Tag: Movies

‘Powwow Highway’: Actress Amanda Wyss Discusses Films 30th Anniversary And Continued Relevancy

Still powerful in its message and poignant in its relevancy more than thirty years after its release “Powwow Highway,” based on the novel by David Seals, remains one of the most timeless and significant films about the indigenous struggle to preserve their native culture.

The film tells the story of Native American Philbert Bono (Gary Farmer), a reflective and loveable man seeking to gain higher identity through the use of mystical and traditional means. His friend and Vietnam War veteran, Buddy Red Bow (A Martinez), is an adversarial social activist trying desperately to protect what’s left of his Cheyenne Reservation from government interlopers and greedy land developers.

The story takes a unique turn when the duo goes on an unexpected road trip in a rusted-out car to rescue Red Bow’s sister, Bonnie (Joanelle Romero), who’s been wrongly accused and arrested in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Along their journey, Red Bow’s hard-edged view of life and the world around him is put to the test by Philbert’s resolve and undying faith. Together they will learn the true meaning of their heritage, friendship and love.

The award-winning film, which includes the coveted Filmmakers Trophy at the 1989 Sundance Film Festival, was produced by late Beatle George Harrison and features a rich soundtrack that includes songs by Robbie Robertson, U2 and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Amanda Wyss, who’s intense portrayal of the flawed Meridith Lane in the 2015 psychological thriller, “The Id,” is equally as brilliant in “Powwow Highway” as Rabbit Layton, a fiery Texan who plays an important role in the film’s climatic third act.

Although filmed in the late 1980s, the messages behind “Powwow Highway” tragically continues to stand the test of time.

I recently spoke with Wyss about the 30th anniversary of “Powwow Highway” and more in this exclusive new interview.

When you look back on “Powwow Highway” with so much perspective what thoughts come to mind?

It doesn’t feel like thirty years have gone by because I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was exciting on so many levels. First, it was based on real characters and we had an amazing cast of brilliant actors like Gary Farmer, A Martinez and Joanelle Romero. George Harrison produced it and Robbie Robertson was doing the music. We filmed it as a road movie in Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and New Mexico and everyone became immersed in the story.

Why do you think the film remains timeless and relevant so many years later?

It’s amazing and tragic at how so little has changed. That’s why it remains so relevant. From working on the film, I learned a lot about the activism side and how hard different reservations have to fight against the government just to maintain their land, culture and resources. I walked away from the film with a deeper respect for the people fighting to protect and preserve what they have left. It’s made a lifelong impact on me. But we all share a similar deep connection. Jonathan Wacks [director] went on to teach film at the College of Santa Fe for many years. Joanelle also goes there a lot. She created The Red Nation Film Festival, which showcases indigenous filmmakers. She’s a great actress, singer-songwriter and mother.

What initially attracted you to the story?

I was sent the script and knew right away it was a part I had to play. I loved Philbert Bono (Gary Farmer) and the character of Buddy Red Bow (A Martinez) and their relationship. I also loved that it was set in the southwest and based on real people. The character of Rabbit Layton was so fun. I felt her in my bones.

Do you have a funny story to share about the role?

I remember going to read for the role and it was put on tape. I had a hair appointment later that afternoon and dyed my hair red and the color didn’t come out right. I was resigned to having to wear it for a while but then got a call back and had that put-on tape as well. Up to this point, I hadn’t even met the director and got a call from him later that night offering me the role. I’ll never forget what he said: “You know, it might have just been the lighting, but on camera your hair looks pink” [laughs]. I admitted to him that it was and he asked if there was any way I could put it back to blonde. Give credit to the wonderful hairdresser because I had about five days to change it back.

Amanda Wyss – Gary Farmer

What were your thoughts when the film won the Filmmakers Trophy at Sundance?

It was thrilling. We didn’t celebrate it there but we knew it was special because its message and story was so powerful. I feel lucky to have played a part in telling it.

Do you ever foresee yourself getting on the other side of the camera at some point?

I have a strong desire to direct and hope that will be my next phase. I love the idea of not just having a microcosm of a movie as an actor but an overall view of the story and all of the little pieces. To be able to put people together on the same page as you are about the story you want to tell and how you want to tell it. I’d be very excited to do that.

What role would you consider to be your deepest dive as an actress?

One of my deepest dives was “The Id.” It was an extraordinary experience with people who protected and enabled me to go down a rabbit hole that was deep and messy. I felt totally safe because of the director of photography, the director and producer. It was a huge learning experience for me and a powerful, creative moment. I like playing characters with a dark side that gets revealed and feel very fortunate for the people who’ve given me the opportunities and roles I’ve been able to play.

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Director Harrison Smith Talks ‘Death House,’ New Projects

When Harrison Smith agreed to co-write and direct the action/horror thriller, “Death House,” the filmmaker had one goal in mind: to make Gunnar Hansen’s intertwined vision of good and evil a consummate reality. The film’s premise, which brings many of the greatest horror icons together in one film, is a rollercoaster funhouse ride of scares and screams as well as a nod to the best of 80s horror.

In “Death House,” Agents Toria Boon (Cortney Palm) and Jae Novak (Cody Longo) are given a tour of a state of the art, government prison where medical and mental experiments are carried out on the worst of humanity by Drs. Eileen Fletcher (Dee Wallace) and Karen Redmane (Barbara Crampton). But when an unexpected power outage releases the monstrous inmates Boon and Novak, who are beginning to learn more about their own dark pasts, have to fight for survival through a labyrinth of horror. It all culminates in a final, violent showdown in the prison’s deepest level with a face to face encounter with The Five Evils.

In addition to a fun story and stellar cast, which includes Kane Hodder (“Friday The 13th”series), Tony Todd (“Candyman”), Sid Haig (“House of 1,000 Corpses”), and Felissa Rose (“Sleepaway Camp”), “Death House” also features a plethora of Easter eggs guaranteed to please even the most ardent horror fan.

I recently spoke with Harrison Smith about “Death House” and more in this exclusive new interview.

How did this project come about?

Gunnar had brought the idea of creating a movie with a who’s who of horror names to his agent, Michael Eisenstadt. His original script, called “Death House,” was about a group of college kids who create a documentary about going into an abandoned asylum. But when they get down into the bowels of the building, they discover that the patients have never really left. Instead, they’ve been living there as subterranean beings. Michael eventually got the script into the hands of Rick Finkelstein from Entertainment Factory, who then brought it to me. 

Gunnar Hansen

How did the script evolve into what would become the final film?

I met with Gunnar and the two of us started going over it. The whole documentary idea had been done before, but the one thing Gunnar really wanted retained was his vision that good and evil are intertwined and need each other. He told me he had this Biblical concept of these “Four Horsemen” so I suggested we change it up by adding a woman to finish out the points of a pentagram and calling them The Five Evils. Around that same time, the Super Bowl was airing the world debut trailer for “Jurassic World.” That’s when it hit me: why not make “Jurassic Park” without the dinosaurs? And instead of it being an asylum, let’s make it a prison. We’ll have a young group going on a tour when the ride breaks down and the monsters get out. That appealed to Gunnar. I took even more inspiration from the film, “Escape from New York.” Now we were able to put horror names in as real characters.

The sad thing was that during all this time, Gunnar never let on that he was dying. No one actually knew until a few weeks before he passed [Hansen died in 2015]. That was why he was emphatic about getting it done. I wanted to make sure I preserved his vision, and after reading the final draft Gunnar gave Rick his blessing.

Was there ever any thought given to having the horror icons reprise their famous character roles for “Death House”?

Never. When that idea was first pitched I made it clear I didn’t want to make anything like that. Just look at “Freddy Vs. Jason” as an example. That film went through fourteen drafts and took ten years to make, and that’s what we got? Just because you can do it doesn’t mean that you should.

What was the casting process like for “Death House?”

All of Gunnar’s friends had already told him they’d be on board, so it was a matter of finding a place for them. Robert Englund was also set to appear, and even went out of his way to try to make it happen, but by the time the money moved for filming he already had other commitments and just couldn’t do it.

What can you tell me about the addition of Cortney Palm to the project?

We originally had cast Bianca Bradey, from Wyrmwood, as Agent Toria Boon. She loved the script and we loved her. She’s Australian and we had everything set up with her visa, but it wasn’t going to carry over when it finally came time to shoot. I’ve always been a fan of Cortney’s work in “Sushi Girl” and it was also around the same time “Zombeavers” came out. She and I were Twitter friends so I reached out to her about it. She has charisma and a great look and delivery. She gave everything she had and is absolutely terrific in this film.

How would you describe the story of “Death House”?

I would describe it as a roller coaster ride through the fun house. It’s also a “flipping around cable in 1983 at 2 o’clock in the morning” kind of film. One where you come across it and you say to yourself, “Man, I’ve got to finish this!” That’s what I was going for. It’s very “Escape From New York” / John Carpenter-esque and a tip of the hat to that great 80s cheesy action horror. What’s interesting is that there’s also lot of stuff in the film that’s in the headlines again today, like Transhumanism, which is the idea that mental illness is contagious and can be spread through social media. It’s a smart script that ends with you asking questions, which is what every good film should do.

Are there plans to do a sequel?

“Death House 2: The Farm” is already written and in it we’ll start answering some questions. Like the shower scene where Agents Boon and Novak are asking about each other’s tattoos and the possibility of having memories erased. It all takes place on a farm that’s being used for human trafficking.

Are there any other projects you’re currently involved in?

Spilled Milk” is a screen play I wrote that’s based on the novel by K. L. Randis, which is her true account of surviving sexual abuse from her father. I was attracted to the story because of this woman’s plight and the whole #MeToo movement. I wanted to write it from the standpoint that it really is a horror movie because it’s real. The script is in the hands of a female director, which is where it should be. Most of all, I’m excited for Kelly to get her word out.

I’m also getting ready to shoot a quiet, horror film noire called “The Special,” which stars Damian Maffei [“The Strangers: Prey at Night”] and Sarah French playing the wife. It’s a story that was brought to me by Mark Streensland and James Newman. There’s dark elements, a little bit of revenge and some things you don’t see much of anymore. It also has some great practical make-up effects. I’m very excited about it. 

What would you like people to take away from watching “Death House?”

Gunnar wanted this film to be for his fans. He didn’t care about the critics or a Rotten Tomatoes score. What he wanted was for all the people who came to see him and paid money for his autograph to have something to be excited about. So, look at the crazy creatures that are in the freezer, enjoy Kane Hodder and watch for all the Easter eggs—especially the ending post credits sequence which features the best Easter egg ever. It’s Larry Zerner, who played Shelly in “Friday The 13th: Part 3.” And for people who may not know much about classic horror, hopefully watching “Death House” will make them want to go back and learn more. “Death House” is for the fans, so have fun and enjoy it.

Death House” is available now on Digital, Streaming, DVD and Blu-Ray.

‘Death House’: Actress Cortney Palm Discusses All-Star Horror Fueled Adventure

During an exclusive tour of a nine-level, secret prison known as “Death House,” agents Toria Boon (Cortney Palm) and Jae Novak (Cody Longo) become trapped inside its walls after a power outage frees a ruthless army of the world’s most dangerously maniacal prisoners. Trapped in the labyrinth of horror, the agents must push to the facility’s lowest depths, where they’ll come face to face with a supernatural group and discover a dark secret about themselves.

The premise for the B. Harrison Smith directed feature was originally based on a concept by the late Gunnar Hansen (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) intended to bring as many horror legends together in one film. That’s why, in addition to appealing performances of Palm and Longo, “Death House” features a plethora of iconic horror stars from the mid-70’s to present day, including Kane Hodder (“Friday The 13th”series), Dee Wallace (“Cujo” “The Hills Have Eyes”), Barbara Crampton (“Re-Animator”), Tony Todd (“Candyman”), Bill Moseley (“House of 1,000 Corpses”), Michael Berryman (“The Hills Have Eyes”) and Felissa Rose (“Sleepaway Camp”).

As an actress, Cortney Palm has a knack for playing strong, female characters (just check out the beautiful artist’s work in 2012’s “Sushi Girl”) and Agent Boon is another convincing role that’s right in her wheelhouse.

“Death House” is more than just an “Expendables of Horror” film. It’s a gripping tale of good versus evil, the dangers of experimentation, the macabre, and how things are not always what they appear to be.

I recently spoke with Cortney Palm about her role in “Death House” and more in this exclusive new interview.

How did this project come about for you?

In this age of social media people have different ways of reaching out and giving you information about opportunities. In this case, the original lead for the film had to unexpectedly drop out. They were going to start filming and I received a Twitter message from [director] Harrison Smith telling me they were looking for someone. I read the script and was immediately excited. It was a fun, in-depth story about good and evil. About finding what it takes to face your inner demon and coming out on top. I called my agent, flew out a few days later and we made it happen.

What was it about the script that intrigued you the most? Was it the idea of having so many horror icons attached to the project?

Originally, I didn’t know it was being pitched with a lot of horror icons attached to the screenplay. What drew me to the story the most was the strong female lead. I’m always attracted to characters who don’t take anything from anyone else and who can stand on their own two feet. 

How would you describe your character, Agent Toria Boon?

She’s a very by the books kind of person. She’s a daddy’s girl, but daddy really wanted a boy. As a result, she’s had to step up her game and trained hard for what she’s doing. As the story unfolds she realizes there’s something she hasn’t been told. Everything is snowballing all at once and she’s not really sure who to believe or trust. She has to follow he intuition and think things through as they happen. She’s figuring out how to survive while at the same time, visions of “Who Am I” keep racing through her mind. There’s also a dynamic, female power trip going on within the film. It’s about who’s on top and who’s going to be the manipulator. The women all have to fight for a place. They all have to be there for each other but it’s still about who’s bite is bigger.

How would you describe the story of “Death House?”

It’s a crazy roller coaster ride, so stay in the cart and keep your legs and hands inside at all times. The story goes into the idea of what happened back in the Fifties and Sixties when the government was performing tests on people. It also dives deep into what it means to have good and evil in the world. The yin and the yang.

What was it like working with Harrison Smith?

Harrison was once a history teacher and was such a good mediator at getting us all to the table and keeping us on the same page. For any issues we had to overcome he was the hub and teacher who kept everyone grounded. He also gave us the freedom to innovate and try new things. Some of that inspiration took the story deeper than what we originally expected.

What did you enjoy most about making “Death House?”

I loved the prison location. There was a lot of energy there that was indescribable, but not necessarily good or bad. People have actually been burned and murdered there and there were also riots. It was dark and there were some really cold, long shoots. It was a lot of work but the prison made it magical.

Are there any other projects you’re currently working on?

A film I shot a few years ago, “Sunflower,” is getting distributed in the middle of 2019. I also recently wrapped a father-daughter drama called “Two Cents from a Pariah” as well as a voice over for a psychological thriller called “Purple.”  Another film, “Herringbone,” just won the online Sydney Lift Off film festival and is in the festival circuit. It’s a touching tale about two women struggling to survive captivity and torture, as it represents the dairy industry. I’ll also start filming a movie called “Bleed Millions,” that’s directed by Sam Koze, in January. It’s an interesting story about a psychopathic individual who uses the blood of his victims to paint works of art.

Have you ever thought about getting on the other side of the camera someday – either as a writer or director?

I’d definitely consider it. It’s really a matter of finding the right projects. I have a few ideas for a film about unity and casting children as leads. We’ve gotten away from our innocence and the nature of just accepting and being present. That’s something I’d like to explore.

What are you looking forward to the most in 2019?

I’m excited about expanding my horizons and meeting people who are more about the human condition and how it’s represented in film and in our daily lives. Instead of being caught up with unsubstantiated hate towards one another or victimizing ourselves or others, I want to focus on waking up to a collective consciousness. Having people realize their true selves and the beauty the world has to offer. I’m looking forward to helping to influence people in positive ways to make changes so our world can become better place. 

Death House” is available now on Digital, Streaming, DVD and Blu-Ray.

Actress Erin Fleming Discusses Her Role in Emotionally Charged New Film, ‘Custody Road’

From the time she learned to walk, Erin Fleming knew performing would be her calling. The beautiful, multi-talented actress, producer and director certainly has a knack for creating emotionally powerful characters. A feat that’s evidenced in her new film, “Custody Road”.

In “Custody Road” Fleming plays the role of Ashley Towne; the ex-wife of a struggling, up and coming comedian named Logan (portrayed by Josh Daugherty). The film centers on the trials and tribulations of the couple as they battle in court for custody of their young son. But when Logan enlists the help of friends and goes to extremes in an attempt to get his own way, the lives of many are forever changed.

Written and directed by John Lacy, the world of “Custody Road” is best described as a hauntingly desperate landscape. A turbulent and authentically relevant story with an amazing ensemble cast and an insatiable “Sleeping With The Enemy” vibe. Fleming’s performance is particularly appealing, as she channels her own personal struggles into creating an emotionally flawed character that resonates with audiences.

I recently spoke with Erin Fleming about her role in “Custody Road” and more in this exclusive new interview.

How did you become involved in “Custody Road”?

My very good friend and co-star, Frank Crim (who plays Otis in the film), called me up one day and told me about a role he thought I’d be perfect for. He wanted to know when I’d be available to meet the director, John Lacy. So, John and I met and history was made. I actually met Josh [Daugherty] on that same day. It was chemistry from the very start.

What was it that attracted you to the project?

The character of Ashley relates to many women who’ve gone through trauma in their lives. She’s someone who’s gone through a difficult lifestyle with her mother and father; surviving an abusive husband, and then having her husband continue to bully her after the divorce. Those kind of things are what a lot of women have to face daily, and most of their stories are never told. I was so happy to see that John was willing to explore such a powerful story. It’s something we really need more of.

As an actress, is there a certain mindset you have to get in to take on such a role?

We all have our own personal traumas we go through, so exploring my own world and the things I’ve had to deal with was a major factor in getting into the character. I also had an abusive boyfriend for years and so, for me, it was instantly personal.

Erin Fleming – Custody Road

How would you describe the story of “Custody Road”?

It’s a story about two broken people really struggling within themselves and over the custody of their son, and the journey of figuring out how to heal.

What else can you tell me about your character, Ashley?

Ashley comes from a really dysfunctional family. One that was always hiding behind the false pretenses of religion. She’s desperately trying to break free of that world and uses her body and herself to find a connection she never had with her personal life. She’s trying to pursue her own salvation like so many humans do in life. But we sometimes hurt each other along the way, when all we’re really trying to do is help ourselves.

Click here to watch the trailer for Custody Road.

What was the filming process like?

It was such a fun journey to meet these people and become a big family. I really enjoy working with directors with a pro attitude and John’s technique is fantastic. Being that he also comes from the acting world made it that much better. The chemistry between Josh and I was spontaneous and wonderful. We really understood each other well. It was fun, and terrifying, to explore the lives we were creating. I’ve also been wanting to work with Frank Crim for years. The entire cast was so talented and the set was really special. It was amazing all around.

Was a career in entertainment something you always knew would be your calling?

I’ve wanted to act ever since my body and brain could communicate with the world. Everything was art to me. My dad is an actor and my mom is a makeup artist. Dancing and acting is what fed my soul. I started acting professionally when I was five with the Seattle Children’s Theatre and then with Seattle Repertory Theatre. From there, I traveled in a show in San Diego when I was seventeen and when I was finished with the show, I moved to L.A.

Do you ever foresee yourself getting on the other side of the camera at some point – either as a writer, producer or director?

I started my own company, Shakespeare In The Sphere, in 2015 with Tony Williams and Don Purnell. We produce film, television pilots and 360 degree educational and behind the scenes entertainment. I also direct many of the projects. The learning curve is interesting to me and fascinating.

Are there any other projects you’re currently working on right now?

Right now, I’m producing a TV pilot that has some seriously amazing talent attached. I’m in the cast as well and it’s very exciting. I have to leave it at that for now but stay tuned!

What are you most looking forward to about this next phase of your career?

I’m looking forward to the next creative journey. I love what I do and am so blessed with my strength and hardworking ability as a woman. “Custody Road” is such an amazing film that really speaks to the human experience. I’m ready for whatever comes next.

‘Custody Road’: Actor Josh Daugherty Discusses New Film, Career

With over twenty years experience as an actor and more than seventy national commercials to his credit, it’s safe to say you’ve probably seen some of Josh Daughtery’s work. His impressive resume includes notable commercial work for Budweiser and Kellogg’s as well also appearances in films like “We Were Soldiers” and “John Carter”, and in television shows like “Supernatural”.

But perhaps no role has given the multi-talented Daugherty the flexibility and creative freedom to dive deep into his craft than in his new film, “Custody Road”.

In “Custody Road”, Daugherty plays the role of Logan, a struggling stand-up comedian who goes to extreme measures to prevent his ex-wife her from winning sole custody of their young son.

Written and directed by John Lacy, the world of “Custody Road” is described as “Desert Gothic Noir”. A hauntingly desperate, violent and at times, tender landscape that audiences are sure to embrace. The film, which also showcases Daugherty’s vocal ability as a singer, in addition to his acting prowess, also stars Erin Fleming, Frank Crim and Andrea Muller.

I recently spoke with Josh Daugherty about “Custody Road,” his career and much more in this exclusive new interview.

How did your involvement in “Custody Road” come about?

The director, John Lacy, and I have been circling each other for the last ten years. He’s an incredibly talented actor with an amazing body of work. We both knew of each other and had shared words, but never really had an opportunity to get to know each other. We eventually became friends during an acting class where he told me about this idea he had brewing. In addition to being an amazingly talented actor, he’s also a phenomenal writer. He showed me some of the pages he’d written and I loved it. I told him I didn’t know where he was going but I wanted to be a part of it.

What was it about the project that appealed to you?

John really had his thumb on this character, Logan, who’s this incredibly flawed guy. A guy who’s a bit of an idealist in a lot of ways. Logan is a stand-up comedian and philosophizer who parses out the bullshit of everyday life. Sometimes, that’s done with philosophy and other times it’s through comedy or music.

How would you describe the story of “Custody Road”?

It’s a tough tale because it’s about male-female relationships and how, in some ways, it seems like they’re doomed from the get go. Men don’t under women; women don’t understand men; and egos, DNA and conditioning can all get in the way. It’s an unromantic look at the male/female condition and asks the question, “Are we really supposed to work out?”

What was the filming process like?

I love shooting independent films because you really get to immerse yourself in the process. It wasn’t a large crew, and we sometimes had to work in extreme conditions, but you really got to see the best in people. It was instant family.

Click here to watch the trailer for “Custody Road”.

What was it like working with John?

It was great. As a team leader, John set a wonderful tone for keeping things light and focused and fun. He’s one of those guys I think of as a close friend. My dad told me years ago that business was relationships, and that is never more true than in creative endeavors. John was very open for me to shape this character. I remember when we started talking about music, he even suggested I play a few songs. He had a great beginning for the project, and for me it was like, “O, Captain! My Captain! Take the lead. I’m in!” [laughs].

You mentioned playing a few songs in “Custody Road”. Was singing always a part of your life?

Oh, yeah. I come from a musical house, so music has always been a huge part of my creativity. I grew up doing musical theater and was even a vocal jazz major in college. The fact that John welcomed that and embraced it for my character and film was a lot of fun.

Was a career in entertainment something you always envisioned for yourself?

From the age of five, I knew this was what I was going to do. I can still remember my first time setting foot on stage doing musicals with my dad. I didn’t notice it at the time, but looking back now I can envision that moment clearly. I walked onstage, turned around and saw an empty house. At that moment, it was almost as if God had tapped me on the shoulder and said, “This is what you’re going to do.”

I have to ask you about your work on the show, “Supernatural”. What was that experience like?

That was really the first dark, evil character I played and it was a terrific experience. It was such a tight cast and crew. They’re a wonderful family, and Jensen [Ackles] and Jared [Padalecki] were such great guys.

Are there any other projects you’re currently working on?

One project I’ve been working on for the past few years is called “Nobody”. It’s a project I created with my partner, Felicia Willson, who’s an Emmy-winning writer. It’s an intense project about sexual trauma. And now with the #MeToo movement, it’s even more current and relevant. People are finally able to talk about their experiences and find healing. The project’s gotten incredible feedback and we’re looking to put together the right team and make it come to fruition.

What excites you the most about this next phase of your career?

With regard to the film, I’m looking forward to seeing all those days of long hours finally pay off. John is a master storyteller and I’m excited to see how he’s put it all together.

Custody Road” is available on iTunes and VOD July 24.

‘Dinner With The Alchemist’: Jenna St. John Discusses New Supernatural Drama

In the early 1900’s, a wealthy alchemist, Jacques St. Germaine, [Dan Istrate], travels to New Orleans to seek help from the legendary voodoo priestess Marie Laveau [Dionne Audain]. When a spate of murders are uncovered, Jacques and the quarreling locals butt heads as they try to discover the identity of the killer.

Featuring a cast of characters pulled directly from actual police reports, “Dinner with the Alchemist” weaves historical fact and imaginative storytelling into a mysterious supernatural drama.

Written by Jenna St. John [who also appears in the role of Abigail] and directed by Kevin Good, “Dinner With The Alchemist” is part love story, part supernatural thriller and part historical documentary of life in early twentieth century New Orleans.

With its rich musical score, brilliant cinematography and a diverse and believable ensemble cast, the filmmakers have succeeded in delivering one of the best and most imaginative independent films of 2018.

“Dinner With The Alchemist” also stars Megan Graves, Tamara Johnson and Regen Wilson.

I recently spoke with Jenna St. John about “Dinner With The Alchemist” and more in this exclusive new interview.

Where did you draw the inspiration for “Dinner With The Alchemist”?

I had gone on vacation to New Orleans with my sister, and the two of us walked around the city and visited a lot of restaurants. They have plaques on buildings describing a lot of mysterious creatures and dark things that had happened there, and we came upon one story about Jacques St. Germaine that seemed too spooky to be true. So, we spent some time in the library going through microfiche to see if there were any news clippings that could prove or disprove it. We wound up finding a police report that verified some of the events. At that moment, we said this has to be a movie already. When we found out that wasn’t the case, I realized it was something I had to write. That’s how it all began.

What’s your writing process like?

For this film, I did a lot of research, and the first several drafts of the script were just me getting to know the characters. I don’t have a particular time and day that I write, but I have a personal rule to write at least one line a day. Sometimes, it may only be just that one line, but usually it will turn into a few pages.

How would you describe the story of “Dinner With The Alchemist”?

For me, it’s a big ensemble piece where every character and arc has its own love story. That was the driving backbone and connective theme. It’s also a story about people in New Orleans from all different walks of life who are affected by these strange murders. We have the wealthy alchemist, two dock workers, police officers and prostitutes, and these events affect each of them in different ways. My character, Abigail, is one of the prostitutes that lets the others know there’s a real threat to them. Without her, there would be this false sense of security.

What was the filming process like?

It was a very tight schedule. We had a small budget, a huge cast and a bunch of locations.  Principal photography was sixteen days, but Kevin made the most of every moment. I don’t know anyone more capable of directing this piece other than him.

Photo by: Kevin Good

The musical score for “Dinner With The Alchemist” is so beautiful. What can you tell me about it?

We got really lucky when we got composer, John Piscitello. He gave an organic quality and life to the music. We had a tense soundtrack, with a lot of Phillip Glass and Clair De Lune that we used as inspiration. John worked really hard to get the perfect sound.

Did you always know that you wanted a career in entertainment? Was it something you always aspired to do?

I originally went to grad school to be a novelist. I had done some acting in the past and after I left school I started looking into producing, which naturally led to screenwriting. This is the place that feels most natural for me.

What’s the biggest difference between writing a novel as opposed to a screenplay?

The biggest difference between writing books and screenplays is that in books, so much of the dramatic action happens in the reader’s head. You can’t really do that when writing a screenplay. Structure is key.

Are there any other projects you’re currently working on right now?

I’m working on another teen-oriented feature right now that has supernatural elements to it. I also have a television pilot called “Sexpectations” that we’ve screened at a few film festivals. I plan on releasing it sometime next year.

What excites you the most about the release of “Dinner With The Alchemist” and this next phase of your career? What are you looking forward to most about the future?

I’m looking forward to finding more stories that interest me and figuring out better ways to tell them. I’m also looking forward to sharing this film with everyone. We had a small team of people working on this film who are all are super-talented. Showcasing everyone’s work is what I’m really excited about.

“Dinner With The Alchemist” will be released on Tuesday, February 13 on VOD, iTunes, Google Play and Amazon Prime.

Actor Ernest Thomas Discusses His Career And The 40th Anniversary of The Doobie Brothers Appearance on ‘What’s Happening!!’

It could’ve been when Ernest Thomas’s character, Raj, delivered the classic line, “Which Doobie you be?” Or maybe it was the argumentative exchange between Shirley and Al Dunbar at Rob’s Place. It might also have been Rerun’s hilariously failed attempt at bootlegging a Doobie Brothers concert. Whatever the case, there’s no question that the “What’s Happening!!” two-part, “Doobie or Not Doobie”, which first aired on January 28th, 1978, has remained one of the series’ most iconic episodes.

Much like The Doobies themselves, actor Ernest Thomas has remained as beloved and relevant as ever these last forty years. In addition to having starred in the successful spinoff series, “What’s Happening Now!!”, he’s also been featured in films like “Malcolm X” as well as the series “Everybody Hates Chris”. These days, Thomas is also an accomplished author as well as an in-demand mentor and public speaker.

I recently spoke with Thomas about the 40th anniversary of the famous “What’s Happening!!” episode with The Doobie Brothers, his career and more in this exclusive new interview.

It’s been more than forty years since “What’s Happening!!” first aired, and it remains one of the most beloved shows of all time. When you look back now with so much perspective, what thoughts come to mind?

I pinch myself and cry out to God in gratitude. Recently, I was on a military base doing a book signing, and the people there were telling me how much the DVDs had meant and given comfort to the solders in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m mystified and thankful that it continues to make people so happy.

How much of Ernest Thomas was in the character of Raj?

That’s a great question. In the original “Cooley High” [which “What’s Happening!!” is loosely based on], Preacher Jackson, who was played brilliantly by Glynn Turman, was a good kid, but was a little more street and mischievous. After my audition, I started thinking about how my grandmother, mother and pastor had crafted me and decided to go in to talk to the producers. I told them I didn’t see Roger as street at all. I told them I saw him as a person who loves everyone and was always trying to keep the peace. He was everyone’s best friend; every teacher’s favorite student and every woman’s ideal husband. Roger is every man. I remember they looked at me like I had just about lost my mind [laughs]. They thanked me for sharing but later wound up shaping Raj more like me. That’s why in the intro of the show, when you see me open the door and walk out with the big smile on my face, that really is me.

What do you think made the show so timeless and special?

I think it was because it was a show that people could easily identify with. That’s why it crossed all racial lines. Growing up, everyone has the heavy-set friend (Rerun); the shy, little Dwayne and the baby brother or sister who’s a little tattletale or snitch. Then you had Mama, who was going to spank you if you were bad. That was a real situation. The truth is, we had a divine chemistry. I remember when I first set eyes on Fred Berry, Haywood Nelson, Mabel King, Danielle Spencer and Shirley Hemphill, there was an instant familiarity. We all loved each other and it became more like a family.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the two-part episode with The Doobie Brothers. What was the inspiration behind it?

The director knew the band and saw that they were going through a transition with members. They really needed something to give them a hit. So, he came up with this crazy idea that they had gone to our school. Here you had these white, long-haired rockers coming back to the same teachers we had, and no one even questioned it. In fact, America ate it up.

Even today, when I talk to them, they’ll tell me how people always come up and ask them about “What’s Happening!!” It’s not about the music or even the next album. They want to know what the experience was like on the show [laughs]. I even remember seeing an interview with them where they said they think the band’s epitaph is going to read, “The Doobies Brothers. We’re what’s happening.” [laughs]. 

Just like The Doobie Brothers, you’re still as relevant as ever forty years later. What new projects are you’re working on?

I’ve recently written my autobiography, “From Raj to Riches: Overcoming Life Through Faith.” It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s a testimony that supernatural faith brings supernatural results. I want kids to know that I was bullied in grade school, and it didn’t help that I was into the church. At times, it felt like it would never end, but I was taught to have faith in God and to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The book also talks about my time working on the show and “Malcom X” as well as my relationships with people like Muhammad Ali and Dr. Maya Angelou. People have really responded well to it, and I thank God for what the book has done.

I also have a lot of other things brewing right now. I did a film called “Two Wolves” that will hopefully be coming out this year. There’s also a series called “The Chosen Ones” that’s a retelling of The Gospel of Christ, where I play a blind man who Jesus heals. I’m very excited about it.

You also recently did a short film, “Earworm” that was quite a departure for you. What can you tell me about it? 

Tara Price wrote and directed the film and did such a great job. She and I had met on another film and liked each other immediately. At first, I was hesitant about doing it, because I didn’t want to look feeble and like someone who couldn’t take care of myself. But that’s part of life, and Tara told me that it would be a challenge for me to not always play the hero or be the one that has all the answers. It was a long, twelve-hour day of filming, but I’m so happy for her and the producers. She lit a fire with it.

Of all the highlights of your career, what stands out to you as most memorable?

If I look back, “What’s Happening!!” was like Heaven on Earth because at one point, we were so huge that we were seen by fifty million people in America. Suddenly, everyone knows your name. Although I love the people and the nostalgia of the show, for me, the best time is right now. I love that there are new films of mine that people have yet to see, and I’m also excited about how well the book is doing. I love the past, whether it’s “What’s Happening!!” or being in “Malcolm X” with Denzel Washington, or meeting Muhammad Ali and having him take me under his wing, call me a friend and really say that he loved me like a brother. All of those things were out of body experiences, but I believe that right now is the best time. My greatest joy is making people happy.