Making something out of nothing: Brian Haggerty’s Chicago-based journey in “School for Gods”

          If a film is being made about Chicago, it better be accurate, because that’s something the natives to the city will appreciate, no matter what. At least that is the sentiment expressed by Brian Haggerty, a Chicago based actor who stars in the upcoming feature, School for Gods (2015, Paul John).  “We refuse to abandon authenticity. We wanted to point out the ‘behind-the-scenes’ aspect of Chicago.” Playing an “ignorant, insane, and racist old-school cop” named Dryko, Haggerty refers to the accurate depiction of the Windy City as a “double-edged sword” because “cops will be shown in a negative light,” as it remains a difficult balance that makes School for Gods authentic.

            Currently the production manager for the Chicago field office of DigitArt Films and a producer for Midnight Cinema Film Production Company and DADA Creative, Haggerty has worked with major cable networks on shows like Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. “I evolved into acting through my comedy,” Haggerty continued. “I went everywhere and met so many people that I can help now.” Haggerty was the host and creator of the comedy routine The Fatty Fat Fat Show, which began in November 1990. “I spent years doing this, travelling to places like Texas and Las Vegas, while still performing regularly in Chicago. Eventually, the producers of the T.V. show The Bachelor saw my routine and contacted me for an upcoming show called More to Love. This was a big accomplishment for someone who was throwing keg parties and drinking and going onstage to perform. My whole desire was to be an MC for my own crowd and parties, and entertain people based on the budget of the host. They would tell me what they could afford, and I’d do what I could do. It became a question of: ‘how do you make something out of nothing?’”

            In 2010, Haggerty’s life changed due to an unfortunate car accident. “The accident happened in April 2010, forty-eight hours before I had been contacted by Sirius Radio for a show. It would have been a huge step for me. But then I made mistakes and wound up serving a year and a half in prison.” Haggerty had hit a police officer’s car side while the cop was pulling someone else over. Before his sentence, Haggerty described himself as “carefree and non-chalant,” but afterwards, his attitude towards life changed. “It definitely saved my life, because I refused to do comedy afterwards. It just wasn’t right to stand up and joke about things like getting drunk after what I had experienced,” he said. Haggerty applied for an acting position in NBC’s Chicago Fire, and was eventually pulled into Chicago P.D. as well. Before getting involved with Midnight Cinema, Haggerty was a featured background actor in a handful of episodes for both shows.

            Now at Midnight Cinema, Haggerty is more than proud to be a part of its first feature film, School for Gods. Aside from being a lead, Haggerty was a major help in the film’s set design and wardrobe, along with “minimal direction.” The most impressive aspect of this undertaking was the unsolicited assistance from pyrotechnic experts with whom Haggerty had worked with on Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D.  “They are from NBC, and I obviously won’t give their names, but we were incredibly grateful for their help,” Haggerty stated. “Our effects are therefore very professional in this film, unlike any other indie.”

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            In School for Gods, for the role of Dryko, Haggerty explains how growing up in a family of cops helped in his education of how to actually become a Chicago cop. Born in Canaryville and growing up in Bridgeport, Haggerty had a cluster of experiences to refer back to when working on the formation of Dryko. “I now understand why my father and my brother acted the way they did, why they are who they are today,” he said. “I had to go back to the ignorant mindset, because Dryko is exactly that, though much more extreme. He is the type of cop to put a gun in a dead man’s hand to justify shooting him, for example.” Aside from personal experience, Haggerty stated that it was a “blessing to have someone [also from NBC] work with me for eight months in order to hone the character of a Chicago police officer. It’s all about the pressure and the molding of agitation – I have a reason for anxiety when I am in the character of an officer.” Haggerty continued, saying he has a “newfound respect” for the Chicago police force. And the best part for him is that “actual cops themselves said I nailed the part. These are the officers who work on the street – it was a huge confidence booster for me.”

            On the production of School for Gods, Haggerty explained that everyone “put their hearts and souls into it. The level of commitment was the best we could possibly give – we have lived, breathed, and died for this film.” Speaking exclusively about director Paul John, Haggerty stated that he was “very energetic and precise. He captures emotion in a specific way for the public to feel it.” Haggerty went on to say that John had the job of choosing 30 to 40 people out of 2,500 who applied, and that his choices were spot on. “He was behind the casting 100% of the time, and his style of directing is up-close-and-personal.” John recognized Chicago as the “melting pot” that it is, and despite the “difficulty in getting people to feed off one another, he pulled it off.”

            “From my experiences, I have a unique sense of society,” Haggerty concluded. “People are always forgetting God, their parents, or the others who helped them get where they are today. I do what I do now to help somebody else.” Reflecting on the way filmmakers in Chicago all tend to know someone else and how the community is so tightly-knit, Haggerty makes sure to remember those who are truly passionate. “I need them to go further than me,” he said. “That’s winning for me. I’ve already gotten my ‘Academy Award’ because I’m not taking jobs to be the highlight. I’m always there to help.”

School for Gods is set for a late 2015 release as the first feature film from Midnight Cinema Film Production Company. It is currently in post-production and has already received offers from three major production companies for its release. Links to the film’s IMDb and Facebook pages can be found below, along with links to the film’s two trailers. Also provided are links to Brian Haggerty’s Facebook acting page and IMDb page.

School for Gods IMDb: http://m.imdb.com/title/tt4185852/

School for Gods Facebook fan page: https://m.facebook.com/SchoolForGodsMovie

School for Gods trailer #1: https://vimeo.com/109268766

School for Gods trailer #2: http://vimeo.com/114608187

Brian Haggerty’s IMDb: http://m.imdb.com/name/nm6675031/?ref_=m_tt_cl_i2

Brian Haggerty’s Facebook Acting Page: https://m.facebook.com/BrianHaggs

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Living in the moment: Wisconsin actress Alexys Destiche talks about her aspirations

            How Racine, WI native Alexys Destiche defines the mindset of up-and-coming actresses: “I want to be a part of it, not just an extra. As an extra you have nothing to show for it. No one is going to notice you as an extra trying to be the next Meryl Streep.”

            Star of the short film A Dubious Night (2015, Nelson Oliveras), Destiche builds herself through short films to generate a successful move into television. “With TV, you get so connected to characters, and filming episodes is like filming quick mini-movies. That’s why I like it in Chicago; it’s quick to find something. The same cannot be said at all for Wisconsin. Chicago is the closest to me in the ‘holy trinity’ of film and media cities [New York and Los Angeles being the other two], and it is known for grabbing talent straight from the street, which can be both a pro and a con.”

            When it comes to genre, Destiche’s decision is a no-brainer for her. “I want to try everything,” Destiche continues. “I’ve never done TV, so that’s part of the reason it appeals to me. I love comedy, but I’ve never really gotten my chance for it because I get auditioned for dramas.” When it comes to her goal of TV, Destiche aims for sketch comedy on a show such as Saturday Night Live. To monitor herself, Destiche has gone back to ask previous bosses why exactly they hired her. “They said they enjoyed me. I’m great at talking to people, in fact, when I was waitressing, I’d often try different dialects, like British, and then switch them according to tables. Then it would be a game of remembering which tables I had been trying out a dialect with. That said, especially as a waitress or bartender, you get to witness so many different emotions. It helps.”

            Destiche worked as an intern for two months at Paskal Rudnicke Casting, driving down to Chicago everyday. While the majority of it was basic intern work, it remained a required internship [requested by high school] while her classmates were staying in Racine. A second internship followed a few years after high school, where Destiche found herself back in Chicago as an extras coordinator on the show Chicago PD

 alexys desitche

            When it comes to inspirations, Destiche cites Eliza Dushku (True Lies, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as “a badass”. Desitche goes on to state Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003) as one of her favorite TV shows. “I’m charmed with it, coming from the late 90’s.” With regards to the rise of cable TV over feature film, Destiche said that “it’s sad. I don’t want it to be true, but Hollywood’s dead. Everyone is watching Netflix because it’s convenient. It’s a give and take. TV is steady, but a lot of the glory goes to film when it comes to award shows like the Oscars. Nothing is as prestigious as them.”

            As one can imagine, extra work, commercials, and short films go hand-in-hand with side modeling jobs. While Destiche had gotten her start in the performing arts with modeling through her brother, a New York based model, Destiche admits “I didn’t like it. I liked commercials. I’m not a typical beauty person. I have my doubts. In school I did stage acting and hated it. I admire people who can do it, because theater is so much more about perfection – you have to be in perfect positions with every rehearsal. Film for me feels more genuine and original; I love how quick it is.”  Based on the atmosphere of who an actor is around, Destiche states herself as “very in-the-moment. I go from method, living and performing as much in the present as I can. Just be aware of what’s around you. I like acting because I never have to be myself.”

            On A Dubious Night, Destiche said that her part was originally written for someone else, but “when things fell through, I was brought to set to do a read-through. We only did two rehearsals, compared to the many you do in theater. My character was clean-cut, like Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) from Grease (1978). The entire movie is about gossiping – we have all of these characters who aren’t friends, but acquaintances, and we slowly learn why they’re talking behind each other’s backs.” Destiche continued saying what was most interesting was that “the film is Wisconsin based, yet no one thinks we can do anything. I would love to work with Nelson again [the director]. He’s so enthusiastic and you need that on a film set.”

            “I know I’m at that age where finding a role is difficult,” Destiche concluded. “It’s that time where you can’t find your niche, so it’s difficult. I don’t care about money – sure you need it, but my main goal is not centered on how much money I will make. I live in the moment and that’s always worked for me.”

            A Dubious Night has been screened near Milwaukee at a short film festival. For more information on the dramatic short film and Alexys, check out the links below that lead to both the film and Desitche’s IMDb page, as well as A Dubious Night’s Facebook page.

A Dubious Night's official poster

A Dubious Night ‘s official poster

Alexys Destiche’s IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm6485372/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

A Dubious Night’s IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3856914/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

A Dubious Night’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/adubiousnight

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Determination and inspiration – stellar Chicago actor Harold Dennis’ rise to fame

            “I was so nervous the first time, but I continued to work at it.” This is how Harold Dennis described one of his first times professionally acting. Since working extensively since 1997, Dennis has been in over 100 projects, ranging from TV series, short films, and feature films.

            Speaking on his twenty projects already lined up for 2015: “There’s so much – I’m excited for everything. I play a character named Odious Washington in a TV series called Clash of the Vampires (2015, Eric DeShazer), and I’m very excited for that one because I haven’t done anything like it before. Angle of Incidence (2015, Eric Neal) is another one – it’s a short film that has two prequels [Angle of Incidence: Portunus and Angle of Incidence: Cranae]. I was in one of the prequels [Cranae].” Dennis also mentioned his excitement for Fangs vs. Spurs (2015, Patrick Love), a horror film that features “cowboys versus vampires set in 1882, and it’s also starring Joe Estevez.”

            Dennis’ story of becoming an actor goes back to the 2nd grade. “I found myself in a school play, and forgot all my lines,” he laughed. “I was very active throughout high school, as my mentor, Mr. John Watson, pushed me to be,” he continued. “Then I saw him in The Fugitive, (1993, Andrew Davis), and I was so surprised. And then I saw him in Groundhog Day (1993, Harold Ramis) and Soul Food (1997, George Tillman Jr.) and thought, ‘How? I didn’t know anybody in movies.’ These weren’t extra parts either, he had lines and everything. That inspired me in a sense.”

            In 1998 Dennis began an acting troupe with some friends. “We met every Saturday for a year, from February 1998 to February 1999.” Dennis also got a chance to participate in a Blues play in the summer of 1998, and chose to stay with them through 1999. Subsequently, this decision allowed Dennis to perform in 171 total shows. After being “so nervous the first time,” Dennis went on from that opportunity. Come January 2004, “I took classes with a scholarship at Ted Sarantos’ Studios in Oak Park. The first time I watched Ted direct someone [in 2003, about ten months before], I was auditing the class, and I had realized how much I needed his training! I’ve always had this energy to act, but I needed to learn how to direct it specifically. All of this desire, passion, and action have drawn the picture [for me]. We have to be our own marketers.”

            Dennis is still working with Ted Sarantos now, and has also partaken in acting classes at different schools, including Green Shirt Studio in 2012, which taught him the Meisner technique of acting. “I was taking four classes a week at that time,” he said, “and that lasted for about three weeks. It was a bit much.”

            In 2005, Dennis obtained the lead role in a film called Pieces of a Dream (2005, Skee Skinner). “That film gave me the confidence I needed. It was the first time I was paid a large sum for acting, put up in a hotel and everything. That was the moment I realized that this was a substantial career for me.”

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            With a blossoming career, Dennis pulls from iconic screen legends for his acting methods. “I take from something Morgan Freeman said: ‘I just read the script.’ I’ve been a student of acting for eighteen years and I’ve learned so many techniques along the way.” Dennis explained how actors have a job in helping move the story along and introduce changes, and that by doing this “they become part of the emotional movement of an audience. And I’m aware that it takes a toll on the audience.” He further explained that it feels like the job of a psychologist: “I instinctively know that every actor is going to play their part a certain way. I have a whole arsenal of secrets in the back of my head.” When I asked Dennis what actors he takes after, he answered how it really is a combination of several veteran actors. “I’ve never really thought about how I’d put this into words, but I look to have Denzel Washington’s suaveness, Forest Whitaker’s intensity, and Christopher Walken’s unpredictability. I saw Whitaker in Bird (1988, Clint Eastwood), and he really blew me away…he’s intense, but subtle about it.”

            With such a number of sci-fi and fantasy projects coming up, Dennis keenly targets when searching a role. “I’m offered roles from people who see my stuff, actually. And I don’t care for any particular type of role. I like dramas because I like moving things along and being interesting, so I ask myself how to do that when I have a dramatic role.” Of the many secrets he has learned, Dennis said one of the most crucial ones is to see how surprised he is when watching himself, but not be discouraged. “I’m not one of those actors who cringe when he sees himself onscreen. I make it work.” As an example, Dennis told me how while on the set of a film called Before ‘I Do,’ (2015, Kimberly Conner) starring Omar Gooding and Jensen Atwood, he has a bit part of four lines. “In four lines, I had to have this maneuvering – I go from a normal state to rage just like that – and I’ve never had to do that in such a short amount of time!”

            When it comes to the acting environment of Chicago, Dennis proudly calls it “home.” “Chicago is a commercial town…you can mine diamonds in your own backyard” he said. “I’ve taken advantage of everything, and since cameras are so easily obtained now, you can establish credit here and then go all around the world with the internet. It’s multi-level marketing, and I’ve always helped other actors. It’s an environment of ‘help me to help you, help me to help you…”

            “In the end, I’d like to retire and have no regrets,” Dennis concluded. “If I do my job well in one film, it pays off because people begin to notice me.” Constantly moving and working (he participated in the production of three films already this year), Harold Dennis has already established quite a legacy through his perseverance here in Chicago, and has a promising future ahead of him. “Mr. Watson passed away in 2006. I was glad he saw me in 1999 in the play I was a part of. I got to see him a few months before he passed and I told him, ‘Thank you for showing me this wasn’t impossible.’”

            The link below will bring you to Harold Dennis’ IMDb page which lists all of his previous and upcoming projects. Also provided is a link to the IMDb page of John M. Watson Sr., Dennis’ first mentor.

Harold Dennis’ IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1815557/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

John M. Watson Sr.’s IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0914485/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

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Shon McGregory: a helping hand to Chicago talent

Disclaimer: This interview was conducted on Thursday, January 15th, at the time Shon was representing “Shooting Star Studio.”

In the gritty, cutthroat industry of film and media, many aspiring artists will never have the help they deserve in order to succeed. No matter how great a person’s motivation is, he or she will need help at some point. And what a blessing just a little help can be. “My dream is to help people,” said Shon McGregory, who runs “Shooting Star Studio,” a modeling and talent agency in St. Charles, Illinois. While on the phone with Mr. McGregory, I learned about his aspirations with this agency, as well as his numerous accomplishments that have helped many other people.

            “‘Shooting Star’ does acting and modeling auditions for short films, TV shows, commercials, and print ads,” McGregory began. “I look for people with lots of experience – very professional.” I asked what exactly qualified as “professional.” Aside from headshots, McGregory answered that he “looks for talent. I can show someone to different filmmakers or companies based on what I see. I know it’s hard though, I’m an actor too.” McGregory went on to talk about his experience as a growing actor in Chicago.

shon picture

          “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. I started as an extra and moved my way up. In the meantime, I had normal jobs like UPS and the post office, and that’s what I’m trying to help people do now. I’m the type of guy who loves to help you get into this industry. I’ll hold someone’s hand. I won’t just help people get auditions; I help them get jobs too. I’m just a guy from Chicago trying to help people make it.”

            By knowing the “right people,” Shon eventually became the one who managed “Shooting Star Studio” and now does “almost everything there.” Within the past year, McGregory was able to obtain roles for over 100 zombie extras in the horror comedy, Not Another Zombie Movie…About the Living Dead (2014, Jack Johnson, Donte Williams).

            As an actor, McGregory has had roles in short films such as Orphans of God (2015, Andrew R. Cintron), and even landed a small speaking role in A Conspiracy on Jekyll Island (2015, Aram Rappaport), co-starring Minnie Driver. “As an actor, it’s competitive, but in Chicago, everybody helps each other like a family.” McGregory also helped cast other actors in Orphans of God.

            With that in mind, I spoke to Shannon Marie, a Chicago-based actress who has worked with Shon since spring 2013, when she met him on the set of Divergent (2014, Neil Burger); she was acting as an extra – a Dauntless soldier. “As soon as I met Shon, I could immediately tell that he had a passion not only for acting, but for helping others. It was evident to me that he would be able to succeed in both avenues,” Marie said. “Thanks to Shon’s hard work at tirelessly working towards guiding us to higher achievements, I went on to get cast in several speaking roles,” she continued, going on to talk about Shon as a “good friend,” and “the kind of guy who makes sure everyone has a way home and that everyone makes it safely to their cars at night.” She concluded by telling me that “you can almost guarantee that Shon will be there at your modeling show or filming shoot supporting you on the sidelines and even on the stage!”

            It was inspiring to talk to Shon and the people who know him and learn to appreciate the work that he does and the effort he puts into it, and the effort he makes sure others put into it. Below are links to Shon’s IMDb page, Shannon’s IMDb page, as well as the IMDb pages to the films Shon has had roles in, whether casting or acting.

Shon’s IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5682665/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

Shannon’s IMDb: http://m.imdb.com/name/nm6345193/filmotype/actress?ref_=m_nmfm_1

 A Conspiracy on Jekyll Island: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3297382/?ref_=nv_sr_1

 Not Another Zombie Movie…About the Living Dead: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3499632/?ref_=fn_al_tt_4

Orphans of God: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4082898/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

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Chicago filmmaker Matt Weinstein utilizes city to construct betrayal thriller

                      Betrayal is a theme we have seen time and time again in film. Billy Dee Williams in The Empire Strikes Back or Ian Holm of Alien are two of many cinematic characters that have stirred emotions of audiences everywhere. “I’m focusing on the universal theme of betrayal,” said Matt Weinstein, director of the upcoming short film, The Gun Equation.

                        Shot in Chicago, The Gun Equation centers on a husband who discovers his wife’s infidelity, and is placed on a path full of moral choices. “It’s a very human story,” Weinstein said, “I wanted to focus on what it takes to get someone to this level. At its core, it becomes a chase film, but it doesn’t have a lot of action. It is much more thoughtful than just blowing [stuff] up for two hours.”

  The Gun Equation image

               Weinstein’s passion for film noir and his love for directors Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Interstellar) and David Fincher (The Social Network, Gone Girl) helped push the aesthetic look of the film forward. “Fincher is very open to his process and the politics that go with it,” he said. The inspiration from Nolan came from the style of his films. “Memento and The Dark Knight both have [intense] scenes shot during the day, and they therefore go against the grain. I was really going for that when shooting in broad daylight in Chicago,” Weinstein explained.

              Weinstein credits Heat (1995, Michael Mann) and Following (1998, Christopher Nolan) as primary influential sources, specifically as where walking around a busy downtown area inspired the “chase” aspect of the film. “I try not to get too crazy about copying a certain style,” Weinstein clarifies; “It’s one thing to use something as a stepping stone, another to copy something completely.”

              Shooting itself was done in an admirable day and a half. “It’s mostly exterior scenes running around Chicago. We were checking the weather constantly, and were on a roll for the first few hours, and when it did eventually rain, we just filmed a later section until it cleared up. It really took a lot of preparation to shoot so quickly.” The film was shot in the last weekend of June 2014.

               “I’m still telling a story,” Weinstein said, talking about the job of directing. “I love the process of being able to conceptualize something – it’s an efficient way of working.” Matt made plenty of short films when he was attending Northern Illinois University at DeKalb (he graduated in 2011), and has collaborated as a co-director on the fictional documentary, Conservation Area. “Coming back to Fincher and how he operates – I am not the only director listed for that film, and although I enjoyed the process of it, someone else wanted it to be another way.”

               Conservation Area and all of Matt’s shorts are available for viewing on his YouTube channel; a link is provided at the end of the article.

                Regarding crew, Weinstein remains very appreciative and proud of their work, such as an invaluable director of photography that he found in AJ Young. “AJ found very good compositions. I really could never have found anyone better than him. Tom DeSplinter [producer] was instrumental in providing locations, transportation, food, and props, among many other things.” He also mentioned his appreciation for assistant director Chris Ramirez, assistant cameraman Nicholas Guy Wilson, production assistant Brandon Hausen, and composer Jessica Salzinski.

                The cast consists of three actors: Colin Jackson, Tyler Pistorius, and Emily Rogers. “I knew Colin and Tyler through NIU, I met them through a class where we directed acting students in a project, and they are very open to ideas, and also contribute plenty of their own. Tyler in particular was the first person who came to mind for the main character of The Gun Equation.” As for Emily, he knew of her from watching another short entitled Wrigley Faithful, and thought she would be great for the part of the wife.

                The Gun Equation will be sent to film festivals with expectations to do well in those circuits when it releases with many other short films in the late-summer/fall 2015 season. “I’m very diligent in updating the film’s Facebook page, and there is a link there to the film’s official website.”

                Readers can learn more about The Gun Equation through Facebook and the IMDb page in the links below, as well as by viewing trailers, also available on Matt’s YouTube channel. Stay posted for screenings as the release gets closer.

The Gun Equation IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3945934/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

The Gun Equation Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/thegunequation

Matt’s YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/mw120/featured

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