Article By: Maria Shamkalian
What is your most recent success and how did you accomplish it?
My most recent success was portraying a lead role character in a short film thriller, that has been garnering some great accolades. It was the sort of role that I had been hoping to find my way to for a bit, to prove my versatility, to an audience AND to myself! Screening currently at various Film Festivals, it has already won an award or two, and seems to be opening some new doors for me. Having done quite a bit of comedic and lighter fare material (my natural default), I wished to stretch a bit, but had to be willing to take a risk.
How did you get started in the film industry?
I had never thought seriously about acting, but it had frequently went through my mind, and I was very drawn to the notion of "performing". A few years ago, a proposed project in Rhode Island, came across my radar. Basically a hybrid ensemble show, reality based, but combining scripted elements, improvised comedy, hidden camera aspects, a large pinch of social satire, with some trivia thrown in for good measure. The creator, an old friend of mine, brought me on board basically an adviser of sorts, or sounding board. I thought to myself "why hasn't he asked ME to be a part of this crazy crew, he's putting together?" Rather quickly my friend said to me "why haven't I asked YOU to be a part of this crazy crew, I'm putting together, you're the craziest guy I know?" That was the start of it all!
That project wound up attracting some industry interest, including being with a hit show running Hollywood producer for a while, but never went into production. Shortly after that opportunity, I randomly saw a pitch on Craigslist, for ANOTHER unrelated show, based here in Philly.
I submitted, and was apparently their strongest contender as a cast member. AS we shot sizzle reels on each show, I received great feedback. Industry people and regular folks alike, said I had a natural onscreen presence. That show also had some teases, but too never made it to air. The "Reality" TV Star thing didn't work out, but something had been awakened in me, though I had no idea what to do about it. Shortly after I appeared on a locally produced podcast, and the folks who put that together, randomly offered me a starring roll in their upcoming 45 minute independent short feature film. After that one, I never looked back, searching Craigslist, and eventually Facebook pages, networking, etc.
Why do you choose to work in PA and what do you love the most about working in Pennsylvania?
The thing about "choosing' P.A., is that it chose me! Growing up in the Philly area and never moving out of the region, it wasn't like I was really running off to NYC or L.A., especially in my late 40's as an untrained novice actor, it just wasn't even an option. However. the thing there is now a TON of film work in Philly and radiating out a couple hours. IN fact I read, just today, that Philly is one of the top film cities in the U.S, I love not having to fight and claw with tens of thousands of other folks for a limited amount of roles in those movie towns, yet being able to stay busy.
What are some of your favorite shooting locations in Pennsylvania?
I've shot all throughout the region, including the Jersey side of the bridge, but I enjoy filming in regular local spots, and letting ordinary folks feel invested in this thing that so many folks are just in awe of. If their house, business, or street makes it onto a screen, its fun to see their reaction.
What do you love the most about your job?
Personally I dig the most, when there is great collaboration and a fantastic result. To me it's all work in service to the final product. There is a host of experiences and feelings along the way, mostly good stuff, but I see screen acting as not paid off if you will, until it hits a screen!
What is your most memorable, most awkward, or funniest on set story?
Shooting on my first full length feature, a good quirky actor, who nailed his lines, could NOT for the life of him, get this ONE line. He had a particular way of delivering his lines to boot. We had such fun teasing him on the day, all of us imitating that line as delivered in our versions of HIS voice, we were crying. He actually thought we were being cruel at first, and we had to explain that we loved him, his quirky delivery, AND that line, we were laughing WITH him, not at him, as we've all flubbed lines, and it would live on forever as a funny moment, and it surely has!
Do you have any upcoming Pennsylvania-based projects?I have a BUNCH of stuff coming up, I try to stay very busy. I'm gonna be a Mob associate in the final episode of a Web based Film Noir series. I'm playing a misguided football coach pretending he's (dead) a ghost, in a misguided attempt, which fails, to inspire his players! I'm appearing as a horror character in a popular Rapper's newest video. I've got a small part in feature that's been filming up and down the Turnpike. And more!
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?
Being able to work in such a creative filed, where we are fortunate to bring joy to so many others, but where most working actors barely make a living, it's wonderful that there are incentives that can help create more opportunities. This is what I get up for in the morning, and I hope that our officials will recognize the good that the arts do, in addition to the financial impact film making brings to the state.
What is your advice for the aspiring actors and filmmakers? Some steps to take? Some mistakes to avoid?
Work HARD, SHOW UP, listen to folks who have more experience and learn, NETWORK everybody knows everybody! BELIEVE in yourself, but don't be a flaming egomaniac! Take risks, be open, collaborate, play nice!
What are some good strategies to find more gigs?
You have to work it HARD! Phone, email, text, smoke signals, whatever. Check in with folks, attend functions, SUPPORT YOUR FELLOWS, don't worry about a lot of paid sites, and b.s. that some folks babble, if you have some talent, work hard, and work hard at SEEKING the roles, you will find them, they ARE out there.
What are some of the most valuable lessons that you have learned about this industry and wish you knew earlier?
If you show up and do the work, put your heart into it and take some risks, treat others on set nicely, you will get ahead! I wish I had started a bit earlier and believed that it was a realistic path, particularly that I COULD and WOULD be able to stay working in P.A.!
What is your favorite film shot in Pennsylvania?
Hard not to love the early M. Knight films. I love Silver Linings, as it was filmed all around where I'm from and is such a sweet little quirky film. I have to admit I have such a soft spot for Clean and Sober, as among other things, I bluffed my way onto the set in the 80's, and it was so magical.
What is your favorite project that you worked on?
I don't have just one, and two of my faves were filmed in Jersey, so they don't count! I did a 48 hour that allowed me to do slapstick, a long time love of mine, but something I might otherwise have never gotten to do. I also love the the P.A. based show, where I basically played me, easy one! My only background work was on the upcoming AMC show Dispatches from Elsewhere, it was so great to watch Oscar caliber performers' crafts.
What is your biggest aspiration in this industry?
I want to keep doing good work, get better at my craft, book some better paying gigs (as we all need to eat), and a little recognition (notoriety).
What would be the best way for our local PA cast and crew to submit to your upcoming projects?
Since I'm the guy in front of the cams, and can't offer much in the way for them to "submit" for my projects, but I'm glad to have them check out my past work and review any opportunities they may have for ME! I'm on Facebook at fb.com/PhillyBigMike and email PhillyActorBigMike@gmail.com.
Pennsylvania Film Industry Association (PAFIA)461 Cochran Road, Box 246Pittsburgh, PA 15228(717) 833-4561 firstname.lastname@example.org