Article By: Maria Shamkalian
What is your most recent success and how did you accomplish it?Being an older actress the opportunities for leading roles are more limited however at the end of 2019 I was offered the lead in the short (80s style) slasher film called Pizzaman made in South Philadelphia by a local team of female filmmakers (Rosalie Kicks, Katie McBrown)
Rosalie is also the creative force behind a movie review magazine called Moviejawn...See Moviejawn.com. I was offered the role based on my audition tape.
How did you get started in the film industry?When I decided to dip my toe back in the acting waters I attended a New York weekly workshop lead by acting, directing veteran Bruce Orenstein (Saturday night fever, the Great Wallendas, Vamperifica). He encouraged me to get headshots and start auditioning for student films and then branch out to independent films. It was very exciting as I had only done theatrical productions before that. I found a new creative outlet and loved it.
Why do you choose to work in PA and what do you love the most about working in Pennsylvania?
I am a native Philadelphian and love when I get work in Pennsylvania —- then all my energy goes towards the production and not traveling. Also I find there’s a great network of filmmakers , actors and crew in the area and a wonderful camaraderie on the projects I’ve been lucky enough to book here.
What are some of your favorite shooting locations in Pennsylvania?I did a commercial at a resort in the Poconos. It was beautiful. I’ve also narrated a reenactment TV show in Lancaster and found that to be a great filming area. I was so surprised when I was able to procure a courtroom location at the law offices of former colleagues and it turned out the space had also been used once before for the movie Trading Places. Philadelphia has some wonderful historic buildings and Fairmount Park is said to be the Champs Élysées of the US . Who can deny that the Art Museum steps make a wonderful backdrop.
But my favorite Location was my own South Philadelphia row house which was used in Todd Inman’s web series “Delayed Gratification.”
What do you love the most about your job?
I love the thrill of not knowing what comes next. As a lawyer I had a very structured and predictable trajectory. As an actress I’m always surprised at what creative project is being developed and the variety of characters I am able to become . I also love the fact that with film and TV the project is there for posterity. I look forward to sharing the film Ghost Goggles with my granddaughter (only 18 mos) when she is a little older.
What is your most memorable, most awkward, or funniest on set story?
Just this past November when we were filming Pizzaman the date picked for the outdoor scene had to be the coldest and windiest of 2019. I had focused on the good luck of there not being rain fog or snow… However with the wind chill it was only 29° and it was supposed to be a spring day -all I could wear was a sweater (between takes I bundled up inside the car). The funny thing was that when we supposedly left the shop where we bought all kinds of knitting material, I put the shopping bag down in order to open the trunk and an unexpected wind knocked everything out of the bag and dozens of balls of yarn went sailing across the enormous strip mall parking lot. To watch the crew running helter skelter after all these balls of yarn and not being able to catch them was quite a sight.
What are some of the challenges of being a female filmmaker?
While not a female filmmaker myself, I have sought out films written directed and produced by women because the stories are often the ones that resonate the most with me . Recently what comes to mind is the film Hedda Needs Help and a web series called Ghetto Nerd Girl both being distinguished by great poignancy humor and festival awards. What I find with female filmmakers is they seem to go the extra mile to be taken seriously. The numbers show that the industry still is predominately male and I believe it’s harder for women to establish the same networks and conquer the financing aspects of successful filmmaking. What is so important is that women mentor other women and be there as a resource so that one day it’s only a question of meritocracy.
What is your advice for other women in film?You should go with your instincts if something doesn’t sound legit it most likely isn’t and you should ask around if you are unsure. No project is worth compromising your values and there are plenty of honorable creatives in the field. You need not subject yourself to any kind of abuse.
Do you have any upcoming Pennsylvania-based projects?The following PA projects should be coming out in the spring: the pilot for a series called Reel Life directed by John Rifici of Omega Media Productions, the feature film What Do I Do Now directed by Joshua Coates , Mr. Blue Shirt directed by Mike Stewart, Arisen2 directed by Richard Chadwick and Pizza man referred to above. I am also in a web series now filming out of Philadelphia called The Drop Spot produced, written directed by Nicole Stephenson, her daughter Christina Evelyn and Loretta Graham
PAFIA has been working hard on increasing the film tax credit in Pennsylvania and bringing more film work to our local crew and talent, but we must all unite to really make a difference. What can you tell our elected officials about the importance of PA film industry and the difference it has made in your life?When I was working on the board of the California company Pets Central Media, we were forming a partnership with Philadelphia local Beryl Wolk (now deceased) and looking for where best to film our edutainment series. At the time we discovered and were quite impressed with the facilities in Aston, Pennsylvania of Sun Center Studios. Based on their getting the tax credit they had assumed in their projections we were ready to go forward but for other reasons our plans did not pan out. It was then that I realized how important the tax credit was and how advantageous financially it was with these credits to have filming In the greater Philadelphia area.
What is your advice for the aspiring actors and filmmakers? I can speak best to the Acting side -constantly work on your craft. When you are not on set or rehearsing you need an “acting gym “ In Philadelphia there are some great training programs I personally have attended Playhouse West with Tony Savant , the Actors Lab in Wayne with Bryan Fox, Ken McGregor’s master classes and coaching and classes with Drucie McDaniel. I can honestly say they are all excellent and as good as training in LA and New York plus you would have a very close knit community of serious professionals and should take advantage of these relationships, you can be readers for each other, film each other ‘s auditions and if you’re smart you’ll create your own projects and cast each other. Get really good headshots from professionals who know the business and learn what types are in your wheelhouse. Those are the parts you should audition for.
What are some good strategies to find more gigs?
I’ve always found Film.org, Actors Access, Backstage and Casting Network to have the most casting notices. Of course having a good agent is important. Knowing and developing a good relationship with casting directors is also important. There are Facebook groups for actors that will list upcoming projects (you can learn the names from other actors you work with) go to industry meet and greets and bring your headshot and resume. There are also opportunities in New York to meet casting directors at for example One on One or Actors Connection but this can be rather costly.
What are some of the most valuable lessons that you have learned about this industry and wish you knew earlier?
I wish I had realized early on how important it was to fully prepare for an audition… It’s not just learning the lines it’s watching the show if it’s a TV series (knowing the tempo, who the other characters are, production style, etc.) or looking at other work of the director. If it’s a commercial understand everything about the product Also had I realized that it’s not whether you are cast in the particular role you’re auditioning for but more importantly the impression you’re making on the casting director then it becomes a more enjoyable process. It’s true you are really auditioning for the house and will be brought in for other things if you give the best of yourself. ...a little patience goes a long way.
What is your favorite film shot in Pennsylvania?
A three-way tie: Witness a real nail biter and the pivotal scene was at 30th St. Station, Sixth Sense it took place in a South Philly row house like mine and In Her Shoes. I couldn’t believe the scene at the Jamaican Jerk Hut at 1436 South St., a former favorite hangout of mine.
What is your favorite project that you worked on?
My favorite local PA film was the feature film What Do I Do Now. It was based on a true story and for my character Bubby I felt I channeled my own grandmother. It ties with the ongoing series Sangre Negra where I play Alexandra Levy a savvy socialite widow.
What is your biggest aspiration in this industry?
To have a recurring role in a popular series (fingers crossed that will be Sangre Negra which is to be picked up by the El Rey network this year).
What would be the best way for our local PA cast and crew to submit to your upcoming projects?
If I have an upcoming project and there is casting going on I usually post it on social media. I would encourage people to contact me on Instagram, FB or Julie-chapin.com. I will reach out to other actors I know If I think they are good for a part that I know is in the works.
Pennsylvania Film Industry Association (PAFIA)461 Cochran Road, Box 246Pittsburgh, PA 15228(717) 833-4561 email@example.com