Erin Bethea Interview: THIS IS OUR TIME – Review

I had a  comfortable conversation with Erin Bethea last week. She is one of the ensemble actors starring in This is Our Time!, which releases on DVD Tuesday, April 16, 2013.

erin betheaHere is a small portion of our conversation:

CJ: You’ve had experience working with new directors, experienced directors, and now a female director. What was it like working with Lisa Arnold?

ERIN: What is great about working with Lisa is that she wrote the script and is a talented writer. She really knew the story well.

CJ: Did that background help Lisa cast the roles?

ERIN: She is amazing at casting. She knew what she wanted and got it…a perfect cast. They picked people that were the characters. When I met them, they were just what I expected and we built strong friendships, just like our characters.

CJ: What was it like working under Lisa?

ERIN: She has a quiet grace on set. Not too dynamic…she’s gentle and gracious. She is subtle, but pushes you in a way you don’t realize. I would happily do anything with her again.

This is Our Time PosterCJ: There are a lot of Christian films about good people becoming better people, which make finding a unique role difficult. What was a unique aspect of your character Alé that you hadn’t played before?

ERIN: I do play a lot of the same roles in faith-based films, but Alé is the first sold out believer, instead of the person that is not yet quite there. She was warm and friendly. I wished I were more like that girl. She has a warmth…she’s sweet.

CJ: The story was about the character of Ethan finding what gift God had given him and choosing to live it out loud. It seemed like your character was Ethan’s archetype or role-model that encouraged him to step up his life to God’s calling. What was it like to play such a powerful role-model with humility?

ERIN: It was a bit of a challenge. I wanted to keep Alé likeable. Because she’s everyone’s favorite, you don’t want to play her in a way where she becomes annoying. We all know amazing people who don’t realize how amazing they are, and she didn’t’ realize the gift she brought to others. She was just being who she was, so her seemingly perfection didn’t come across contrived.

CJ: In the film, Alé inspires everyone in the story. In what way did she inspire you personally?

ERIN: We shot in India in an actual leper colony for three days. For three days I really lived out her ministry. You can’t walk away from something like that without being impacted, challenged, and being other’s minded.

CJ: Do you find that the audience wants you to be that person in real life?

ERIN: There is an expectation that is placed on you as an actor. Fans are taken aback when they find out that you are not like the person they fell in love with on the screen.

CJ: As a Christian actress, are you limited to always playing the good guy? Wouldn’t it be refreshing and expand your acting chops if you played a bad guy?

ERIN: I would so love to play a bad guy. Please, someone put me in a film as a bad guy. I just want to play a villain…a rotten person. A friend of mine has a theory that nice girls can play bad people really well by playing the exact opposite of who they are.

CJ: Christian movie fans seem to put a lot of expectations on Christian films. Do you have any thoughts on the matter?

ERIN: I think that Christian films in general have a different set of expectations. People will accept certain things in a secular film that they won’t accept in a Christian film.

CJ: But what about films like Les Miz, which in my mind is one of the greatest stories of redemption ever told.

ERIN: I loved Les Miz. It was a great story of redemption. But if it were made as a Christian film, there would be an uproar over there being a prostitute in the film, and rightfully so. We are called to something higher.

CJ: We do have a higher standard to live by. But, how much greater is the value of redemption when the person’s devastating choices are revealed in the storyline?

ERIN: Storytelling…when Christians see that the arch of the story has redemptive qualities…if they see it embrace people…they get behind it like they did with The Blindside.

CJ: You seem genuinely thankful for the acting roles you’ve received. You must have fun playing the various characters.

ERIN: Making a movie is pretty much the most fun thing on this planet. You make friends on set that will be your friends for years.

CJ: Erin, thank you so much for your time today and chatting about your experiences.

ERIN: Thank you, CJ. It was a pleasure meeting you.

Copyright © 2013 by CJ Powers
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in hopes that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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A Chat with Pixar’s Matthew Luhn

I had the privilege of being introduced to Matthew Luhn this past weekend after a producer of a live interview show invited me backstage to meet him. While our conversation was limited to a few minutes, I can tell you that he is genuine and a caring person with strong family values.

Pixar Story Artist

Matthew started out working as an animator on the Simpsons, but soon shifted over to Pixar. His first project with Pixar was as an animator on the first CG movie, Toy Story. This seemed to be a natural fit for him since he came from four generations of toy store owners.

His move into animation was not only supported by his dad, but also pushed by him. Matthew’s dad had a lifelong dream of becoming an animator, but was forced to keep the family business going. To make sure that didn’t happen to Matthew, his dad pushed him into animation.

Matthew is currently a Story Artist at Pixar Animation Studios and worked on Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Cars, Ratatouille, UP, and Toy Story 3. He works with a creative team including a director, writer and storyboard artists. It’s his job to translate the script elements into the visual look and feel of the show, and to make sure the story works well on screen.

During the process of creating the visual personalities of a character, it’s common to borrow from the lives and people on the team. In fact, if I were to guess, elements of Matthew’s demeanor may have been borrowed for the character of Woody in Toy Story. Let’s just say there are a lot of similarities.

Matthew loves to give back by teaching master classes to professionals and university students, and helping young kids get started in animation. He has traveled the world promoting the skills and techniques needed to bring about quality images and a strong story. He even created several books that can help kids develop their cartooning skills.

It’s been widely recognized that it takes 10,000 hours to become highly skilled or a master at something, and Matthew humbly admits that what took him a week to do in his early years, he can now do in a day. I saw his mastery first hand as he drew the character of Jessie from Toy Story for a little girl. It only took him a few minutes to draw a perfect character.

By the way, this summer will be a blessing to the Luhn family, as Matthew and his wife are expecting a baby. I’m sure the household excitement extends to his son looking forward to being a big brother and certainly all of Matthew’s cartoon characters are also happy.

Copyright © 2013 by CJ Powers

Interview with Francine Locke Starring in “A Cry for Justice”

I had an opportunity to chat with Francine Locke who stars in a new feature film due out this fall. Here is how our conversation went…

1. In your recent role playing Jackie Carpenter in the film “A Cry for Justice” you play a distraught mother who had to fight trumped up charges against her son. How did you prepare for such a role?

Starring Francine LockeI believe as a mother, you have built into you an ability to fight against any odds for your children. I envisioned every possible emotion would hit Jackie at one point or another in her struggle; hopelessness, anger, fear, disbelief. Her journey was not one continuum, but a cacophony of situations and emotions. Although not fighting a legal system, my background had given me a taste of each, from which I pulled out the ultimate intense, personal response, that had a life or death urgency. Michael McClendon, who both wrote & directed it, was so in tune with her struggles, he knew exactly where Jackie was at each point and he made it “easy”.

2. During the film your character visits her son who was framed for a felony murder in jail. What did you do to play Jackie authentically based on the combination of faith and depression she faced?

It was a surreal experience. It happened so quickly, she didnʼt have time to think about what was happening, she was just going through the motions, walking, breathing. I was like a pressure cooker, If I had admitted to myself that I was really there to see my son in prison, that he was locked away from me, that I couldnʼt touch him, I would have gone crazy. It wasnʼt until I saw him behind the dirty glass, that emotions and fears were allowed to break through.

3. Did you play the character with a southern accent or in your own voice?

I had a southern accent, but not typical. I worked with a vocal coach to prepare, and he had listened to several of Jackieʼs interviews to hear her vocal qualities. Scarlett OʼHaraʼs “Gone With the Wind” drawl & intonation is really not accurate for most of Georgia. There really is an “r” in Georgia! Part of my vocal preparation was the different pronunciation, part was the cadence & then there is a huge difference in pitch variation compared to the midwest. I had silly sentences that would focus on specific sounds, then I also marked my script for words that consistently had a unique pronunciation.

4. I understand the film was on a fast schedule based on the tight budget. What were your shooting days like and did you have enough time for each scene?

We had a terrific crew, the cast was so focused, Michael had a vision, he instilled confidence and was always reassuring rather than criticizing, everything flowed. Having trust in and respect for your director means everything. I knew he saw each scene in his mind & wouldnʼt stop until he got what he set out for. I felt confident that I could explore different ways to approach the scenes, and he would direct me if I was off track.

Due to the out of sequence shoot order, it could have been a disaster. Michael joked about how the first several days I was pulled in so many different directions, but even that, while exhausting, sort of worked in my favor. I had no time to really think about exactly what I would be thinking and feeling, it was much more instinctual. As Jackie, I was in such a state of emotional frenzy, aways just on the edge. In the midst of all this, there was one particular scene with my son, we were having a quiet moment, which set the stage for our relationship, and it really took some doing to adjust and just relax and enjoy the warmth of the scene. Once we did, it was such a joy!

The crew was great, they were so respectful, sort of kept their distance to let me stay in my personal place. And again, having a director who understood the process was terrific. He could take me aside, walk me through what was happening, Jackieʼs current state of mind, that I just let it wash over me & trusted him that he would let me know if he wasnʼt getting what he wanted.

There was one scene at the end of a long day, and I knew they were rushed to get this one in the can. Everything was set up, Michael talking me to where Jackie was in her universe, and then he said “Iʼm making too many words, you just go ahead and do it.” It was a very quiet scene, in the middle of the night and emotionally & physically I was alone, a small speck in the universe. We taped the rehearsal, and then did 2 takes, due to a sound issue on the first one, and they called out thatʼs a wrap. The hustle began to tear down the set, I was left to change out of wardrobe & get back to the hotel. I had some misgivings, thinking that because it was so late that they had “settled” for my one take, thinking I couldnʼt have done any better. I later found out that Michael had gotten exactly what he wanted & was quiet, reveling in the moment.

As to the work flow, I was on set an hour earlier to begin make up & wardrobe, then the crew arrived & when they had the basic set up ready, weʼd block the scene, then Michael would take us aside & walk us through what he was looking for. Back to Make up and wardrobe, which is the one area that when we had large scenes we could have used more time, but we all did what we needed to, all helped each other and got it done. The camaraderie & friendships begun on set have been nothing short of amazing.

5. Many times we hear about Christian films having miracles happen during the shoot. Did you witness any?

Just the fact that we accomplished all we did was incredible, but Iʼll give you a few examples where God was in the details.

We needed both a courthouse & a jail for many scenes. There had been a delay in the start date as they were trying to coordinate scheduling between two different locations which would have necessitated extreme delays of moving equipment from one location to the other. Out of the blue, the town of Carrollton offered up both in one shot! They had built a new courthouse, and would be finished moving into the new building by the 19th, so if filming could hold off, we would have full use of the old building, with a courthouse upstairs, a holding cell for the jail, a secure building, alarmed and closed to the public. Fantastic!

Another, as Michael and Pete Wages our cinematographer, were discussing camera angles to minimize the immense tangle of electrical cables from the telephone poles, the city told them, no problem, those poles & cables will be down a week before you film!

And, at the conclusion of our read through of the script weeks prior to shooting, Michael describes the final scene & says, “In a perfect world, the sun breaks through the clouds, the doves fly of in the distance. The End”. So we are filming the last scene, I exit the courthouse, and incredible to see, a flock of pigeons (ok, so they arenʼt exactly doves) fly overhead from the church to cross in front of the courthouse….. God IS in the details!

Copyright © 2012 By CJ Powers

Interviews from the Movie “J. Edgar”

It’s time for Oscars® contenders to battle. The number one contender this season is Clint Eastwood, who was honored for his work with two Oscars® in the category of Best Director, for “Million Dollar Baby” and “Unforgiven.”
 Clint pulled together an incredible team for the new movie “J. Edgar,” due out on November 9th in limited release and on the 11th for its full release.

“J. Edgar” explores his personal and public life from Edgar’s perspective, revealing a man who could distort the truth as easily as he upheld it, based on his own idea of justice.

The team is made up of screenwriter and Oscar® winner Dustin Lance Black (“Milk”).

Academy Award® nominee Leonardo DiCaprio (“Inception,” “The Aviator”) as Edgar. Academy Award® nominee Naomi Watts (“21 Grams”) and Oscar® winner Judi Dench (“Shakespeare in Love”) help make this film a worthy contender.

However, with a great team supporting his efforts, Eastwood remains humble concerning the film. Eastwood says, “What made the story so interesting and, I hope, carries over to the movie, is that you get to know Hoover well enough that you understand him, his love for his mother, his need to protect the country, his relationship with Tolson…all the things that make up a life. He was more than the Director of the FBI, he was a complex guy. I hope we can draw people into his world so that, for a couple of hours, they see history through his eyes.”

The points in history explored stretch across Edgar’s lifetime and required a range of clothing highlighting the unique styles of the 20s, 30s and 60s. DiCaprio had to undergo hours of old-age prosthetic make-up.

“To take somebody from his mid-twenties to his seventies is an interesting challenge,” remarks make-up artist Sian Grigg. “Leo was never going to look exactly like Hoover because he has a totally different face, but he has a great face to work with. I used mouth appliances to help change the shape of his face, applied a prosthetic neck appliance to give him a double chin, and inserted a nose augmenter to deform his nose a little bit, all to get him closer to looking like Hoover. His hair stylist, Kathy Blondell, dyed his hair brown and added gray hairpieces at various stages; she even plucked out some of the hair in his widow’s peak to give him a squarer hairline.”

The team worked hard to make sure the audience focused on the story, not the actors. “This is a story about relationships,” Eastwood says, “intimate interactions between Hoover and everyone around him, from those closest to him—Clyde Tolson, Helen Gandy, his mother—all the way to Robert Kennedy and other well known political figures, even presidents. If it had just been a biopic, I don’t think I would have wanted to do it. I like relationship pictures, I like exploring why people do or did certain things in their lives.”

“This was one of the most challenging characters I’d ever seen on the page,” DiCaprio says of Black’s script, which spanned Hoover’s entire professional life. “Communism was almost like a terrorist movement in Hoover’s eyes, and he battled it and other perceived enemies throughout his career.”

This film is poised for several Oscar nominations and will be one of this year’s best pictures. After all, it’s about a man that changed the way we enforce the law.

Young Edgar, “Imagine if every citizen in the country was uniquely identifiable with their own card and number, say, the pattern on their fingers. Imagine how quickly they could be found when they committed a crime.”

Game Time: Tackling the Past – Review

I had the opportunity to preview the latest Walmart and P&G family movie night entry with a couple dozen folks from the press and Catherine Hicks (“7th Heaven” and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”). Game Time: Tackling the Past will air Saturday, September 3 on NBC (8-10 p.m. ET).

The story is about football pro Jake Walker (Ryan McPartlin, “Chuck”) living his dream until he gets a glimpse into the past he ran from. Drawn back to his ole stomping grounds when his dad (Beau Bridges, “The Fabulous Baker Boys”) has a heart attack, he gains insights into the reality of his past from his mother (Catherine Hicks). The unexpected family reunion brings him face to face with his brother, the local high school football coach (Josh Braaten, “Semi-Pro”). The pressures mount as Jake’s contract goes into the open market and his brother’s team faces their greatest battle, forcing Jake to decide if looking out for himself and a guaranteed contract, or supporting his family in a small town is the most rewarding decision a person can make.

The film was well made considering its short four-week production cycle. Although some of the camera work was too shaky for my taste. However, the wonderful layers of multiple messages about integrity and selfless behavior quickly made me forget about the lower budget production values. Not to mention that the stars really kept the show alive and moving.

Our group conversation with Catherine was salted throughout the evening, so I’ve taken certain liberties to edit it down and tweaked the questions to simplify the conversation for an easier read.

CJ: Hello Catherine.
CH (Catherine Hicks): Hello.
CJ: Before we start, I have to compliment you again for your work on 7th Heaven.
CH: Thank you so much! It was a special show, I am glad it lasted so long. I hope you enjoy this as much!
CJ: What attracted you to this role?
CH: The tenderness and concern of the character, the comfort of this role and the fact that Beau Bridges was already cast!
CJ: It sounds like a good character and Beau helped to tip the scale in you signing on.
CH: I choose roles by the character, but I love Beau Bridges, so I was super excited to accept this role!
CJ: The film has a real family feel to it. As the mom in the film, did the cast ever feel like a real family, drama and all?
CH: It was fun to have the whole cast together at the dinner scene. I like family drama because we all deal with drama in our families every day!
CJ: You did a great job making your character seem like a good mom in your first main scene.
CH: Thank you for the kind words. I hope that I am as good of a mom in real life!
CJ: Some actors draw from real life. How did you prepare for this role?
CH: As an actor, I went back to class last year, as I felt that I had kind of gone empty… so my new technique is to be more real and to go to places in my own personal life that correspond to the characters.
CJ: What could you draw from in life for the hospital scene?
CH: When my daughter was little, we were in the hospital with her and I remember the times waiting to see if she was ok. Gratefully she was, so the hospital scenes in the film helped me relive what it really feels like rather than just pretending.
CJ: And what did you draw from life for the football scenes?
CH: I love football. I went to Notre Dame and chased the QB… I loved games and wanted to be a cheerleader… I loved to watch.
CJ: What was it like for you and other actors in the football scenes?
CH: I love the lights on the football field and the feeling you get. There is nothing like it! I am excited because Ryan in this movie is a real football player and was a star in high school, so he personally understands the life, and ups and downs of athletes!
CJ: What did you think about Ryan’s performance?
CH: Ryan is a really great actor… sometimes a big jock does not come across as a good actor, but I was very impressed with Ryan’s acting. He was very still, very real, like a good actor!
CJ: The shooting schedule was very quick and shot on location, as I understand it.
CH: It took 4 weeks to make this film in North Carolina. I fell in love with Wilmington.
CJ: The film is loaded with some great messages. Is there one particular take away you hope the audience catches?
CH: I hope that audiences come away with families going through things being able to listen to them and feel where their pain is… that parents are not afraid to give their opinion. Today, parents often try not to assert their opinion to be cool.
CJ: Great messages aimed at families are desperately needed.
CH: Networks should know that they would have a huge family audience if they would put another show on like 7th Heaven… Hollywood doesn’t always realize how much people want these. Every decade audiences want another family show, but the industry doesn’t always see this.
CJ: You’re very right, and sounding like a mom.
CH: In real life, I was a very nervous mom who didn’t have my first child until I was 40! To this day, my daughter intimidates me!
CJ: With you drawing your mom role from real life and your daughter living a successful life at USC, you seem to have achieved being a good parent.
CH: Being a good parent is a talent… not everyone possesses that gene/talent. Hopefully one in each married couple does! My husband is the good parent in our family – I am the one who is very lovey and fun. I am just not good at the discipline part!
CJ: Speaking of parents that don’t have the gift, who played Dr. Tate?
CH: Dr. Tate is my new best friend! Gary Grubbs is a very funny man and his wife is too… We just laughed a lot and walked around Wilmington!
CJ: I’m sure the humor helped you stay fresh for the dramatic role you played, especially toward the end.
CH: In that last scene, I know how hard it is for my son, and think that my husband should go easier on him… I think parenting is a constant adjustment of the “sail” and the wind, in whatever is coming… sometimes you go the other way of the parent to see it from a different angle. I am definitely on Ryan’s “side,” opening up to me in ways that he can’t to his father.
CJ: Your dialog in that precise moment was right on the money.
CH: Yeah, I loved that line as well. We have to go to the “root…” Many of our problems often go back to the parent/child relationship – there is always a cause to the pain. Sometimes a psychiatrist can help in that journey.
CJ: It definitely hit home, which must have been a challenge.
CH: The most challenging in this role was to have the emotional scenes be credible and not melodramatic… Just real.
CJ: I thought you did great.
CH: Oohhhh, thank you! You made my night!
CJ: This film seems to be more of a male-based story.
CH: I agree about these films focusing on the male journey… women are often relegated to “wife” roles, but on 7th Heaven, the women were always strong. I am able to be strong in this role as well. I am sure we’ll see some future family night films where the focus will be more on the women.
CJ: Your character was indeed strong, bringing balance to this great family focused story.
CH: Great you feel that this film is a winner! Are you going to watch it when it airs on Sept. 3rd?
CJ: Aren’t I supposed to be the one asking the questions?
CH: I like interacting with journalists during the screening, it feels very comfortable.
CJ: Okay then, I hope my entire family watches it.
CH: Yeah! Mine will watch too!
CJ: And, what about your fans?
CH: I know my fans very well and it seems like a big family that just hasn’t talked in a while!
CJ: What do you hope your fans will take away from watching this film?
CH: My takeaway on this, is that this story is about “going home” and it can relate to any profession or race. We all just need to forgive, that is the basis of this story… to dig deep and forgive.
CJ: Your character seemed to be the glue that keeps things together long enough for the other characters to catch on to what’s important.
CH: Women are good at being the “glue” in a family and seeing the fine print. We are more emotionally based and grow up “analyzing” problems and feelings… I think we can help in that way… Men can also help us lighten up. What is the main lesson that you are going to take away from the messages in this movie?
CJ: That integrity is more powerful today than ever before and doing what’s right brings joy that overflows to others.
CH: Great comments!
CJ: This is a powerful scene.
CH: This scene shows a good “Hollywood” story… its not about money, fame and fortune corrupts, and it affects the family and especially the children. I believe that you need to be anchored in a strong faith tradition, so that you know that the meaning of life is about more than material things. We are here for a purpose and it’s a spiritual one.
CJ: Without giving a way the story, how did you approach this other scene?
CH: This was the first scene I shot, coming out of the football stadium… I wanted to be “terrified” like the kid was lost in Los Angeles, but the director assured me that in their town it wouldn’t be that dangerous.
CJ: What a cute kid with the perfect line and Katie Carr playing his mom is great.
CH: She is so refreshing…. I loved this girl in this film! I like the way they cast the role of Sarah… its not a stereotypical love interest…. Not just the sex symbol, etc… I love that they cast a British actress.
CJ: I can tell you enjoyed being a part of this football story?
CH: The thing about sports… it brings cities together and unites people, which I think is really good…. Sports bring people out together to root for their teams… together!!!
CJ: You did a great job in this film. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us.
CH: Thank you!

Here is a little behind the scenes sampling.