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Comments on "The ABC of ROFFEKE" Screenings (September 2015 at iHub)

I liked all the films especially the one for Superman [“This is Joe”] and the last one which was longer [“ Frontman ”]. I look forward to at...

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Monday, January 9, 2023

Interview: Daniel Lir and Bayou Bennett - directors of "Time is Eternal"

ROFFEKE: “Time is eternal” is a visually stunning work of art. The story behind the glory is usually inspiring so please share some of the challenges you faced as you were bringing this powerful film to life and also some lessons you learned?  

Daniel Lir and Bayou Bennett

DANIEL AND BAYOU: The performance genius of the film, actually, is that Berite Labelle plays five unique characters in "Time is Eternal". 

This challenge put our filmmaking to the highest test to show dialogue scenes where Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt seamlessly talks to women's rights activist and educator, Mary Wollstonecraft as well as elaborate dance scenes with Berite playing all roles. Bayou studied movies like Flashdance to see how to expertly work with body doubles and we perfected it in the film.  It took a great amount of technical skill, knowledge of lighting and correct composition and previsualization to make this flow together perfectly.   This taught us that exceptional filmmaking is about study, study, study, testing and an A list team

The second big challenge was in finding a location so stunning as to represent the world of the film.  It had to embody the worlds of both of these deep and fascinating historical characters.  The universe of the production really came together when we found the location of the Paramour which is a work of art. The owner traveled all over Europe and the world collecting high art paintings, furniture, design and art objects- it was naturally the perfect location for the home of the writer's character and the world of the film.  It was shocking for us as creators that some of the props that were in the script were naturally existing  at the Paramour-it was pure magic. 

For Daniel Lir having worked with fashion icons, Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Bella Hadid, Patricia Field who does the clothing for the Netflix hit series, "Emily in Paris", it was a huge challenge to interpret Cleopatra in a novel way.  The film "Cleopatra" starring Elizabeth Taylor was such a work of art in the 1960's, how could we give her an imaginative modern twist and not be slaves to what came before?  It took the inspiration of Middle Eastern designer Zuhair Murad and a huge amount of visual research to re-imagine Cleopatra and interpret Mary in a highly memorable way.  With the genius of our stylist Wilford Lenov, we decided conceptually to represent both characters in gold. Cleopatra in a bold, shiny luxurious gold and Mary Wollstonecraft in a soft, delicate white gold with a custom gown co-created by designer Michelle Hébert.   We learned from all this again that study, study, study was key and working with the best and most talented artists allows you to reach the highest creative heights. 

Lastly, it was a big challenge as Directors to make every frame look like a painting which was our ultimate goal.  All with the purpose of alleviating the suffering of people from the pandemic through beauty. With the help of Michael Rizzi, our cinematographer, our art department team and the wardrobe styling of Wilford Lenov (Bebe Rexha, Saweetie), the visuals were awe-inspiring. 

 ROFFEKE:  “Text me” was your first film as a duo. If you had the experience and resources you had for “Time is eternal” what would you change about “Text me”? What would you not change?

DANIEL AND BAYOU: This is one of the very best questions we have ever been presented with.  Bayou feels she would have liked to film the characters in their own lives before they meet each other on their blind date so that we can better understand their journey and the pre-conceptions they had of each other before they met. 

We both would have liked to have a location that was a stable one for us to shoot in.  We loved the restaurant visually so much but there was something sketchy about the owner and we didn't really have money for a location fee along the lines of what is normally paid for location fees.  So during the production, the owner became really difficult to work with and put a lot of stress on the production which made creativity strained. The mafia theme of the film became real!!

"Text Me" is a film we still celebrate to this day and a film that has truly captured the texting and social media generation.  We are very grateful for having been the first ones to show texting on screen in a film and the minimalism of the film is perhaps what makes it so brilliant so in the final analysis, we love the film as-is. 

ROFFEKE: Bayou Bennett, in your Donut Princess interview “How to build your brand with your significant partner”, you said you were a teacher in Jordan, Amman. What did teaching teach you? What skills did teaching give you? What lessons did you learn?

BAYOU BENNETT: It taught me that all people have different needs, points of view and cultures and you have to really understand these aspects to do the best job as a teacher.  I arrived as a young WOMAN in a culture often dominated by men, there was inherent prejudice.  I learned to be the best I could be despite obstacles and deliver the best and most caring education I could and viewpoints shifted and changed.  I was accepted and loved and seen for who I am.  That is the magic of education in that you break down barriers and open minds to new ways, new methods of living and a bright new future. 

ROFFEKE: You are a couple, parents and co-workers. In the same Donut Princess interview, Bayou, you said that you navigate this situation by wearing different hats (mother, wife, co-worker) at different times. How else do both of you maintain your work-life balance? How do you take care of your mental health?

DANIEL AND BAYOU: Yes, this is so very important.  We do many things to achieve sanity and balance in this wild, rushing and demanding world.  We eat very healthy, nutritious food, we surround ourselves with a very inspiring, able and positive team and don't associate with negative "it can't be done people", we exercise frequently with Daniel doing martial arts and also follow the wonderful Way to Happiness which helps us to make the right choices in all areas of life. 

https://www.thewaytohappiness. org

ROFFEKE: Your thoughts on artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, the metaverse and the future of filmmaking?

DANIEL AND BAYOU: This is an area we are just entering and are fascinated by it. William Gibson's novel "Neuromancer" changed Daniel's life and he also worked for legendary director Ridley Scott who directed "Alien" and "Blade Runner" after graduating from NYU Film School.  Ridley has been a giant influence on Daniel as a Director and successful business person.  I think in the next couple of years you will see a science fiction project from us but as with every project by the Dream Team Directors it will be thought-provoking, inspiring and open your eyes in new directions.  Thank you so very much for this interview and for featuring our film "Time is Eternal" in your amazing film festival. 

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Interview: Jeff Gross - Writer, Director, Producer of "Return to Eden"

Like in the case of Jonathan La Poma (who at that time - 2015 - had won 67 awards and honors for his projects), I felt that, though I could not select "Return to Eden" - a feature film by Jeff Gross, I still wanted to interview him. He was gracious enough to agree to the interview and I am thankful for the insight and words of wisdom he shared.

ROFFEKE: You are the writer, director and producer of "Return to Eden". In your interview, you say: "In retrospect, I wouldn't say that wearing that many hats is good for your health." How do you take care of your mental health? 

JEFF GROSS: Not that well, it would seem. The making of a film, as I see it, demands a constant state of pushing the limits, of plunging into the abyss and coming up again, time after time. In my estimation, this process is unavoidable, the commitment that is the difference between something that touches people and something that is mediocre, but it is certainly not a recipe for health. To a certain extent, as an artist, the quantity of self-doubt, and the depth of questioning is what pushes you to come up with something more powerful, more pure, more electric. This is a state of severe imbalance and energy depletion which one must be very vigilant about. I have studied Oriental Medicine, which is one of the themes in "Return to Eden" so I have some understanding of how to regain that balance, but have also been fortunate enough to have very talented acupuncturists to help me when I can't help myself. 

ROFFEKE: In the same interview, you say: "I am completely uninterested in film as a product. I am of the school that artists must be the conscience of a society, the prophets with transformation and evolution of consciousness the goal." A ROFFEKE interviewee recently expressed similar sentiments, about the importance of art (and the artist) but he also pointed out the huge cost that goes with that, usually at the expense of the well-being of artists. How can we artists reconcile these two realities, especially in a world that is increasingly becoming fractured and thus (not surprisingly) is increasingly downplaying and even deriding the value of art and artists? 

JEFF GROSS: It's an interesting question. I'm not entirely sure it's possible to reconcile the two. The cost to the artist is unavoidable, being an artist is only rarely, or belatedly, a harmonious existence.  And yes, the artist and art have lost status, have been cheapened. A lowest common denominator culture spreading mediocrity as fast as it can, the cynicism of a Warhol, the stultifying narcissistic mediocrity of a Spielberg, etc... But for consciousness to change we don't need to touch everyone at once. We need to put our visions out there, and hope that we have done our jobs well enough so that we touch what people know deep-down but have never managed to bring to the surface. Clearly we are in a an era of darkness, of madness, but if "Return to Eden" is about anything, it is this is the darkness before the light, the return to a more Edenic consciousness, as prophesied. Does this mean that the status of the artist will be more highly-valued? Not likely. The role of artist and prophet is pretty much thankless, in that sense. Which is why I recommend that you not embark on this path unless you really have to. Unless you absolutely have the calling, the sense of mission. If you're looking at the role of artist as a good lifestyle choice, a path to riches, fame and glee, good luck...

ROFFEKE: You also say in the interview: "…many filmmakers have been neutered by public money, and the mafia that distributes this money, with frequently, terrible taste. It turns artists into high class beggars, waiting for a handout. A lack of dignity, a lack of pride, and a level of indolence and aversion to risk, which makes for unfortunate, predictable results." In your opinion, would technology - such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, the metaverse etc - make filmmaking more democratic or would it reinforce the already existing faulty systems? What are your general views regarding the above-mentioned technology and the future of filmmaking? 

JEFF GROSS: My words about film making and public money refer to the situation in many countries in Europe. And yet there are people in Europe who pop up from time to time with vision, philosophy and talent. The bureaucratic spirit is the enemy of inspiration, read Nietzsche, read Max Weber, so the further film gets from the charismatic spark, the worse will be the films. As I watched the US fall into chaos during the Trump years, I wondered how it was possible that nobody was making films about that. That no artist was there to stick his neck out and denounce the status quo. And not just the political figurehead, but the entirety of the madness. Which is how I decided I had to make "Return to Eden." As for your question about AI, virtual reality and metaverses, I find the whole thing quite sterile and uninspiring. A cultural direction designed to keep distracted people titillated. Trickery and novelty, instantly forgettable, as opposed to a psychological voyage, an emotional journey deep inside. I have witnessed the impact of film, have seen minds opened, lives transformed, people transported to ecstasy. That's the cinema I'm interested in, unabashedly. I'm not saying it's impossible to have that with AI and the gang, but I've never actually seen it myself.

ROFFEKE: You are a novelist (World of Midgets and The Book of the Earth) and a screenwriter (writing collaborations with Roman Polanski, including "Frantic" and "Bitter Moon"). There are differences between writing novels and writing screenplays but what would you say are the similarities between the two? 

JEFF GROSS: There are indeed differences. A screenplay is 20,000 words, a novel is 50K or 150K words. A screenplay is shorthand, a novel fills in all the colors. A screenplay is two months, three months. A novel is a journey you embark on with not knowledge of how or if you will ever arrive, a mountain so high that you think it is impossible to ever climb. And then, one day, you arrive at the top, and you don't know how. As for the similarities, as far as I'm concerned, the most profound thing we can achieve in art, is rekindling a state of ecstasy in the reader/viewer. This is a matter of rhythm, of pace, a constant awareness of how an avalanche of words or images will transport the heart, reach the deepest part of the soul, elevate the miracle of existence, the astonishing magnificence of human beings, despite darkness, despite madness.

ROFFEKE: Please share some words of advice to up and coming filmmakers, and to creatives in general, especially regarding our role in shining a light - no matter how small - during these dark, turbulent and fractured times? 

JEFF GROSS: When Moses went to Egypt to free the Hebrews, he brought plagues upon the Egyptian to prove that Jehovah was a more powerful god than Pharoah's gods. To prove to Pharaoh as well as the Hebrews. When they were freed, he parted the Red Sea, so that Pharaoh's army was drowned. And then he wandered for 40 years in the desert. The most advanced man of his era unable to find which way was north? Forty years, two generations, time enough for a generation to be born from the loins of slaves, and then create a second generation who had never known slavery. A generation ready for the mission of imposing a new civilization. This is where we are now, ready to exit the desert, ready to create the next civilization. The return to Eden, the opening of the heart, call it what you will. For this, we need wisdom, deep insight, artists and revolutionaries, missionaries and prophets, catalysts. "Return to Eden," is pretty much all about this question, among other things, about how consciousness works, and the vital importance of shining that light "No matter how small" as you say, Mildred. You will face endless resistance and opposition, you will have to pick yourself off the ground any number of times, you will want to give up, try something else. My advice to artists? You will need relentless optimism, perfectionism without concession, energy, endurance, pride, humility and heart. Or at least, that is my method. Up to you to find your own.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Interview: Jesse Dorian - Screenwriter of "Sven"

ROFFEKE: In your writer statement, you say: “If the first two acts of this story feel tedious at times, and make the reader/audience deeply uncomfortable during others – Good.” Yes, there are definitely some cringe moments in the screenplay, which make the ending like a breath of fresh air after the harrowing claustrophobic atmosphere. Did you set out to make the reader uncomfortable or did that aspect just naturally appear as you were writing? Did the darker elements appear during the manic episode you mentioned or did you add them in later?

JESSE DORIAN: Okay, this is a great question. I’m pretty sure that that part of my writer statement is just my way of irritably responding to some of the negative feedback I had received from a few festivals for “SVEN,” regarding its first two acts. And as far as setting out to make the reader uncomfortable — no, actually. I don’t set out to make the reader uncomfortable, intentionally. All I’m setting out to do really, is tell a story, regardless of if the reader/audience becomes uncomfortable or not. 

I find that both readers and viewers will be able to sense if a writer has that sort of an agenda. I find that what makes a lot of “cringe” moments or elements in a story, is when those particular moments are either noticeably disingenuous… or, those particular moments are noticeably relatable to the audience. 

The other part of this question that I find great — also because you’re the first to ever ask it — “Did the darker elements appear during the manic episode… or did you add them in later?” And I think you sorta hit the nail on the head with what that question is suggesting, and the answer is — Yes. 100%. Because I wasn’t necessarily on the right path toward recovery from the manic state I was in at the time, when I started the very first draft of “SVEN” back in 2012. And I believe that — for me, being in that state of mind, is absolutely what pressed this story forward into the uncomfortably dark places that the central character must persevere through.

Being in a manic state at the time, made me draw the conclusion that maybe — it’s okay to take the audience, psychologically, to some new places that no other story or film prior has ever taken them… it’s okay to trigger the audience; challenge them. As long as I’m not disrespecting the intelligence of the audience, or underestimating their intellect, then it’s okay to inadvertently toy with them. 

For quite a while now, my philosophy as a screenwriter is: no matter how smart I may think I am, the audience is always smarter.

ROFFEKE: In your bio, you mention a gothpop music project. Share a little more about that?

JESSE DORIAN: That would be my solo music project Imitate Invertebrate. It’s been a work-in-progress for about 6 years now. What’s thoroughly frustrating, is that I’ve done so much — and worked so hard — on this music project but have publicly released so little. 

Hopefully, that’ll change soon because I plan to return to Imitate Invertebrate in early 2023, to begin completion on all, if not most of the 22+ songs that I’ve started writing and recording over the past several years. Fans of the genre will notice within no time that I’m a huge fan of industrial metal and industrial rock/pop from the 1980s and 1990s. 

Imitate Invertebrate is inspired; its a contemporary throwback project but it’s definitely its own thing. Probably because working on music is therapeutic for me in a way that film is not, Imitate Invertebrate is the only project I have that really makes any sense to me.

ROFFEKE: The “locked in a room” trope is common in thrillers and horrors but you give it a new spin, largely due to the unique characters. What inspired you to come up with these two main characters? How much time did you spend on character development or did the characters appear “fully formed”?

JESSE DORIAN: The “locked in a room” trope is a concept mostly reserved for filmmakers with no money, and few resources. It’s a great trope though, that can really test the strengths and range of a writer/filmmaker’s creativity, without necessarily exposing their limitations. 

I recently did an extensive in-depth interview with Festigious Los Angeles about the origins of “SVEN” as an original concept. The two main characters originated from a no-budget unscripted internet series that I had created back in 2008 (which was also the very first time I applied the “locked in a room” setting).

ROFFEKE: A ROFFEKE interviewee said: “I think it’s important to address the fact that a lot of artists, struggling or not, are not mentally healthy and have problems that they are actively dealing with though their chosen medium…what happens when you sacrifice yourself for something and it works? What about the moment after? What about when it doesn’t work? What are we really doing to ourselves? Why are we doing this to ourselves?” Please comment on part or all of this, answer one or all the questions asked, give your take on the views expressed, etc. 

JESSE DORIAN: Well, I see exactly what they’re tapping into with those questions, and they’re certainly not wrong. So, okay. I’m probably going to go on a rant — and hopefully, somewhere along the tirade, at least several of these questions are reasonably answered. 

As everyone already knows, a lot of artists are not mentally healthy. The outright neglect of my mental health has cost me a lot of my friendships throughout the years, while I was doing my best to remain hyper-focused on the completion of certain projects. 

When I first started writing the first draft of the feature script for “SVEN” in December 2012, I was a huge substance abuser at that time; arguably, at my absolute worst. I don’t think I had ever openly admitted that I sorta believed that I needed to be intoxicated to write, but also — I hadn’t yet been diagnosed ADD/ADHD. 

It wasn’t until around the time I turned 30 and I was finally diagnosed, that I realized that the number one cause of my depression during adulthood was due to my inability to focus; my inability to complete the same ambitious projects that I could so easily begin. 

Focus wasn’t necessarily always a problem for me when I was a teenager but as I became an adult, my attention span began to work against me, and before I knew it — even the things that I loved to do such as write, and work on music — I no longer had the attention span to really carry those projects out to completion. It was really hard for me to get anything done. And since I had always used alcohol as a way to coexist socially, that was really all I felt that I had at the time to give me enough drive to express myself creatively. 

For some reason, I had become convinced that achieving something that mattered, was simply grounded in how motivated someone either was, or was not. It had never occurred to me back then, why I was really purchasing prescription stimulants from acquaintances of mine who had prescriptions, throughout my early twenties. And not until many years after my manic episode, would I come to discover that I, in fact, DID need to be on prescription stimulants — daily; in order to be a fully-functioning part of society.

Once I was prescribed, all urges to abuse alcohol and other habit-forming drugs went away entirely. That was over 6 years ago.

However, I’ve also come to learn that artists or writers or whatever — let’s just say "creative people,” do not necessarily have to sacrifice their mental health, or even their sobriety to be just as good creatively as if they were using substance as a creative force, by abusing it — maybe those creative people who believe they need to be in a place of poor mental wellness just haven’t quite hit rock bottom yet… 

But I’m not going to lie — having the prior life experience that a substance abuser has had, or having the life experience of a person that is not quite “mentally healthy,” is in and of itself, life experience — that surely doesn’t hurt to already have. It certainly helps to have it. Especially, if they are in fact, a creative force. And yeah, in the end… sometimes, it’s perfectly okay to just feel something organically. 

And sorta touching back onto your earlier questions, regarding dark themes and the influence that a manic episode could have on the tone or atmosphere of a finished project… the most recent completed screenplay of mine, is called “Morituriosis.” 

I completed the first draft of “Morituriosis” in 2016 but it was the first screenplay that I had ever written entirely while sober. Personally, I think it’s the darkest thing I’ve ever written. “Morituriosis” takes you straight to Hell; it’s my most genuine attempt at assaulting the senses of the entire audience, inspired by a real life experience I had, while I was at my most vulnerable. With “Morituriosis,” I’m making the audience go somewhere that they really don’t want to go, for nearly the film’s entire runtime. I see “Morituriosis” as my nihilistic show stopper. And it should come as no surprise that — mentally, I was in a reasonably good place when I wrote it. I wrote it at a time right after a pivotal moment in my life; a moment when I made a personal breakthrough. It was at a time when I was finally able to make some kind of peace with myself as a person. 

The reason I bring up my screenplay “Morituriosis,” is because I was able to use the memories of all of my horrible life experiences with substance abuse, all leading up to one major horrible life experience I had, that would become the sole inspiration for the main theme in “Morituriosis” — without actually having to neglect my mental health. And it’s because my mental health was finally in a good place, and I was properly medicated for ADD — I was focused, and therefore able to coherently tell the dark story I was wanting to tell. But I wasn’t intoxicated when I wrote it. Because I didn’t need to be.

ROFFEKE: Screenwriting: What has your screenwriting journey been like? What came first: the screenwriting or the acting/editing/directing? How do your skills as an actor, editor and director influence and enrich your screenwriting? 

JESSE DORIAN: The screenwriting came first. I completed my first screenplay over 20 years ago. I was 15  years-old. Because screenwriting was what I had consistently worked at, even though it wasn’t what I was most passionate about — that has always been acting — screenwriting is gradually what I became the most skilled at. 

Unfortunately, I went most of my life being too afraid to take acting as seriously as I had always wanted to. Plus, I’ve also always been aware of how easy it is to fail as an actor who can’t write. It’s sorta like failing as a singer that can’t write — it’s too easy. 

I actually starred-in a feature film that I also wrote and directed back in 2011 that was never technically released. Currently, there is a two-hour rough cut of the film though. Long story short, that’s when I realized exactly how much I truly loved acting, and much preferred it to screenwriting and directing. Sadly though, I haven’t attempted to professionally act in anything else since.  But that’s all about to change. 

The return to acting is going to become my top priority within 2023-2024.

Synopsis of "Sven"
"A 6-foot tall humanoid-primate from the Amazon rainforest, called a "chilamasman," the last of its species - an an intense, deeply troubled, mentally unstable American adult male are both held captive by a U.S. government-funded program performing a psychological experiment, forcing the two of them to live together inside a single, maximum security containment habitat - and replica - of a modern day condominium apartment."

Check out Jesse Dorian's Linktree HERE

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Interview: Joey Kent - Screenwriter of "Simon Says"

ROFFEKE: You are the vice-president/curator of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame Museum and the owner of the Louisiana Hayride Archives. Your screenplay "Simon Says" features lyrics from 25 Paul Simon songs. Why Paul Simon's lyrics and not, say, Elvis' lyrics?

JOEY KENT: My father was the producer of the Louisiana Hayride for many years, the place where Elvis and others got their start, and I chronicled that rich history in a book called “Cradle of the Stars: KWKH & the Louisiana Hayride” just a few years ago, so this script was a welcome departure from all things of that world.  The idea came to me while listening to “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” one day as my mind began to wonder what exactly had been witnessed that day.  Similarly, I started my first novel of historical fiction not long ago entitled “Last Train To Clarkesville” after hearing the Monkees song of the same name and wondering what the “one more night together” Mickey sings about might be like.

ROFFEKE: Paul Simon has written many songs. How did you narrow it down to 25? What was your criteria for picking the songs? 

JOEY KENT: Once I committed to the idea of exploring what “me and Julio” were doing down by the schoolyard, I began to hear other Paul Simon lyrics in my head and started weaving together the story of retired boxer Al Simon.  I then read over many of Paul’s lyrics and sourced the parts I needed to tell the tale.

ROFFEKE: I am no lawyer but one of the common things screenwriters are advised to do is to avoid writing brand names and songs/song lyrics in their screenplays. How does your screenplay avoid any potential legal/production nightmares regarding the song lyrics?

JOEY KENT: I am a writer, so I write first and ask questions later!

ROFFEKE: *laughs*

JOEY KENT: Well, my complete answer is that I write what's in my heart and then work out the details if and when we get to production (or let the lawyers do it!).  I actually reached out to Paul Simon's camp but didn't get through the gauntlet.  Did, however, shoot the film several years ago, at least the interview part, but felt I needed to do B-roll inserts of Rosie, the school, and other elements, and missed the deadline for the Film Prize contest I had my eye on, so I shelved it.  Al Simon was played by the brilliant Shreveport actor Richard Folmer, and my wife (now ex) played Betty Robinson.  Maybe in a few months I'll shoot the B-roll and edit it and release it.  Richard died a few months back, and this would be a fitting tribute.

ROFFEKE: You've been active in the film and TV industry since 1992 but it was in 2010 that you began writing movie scripts. What would you say were your early mistakes and what screenwriting lessons have you learned since then?

JOEY KENT: My earliest mistakes revolved around thinking I understood the format of screenwriting.  I remember realizing on page 130 of my first script effort that I was only about a third of the way through the story and, in those days before short series on streaming networks, I was mortified that I was writing an epic and that forced me to study the genre.  A friend pointed out that my script contained a lot of description and a fair amount of camera directions and he gently explained that a screenplay didn’t have a lot of either.  As an example, he pointed out the infamous scene in “Gone With The Wind” in which Rhett and Scarlet are fleeing Atlanta as the Union Army is burning it to the ground.  This action amounts to more than eight minutes on screen but in the script, it simply says “Atlanta burns.”  That simple two word sentence became the cornerstone for my understanding of the art of screenwriting.  I realized in that moment that screenplays had to be part story and part owner’s manual, with just enough description to engage the reader but not so much that it might step on the toes of potential directors or other production professionals trying to envision their own work in the project.  Where I might be tempted to take a paragraph to describe an ancient couch for a book reader, in the script it became simply “a well-worn couch that has seen better days”.  Gone, too, were words like “we pan up and see the horror in his eyes”.  That is the job of the director and cinematographer.  Replaced instead with “his eyes darted around in terror”.  To that end, I endorse a short book written by a protegé of mine entitled "Atlanta Burns" by Ima Judge.  He took the title from my talk on the subject and offers up many great tips for screenwriting.  It is available from Amazon by searching the title, and I can't recommend it enough.

ROFFEKE: You have been awarded 45 "Best Screenplay" awards. What is your secret???!!!

JOEY KENT: Once I began to master the art of brevity, the main thing I focused on was achieving the best possible start to the screenplay.  They say you have about ten minutes on screen or about ten pages of a feature script (less for a short) to engage the audience’s interest, so I start there.  I focus on hooking the reader in the first 10-15 pages and I don’t proceed from that point until I am completely satisfied.  If you hook the reader, then you will hook the viewing audience, and they will stick around to see how it ends as long as you tell a good story and don’t go on for some ridiculous page count (or unless you are writing with an installment series in mind).  I take my time but if I get in the zone, I have been known to write a feature screenplay in as little as 9 days, but I seem to comfortably average around 3 weeks for the process.  Part of winning so many awards is knowing where to place your project on the festival circuit.  For instance, a faith-based festival isn’t likely to award your bloody horror script, so do your homework.  I began entering scripts into festivals with only one goal in mind:  to show my ideas have merit beyond my own say so.  It is one thing to try and convince potential investors or producers or actors or directors that your work has merit.  It is quite another to offer that many people with no vested interest in my financial future share my opinion.  So, make sure you get your project off to a good start with an opening that hooks your reader.  Most of the time, any professional that agrees to read your script is not going to continue past page 10 without being captivated, and the same is true of your friends and colleagues.  Most will indulge you for ten pages, at least the first time or two!  Hook them, then tell your story without wasting precious words on description and camera moves, and keep your desired page count in mind.  Finally, I like brief titles, if at all possible – again, trying to capture the attention of someone seeing only the poster and trying to decide if they want to see the movie.  I research titles on IMDb to see if one I like has been used before and, if so, then I try to think of one that hasn’t.  If you can avoid confusion from the start and set your script apart with a unique title, all the better.

ROFFEKE: In 2012, you produced a civil rights documentary called "Beyond Galilee". You say in a 2012 KSLA 12 News interview: "We were afraid that this might ignite old feelings and create problems rather than solve problems." Ten years later, what reason would you give people to watch Beyond Galilee?

JOEY KENT: “Beyond Galilee” tells the story of the civil rights struggle in the city of Shreveport, Louisiana.  I was born in that city and recognized there were many rumors and stories about Martin Luther King Jr.’s visits to the city and the resulting empowerment it gave people who heard him speak.  I am an historian of the city and in the late 1990s was brought a tape of King speaking at the Galilee Baptist Church in 1958.  I owned a recording studio at the time and was charged with transferring this historic tape to digital format.  It turned out to be King’s earliest full length recorded speech.  It predates his famous “I Have A Dream” speech by five years, and you can hear the elements of that speech in his Galilee address.  We took that recording and made it the bed for the documentary, listening to King call the congregation to arms, then cutting away to interviews of some of those participants as they recalled how history unfolded, point by point.  Unlike his more famous speech, in the Galilee speech you can hear the audience getting excited, exclaiming “Watch him now!” as King gets fired up.  Being able to share not only that inspiring speech but watch and hear the results is truly inspiring.  Anyone facing prejudice of any kind, especially racial prejudice, will find solace in the struggle portrayed in “Beyond Galilee”.  At the 2012 premier in Shreveport, we instantly saw the beginning of the healing process as people were finally able to separate fact from legend and realize the implications of what the local heroes had gone on to accomplish.  On the festival circuit, “Beyond Galilee” has won 36 awards from 18 countries including 12 Best Documentary awards.  Unlikely wins from places like Russia perhaps offer the best testament to the universality of the subject matter, its relevance, and a clear cut reason why it should be viewed ten years after its creation.  Director T.D. Antoine grew up in Shreveport not far from Galilee during those trying times, and he did a masterful job of putting together the documentary in linear fashion (cutting from interview to interview without benefit of a narrator) which is no easy task.  T.D. and I look forward to sharing other content with the world as 2023 unfolds.

ROFFEKE: You are an archivist and a historian. What are your thoughts on artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, the metaverse and the future of filmmaking?

JOEY KENT: I have embraced areas of technology to help tell documentary stories by using Photoshop tools to bring life to static images.  In that way, they help illustrate the story when supplemental images are few and far between.  I am concerned about advancing technology being used to create “new” roles for deceased stars like Elvis or Marilyn Monroe.  This may be viewed the same way people look at colorizing old black and white photos.  When used as a spice, sprinkled here and there, these tricks can help enhance a project, but if you are casting an artificial image of Marilyn Monroe in a feature, then you are once more overlooking the thousands and thousands of great actors out there looking for work.  As an independent filmmaker, I recognize the value a quality actor can bring to a project, and also the Hollywood tendency to group and label stars, casting them again and again in similar roles rather than take a chance on a former great or a newcomer.  The only rule I have in casting independent films is don’t pair an “A or B list” actor with some “F list” guy who does local theater on the side because people will end up focusing on the vast differences in their acting styles and your movie will have that “cheap” look about it.  Cast people with similar levels of acting abilities, light your sets competently and capture good sound.  Nail those things down and the hard part will be over, at least until you get to editing!  I may very well end up doing some sort of hologram show of Elvis or Johnny Cash at our forthcoming Rockabilly Hall of Fame Museum, taking advantage of those emerging technologies to supplement the original recordings that I own, similar to the way the King speech was supplemented by the stories of his congregation.  In that way, I appreciate the future contributions of technology but, as someone born in the era of celluloid and raised with Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, and a host of other variety shows, I am a purist for film movies shown in a big theater every time.  Thank you so much for the great questions and for making “Simon Says” a selection for competition at the Rock ‘N’ Roll Film Festival Kenya.

"Simon Says" Synopsis: "Lyrics from twenty-five Paul Simon songs are carefully crafted to give life to a former junior Middleweight as he recalls his short lived boxing career in a candid interview with a columnist."

Monday, January 2, 2023

Interview: Riker Lynch - writer, director, actor, producer of "Aliens on Halloween"

ROFFEKE: I really enjoyed watching your interview on Hollywood Approved (Episode 7). You said: “I do a lot of improvisation with my actors and I let people take the words and throw them out and put their own little vibes on it.” One of my favourite fun scenes (and “Aliens on Halloween” is full of fun scenes!) is the one where Titus Makin Jr.’s character meets the aliens. How much of that fun dialogue was from your script and how much was Titus just putting his unique spin on it?

RIKER: This is one of my favorite scenes too. Just trying not to laugh while we were filming made it even funnier. Titus is an incredible actor and he’s always working on something whether it be film, TV, or music. We were lucky enough to have him for a few hours in his busy schedule so I basically told him the lines do not matter. I really only needed him to mention “Halloween" and establish that he’s the owner of the house. I had written the character to be one of those people that just talk a lot and fast and don’t really listen and Titus was absolutely hilarious. I would say 90% was total improv. We did 2 takes and cut together the best of the best. It was all so good Gordy and I had a ton of fun working on that scene in the editing room.

ROFFEKE: You also said: “I put my friends’ music in it…I sent them texts, ‘Hey I’m doing this movie. Can I use your music?” What criteria did you use to pick the songs? Was it the lyrics? The vibe? The genre?

RIKER: I pretty much just went with the friends of mine that had songs that fit the vibe that I was going for. I’m great friends with the band New Beat Fund and their song Halloween Birthdaze was obviously a perfect fit. On a small-budget short film like this, you’re kind of looking for anyone who will give you permission to use their work as a favor so I knew all my friends would help me out in that regard. I’m very fortunate to have very talented friends in the music industry. 

ROFFEKE: You said about Ted Lasso: “…I think is the greatest show to ever touch television because we all need this in our lives, we all need this energy and this positivity…I want to spread as much optimism and positive energy as possible…” Apart from “Aliens on Halloween” - which I think definitely does spread optimism and positive energy -  and your various creative and artistic ventures, how else do you spread optimism and positive energy?”

RIKER: I do my best to just be an uplifting spirit in whatever I’m doing. To radiate enthusiasm and positivity everywhere I go. My music is a big part of that because I believe music can change your mood almost quicker than anything. My latest song “Remedy" is all about being the remedy for someone who’s having a tough time. I hope my music can have a positive impact on people’s spirits. 

ROFFEKE: Your top three memories from your 2016 Safari in Kenya?

RIKER: Oh that’s tough to pick. The whole thing was truly amazing. I was there with my four brothers and my dad. The first game drive early in the morning was just so surreal because I really didn’t know what to expect and seeing all these amazing animals up close in person is so spectacular. We saw a ton of elephants on our first day. 

Another time we saw a momma lion playing with her cub. That was so cool. We were in a jeep-like truck with no doors and we kept getting closer and closer to watch them and at one point the cub kind of wanders closer to us and gave us a little baby roar. He walks on and then the mom gets very close to us and I remember our safari guide says, “just stay calm and don’t look her in the eye.” I could’ve reached out and touched her, she was THAT close. Did I mention there were no doors in our truck? Such powerful animals.

We also got to play some music for these kids in one of the tribes there. I’m not sure if that’s correctly how I should describe them but they were such lovely humans. They were very interested in our guitars. This was back in 2016 so my band R5 was still going strong and we played “All Night” and “Dark Side” for them.

ROFFEKE: I interviewed Gordy De St. Jeor (director of The Thrill), who was also part of “Aliens on Halloween” and happens to be your cousin. He gave a thought-provoking answer to my question about whether the artist’s struggle is worth it. Please comment on, add to (or even dispute) his answer:

RIKER: Gordy is so talented. I’m so fortunate to be able to collaborate with him. He’s someone I deeply care about. Not only family but one of my greatest friends. 

I totally understand his view on the struggle. For me, the “why do I do this” well it’s because I believe it is my purpose on this planet and in this life to bring people joy through film, television, music, through stories. And on the "struggle for the art", I don’t really feel that I have a real “struggle” or sacrifice I guess. Sure I feel struggle if I’m stuck on a scene or a line or I’m not feeling inspired but that’s all part of the process. I love the quote, “Nature never hurries but everything is accomplished.” I really believe in that and I’ve also come to simply enjoy the journey that is life. There is no destination, it’s all about the journey, and part of the journey is going to be struggling. I know that. And it’s ok. Part of the journey is also going to be the most magical thing you’ve ever experienced. At the end of the day no matter how much struggle there is, I love what I do and I feel so grateful I get to do what I do. 

Hollywood Approved - Episode 7