Author - Gabrielle Alexandra Smith

This Is Us’ Mackenize Hancsicak 

Mackenize Hancsicak plays the youngest version of Kate on the NBC’s This is US.. She gives insight on her role and what she brings to the character.

ATM: How was growing up as a child before becoming an actress?

MH: Well, I was just going to public school when I signed with an agent. I was in a two-week summer acting camp when I got a call to come in for an audition for This is Us. I didn’t know anything other than that I looked like one of the other cast members. I went on the audition, had a couple of call backs, and the rest is history.

ATM: Why do you just stop with the describing your experience on the show with the word “amazing?” Go further with explaining.

MH: Well it’s just that, amazing. I never had any idea when I went on that first audition what the show was. To be a part of something that is a number one show and be nominated for all of these awards is just amazing. I am so lucky and fortunate that I get to work with these amazing actors and learn from them. I have learned so much. I am truly lucky.

ATM: What is the self-esteem of your character Kate?

MH: For Young Kate, I think her self-esteem is something that she beginning to understand. I think she is trying to figure out what that is and what that means. In the pool episode back in Season one, she is kind of bullied by mean girls and her dad tells her that she is beautiful. So, I think for her, it’s about remembering haters are always going to hate, but to not to listen to them and make sure to think about what’s important and be true to yourself.

ATM: How does your mother inspire you to keep going when you feel like giving up?

MH: I try not to think about life like that, but there are some days just like everyone, where you don’t want to do what you are supposed to. It’s hard because I have to do a lot of different things like be on set and all of my homework, school, and after school activities. My mom always tells me that people are counting on me. I like to be a role model for kids and fans of the show. At the end of the day I am lucky, and I am grateful for everything that I get to do and for having a mom that is always there for me.

ATM: What has your mother taught you about being a young woman working in television?

MH: My mom has taught me to make sure I get enough sleep, to be on set on time, know your lines, and be respectful. Milo and Mandy have been in this business since they were kids. If you want to be in this business for as long as they have, you need to treat people with kindness. My mom always says it’s important to treat people how you want to be treated and hopefully you get to be in this business a long time.

ATM: What do you feel you bring to the set of This Is Us that no one else in your role can bring?

MH: When the agent sent over a picture of Chrissy, I felt like I looked like her. I started on the show at 8-years-old. I am a kid and I am still learning. So, playing young Kate, we are growing together, we are learning about life together. I bring my honesty, innocence, and hope to her.

ATM: What are your hobbies outside of acting?

MH: Oh, I have so many! I am a Girl Scout and I just bridged to Cadet. I love spending time building Lego sets with my dad. When I am not doing those sets, I am making and playing with Slime. Over the summer, I also volunteered with our local shelter because I love animals and helping them find homes. I am a big lover of the theater. I am constantly singing. It would be a dream of mine to be in a play.


Aleksi Puranen Talks ‘Heavy Trip’ and Finnish Film Culture

Aleksi Puranen was the writer for the recent film Heavy Trip, which is about a heavy metal band coming together to make great music. Puranen talks about the movie, Finland’s society and film views.

ATM: How did you think to connect comedy to heavy metal music?

AK: I think there are quite a few similarities between heavy metal and comedy. There are a lot of things in heavy metal that are over the top like the way they dress. Or how extreme their opinions might be or their appearance. They usually very easygoing guys.

 ATM: Why was your film Heavy Trip necessary to be written for the big screens?

AK: Right from start we intended to write Heavy Trip as a feature film for the big screen. In Finland we don’t even have such a thing as a “TV movie” anymore. We used to, but not anymore. So, it was either a feature film for the big screen or a TV series and series was never our intention. Plus, there hadn’t a feature film about a metal band, at least not in Finland, and we decided it was time to their voices be heard. And usually extreme metal is combined with horror, which again was never our intention, but rather wanted to make a comedy since quite often the guys under their extreme or harsh appearance are sweet and mellow.

ATM: Do you think it could persuade a person who has never listened to the genre to listen?

AK: I think it’s very much possible that someone who has never listened to metal would start listening after seeing Heavy Trip. The music the band plays in the film is rather extreme, but the soundtrack by Lauri Porra is much more mainstream and melodic and I’d say “easier” to listen to. I’ve heard people who have never listened to metal say that they enjoyed the music. Whether that lead them to buy loads of metal cd’s or create Spotify playlists consisting of metal, I don’t know. But, in general, I think when you see something new in a film that interests you, there’s always a chance you might give it a go in real life.

ATM: What are your favorite heavy metal bands?

I started out listening to bands like Kiss, WASP, Twisted Sister and Dio in the 80s. Then I got in to melodic metal bands like Helloween, Queensrÿche, Iron Maiden etc. These days I mostly listen to progressive metal or just heavy metal and my favorite bands are Dream Theater, who are widely considered as the prog metal masters. They’ve been around since the late 80’s and continue to produce quality albums. Then there’s a Finnish band called Sentenced who started as a death metal but leaned more towards heavy metal and hard rock later on and had a really dark and humorous side to their lyrics. They disbanded in 2005 but still remains as one of my favorite bands. Evergrey from Sweden is close to a perfect mix of combining melodies, heavy riffs and emotional, somber mood and I enjoy their music very much. Another band from Sweden I love is Seventh Wonder who are closer to the style of Dream Theater and they just released their new album and I can’t stop listening to it. Circus Maximus from Norway is another one. They also play progressive melodic metal and sometimes even lean towards hard rock and I’ve listened to their two last albums almost continuously. Iron Maiden and Halloween also remain as some of my favorite bands. On the harsher side, I also enjoy Finnish Moonsorrow who play really epic metal and were sometimes said to play “pagan metal”. Whatever their genre, I really like them. Then there’s Summoning from Austria, who started out as a black metal band an evolved into a wonderful mixture of extreme metal, darkness, fantasy, ambient sounds and soundtrack-like music and their albums from “Stronghold” on have been masterpieces.

ATM: Have you ever been in a band? If so, then what was your band name? Describe an outfit and dream concert event.

AK: I used to play at my neighbor’s garage as a kid. I played bass guitar and “growled”. This was in 1991 or 1992 and we tried to sound like Iron Maiden or Megadeth. Then we recorded a demo tape (with a c-cassette just like Impaled Rektum did in the film) of more extreme metal and called ourselves “Impurity”. This must’ve been in 1992 so I was fourteen and not very good at playing any instrument. Soon after that I quit playing and decided to focus on listening to music instead of trying to play and I’m quite happy with my decision. If I played in a band today, the music would be really heavy with a melodic touch, a combination of what Sentenced and Evergrey sound like, perhaps. I don’t think I would have any special outfit. Dark jeans and a t-shirt would do, but a dream concert would probably take place somewhere in Finnish or Norwegian Lapland at a mountain side. I have no idea how anyone could organize a concert event in such a place, but it would be epic!

ATM: How popular is the film industry aspect in Finland’s pop culture society?

AK: I think the film industry is quite a popular thing in Finland, but the thing is we’re a nation of 5 million people and not too many Finnish films travel abroad. Although, lately this has been getting better and better. But the fact that approximately 30 feature films get produced per year is since the Finnish film industry relies on state funding. Finnish Film Foundation has a limited budget and is obligated by law to support all kinds of films (art house, documentary, short film etc.), so there’s only so much money to be dealt and naturally, there are lots of filmmakers who are eager to get their share. Average budget of a Finnish feature film is approximately 1,5 to 2 million euros and the Finnish Film Foundation usually covers about half of that. Producing films without state funding would be impossible in Finland.

ATM: How do Finland society celebrate its film professionals (directors, producers, actors, etc.)?

AK: I think film professionals are quite highly valued in our society. Maybe there’s not as strong a “star cult” as maybe in Hollywood but for example, the press in Finland is very interested in how Finnish films travel abroad etc. It is, of course, a big thing every time a Finnish film succeeds in one way or another abroad. For example, when the short film “Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?” was an Oscar nominee and the feature film The Fencer was a Golden Globe nominee, those were big deals over here. Of course, we have our own annual “Oscars”, Jussit, which is an awards gala where all the awards are given, and both films and filmmakers celebrated. “Jussit” is in March so we’ll see if Heavy Trip or my feature length documentary Wheels of Freedom will receive any nominations. If they do, that’s, of course, a wonderful thing but not the reason I make films.

ATM: So, fame and fortune does not matter to you in terms of making films? Why do you even make films? What makes you not stop?

AK: Well, it’s, of course, nice to get recognition for your films but awards and fame are not the reasons for making films, for me at least. I think there are very few Finnish filmmakers who are rich. There are some but most just make a decent living. And quite a few struggles to make a living at all making films and it’s not unheard of that people stop making films because it’s hard to make a living. The pay is not as good as in big Hollywood productions because the budgets are also significantly lower. I make films out of a passion for storytelling. If there’s a story I love, then I naturally want people to hear about it. With films, you can not only entertain but also inform people, change attitudes and even change the world. I don’t think I’ve made that kind of impact or if I ever will, but as long as I just have this passion for telling stories I will keep on trying to make films. What or when my next film will, I have no idea at the moment, but it will come someday.

ATM: How do you feel you change attitudes and use film narratives to change the world? Is there any elements or topics about life that you have not observed yet your film? Describe the struggles of your first time and what was the time of it.

AK: I think there are quite a few topics yet to be covered. I first graduated with a BA in 2006 and then with an MA (in film screenwriting) in 2012 and worked in the film industry as a lighting technician, assistant director and whatnot, all the time trying to make it as a screenwriter and/or director but none of my projects went anywhere. I made several low/no-budget short films out of sheer fun and also to keep up and advance my skills as a filmmaker. Those films were easy to make in the sense that there weren’t any funding bodies or anyone else who might have had had the possibility to tell me what to do or not do, but rather I had pretty much the freedom to do whatever I wanted.

A lot of times I either didn’t get any funding for my writing or producers weren’t interested in my scripts. So, in a sense, Heavy Trip and Wheels of Freedom are really my first times. Both took quite a while to get going. I think I started with both in 2013 or 2014 and they were both eventually released this year. Both actually cover the topic of believing in yourself and not being afraid of failures or rather keep on trying even if there’s a big chance you might fail, which is fairly typical for us Finns. We tend to think that if there’s a chance I might not succeed, then why to bother at all. Especially with Wheels of Freedom – which tells the story of a disabled man trying to drive across Europe from Finland to Lisbon, Portugal with his power wheelchair – I was able to make people aware about disabled people’s rights. Not sure if I have changed any attitudes yet, though.

ATM: What are some social issues or controversies in Finland now?

AK: I think #metoo is one, which I think is rather self-explanatory. Also, right-wing political parties rising to power (or trying to) is something I think I will try cover in one way or another in my future films.

ATM: How do you cover such topics without it coming as bias?

AK: This is a good question. I think when you’re making a film you should always have a point of view, whatever the story is you’re telling. You’re always commenting on something about the world or society or pointing out something that may be wrong about society. As a filmmaker you should always have something to say and the film you’re making is the medium through which you convey your message.


A Little About Pablo Escobar

Ricardo Niño plays in the film Loving Pablo that’s about the life and times of Pablo Escobar, who was one of the wealthiest people in the world. We get see the loving side and ruthless side to Escobar. Niño gives his take on the film.

ATM: How would you describe Pablo Escobar?

RN: As a Colombian, he was a person that did really bad stuff. He really messed up our country’s representation. A lot of people see him as a hero. He did a lot of stuff for poor people. My dad used to tell me about stuff about cartels. It was all really bad. He used all his power to do really bad things. He was like the almost the 2nd richest guys in the world.

ATM: What were things that surprised you about this movie?

RN: I did not know he did not drink. He only drank beer. I think it was Heineken. He used to sell drugs. He did not consume it but only sold it.

ATM: What do you think about his relationship with the journalist?

RN: She used to have a lot of power in our country. She was so beautiful. She wanted the power he had. He could buy everything he wanted. It was all about power.

ATM: What is it about the power of money that makes it so detrimental that would make people kill and manipulate for?

RN: We have a thing in our country about friends being more important than money. You need the connections to make it plausible.

ATM: Can people have power and no money?

RN: Yes. Power is always more important than money. There are a lot of people that have no money but have power. They have a lot of connections. Sometimes people do not have much money, but they have connections to make it plausible. This is more important.

ATM: What is your view about Escobar as a father and lover?

RN: As a father, he tried to get his family out of the business. He did not want them a part of it. He always took care of his children. He loved children and he was a good father.

He had a bad reputation because of his weight. One time he was so fat he could not even walk. His mind was in a different place. He was thinking about getting caught and getting killed. He was using sex as a release and this was it.

ATM: Was he a guy that had low self-esteem?

RN: Yes. He had everything but wanted more power. He wanted more power to show his family he was important. He was important from dealing. He was trying to get into Congress to be the most powerful guy in Colombia. He wanted to show his family he was the king and there was nothing but him.

ATM: What does it mean to be a true Colombian in your eyes?

RN: A true Colombian is hard working, loves family, and has family values. They also value family, is a hard worker and has respect. For me, every time I go into another country they say I am a drug user. You sell drugs. This is because of Pablo Escobar.

ABC’s ‘American Housewife’ Star Daniel DiMaggio

Daniel DiMaggio plays a vital role in ABC’s American Housewife. He speaks with ATM about his journey on the show and the experience with his onscreen siblings.

ATM: Describe the personality of your character on the ABC’s American Housewife.

Daniel: He has a personality for himself. He is very driven and takes many things seriously, especially ballet. His goal is to get into Harvard. He wants to use ballet as a way to get into Harvard. My character is very savvy when it comes to money. There is a lighter and caring side when he is in a relationship with his girlfriend.

ATM: What does this show say about the quality of American family sitcoms on TV?

Daniel: It is one big family who moves to Westport trying to fit in. They are trying to adjust to the whole culture with the white skinny mothers. Kate Otto is trying to fit in. It is different and similar to a lot of family shows on T.V. It brings our family on the show together.

ATM: What are the serious things it shows about trying to fit in?

Daniel: The premise of the show was that Kate Otto moves to this town. Kate and her family moved from this town where the culture was different. She has problems with her weight and how people judge her. She gets used to it. One of her kids has OCD. She is trying to make one of her kids fit in more and the older children fit in less.

Photo Credit: Tashi Palmer

ATM: Do you like ballet in real life?

Daniel: I would not say it was something I wanted to do. It has grown on me. I enjoy it now. It is not like baseball to me. I still do enjoy and respect it.

ATM: How do you like baseball?

Daniel: I grew up playing baseball. It was my childhood sport. I will never let this go.

ATM: Describe your favorite game you played in as a child.

Daniel: The most intense game I would say was an elimination game in New York. Our whole team went to New York for one final tournament. We would win a trophy. It was in Cooperstown where the Hall of Fame is. It came down to one team and after this team, we would make it to the final. We blew it and lost to the team. We never made it to the finals. We played out of 104 teams. This was still a big accomplishment. We had it all and then we lost it.

ATM: What is your favorite ballet move?

Daniel: This might sound cliché, but I like the plié. I like the soutenu, which is when you squeeze your legs together. Your feet are close together.

ATM: Express your relationship with your onscreen siblings.

Daniel: With my younger sister, I feel I do not give her the time of day. She is trying to fit in as well. The deeper relationship comes with my girlfriend the more time I spend away from my family. I separate from the family a lot more. With the older sister relationship, we have that older sibling bond. We get along on this show and in real life.

Follow Daniel on Instagram @Da_real_dimag

Steven Guttenberg Talks Big

Steven Guttenberg plays in the recent film Bigger where impoverished brothers use their wisdom and persistence to become wealthy fitness businessmen.

ATM: How do you think this film is different?

SG: This movie is more about building yourself against the odds. A star is born is not about performance, but it is about addiction. This movie is not about bodybuilding as much as it is about believing in yourself. These two brothers not only created an atmosphere of community. They also created a sense of dream, exploration, persistence, and determination. An atmosphere of “can do,” which was very much envogued in the 40s and 50s.

ATM: Do you think dignity and grace are a part of what creates an impeccable man?

SG: I would say that it starts with integrity, character, value, authenticity, mobility, and the Ten Commandments.

ATM: How can someone become inspired by these two brothers who overcame extreme poverty to become fitness entrepreneurs?

SG: Basically, just a dream. Everything starts with a dream whether it is Einstein trying to figure out the theory of relativity or you are trying to figure out what to wear to go to work. It starts with a thought. You have an action and this action becomes a habit. This habit becomes a character and the character becomes your destiny.

ATM: Was acting the start of your dreaming in life?

SG: I am sure I was like every other person when they are young. You dream of all types of things like being a baseball player, doctor, or an astronaut. At 12 years old, this is when I came upon acting, and hung my hat to make it a chosen profession.

ATM: How does a person gain wisdom coming from the background like the brothers in this movie?

SG: Reading. What they did was read and studied. These were two very hardworking people. This is really the secret to life. Especially when you are young. Read and add breath to your reading. The more you know the better you are. The better you are the smarter you are. The smarter you are the healthier and more successful you will be.

ATM: Express more on your quote “If you’re an underdog, mentally disabled, physically disabled, if you don’t fit in, if you’re not as pretty as the others, you can still be a hero.”

How does a person get pass these imperfections?

SG: The great secret and tool that you have is your mind. Your mind is more powerful than any machine or computer on earth. If you believe you can go to the moon, then you can go to the moon. I really do believe no matter what obstacles you are given in life you can have the choice to give up. Or you are determined to keep going. There is an old slave song called “Lord Let Me Hang on Until My Change Comes.”  This means just hang on no matter how bad it is. Just hang on. Stay at the table. Stay in the game. Stay in the house. Do not give up.

ATM: Do you think being a bodybuilder is literal and can also be a metaphor?

SG: Absolutely. Everything in life is a metaphor. Showing up is just 80 percent of it. By showing up to the gym, getting on a machine, lifting the iron weights you will become something. A seed becomes an oak tree. This is why Arnold Schwarzenegger company is called Oak Productions. He was called the oak because he came from a tiny seed and grew to become an oak tree.




Robbie Magasiva on ‘Wentworth’

Guarding women prisoners is not Robbie Magasiva’s only job. He also has to protect them from their emotional pain. Magasiva gives insight about his experience on Netflix’s Wentworth.

ATM: What does this show symbolize about women?

RM: This is a good question. What an intense question. It symbolizes strong women. The main characters are played by wonderful actors and they portray strong individual women.

ATM: How has your character progressed?

RM: He has always been loyal to the women. He understands what the main character has done what she did and why. My character functions in a way to help progress the women characters.

ATM: How would your character Will have acted if put in the shoes of these women?

RM: Wow. This is a hard question. I would have to look at this as if Robbie made this bad decision. It would freak the shit out of me. If everything was going well in my life and something terribly went wrong, then it would take me a few months as to how it all works. I would not be able to talk to anyone for several months. I would cry in my cell thinking about the why. There would be recurring questions about what if I did this or that. I would be an emotional wreck. I would not be able to see my kids. Usually, in life, you have the control to see them and now you do not. It would probably destroy me. It would be emotionally hard to overcome it. I would probably not be able to do it.

ATM: There have been people from the beginning of their life doing bad things and in and out of jail.

RM: Yes, and wrongly convicted. This is horrible. You have to be emotionally hardened or capable to deal with this. There are people who cannot.

ATM: These people are around others who are discussing their issues. You are sitting around them saying “But I did not do it.” No one is going to believe this. Based on this show, do you feel prison is sort of separate than the world we live in?

RM: We are much closer in showing it than most. The reality of it is that we are making television. We are able to tell stories in the world of prison. There are standards in prison that we are not able to tell. There was a scene were one of the women had walked to one brick to another. This is pushing the envelope in terms of security. In uniform, I have thought there are like 400 cameras and no one can see this. We resemble a world of prison than any other shows now. I cannot think of any other. There is Orange is the New Black.

ATM: Oh, do you watch this show?

RM: I started watching this show but cannot commit to it yet. I feel guilty.

ATM: Why? You feel like a traitor?

RM: Yes. I will watch it when this show finishes. I need to watch it from season one. I need to watch it from the beginning.

Julian Works Talks Beautiful Boy, 9-1-1 & The Affair

ATM: How does your character Gack fit into the scenario of the story?

JW: Gack is the connection to the lead in finding his way to the drugs he is addicted to.

ATM: Based on the title, what do you believe is internally beautiful and ugly about the lead character?

JW: The ugly is, of course, the addiction. The beautiful is what you would find in the vulnerability, youthfulness in this kid. For him to have so much potential and a brighter future based on how he was raised with his parents. This would be the beautiful element to it because there is so much more potential.

ATM: How can this be an inspiring film narrative about survival?

JW: The main issue that is tackling is the addiction and the overdose. It is one of the highest causes’ in deaths. I read somewhere that it is even more than automobile accidents and shootings combined. This is to bring it to light and have a conversation about it as a positive step moving forward. Also, giving it a platform to show kids that are this young, they are not the only one. It is something they can relate to. Hopefully it transpires them to go into another direction.

ATM: Why do you feel the lead male character picks meth?

JW: There is no specific reason. It pertains to a bunch of things. One of the few things can be because he has always been an outcast. He found a select group that he thinks he fits in with and another mechanism of coping with himself. He obviously does not love himself internally. It is a way for him to forget what he does not love about himself.

ATM: Let’s move to 9-1-1. What did you learn differently about first-time responders when playing on 9-1-1?

JW: All my scenes are with Angela. I learn that the first-time responders are key to communicating with the cop that is in an area to make sure they are there at a time that is needed. They are the ones that dictate what callings are to the ones that are needed now. Whether it is someone dying or a cat getting stuck in the tree. They are the key ones that put out the responding message to make sure there is someone to help.

ATM: How can someone balance saving people during their hardest times and living their own life?

JW: This is a good question. Everyone at a certain time is either in a need of help or you are the helper. To find balance in this is if someone is close to you needs help is to make sure you are in the right place to offer this help. You can get lost trying to help someone solve their problems while you are drowning in yours. You must make sure you are right first.

ATM: Do you think first time responders are a metaphor or euphemism for the word savior?

JW: It can be. There is a metaphoric way of putting this with savior. It is all really on the responsibility of the individual. One bad reputation from one person can make the whole seem like a bad bunch. I would like to think a cop and a fireman who resembles the symbol of savior have a lot of responsibly on their hands. It is a lot to take in.

ATM: How do you handle things at unpredictable moments?

JW: By just slowing it down. In life, you are always thrown in unpredictable moments and stuff does not really go as planned as one really hopes. You must prepare for something that is out of the ordinary.

ATM: Let’s move to The Affair. Describe a favorite scene you played in.

JW: The favorite scene was the scene that I am in class. Dominic West is teaching the class. We have all been upset with the way the principal is handling things. We all feel deflated. Meaning what can we really do to change things around here. Dominic West influences the class in a way to help us realize that maybe individually we can and that you can make some noise. I stage and start a walk out. This was kind of fun. We had to get cops involved to play in.

ATM: What is your favorite and most challenging thing when it comes to acting?

JW: My favorite part is being able to tell a story that is not mine. The most challenging is the same exact thing. Sometimes there is nothing I relate to in these roles. I have to kind of dig and do my own research myself to fit into the ambiance of what I put on camera.

Queen Sugar’s Director Shaz Bennett

Shaz Bennett is one of the powerful directors picked by Ava DuVernay on OWN’s Queen Sugar. Bennett talks about her episode that aired in this current season called A Little Lower Than Angels and her upcoming independent film Alaska Is a Drag.

ATM: Are you standing on the hill where the famous Hollywood sign is?

Shaz: Next canyon over, but I can see it from here.

ATM: Interesting. Express your time directing on this show.

Shaz: This season Ava created for many of us an opportunity to get our first steps into television directing. For me, I knew I wanted to prove I was worth the risk. Even though, I’ve heard Ava and Kat talk about how it’s not a risk, they’re hiring strong directors. Coming into the show I was already a huge fan. I had seen every episode. I have known the show runner Kat Candler for a few years and DeMane Davis a long time, who is the producing director. I have known both from the independent film world. I felt comfortable with them as collaborators. A lot of the season’s themes and stories are written by Kat, Ava and the rest of the writers – my job as a director is to make sure, I know where we are in the season arc and make sure I’m setting up and giving them what they need for the rest of the season. Talking to Kat initially and in the tone meeting was asking about how far and what they wanted from each scene.

Each episode is one part of a 13 hour movie in many ways. I was conscious, that I had a lot of big moments for each of the lead characters. Charley finding out Davis had another child, that leads her to the bar to meet Jacob. Blue finding out that his parents aren’t getting back together. Nova and Remy on the lake. It was a big episode. I asked the actors to trust me and that I was going to take care of them. We talked through the scenes. I wanted the lake scene to be quiet, isolated. A moment for these two characters who have known each other their whole lives but don’t get to talk like that alone. It was the beginning of a possibility.

The scene with Charley in the bar is one of my favorites. Dawn-Lyen is such a magical actor. Charley works for control. And none of her plans were working that one day. She lets down another guard in order to get into control again. I love the scene of her crying on Jacob’s shoulder. I love the end of the episode with her in the bathtub crying alone. All of the actors are so strong. They can take a line on paper and add all the layers.

I love the scene with Ralph Angel and Benny in the kitchen too – both those actors brought so much to that moment.

ATM: Why do you feel you are considered a strong director? 

Shaz: I’m a collaborator. I love actors and aspire to add to the cinematic conversation always. As a film programmer, I can’t help but draw on the million films I’ve seen but as a director and storyteller, every shot, every moment has to tell the story first. I hope that’s what I bring as a director.

ATM: How did you foreshadow how your career would plan out?

Shaz: My whole life is self-taught. My first job in film was at 14 years old taking tickets at the Sundance Film Festival. I took copious notes from every Q&A I saw and when I saw a film I loved that resonated with my soul. I asked the filmmaker what your influences were and then went out and found and watched all the films and broke them down — shot by shot — what worked and how it felt to me. I was a film nerd who later became a film programmer.

ATM: Describe yourself as if you were not yourself.

Shaz: I hope someone that didn’t know me well would say what my close friends would say: Loyal. Kind. Exacting. Driven.

ATM: Why do you think the title A Little Lower Than Angels was decided for this episode?

Shaz: I love this title. Every season I understand that Ava selects the titles – this year, the titles come from a Maya Angelou poem. Thematically, it felt right because the three main characters are all at a crossroads. You might make decisions that are not perfectly in line with how you want to be in order to help you get to the next place. We make decisions that are from our heart. We’re all a little lower than angels.

ATM: How does this episode show children’s naivety toward their parent’s relationship?

Shaz: Ethan is such an incredible actor. This was a very personal story to some of the writers. When family members go through a divorce/break-up there comes a point where the children must become aware of it. You are always hoping and dreaming your parents will get back together and be perfectly aligned, even if in your gut, you know it’s not true. Blue is in that place in the scene with Hollywood eating the chicken. “Chicken Cheers” – which was s a little improv line from Ethan. He’s so sweet.

Earlier, he asks his mom when are you coming home? He is testing everyone to see what is really going on. Then at the picnic table with Hollywood and says, “when will my mom and dad get back together?” Hollywood doesn’t respond. But, Blue is getting the answer. The end where they are sitting together. When we filmed this scene, we wanted Blue in the middle. We wanted Ralph-Angel and Darla on the sides of him. Metaphorically they will always be there for him, but in this moment. They can’t be together. Such a heart breaker. Blue had to realize he wasn’t going to get the dream he hoped for.

ATM: “What happened to the forevers.” Express the emotion you believe this line is supposed to evoke.

Shaz: When children are coming to realize nothing is forever. It’s such a big concept. When Ethan said that line “but you said forever”. We all melted. The plan was to get married and stay together. But, it didn’t work out. They weren’t lying. Life just got ahead of them. For Blue, it’s like you promised me it would be forever. It is just such a heartbreaking moment. All of us were like this at one point. I still am. When we thought someone would be there forever – and then they’re gone — through death, end of a relationship, or the end of a friendship. You go in with those intentions but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

ATM: How did you want to exhibit the mood modifications of Charley’s character in this episode?

Shaz: Dawn-Lyen and the writer Chole Hung and I talked about the full arc – knowing that in the end, she’s going to be alone in a tub washing way the entire day and everything that had happened. So, each scene it was just remembering where we were and what’s next – to play the layers. First, she’s getting teased by her son and his friends about the Almond milk. It leads to this revelation from her ex-husband – then to calling her family. None of them are around to meeting up with Jacob. That split-second decision is the catalyst to the end. There were two break-downs written in the episode. One at home after Davis leaves and one in the bar with Jacob. We wanted these two breaks to be different. Collaborating with the DP Antonio Calvache we shot them differently and gave Dawn-Lyen the space to make them work.

ATM: How did you want to highlight a female’s vulnerability?

Shaz: Charley very rarely strips away everything. She is always so put together, in control, and knows what is happening. Dawn-Lyen was very excited about this scene. It was a side of her character we don’t get to see often. The vulnerability She strips down and gets into the tub. Washes her face and just sits quietly alone. She’s starting over in some ways. She rebuilds this character throughout the rest of the season. I am excited to see what happens next season as a fan. I love where Charley went this season.

ATM: She is figuratively washing away the hurt and the pain.

Shaz: Yes. I love the line where she says, “When do you hit bottom.” She says this to her ex. Like is there going to be enough? A part of this is about how much do I give over to you. When do I stop dealing with this shit? Dawn-Lyen intuitively knew how to play it. I gave her small little notes but often it’s just about seeing the full arc.

ATM: Why do you think women are more emotional submissive in giving men a change in relationships or in marriages?

Shaz: It is so true to how family works. He is the father of her son. It is hard to cut someone out of your life when they are so intertwined into your family. He is going to be in her life, so how she handles it is the story. I felt like it was her moment of saying to Davis that you need to get out of my life for a while — in this episode. I need to erase you and you are not helping me. But that’s now. Who knows where it will go next season. Ava, Kat, and the writers are always talking about family. And about how women see family. It is sort of ingrained in us to keep the family together and give a second chance to someone who does not deserve it. Like later in the season when Charley says to Remy – Nova and I are forever. Such a beautiful moment of sisterhood.  I love this show because of all of the complications that go into family and relationships. Women see more nuances in others. We’re self-reflective that helps us as directors because we can identify with the characters, even though it may not be our own personal story.

ATM: Are you saying you are a complex woman/person?

Shaz: Yes. Women are, and we see nuances in friendships, relationships, siblings, mothers, and fathers. I cannot make a statement that men do not.  I know in general with the conversations I have had with my female friends that they can see both sides of a story. Whereas, men would say hey that is wrong, fix it. Women see the nuances. Nuance and layers are at the core of great story.

ATM: What is the moral behind your recent from film Alaska Is a Drag?

Shaz: I made my feature film to explore gender. Why/what makes masculine/feminine powerful. I grew up in place that was stunningly gorgeous on the outside but can also be isolating and violent for anyone who stands out in a crowd. I liked the idea of a character who lives and thrives in the collisions of male/female — gay/straight — fantasy/gritty. At its core ALASKA IS A DRAG is about survival and found family. It’s a drag origin story and power that comes from all the above.

ATM: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being self-taught in film through empirical observations? 

Shaz: I can only speak from my side, but I see a lot of advantages in being self-taught and breaking down films and TV shot by shot — because you get a sense of what’s working for you — even if it’s abstract you are developing your own personal style.

ATM: Did the effects of how women and men were seen in this culture affect you growing up?

Shaz: I grew up with four brothers and one sister and our mom and dad did a great job of making us feel equal — with so many kids — that was my tribe for a long time so it wasn’t until I moved to LA and later NY when I felt the expectations of women and men, but by that time, it was too late — ha! I have better days and worse days when society norms weigh on me, but I try not to give those limitations space in my heart and soul.

ATM: What would America look if this was a matriarchal world where men were the minority/marginalized? 

Shaz: I think it’d be so fair and equitable. Women in my experience aren’t trying to take everything — they’re more willing to move over and make space for everyone.

ATM: Why did you link the noun fantasy and adjective gritty together?

Shaz: To me, they’re two sides of the same coin. The times in my life when I had the least and was struggling to survive were also the most inventive — I daydreamed about getting out and beyond.

ATM: What has Ava DuVernay systematically taught you about being a woman in the T.V. industry and a director? 

Shaz: Ava is just an incredible role model for this business — every meeting I got in — I channel my inner Ava — or at least what I imagine my inner Ava to be — if a door is closed to you — open your own doors. And a big thing that stuck with me — the day I was flying to New Orleans to direct my episode — I emailed her to thank her for this opportunity and she responded immediately saying she remembered that feeling and to take it and make sure to give it to someone in the future. What a beautiful way to live an incredible way to approach art and business. So grateful for the chance and I can’t wait to succeed beyond hers and my wildest dreams, so I can do what Ava did for me to more artists.


Returning the Favor with Mike Rowe

Mike Rowe’s show Returning the Favor on Facebook Watch is an example of great humanity. Rowe speaks with ATM about his desire for helping others.

ATM: Why do you like having a show on Facebook?

MR: Well, if I’m going to make content, I might as well put it in a place where I know people can find it, right? Facebook already has 2 billion customers, and everyone I know has a smart phone. I don’t think television is going away, but I’m pretty sure the future of content is going to unfold online. More importantly, Returning the Favor – like every other show I’ve ever worked on – is programmed by fans of the show. Ever since Dirty Jobs, I’ve relied on viewers to suggest my next adventure. My Facebook page has over 5 million people, so it’s real easy to stay engaged with the people who actually watch the show and ask them to help program every episode. Returning the Favor is really a show for them.

ATM: What is your earliest memory of someone doing a good deed to you?

MR: Does good advice count as a good deed?

ATM: Sure.

MR: Well, when I was 16, my grandfather gave me some very good advice. He was a skilled tradesman who everyone admired a great deal. He only went to the seventh grade, but the man could literally build or fix anything, and everyone loved him for it. I was convinced that I was going to follow in his footsteps, and he allowed me to apprentice with him as a kid on all kinds of projects. Problem is, the “handy” gene is recessive, and what came easily to my Pop didn’t come easily to me. One day, after watching me struggle on what should have been a really simple project, he pulled me aside and said, “Mike, if you want to be a tradesman, you can be a tradesman. But you’re going to need a different toolbox.” At the time, it really broke my heart.

ATM: Why?

MR: Because sometimes, the truth hurts. I always think of the people on American Idol who dream of being a pop star but can’t sing. Their auditions are so painful. Many of these people were encouraged by well-meaning parents and teachers to “follow their dreams” and never give up on whatever it is they love to do. Then, suddenly, at 25 years of age – they’re told they don’t have what it takes, and they’re devastated. Well, that was me. It had never occurred to me that just because I love something doesn’t mean I can’t suck at it. But of course, that’s exactly how life works. Anyway, once I got over the initial disappointment, I went about the business of figuring what I was good at. It took a while, but thanks to a local community college, I was able to experiment with all kinds of classes and vocations I’d never considered before. I studied writing, singing, public speaking, narrating, and acting. I learned I was good at some of those things and started pursuing them. In time, I got myself a new toolbox, and went to work in my chosen field. My grandfather’s advice was a good deed – a very good deed. It put me on a path that brought me here.

ATM: Why do you love to give back and help people?

MR: I do what I do because I enjoy it. Helping people makes me feel good. Producing shows that that “give back” also makes me feel good. That’s why a run a foundation and a scholarship fund. But make no mistake – I get paid to produce the shows we’re talking about.  Dirty Jobs, Somebody’s Gotta Do It, The Way I Heard It, and Returning the Favor…these are all “for-profit” ventures. Having said that, I guess I’m attracted to projects like Returning the Favor because our country is divided.

ATM: Yes, it is.

MR: Politics have crept into just about every topic and every conversation. People are sick of talking heads screaming at each other on TV. They’re tired of scrolling through their news feeds and seeing angry rants from people they used to call friends. Honestly, I think America is desperate to watch something positive. For that reason alone, Returning the Favor is succeeding. But the show is also working because it’s real. It’s a short, light-hearted look at real people doing nice things for their community. Plus, we document the making of each episode, so you don’t wind up with some overly-produced, manipulative mess that pulls on people’s heartstrings unnecessarily. It’s just a fun, light-hearted reminder that good people still walk among us.

ATM: Because you travel so much, did you ever like adventure as a child?

MR: Sure. I was in Boy Scouts as a kid, and we traveled all the time. Camping, hiking, white-water rafting, hunting, fishing, sky-diving…we went all over the place. In those days, The Boy Scouts – my troop anyway – was really a gang of daredevils run by a former Colonel. It was a great way to prepare for life on the road. It was also the place where I learned the importance of things like personal responsibility and delayed gratification.

ATM: So, did you make Eagle?

MR: I did. In fact, I became a “Distinguished Eagle’s Scout” several years ago. I’m not sure what I did to “distinguish” myself, but I was honored to see my name alongside astronauts and Presidents and various other luminaries far more accomplished than I. I think it was probably the fact that my foundation reflects a lot of the philosophy that the Boy Scouts still embrace. I think they also appreciated the fact that I sent out 50,000 letters to other Eagle Scouts over the years, congratulating them on their success.

ATM: You have a good heart!

MR: Well, I try not to be a schmuck.

ATM & MR: (Laughs).

ATM: It is nice to take the time to send out all those letters.

MR: I guess it was a way for me to “return the favor” to an organization that made a difference in my life a long time ago. I think it’s important to remember the people who help you along the way.

ATM: Is that why you started a foundation for skilled labor?

MR: Yep. mikeroweWORKS evolved out of Dirty Jobs back in 2008. It started as a PR Campaign for jobs that don’t require a four-year degree.  Really, it was a way to say thanks to the industries that allowed Dirty Jobs to become a successful show – industries that were struggling to attract skilled workers. It was also a way to acknowledge my grandfather, and his influence on my life. Today, I use mikeroweWORKS to remind people that over 6 million jobs are currently available to anyone willing to master a useful skill. We also award scholarships that pay for vocational training. We’ve raised over 5 million dollars so far and hope to do a lot more in the future. In fact, if your readers want to learn welding, plumbing, electric, or any of the other construction trades, they’re welcome to apply for a work ethic scholarship at

ATM: I’ll let them know!

MR: Cool! That’s called “returning the favor…”

Gene Jones Takes on ‘The Old Man & the Gun’

Gene Jones plays a role in the film The Old Man & the Gun. Jones talks with ATM about his aspirations and experience on set with Robert Redford.

ATM: How was your experience while on set?

Gene: It is a beauty and a great old fashioned film. It is full of good acting. David Lowery is such a brilliant man. What a job he did with this script. It is richer and fuller than it was on the page. How nice of me to get a couple of scenes with Robert Redford.

ATM: What do you like about old fashioned films?

Gene: There is a kind of a matter of factness to them. The story is told in pictures and dialogue. Pictures and dialogue get an equal measure. The camera is not alone in telling the story. It is rich and it is like watching an old satisfying movie on TCM. The connection between Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek was just wonderful. Oh god, the scene on the porch blew me away. They are just sitting there talking. They are not doing anything, and the camera is not doing anything. It is just a straight shot of great movie acting.

ATM: What is your take on a person choosing to love someone despite their bad ways?

Gene: People fall in love all the time in spite of something they know about the person they love. This made perfect sense to me. She did not chase him. She got to know him.

ATM: Talk more about the porch scene.

Gene: It sounded like a real talk and sounded like things people would actually say to each other. It was very simple to talk. The actors are so honest. It is just rich. It has nuance and subtext. There is a life lived behind what each of these characters said. It was beautifully done and my favorite scene in the film.

ATM: Express details about your role.

Gene: I was a bank manager in one of the many banks Forrest Tucker robbed over his career. This was a Texas Bank. My role is a small town guy. A self-important guy who is totally unprepared and off guard. Forrest walks in with the gun in his jacket pocket. You never see him pull the gun at any of the banks. He just says I got a gun and people hand over the money. Part of the readiness to hand over the money is the quiet demeanor of Forrest. If he was wild and yelling, then people would have pushed the button to call the police. He is not wild and yelling. People want to co-operate with Forrest.

ATM: Have you ever thought of having a profession in the bank world?

Gene: Oh goodness no.

ATM: Are you good at math?

Gene: No I am not bad at math. I just never had any interest in it.