Sometimes opportunities have come her way, and sometimes they haven’t. That’s a part of the business.

“Rejection was never an issue for me,” she said. “I’ve always understood its chemistry—how certain looks mesh with actors and directors, and things you can’t control. It’s also a matter of meeting people you trust and can work with at the same time. You can have talent and passion about this business, but it’s impossible to do everything on your own. You have to surround yourself with good people. My network is great, and we keep each other sane.”

Though her star continues to rise in the horror-film scene, Lauren has other aspirations as well.

“One reason we got into this business is that we can’t stay in one place too long,” she said with a  laugh. “I would like to play a villain sometimes instead of a victim. I would love to do more comedy, something where I could get a physical comedic role. I’d love to do that.”

But her focus is “to just always be working—in film, on stage, wherever.”

That seems very likely for Lauren Ashley Carter, who will be coming to a screen or stage near you very soon.

Matt Damon: Clean water for all is his mission

6 Mar

Every day, more than 663 million people worldwide face a similar challenge—finding access to clean drinking water. Millions die every year because of it, and one Hollywood superstar is working to solve that dilemma.

DSC_1861

“It’s totally unnecessary, something we know how to prevent and cure.” Those were the words from actor Matt Damon when he spoke to ON and BEYOND at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City. In 2009, Damon and businessman Gary White cofounded a nonprofit organization called Water.org. Its goal is simple—bring clean drinking water to countries such as Ethiopia, Haiti, India and Honduras.

“A lack of clean drinking water robs so many of their futures,” White said. “When Matt and I got involved, we learned very quickly the impact of clean versus unclean water, not only on the physical health of so many but also on their lifestyles. It’s a tragedy that effects the entire family.”

Damon said the water shortages “disproportionately affect women, who often spend hours each day searching for water for the families while their husbands are working.” That’s why Water.org has partnered with beer maker Stella Artois to create the “Buy a Lady a Drink” campaign. A limited-edition collection of decorated glass chalices, sporting the Stella logo and the campaign theme, is being sold for $13. Each purchase provides a woman in one of those countries with clean water for five years.

“We’ve been reading about the problems in Flint (Michigan), and we’re outraged and rightfully so,” Damon said. “But this is an everyday reality for millions of people who are faced every day with the choice of giving their children dirty water or no water at all. We can be the generation that ends this. Americans respond to things that work as this program has done, and we need to get the word out.”DSC_1920

The “Buy a Lady a Drink” campaign is new, but Water.org’s efforts are not. In the past year, it has provided clean water for over 290,000 people. White said the organization is working with other such groups to “find the innovations that can help solve the problem, and be entrepreneurial about it.” Thus, the partnership with Stella. Stella’s Todd Allen joined with Damon and White at the Sundance event.

“It’s expensive to be poor,” Damon said, “and these people have had to pay for water, sometimes up to 25 percent of their income just to have water to drink. In many cases, there are actually water lines that run under their homes that they can’t get connected with, and we’re helping solve that. We’re working to create a level of sustainability and then a line of improvement in their lifestyles.”

Damon discussed a trip he took with White to Ethiopia several years ago where he witnessed children filling bottles with water that looked like the color of chocolate milk.

He said the parents knew the dirty water would cause illness, but it was still better than giving their kids no water at all.

“We all have a social voice,” White added. “The chalice program is a great on-ramp, but not the only one. As Matt has said, this helps get the word out, helps get the conversation about the global water crisis started. The more people we tell our story to, the more people will look for new ideas on how to solve it.”

“My wife and I have four daughters, and we began asking ourselves, ‘What will be our mark on the world we leave for them?’” he said. “If we can be part of ending the global water crisis, that would be pretty damn cool.”

Learn more about this program at http://www.buyaladyadrink.com/.

 

 

Rod Serling–As she knew him

28 Oct

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 40 years since Rod Serling passed away. The intense TV writer/producer/director/star with the smoky voice and those haunting eyes that greeted viewers each week to his creation, The Twilight Zone, passed in June 1975. Though I was just a youth myself when the original show aired from 1959-1964, I vividly recall many episodes that continued to play in syndication for years to come. Like so many others, my perception of Mr. Serling was that he was dark, serious, intimidating, and very mysterious.

But then, I never knew him, until I read a book by someone who did—his daughter, Anne.

Anne Serling

Anne Serling

Her brilliant memoir of her father, “As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling,” pays a great and deserved tribute to one of Hollywood’s most amazing talents. Serling was a man who fought for his craft, for human rights, for freedom of speech, and who never was fully appreciated. Anne was only 20 at the time of her father’s death (at age 50), but decades later, she finally took to putting down on paper what was written in her heart—a true portrait of her father.

“I’d actually started writing another book, because like my dad, I find writing very cathartic,” she said, speaking to ON and BEYOND from her home in NewYork. “I couldn’t finish it, because I was stuck in the grief process. So I worked on this book for seven years. I wanted to set the record straight about who my dad was.”

Anne said that because her father was so connected to The Twilight Zone, “people thought he was a scary and dark person. That couldn’t be further from the truth. He was very warm, very friendly, and lots of people adored him. My dad could make you feel comfortable within minutes.”
As I Knew Him FINAL COVER

Her book tells about Rod Serling’s life from the beginning, his U.S. Army service in the Philippines, meeting his future wife (and Anne’s mother) Carol at Antioch College, the birth of their two daughters, their move to Pacific Palisades in California, and his years as creator and gatekeeper for The Twilight Zone. He wrote or co-wrote 148 of the show’s 156 episodes, an enormous task over just a six-year period. As Anne wrote his story, she came to discover through notes and letters he’d written the tremendous battles he fought and challenges he faced. Through it all, Rod Serling never lost sight of who he was, what he believed, or what he strived to achieve both on camera, and off.

“I found letters he’d written to his parents while at basic training,” she said. “I may have read them years before, but as I began this book, they had a lot more meaning. Learning what these young men went through before being sent off to war—even then, my father was writing constantly. His plan when he got out of the Army was to major in Phy. Ed. But the war left him so traumatized that he changed his major to ‘Language.’”

Anne recalls visiting the MGM sound stage where The Twilight Zone was filmed. She says the first episode she remembers watching on TV with her dad starred a then-unknown actor named William Shatner in the classic Zone episode where he sees a little green man on the wing of an airliner, and eventually breaks down. Shatner was just one of dozens of actors and actresses who got their first breaks by starring for Rod Serling on The Twilight Zone.

“My father launched The Twilight Zone in part because he was tired of censors and bluelines,” she recalled. “The sponsors were always nervous, but I think Dad realized that an alien could say things that a Democrat or Republican could not. Writing the memoir showed me how hard my dad tried to write meaningful scripts that would not be torn apart to the point that his writing was unrecognizable and the meaning completely lost.”

It wasn’t lost on critics. Serling won two Emmys, a Golden Globe and three Hugo Awards for the program. And the family tradition of winning continued this year when Anne won the Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award for Best Memoir for “As I Knew Him.”

“People have been so kind to me about the book, and about my father,” she said. “Many have said the book touched them and helped them. My mother was very pleased and happy with it, and we’ve been all over the country to speak to groups about my father’s work and achievements. I’ve felt very blessed with the reception and reviews I’ve received.”

But to get there meant having to relive those final days with her dad, when he was in a New York hospital fighting for his life after suffering a heart attack, and then another after surgery. Anne recalls that afternoon when her father’s medical team of two doctors and a nurse meet with the family in the waiting room, one doctor finally saying, “We are so sorry. He’s gone.”

“Gone? Gone where?” she writes. “That’s the thing about euphemisms. They never really speak the truth. They leave all sorts of questions and dangling expectations. ‘Gone’ would imply he’ll return, or he’s just momentarily slipped away. Gone would not necessarily mean’ never coming back’.”

“As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling” is moving and beautifully written. Anne said writing it and recalling all the moments with her father helped her as a mother.

“My father had a quick and furious temper. He could storm out of a room, furious, only to return moments later asking, ‘Have you seen my twin brother anywhere?’” she said. “I loved him so very dearly.”

I’ve had the pleasure of Anne’s friendship for some time, and when she was notified about the Nashville award, she said, “I only wish Dad could be here to see it and be part of it.” As I along with so many others have told her, he has been…continuing to inspire Anne and her family who’ve shared Rod Serling. As they knew him.

–Tom Haraldsen

Rachael Yamagata: Touring and connecting again

19 Oct

Ten years ago, singer/songwriter Rachael Yamagata released her first album as a solo artist, “Happenstance.” What followed has been an ever-growing fan base, a blossoming career, and new musical accomplishments for the native of Arlington, Va. Now, she’s launched a 10th anniversary tour celebrating “Happenstance,” and it’s a two-tier experience.

She’s in the middle of a seven-week traverse across the country, visiting some of the venues where her solo career took flight. And she’s using the tour to promote Pledge Music, a forum for independent artists and their new projects. In her case, it means fan support for a new album she’s in the midst of putting together.
Rachael Yamagata
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years,” she said during a telephone interview for On and Beyond from her home on the East Coast. “Time really does exist on another planet for me—my reality is sort of a different rhythm. I wasn’t even aware of it until someone said, ‘Are you going to do a 10-year anniversary of your record? It hit me out of the blue.”

To celebrate, Yamagata and her band have two different types of musical sets planned. At some concert locations, she’ll literally perform every song off that first album.

“The first record is such a milestone, based off so many years of life and experiences and emotions. It’s sort of a memory lane for me, because I’ve never played that particular record all the way through,” she said. “It’s a fun tribute, and kind of a unique experience, doing the record front to back with a new band.”

At other sites, she’ll mix both the old favorites with new songs from an album she’s working on now.

“So it’s been ambitious—almost like preparing for two different tours,” she said. “I want to make the shows as different as possible. It’s fun, but also terrifying.”

She became the vocalist for the Chicago-based group Bumpus in the late ‘90s, touring and writing for them for six years. In 2002, she got a two-record deal with Arista’s Private Music, released a self-titled EP and then “Happenstance.” Two years later, she toured with Mandy Moore and contributed to Moore’s “Wild Hope” album.

Rachael’s music has been featured on many TV shows as well, starting when she performed her song “Elephants” on daytime drama “One Life to Live” in 2009. Her songs have also been heard on “The L Word,” “Charmed,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “ER,” “Alias,” “Brothers & Sisters” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” among others.
Rachael again

Like most artists, however, what she loves most is playing in front of audiences, and having direct contact with fans.
“It’s great to be with fans who are invested and engaged,” she said.

She’s very passionate about Pledge Music (you can read more on her website at rachaelyamagata.com).

“This is a platform for independent artists to have direct contact with their fans,” she said. “It’s a mutual exchange of the artists wanting to make a recording and tour, and fans who want to invest in that, fans you believe in you.”

The way it works is fans buy into an artist’s project up front, then get a behind-the-scenes vision of the process of making music and preparing for a tour. It’s similar to Kickstarter, but much more artist-focused.

“They get footage of things they normally wouldn’t have a chance to see, as well as VIP passes, special signed items, etc.,” she said. This is the second campaign of her, and with more than 100 days remaining, she’s already achieved nearly 90 percent of her pledge goal.

“It gives me a good read on who’s listening and who’s interested in what I’m doing. It’s fun, nice, and empowering to give the fans a chance to be invested in the artists.” She’s also offering 5 percent of the money pledged to Music Heals, a charity dedicated to healing through music.

–Tom Haraldsen