BACKSTAGE with Author Eric Thomasma

6 02 2014

Today on CSReview, author Eric Thomasma is sharing his love for science fiction, and being part of a wonderful world called children’s literature.

CS: Welcome to CSReview, Eric. Let’s start with something I ask every author of the genre – why do you write sci-fi?

fw-profile-imageEric Thomasma: As a young boy I was captivated by those now iconic words, “Space, the final frontier…” I was fascinated by the concept of faster-than-light space travel and the possibilities of life on other planets and the contrast/comparison with our own societies. I remember watching the moon landings and the early development of NASA and looked forward to the days of being able to be a passenger on a flight to Alpha Centauri or other seemingly unreachable destinations. In time I came to realize that the reality of our world politics would keep us from achieving such goals within my lifetime, so I turned to the world of fiction to keep the dream alive. When I decided to write a story, Sci-Fi just seemed the most natural genre for me to write in.

CS:  Alpha Centauri fascinates me too. Ok, here’s one question I think we all want to know – why do you write children’s books?

Eric Thomasma: Because they are stories that demand to be told. I wrote the basic story for my first children’s book years ago when my kids were little (they’re in their thirties now) and set it aside without any plans to publish it or to ever even write again. After putting out my second novel, I came across that old story on my computer and liked what I read, so I decided it was worth publishing. At our annual family reunion I talked to my brother Lanin (a cartoonist, amongst other talents) about it and he liked the idea, even suggested a name for the dragon. He readily agreed to do the illustrations and that set the framework for publishing what I thought was going to be a one-off. Then one day shortly before the next reunion, while working on my third novel, the story for my second children’s book invaded my mind and wouldn’t let me continue with the novel. I wrote the story, sent it off to my brother for illustrations, and went back to work on the novel. The third story was similar, in that it interrupted the flow of my fourth novel and wouldn’t let me continue until it was written and off to my brother. The fourth children’s book came as a request from my niece. She asked for a book about a yeti in the freezer because she had just told her kids that it was a yeti making the noise when the icemaker dumped a load of ice. This was so similar to the inspiration for my first (my wife told our boys that a dragon lived in our furnace to keep our house warm), that I couldn’t let go of the idea until it was written. Much the same with my fifth (coming soon). I was inspired with a phrase, that turned into a short poem, that kept me from getting to sleep that night. I got up twice to get additional lines into the computer so I wouldn’t forget them by morning. Over the next couple of days, I could think of little else and eventually came up with enough lines to become a book. I don’t really try to write children’s stories, I just don’t seem to have a choice.

CS: What is your message to the young generation?

BEGINS_Cover240x330Eric Thomasma: Reading is fun. It opens doors, takes you to impossible places, and stretches your view of the world around you. Reading allows you to see beyond the what-is and encourages you to look for the what-if. Reading allows you to learn about things that existed yesterday, events and developments of today, and dreams for tomorrow. Reading is the stimulant that awakens the imagination.

CS: In your opinion, what do adults need to learn from children?

Eric Thomasma: How to find adventure in an empty cardboard box.

CS: Perfect! Tell me, where do you find your inspiration?

Eric Thomasma: That’s an interesting way to phrase the question. It implies that I go looking for it. My experience has been more like having inspiration sneak up from behind, render me immobile, torture me until I understand what it is I have to do, and only then releasing me enough to follow its will. I never know where or when it will strike, but when it does, it’s impossible to ignore. On the other hand, there are certain themes that I’d like to write stories for, (Halloween and Christmas come to mind), but for some reason, when it’s something I’d like to do, inspiration remains annoyingly quiet.

CS: I suspect this to be true of many fellow writers, so all I can say is hang in there! What are you currently working on?

Eric Thomasma: My fourth novel in the SEAMS16 series, as yet untitled. I’ve been working on this novel longer than any that came before. More than once I thought I was nearly finished, and then a character would do or say something that took the story in another direction. This is one of the dangers of being a “pantser”, or someone who “writes by the seat of their pants”. I outlined my first novel before writing it, but by the end of the first chapter, the story no longer bore any resemblance to the outline. Since then I’ve just chronicled each story as it presented itself. It’s fun being able to enjoy the story as it’s being written in much the same way the reader will later, but it can take an unpredictable amount of time to complete and often requires a lot of editing. This book returns us to the station and picks up about a month after book two left off. (Book three was designed as a stand-alone story that took a leap back to the beginning of the society the others come from.) It includes family dynamics, religion, politics, espionage, kidnapping, intrigue, action, and more.

I’m also in the process of preparing a new children’s book, entitled Everyday Wonders. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but as I mentioned above, it’s a poem. It’s the first time I’ve used a poem for a story and I came up with a different concept for the illustrations, so I’ve been far more involved in that part of the process than I was for my earlier books. It’s been a fun challenge preparing the source material for Lanin to work with, but it’s taking longer than I’d hoped. I was hoping to release it yet this year, but that seems unlikely now. But watch for it soon.

CS: We will! Thank you for sharing your story, Eric. Good luck on your journey creating new books!

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2014. All rights reserved.


20 12 2012

David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus

by Camilla Stein

The fact of life is, that we see same things differently at different stages of our growth. Nearly twenty years ago, A Voyage to Arcturus meant almost nothing to me. It was the type of book that I dismissed from its first pages. Why? Oh well… where do I start…

Now, decades later, the book is in my hands again, and I am enjoying its language, its picturesque descriptions and details the author crafted out so many years ago. I cannot put the book down till I’m done with its last page. There’s just so much in it that resonates with my own perspective on things that matter. But let me first divulge why this book is a must read for seekers.

Nearly a hundred years ago, David Lindsay transports three people from Earth to an alien planet far away in a distant Galaxy, near a distant star Arcturus. Pure science fiction. There’s a high-tech device in place to facilitate the maneuver, and some good thinking – respective of the time – put into the science of it all.

The plot is centered around three men seeking a resolution to an incident that occurred on Earth and leads them to believe that something great, grandiose in fact, is happening behind the screen.

And then it gets really corky.

Maskull, the novel’s main character, is separated from his companions and travels through the alien country alone, meeting alien creatures of various kinds, including humanoid species of local population, learning things from them, teaching things to them… but mostly learning.

Maskull is first embraced by the alien race of very benign and loveable nature, insightful and wise, who kill no living creature for their own use, not even plants. They live on nutritious water, and their part of land is welcoming and abundant.

But then, Maskull’s journey needs to continue and he crosses into another part of this alien world. There, he is confronted with a terrible choice, and he commits incomprehensible acts.

“Attach yourself to truth, not to me. For I may die before you, but the truth will accompany you to your death.”

― David Lindsay in A Voyage to Arcturus, 1920.

The author clearly bases his plot on the exploration of good and evil, the eternal dualism that torments humans on Earth – and, so it appears, also on an alien planet. The eternal conflict and the necessity to choose, sometimes being in impossible situations, is according to David Lindsay the biggest problem of mankind. Seeking absolution, Maskull embraces his higher purpose, but then also has to confront his animalistic carnal nature, and in the end it’s this eternal conflict that causes him more harm than the outside elements he’s exposed to on this harsh, unfriendly part of the planet.

He’s learning what it’s like to become attached to a being and ruin the other with his actions. He’s encountering the Maker and is attempting to comprehend the nature of the Universe and all in it, and he learns that things aren’t always what they seem.

David Lindsay also explores a creative source instilled in humans – by way of reflection in an alien creature. Lindsay talks about narcissism that he explains in an agressive alien rite called ‘sorbing’, a way of discontinuing  another being by force, ending the life of another to incorporate the victim’s life essence into their own. And then, the author throws at reader the sweetness of death, habitual, acceptable, very near, an integral part of life.

A Voyage to Arcturus is a science fiction novel, riddled with mysticism and existential questions – and answers – at times deliberately confusing, but also filled with deep meaningful quotes.

The novel is considered impossible to film, due to its bizarre innovative canvas, setting and descriptions that cannot be reproduced on screen. Though attempts were made some fourty years ago, and parts of this story were adapted for a short film production by William J. Holloway that managed to deliver the gist of author’s intention with this book.

The novel ends with a remarkable resolution to the main character’s journey. It seems like an unhappy ending, but in truth it’s not. The conclusion the author makes is simple – there’s more to life than life itself.

I may not have gotten everything out of this by far strangest of books this time, and I look forward to another twenty years to revisit A Voyage to Arcturus.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.



21 09 2012

Quintessence of Dust

by Craig Wallwork

Another science fiction book made it on CSReview, a picky blog by a picky host. And maybe that’s why you can trust the quality of stuff that gets posted here. Quintessence of Dust is a great book. Why? Oh, didn’t I tell you – it’s sci fi! But not all sci fi is great, I might hear back from you… See, Craig Wallwork is an awesome gifted writer – he makes things happen on pages of his book. It’s an amazing feeling – to dive into a story, experience things, get out and dive into another one. A different world all together each time, but human connection makes it all somehow linked together.

Science fiction today is not so much of a fiction anymore – it’s mostly a projection of today’s reality onto the possibility of things in the future. A space elevator is going to be built because a bunch of guys got together and collected funds for the project. A rover lands on a planet and sends back incredible footage. A man-operated interplanetary mission is about to happen… we won’t notice when it does, I promise. Time flies. This is how Quintessence of Dust feels – time flies.

Ernest Hemingway wrote symbols into his fiction – which was much of a reality anyway. In that Craig Wallwork’s style reminds me of Hem. I did not expect this effect when I first browsed through the book. Honest. But then, after reading it one more time, attentively and tasting every sentence, it sort of struck me.

And oh the sence of humor! I love it when authors dare to say what they want to say and do it with a grin on their faces, and they know that we, readers, will respond to that just the way they expect. And there they have us, right in the spot they want us to be – smiling, giggling, mumbling something to ourselves in confirmation of what we’ve just read… And looking into the future, and meeting some funny talking characters….

Craig Wallwork is a very attentive writer who just likes to go into details to make us not only visualize the events in his stories, but also feel, smell and literally taste stuff in them – and that’s what makes this futuristic collection so real, so within one’s reach.

Well, folks, this ain’t an ordinary review, I am sure you’ve picked that by now. Craig Wallwork takes you on a fun ride, uses familiar notions and categories, but builds an insanely wonderful, playful, very psychological and fine web of images that impress and stay with you for quite some time. And that, is forever.


Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

BACKSTAGE with Joe Kawasaki

14 09 2012

Today’s guest on CSReview is an internationally acclaimed film producer and director Joe Kawasaki, talking about one of his recent works – a science fiction cyberpunk short film REBOOT.

CS: Welcome to CSReview, Joe! You’ve recently worked on a science fiction production Reboot. In your Kickstarter fundraising video for the project, you mentioned that in today’s world there’s very little of what can be called science fiction and most of what we have now is science fact. How is this channeled into Reboot?

Joe Kawasaki: Hello, and thanks for having me!

It wasn’t that the idea (that we’re no longer living in a world where the science fiction genre has transformed into science fact) was channeled directly into Reboot so much as it was meant to shape expectations of what a cyberpunk science fiction film may be construed as by our Kickstarter backers. I didn’t ever want to imply that this was going to be an attempt at creating an entire “future” world like Blade Runner. I thought it was important to emphasize that with everything advancing the way it is today, you needn’t be in a space opera or some fashionable dystopic future – that future is already happening today.

CS: Being a science fiction fan, do you look up to classic science fiction writers, filmmakers? Who is your favorite, the one you can relate to the most?

Joe Kawasaki: William Gibson has definitely shaped my mind, from film school onward. It’s amazing how much of a pulse his writing has with our contemporary times, and he has a wonderful voice, a truly gifted writer. I grew up on the classics: Herbert’s Dune series, Tolkien’s LOTR (though that’s fantasy), and David Wingrove’s Chung Kuo series, which I think is brilliant as well, and definitely shaped what I gravitate toward in terms of genres and stories.

Filmmakers. Too many to name. Truffaut, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Hitchcock, Wenders, Cassavetes, Redford, Spielberg, Scorsese, Lynch, both Coppola’s, Zemeckis, Ridley Scott, Tarantino, Fincher, Spike Jonze, Guiseppe Capotondi’s The Double Hour, the list can go on forever. They’ve all influenced me or moved me in some way through different periods of my life.

CS: Reboot is entertaining, but also deep, built on symbols and signs. What did you have to do as the film’s producer to ensure Reboot’s message got across?

Joe Kawasaki: As it’s writer, I was just trying to get this down in less than 40 minutes, and the irony is that the deeper I got in, the more I wanted to say, the more I wanted to cover. So much of what is happening around us back then, and now, was feeding the story, and so every day there was something that would ignite some idea or thought. There was a real fear of misrepresenting the hacker sub-culture, as well as a fear of creating something vapid. It really just chipped the block.

As its director, I wanted to shoot the writer sometimes, but in the end it was a great experience. We really had a blast with the little nods and homages we stuck within the frames and scenes. You know, at the core of the story is this fun little jibe about a woman who wakes up with a smart phone glued to her hand, and so I didn’t want to lose sight of that and make this into something that was a soap box for whatever. I think the balancing act for me was to keep it entertaining, but to walk that line without shirking whatever it did have to say. What did we do to ensure this? We worked our asses off. Really. No one on this project had it easy or didn’t work their ass off. I may have missed some things, but it certainly wasn’t from a lack of effort.

I really have Sidney (our producer) to thank for making it happen; as well as our backers, friends, and family who supported it, continue to support it; and to the amazing group of talented artisans I’m so lucky to know and work with.

CS: Just from the trailer alone I get an impression that the team of Reboot worked really hard to put the film together. What were the absolute highlights of production, what didn’t go too well? Did the team have to improvise, do something unplanned, unforeseen?

Joe Kawasaki: Things were planned out fairly well going in, but you always have something happen during production. It’s a given really. I wake up on any shoot day, hopefully rested, with my game-plan in place and all worked out, and that allows me to not freak out when something goes wrong – and something always goes wrong. I couldn’t name a filmmaker out there who hasn’t faced a moment where things are literally teetering on an edge and you’re just pushing for what you want, despite all. I think half of directing is really just keeping a ship afloat and moving in the right direction while its sails are on fire. I grew up with some very passionate filmmakers throughout my career, and you just get used to the idea that the days should be hard, they should be pushing something. I get worried when a day goes too easily. So yes, we had our challenges, but they’re really not anything outside of the norm. We had long days. We shot principal in five, and had to come back for two more days for inserts, and some pick-ups on a green-screen stage (because the original location was no longer available to us). That was a challenge, and certainly a lot of kudos goes to our post ninja team: Adel Gandomikal and Aleem Parkar, for making that work seamlessly.

In thinking back, not a lot of improvisation. I don’t think our schedule allowed for any. I normally do like to work with scenes once we get the base down, but this one pretty much had to go by the clock.

Highlights? Too many to name really. Walking on and seeing Shannon Kennedy and her team shaping up Jesse’s room the way we discussed was a real thrill. Watching all the actors click in and be there for the film, as well as bring their own ideas to the table.

The post production process, though extremely arduous and long, was also magical. Working with all these people who I’ve had the pleasure of working with for so many years, was a real treat. Everyone put in 100%.

What didn’t go too well? We laugh about it now, but we had location issues. I mean, we literally didn’t lock the main Stat/Jesse location until probably three days before shooting was to begin. Even landing that great conference room location was quite an interesting journey.

Once we got rolling, all during the shoot there were sound conflicts on the main location. On one day, we had Batman shooting down the street with pyrotechnics and helicopters, a porno shooting above us (booming music), and the City coming in to do tests on the fire sprinkler systems in the building. Sidney must have popped a vein or two during that day.

CS: Joe, you spent a lot of time in the Arabian part of our world where you produces amazing commercials and shorts. What was the highlight of your work there? What of the experience did you take with you when you left?

Joe Kawasaki: Wow, you did your homework. I spent about 13 years living in the Arabian Gulf (with a three-year break back in LA in between), and it was a great experience for me. It opens your perspectives, and I had met so many gracious and hard-working folks that I can definitely see as life-long friends. Adel, our post super; Aleem, our VFX Lead (who is Indian), and Raid Qabundi, our composer; and Umair Aijaz, our code consultant, are all people I had met and had the great fortune of working with while out there; and I will continue to work with them as long as I can.

Culturally, it was surprisingly not that different than my own Japanese background in terms of basic etiquette and social norms. The Arab people can be extremely gracious hosts, and I was treated very well. And we did a lot out there. We were shooting on 35mm for many projects, posting in Italy, India, Dubai, Egypt, London, Lebanon. It was a terrific experience.

CS: Arabic cinematography has a long history and tradition. What in your opinion makes Arabic cinema stand out – and what connects it with film traditions worldwide?

Joe Kawasaki: Arabic cinema dates back to the golden age of Hollywood, and when you see the films from Egypt of that period, you’ll be amazed. Very slick, very much a Hollywood standard, just in a different language and cultural setting. Somewhere along the line, with all the wars and disruption in that area, I think something was lost. But you can see a genuine need and push toward revitalizing that aspect of their arts back into the forefront. I was very pleased to see the new generations being so actively engaged, there are quite a few wonderful works that come out of Lebanon, Jordan, Dubai; and you can only hope it will continue to grow and nurture beyond all the other stuff going on there.

Ironically, all that makes for a powerful perspective that can be translated to great stories and messages – the fact that so many of them have literally been in the middle of some kind of war or oppression. FIlm can help ignite the silent majority into action, even if it must gain momentum from the rest of the world. But you need that. They need that. In that, film connects us all. It is a global cultural movement, and in this age of YouTube, there is nothing that is quite as provocative (once you cut through the reams of banality) as some moment captured or some designed element that literally came from the backyard of a village in the middle of nowhere and is then published to the world. Film and media in general has always, for better or worse, been a lens that shapes the way we perceive and behave socially and politically. There is an immense responsibility there that can go beyond simply entertaining if you choose to go there.

CS: Losing Leelo, an experimental project, appeared very promising, at least in my view, and I would love to see it on screen. Do you have regrets the project never came to fruition? If the project is resumed, would you be re-called to work on it, and would you want to?

Joe Kawasaki: Thanks for taking the time to watch it!

Losing Leelo was something fashioned from the kernel of something else I’ve been developing on and off for over ten years. It was a reaction against the kind of stuff that people were saying I needed to do for audiences there, and to simply try something that interested me and what seemed to interest a good chunk of the younger generation, as well as with my contemporaries there. I think it was pretty cool, and could have done something; it could have flown pretty high I think. There are a lot of exciting ideas attached to that project.

The company I was running at the time, Integra Films, was behind it all the way. We spent a good two or three months working on that and the presentation to get it funded. But alas, cyberpunk and the whole sci-fi aspect of it didn’t fly too well there. You find a lot of people who are interested in that genre in the region; but generally, I guess they really don’t (like it); and it was an expensive idea. So it never got made.

It was frustrating at the time, but in hindsight I think it was just the wrong project for the wrong region, at the wrong time. Would I be interested in resuming it? Hell yes. It was a lot of fun crafting the ideas, to shoot and construct the trailer for it, and we had a good platform to start, but there it stands.

CS: Speaking of Reboot, how would you evaluate your work, is there anything you think you could have done differently with this film – or not? And ultimately – who will be interested in watching Reboot?

Joe Kawasaki: Oh God, where do I start? There’s quite a bit I would work on further, or change… probably too much to speak of here on your blog, and just not very interesting to read. Sidney had asked me where this film was in terms of my personal expectations, and I had replied with 60%. I think it’s enough to say I can watch it without feeling like I want to throw up.

Someone once said that a film is never really finished. You just stop working on it. I mean, I could still be tweaking it today, nine months after we screened at Raleigh. So somewhere in late January of this year we all looked at each other, and decided it was done. And you move on. You get on to the next one.

Who will be interested? Hopefully anyone who can find relevance within its construct. I think there is a lot in there to chew on for a short. Ultimately, we’ve been getting a great response from the infosec/hacker community, and that has been very gratifying and pleasing to see.

CS: Looking forward into the future, where is Joe Kawasaki five years from now? Ten?

Joe Kawasaki: I have a hard time knowing what I’ll be doing six months from now, let alone that long. Hopefully continuing to be in the amazing position to actually make a living doing what I love, and to be making stuff that interests me, gets me excited. I mean, life is hard enough as it is… it may as well be something that gets you going every day. I could see myself doing a lot of things in the future, most of it quite interesting and pleasurable, but very little of it would be something that wasn’t about making images and telling stories.

CS: That would be awesome, Joe. I wish you good luck with everything you decide to do, and thank you very much for being on CSReview today.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

REBOOT Official Trailer on Youtube

BACKSTAGE with Director Donald Flaherty and Actor Morgan Benoit

6 09 2012

Today on CSReview, we’re talking to film director Donald Flaherty and actor Morgan Benoit, and the highlight  of our conversation is the newest and very promising science fiction movie project BRUTAL.

CS: Welcome to CSReview, Donald and Morgan. I am glad to see you both here. Donald, my first question is for you – why science fiction? What appeals to you in this genre?

Donald Flaherty: Science fiction allows you to heighten reality and tell stories that might not necessarily work in any other genre. Sci-fi also allows you to make bold statements and do things that are often impossible at this moment in time. It really allows you push the creative envelope.

CS: Morgan, how does it feel to be on a set of a sci fi movie? Is it any different from any other set?

Morgan Benoit: It feels great! I am a big science fiction fan, I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction (George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, C.S. Lewis), so having the opportunity to do a science fiction film was a real pleasure. The Brutal set was quite different from other sets I have worked on. My scenes take place in a cage and in a cell; because of the lighting and how they are set up both sets have a very otherworldly feel to them so that helped me get into character and it was a lot of fun to work in that environment.

CS: What I always wanted to know – is it harder to shoot a sci fi film? Why?

Donald Flaherty: Yes and no. I believe the best sci-fi works when it’s based in reality that the audience can relate to. Creating a world that is both believable and somehow unique and exciting for the audience to discover is the real challenge of the genre. Sci-fi allows for a tremendous amount of freedom when creating your own screen world, unlike a period film where you are constrained by the time period of the story. You can’t have a tank roll through Gone With The Wind. But if you did Gone With The Wind as a sci-fi film, that tank might just be the perfect device to help tell your story.

CS: Interesting perspective there, Donald. I love Gone With The Wind… don’t know if a tank will make it better, but I do hear you about using whatever devices necessary to further the story, to ensure it’s clarity for the audience’s sake. What was the ultimate challenge in producing Brutal? What makes Brutal different from any other sci fi production?

Donald Flaherty: The challenge of producing Brutal was creating and executing the fight sequences in a believable, exciting, and fresh way. Colin Follenweider, the second unit director, and Chris Torres, the stunt coordinator, did an amazing job bringing the fights to the screen. Morgan Benoit and Jeff Hatch, the two lead actors also put blood, sweat and tears into making the fights happen on screen. I can’t express how exciting these sequences are going to be. I think the whole team has raised the bar on fight footage in a film.

CS: I can’t wait to see! Morgan, you have to film against a green screen, does it make you uncomfortable? How do you get past that?

Morgan Benoit: I have never had a problem working with a green screen, I’ve always had a very over active imagination, I think that helps when there isn’t any scenery or props to work with.

CS: It’s great to be able to channel your natural abilities into your profession, Morgan. Donald, are you nervous about Brutal’s upcoming screening? Does it feel like you’re about to set a baby into the world?

Donald Flaherty: I think whenever you do creative work, be it film, painting, music, etc., it is always nerve-racking to put it out in the world. But it’s part of the process and dealing with both the positive and negative reviews is something artists must contend and come to terms with. To be honest, I’m not quite there yet. Maybe someday it will get easier, but right now it still gives me big butterflies.

CS: I’ll be certainly holding my fists for Brutal. OK, tell me this – what was the most remarkable, most memorable event on the set?

Donald Flaherty: The most memorable event, believe it or not, was how easy it was to shoot this film. The team from the top down was amazing. Everyone showed up everyday and brought their “A” game. It was the most trouble-free, low-stress production I’ve ever been associated with. Great people doing great work. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

CS: Morgan, you worked with Jackie Chan and David Carradine. What did you learn from these ultimate martial arts masters?

Morgan Benoit: What I’ve learned from Jackie is to be humble, be grateful, never forget where you come from and to work very, very hard. Jackie is always the first one up, he is never late to set even though he could get away with it because he is such a big star and when there is down time you will never find him idle. When he is not in front of the camera he is either working out, or working on the project in some other way. I’ve always tried to emulate Jackie’s work ethic when it comes to establishing my career. David Carradine was also a very talented and hard working individual but it was Jackie who really made a lasting impression on me.

CS: Special lessons come from special people… Having spent so much time in China, what would you say was your ultimate lesson there, what did you take with you when you left?

Morgan Benoit: The most important thing I learned in China is perseverance. When I first started training martial arts in China I couldn’t find a teacher, coaches said I was too tall, too inflexible, started too late, but I worked really hard, I fought through the pain and molded my body and mind into what I wanted to become. I proved to them – and to myself – that I could succeed in Wushu. It was the same when I moved from Beijing to Los Angeles, it was during the writers’ strike, it was difficult to find an agent, a manager, to get any kind of audition at all, but instead of giving up and returning to China I stuck it out, worked hard and found a way forward.

CS: Kung-Fu is am amazing discipline. I am only amateur, but I love every part of it, I think it brings the best of the person who practices it genuinely. Tell me about doing martial arts stunts on the set. Do you always remember where the camera is? Do you get carried away?

Morgan Benoit: I have been doing it so long that I have a good understanding of camera angles, after a while you start to sense the camera and you instinctively know what direction is best and how to angel your body. At first it can be a daunting process, but like anything the more you do it the more familiar it becomes. I have never gotten carried away while working, it’s not a fight, it’s choreography, it’s more like a dance. The choreography has to flow, it has to have rhythm, and intention. I look at fight choreography like a professional pianist playing Beethoven or Mozart, the tempo is always changing, fast, then slow, too hard – then soft. Compare that to someone who isn’t trained just banging on the keys. If that gets carried away and is just fast and hard without rhythm, it doesn’t translate to screen well, and ends up looking slow and awkward.

CS: Where do you envision yourself in five years after Brutal?

Morgan Benoit: In five years I see myself as an extremely successful action actor who can also cross over into serious drama.

CS: And Donald, would you do a sci fi film again?

Donald Flaherty: In a heartbeat. I love the genre.

CS: Thank you for stepping by and talking about Brutal, Donald and Morgan. Wishing you best of luck rounding up production and successful screening!

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

BACKSTAGE with Traci Dinwiddie

5 07 2012

Today’s guest on CSReview is a Hollywood science fiction actress and a woman of many talents with an amazing professional record – Traci Dinwiddie

CS: Welcome to CSReview, Traci. I am truly honored to have you here. You are an award winning actress, now also a screenwriter and a singer. Does wearing many hats wear you out, or, perhaps on the contrary, gives you an extra boost and inspiration to create something new and exciting?

Traci: Thank you so much for your interest in my work! Wear me out? Oh, quite the contrary! I’m a multi-hat wearing kind of woman.  It’s extraordinary to live a rich, full life.  Being busy doing what I love titillates me.

CS: From one sci fi fan to another – Han Solo rocks! And so do Star Wars. I really do not know what we’d do without them… do you imagine your life could turn out differently if not your early exposure to science fiction? What are the ultimate lessons of science fiction that you carry with you through life?

Traci: I hear ya.  Love me some Han Solo. The ultimate lesson in sci-fi would be that anything IS possible!

CS: Who is your Yoda, your Grand Master? What would you like to learn that’s missing in your professional career today?

Traci: My Yoda is my yoga. On the simple side, I’d like to learn French.  I’m also really flirting with the idea of going back to college and finishing just because I can and I love to learn.  The only real thing missing in my career today is a series regular role in a new badass sci-fi TV series! Come on, Universe! Bring it!

CS: You know what they say…  if you want something really badly, Universe will move with you to deliver. If you’re determined, things will happen! What is most special and most hard thing to do when acting in a science fiction film? Does it differ from anything else you’ve done on screen?

Traci: Sci-fi is my heart’s love.  It’s always mind-bending.  I must give a deep bow to the sci-fi fandom.  We are a special breed.  Hardest thing: keeping my eyes open after they were ‘burned out of my skull’ while crying in Bobby Singer’s (played by Jim Beaver) arms in episode 401 of  “Supernatural”.

CS: If you were a Star Trek character, who would you be? Why? I think Star Trek 2009 was absolutely brilliant. Do you want to see another Star Trek sequel, if yes – would you want to be a part of it?

Traci: Loved it, too.  I’m eager to work with J.J. Abrams.  I would have played Spock’s mama, Amanda Greyson, hands down.  Sorry, Winona.  Ya haven’t anything on MY eyebrows! Yes, I would dive into some Star Trek sequel action without hesitation.

CS: You’re on your way to creating a new web series. This is a new medium that continues to win the audience. What are the key components of producing an ultimately great web series?

Traci: I hope I have the ingredients right.  I’m a huge social media participant.  Web Series need quick, exciting story lines to follow, brilliant editing, and unique style.  These are designed for those who’ve busy lives.  I want to leave my audience inspired and eager for more.

CS: How does trying yourself in a new, more technical role of a producer, reflect on your acting?

Traci: It’s empowering to produce films in which I act.  I dig knowing that I’m creating work for myself, and I hope it inspires others to manifest their own desired work. As one of my mentors, Marianne Williamson says, “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” While producing and acting does require a bit of a juggle, it’s completely do-able.  When I’m on the set as an actress, I delegate producer responsibilities appropriately, so I can simply focus on my craft.  It takes a good instinct for hiring your team.  I’d like to think I’ve got that instinct.

CS: If you had to go through a Stargate, which planet would you pick for your destination, and what would you find there?

Traci: Ah, yes.  My Stargate would take me to Neptune where the atmosphere is pure water in which one can breathe.  All movement would be lyrical in its effect simply by the fact that the local beings are living in a water world.  It’s a dreamy place with the essence of poetry, light, and dance where a person can restore after working their buns off on Earth.  I’m a bit of a romantic, I admit.

CS: I love alien planets! Well, Traci, thanks for a great sci fi chat! I’m glad you stepped by and I wish you all the best and all the greatest achievements in life and on screen!

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

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13 03 2012

Today’s guest on CSReview – Domenico Italo Composto-Hart, a science fiction writer, author of Dark Legacy and professor of American, modern European and world history, geography, and economics in Barcelona, Spain.

Stein: Dark Legacy, being a merger of science fiction and fantasy genres, has a very tangible ornament of the Orient, so mysterious and fantastic, in the names of the characters, their life style, and their culture. What inspired this?

Composto: My fascination with Asian culture, which began when I was in junior high school. This was in the late 1980s into the early 1990s and at that time there seemed to be a sense of awe, and perhaps fear, amongst most Americans toward the strength of the Japanese economy. The U.S. economy was in a slump, so in seeking answers as to how to rise out of this recession and meet the challenges of the coming global economy there were reports, articles, books, and films (such as Black Rain and Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun), which displayed aspects of Japanese corporate and yakuza culture with an underlining tone of tension and competition in regards to which was better, the American work ethic and culture or the Japanese work ethic and culture? The answer–it seemed–was the Japanese work ethic, and with that answer came the media inquiries into the unique culture that gave rise to that work ethic.

I remember clearly going to see a presentation by an actor/history teacher while I was in high school. This presenter originally led us to believe that although he looked Caucasian he was in fact Japanese; he portrayed himself–convincingly–as a descendent of Dutch traders who had settled in Japan centuries ago. He had a slide show clearly showing us, from a cultural point of view, how the Japanese saw Americans, essentially as backwards. He displayed an image of a European woman taking a bath and said, “Here we see a woman taking a bath in her own filth! In Japan we take a shower before stepping into the bath to rid ourselves of all impurities.” When we heard that, I remember feeling offended–it felt like he was saying that we were barbarians–but at the same time I realized that there was a logic and truth in that point of view. It was soon after that presentation that I decided–and knew–that I would one day live in Japan for a period of time. In the years that followed I read as much as I could to understand the Japanese culture to the point that I eventually lived in a Zen Buddhist temple and went off to live in Japan for three-and-a-half years.

So that entire obsession and series of experiences all fed into the Dark Legacy novel. That is what I hope makes the book unique within the science fiction and fantasy genre since most novels within that genre draw upon Western mythology and culture. Dark Legacy draws almost entirely from Eastern mythology and culture, and although the depictions of Atlantis and the city-galaxy of Atlas appear more Western influenced, there is still a taste of the Asian since I drew upon my experiences from the megalopolis of Tokyo to serve as a type of model for Atlas.

Most of Dark Legacy was written while I was living in Japan. Naturally, I drew a lot from the people, culture, and traditional lifestyle of that country. One aspect of the story–the second act where Master Shinsei is teaching and training Kieko within the Kadek Temple–was drawn, in some part, from the time I spent living in a Zen Buddhist temple.

Stein: Amazing, Domenico. I too am drawn to the Japanese culture, having worked with the Japanese years ago, and now I have this obsession with haiku… I totally understand how the Japanese culture can provide the fertile soil for fascinating images, stories, characters. Speaking of which, is it hard for you to envision the development of your stories, growth of your characters? Is it hard to write a trilogy?

Composto: A quick answer to that question is no. But to back up, Dark Legacy will be a six-book series. Many people naturally assume that it will be a trilogy since so many fantasy novels are trilogies, but the Dark Legacy series will be six books, with more to come after that in a second series entitled, Legacy of Light. Hopefully, I live long enough to finish it!

In regards to writing a series of books and maintaining a vision for the development of each story and the growth of the protagonist, that was the part I found to be the easiest. There is a classical piece of music called Adagio for Strings, which was used in Oliver Stone’s film Platoon. It is a haunting piece of music and one I found myself continually attracted to when I was an adolescent. Every time I heard that piece I had a particular vision–a scene–in my head. That particular scene is the final end of the Dark Legacy series. So from there I worked backwards thinking what was the story of the character I saw in that scene. Who was he, where did he come from, what was his childhood like? I developed a back-story for this character and eventually sat down to write a one hundred plus paged outline of this character’s life to lead up to this one scene in my head. From that outline I took the first twenty to thirty pages and wrote, Dark Legacy: Book I – Trinity.

I still have these outlines and over the summer, last year, I pulled it out and found that the beginning I had in mind for Dark Legacy: Book II – Travels has not changed although the story, details, and context of the story will be different from the original outlines. But the outlines are definitely a general guide (a sketch) that is clear in terms of where each story is leading to and how all six books will work as a whole. With that “sketch” I can fill in the details with all the new experiences and knowledge gained since writing the outlines.

Stein: Sounds like a monumental undertaking! Do you always know what will happen to your characters? Have you been taken by surprise by any of them?

Composto: That is a great question. No, I don’t always know what will happen with my characters in terms of the individual choices that they will make. In regards to the ultimate outcome for most, if not all, of the characters from Dark Legacy: Book I – Trinity I had a very clear idea of what would eventually–inevitably–happen to them, but in regards to their individual choices throughout the story I did not. Their choices became apparent within the writing process, but there were many times that I would have to back up and correct or alter certain choices as a result of sharing drafts of the story with my editor, Thomas Lee, and with friends and family. Their feedback was a critical aspect of helping me see through their eyes, the eyes of the reader. Sometimes as a writer you write and assume that the reader will pick up or quickly understand certain aspects of the story or the characters. Since you are so intimately involved and see the road ahead of where the story is going you may lose sight of what is obvious and not so obvious to the outside reader.

I remember working with my editor in developing the character of Kira and her relationship with her mother, father, and with Kieko. To really develop her character to my editor’s satisfaction, and my satisfaction once I could see through his eyes why the character needed work, I had to go back and write and rewrite again and again. That experience of working alongside my editor and going over essentially the first act of the story, paragraph by paragraph, is where I feel I became I true writer. He became my “ideal reader” and his critical analysis of the story and the characters really developed and strengthened my writing abilities. I always have him in mind when I write; I can hear him saying in my head, “Show, don’t tell,” or “That is lazy writing, fill in the holes,” etc.

Stein: This only proves that practice makes perfect – your hard work surely shows in the book. Is there a part of you in Dark Legacy? If yes, who are you in the book, where are you?

Composto: Yes, there are many aspects of my personality, experiences, and past in Dark Legacy. Authors, writers, filmmakers, artists, musicians, and all those involved in the creative arts probably have this secret understanding that their works, and the works of others, are really reflections of ideals, values, concerns, and experiences that they hold dear to their heart. When you read a book from an author or watch a film or observe a work of art you are really looking deep into the soul of the individual who created it. They are speaking to you, revealing an intimate part of their very being with you.

Just recently I saw the film Super 8 with my wife. After watching the film we saw the behind-the-scene interviews available on the DVD with the director, J. J. Abrams, and producer, Steven Spielberg. They discussed how they came up with the idea for the story for Super 8 and essentially it was the story of their childhood, their adolescent years, and how they would run around making short movies on 8 millimeter film (in Stephen Spielberg’s case) or with their Super 8 camera (in J. J. Abram’s case). It was so enjoyable to see them discussing their childhood and reveal that the film Super 8 was essentially revealing aspects of their own childhood. I loved that!

In regards to who am I in the book? Many aspects of Kieko’s experiences, frustrations, and journey are in some way autobiographical of my years as an adolescent. My search to understand what it means to be a man, to have integrity, to do what is right, dealing with bullies, feeling different, curiosity and love for women, dealing with my own personal anger and teenaged angst, wanting to change the world and ensure justice while feeling unable to do so, and seeking mentors to show me the way.

There are little aspects of my past in most of the characters in regards to drawing upon people throughout my life to define the characters that the protagonist interacts with.

Stein: Interesting that you should mention Super 8. The movie has been reviewed on CSReview by a guest poster Michael Panush. I remember thinking when reading his review that childhood truly never ends – it just takes on a different form later on as we mature. Where do you see yourself as a professional writer in five years from now?

Composto: That is a difficult question. I don’t usually like to project a vision of myself into the future. When I turned twenty (or around that time) I promised myself that I would finish and publish my first book when I turned thirty. About six weeks before I turned thirty I was nearly finished with the first complete, final draft of Dark Legacy: Book I – Trinity, but while in a café in Barcelona my backpack, which had my laptop, was stolen. It was a fairly new laptop and I foolishly hadn’t saved a backup copy of my book. As a result, about six months worth of work was lost on the book; I was devastated to say the least. Finally, when I was thirty-three, nearly thirty-four, I finished and published Dark Legacy.

With that experience I learned that it is good to have goals set in the future, but to simply take things as they come and to not loose heart when the objectives I have set in the future do not come to pass exactly as I would like them to.

Whether this happens in five years from now or not, ultimately I would like to make a living as a professional writer and author working on the completion of The Legacy Cycle sci-fi/fantasy series of books while also writing books within the genre of steampunk and science fiction. If that comes to pass then with it comes the freedom to take my family to live in a few exotic places to further inspire my writing. I would like to take my family to live for half a year, to a year, or more in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Sydney, and perhaps London. My home is here in Barcelona, but my wife and I met while we were backpacking throughout Southeast Asia, so it is a dream of ours to take our son to experience and live in the cities in Asia that inspired us.

Stein: Domenico, thank you very much for being here and sharing with us the behind-the-scenes story of Dark Legacy. Wishing you good luck with your future projects and traveling around the world again!

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

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