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BUSY WRITER/PRODUCER/DIRECTOR THOMAS MICHAEL JUST CAN’T SLOW DOWN DURING COVID

Back in the early 2000’s, I was privileged to promote the launch of a Toronto-based indie film production company (Five Faces Films). After several projects, the three partners split, going in their individual directions, both career-wise and geographically. Thomas Michael has gone on to successfully write, direct and produce feature films (Hank & Mike and Back Country – pictured below) shot here in Canada while living in Los Angeles where he resides with his wife and 2 children. Over the past several months, he’s been busy creating more feature film scripts and producing the chilling new feature GIRL that stars Bella Thorne, the incomparable Mickey Rourke and Chad Faust who also wrote and directed the film.  thumbnail (2)thumbnail (1) I recently e-chatted with my old friend and asked him what he has been doing to keep busy over the past 6 or 7 months and damn, this man ain’t no couch-potato!

After establishing your own Canadian production company and writing/directing/starring in a number of hilarious off-beat comedy films, you moved to LA approximately ten years ago and have been working as an actor on a number of popular tv series (Transporter, Nikita, The Listener). How was that transition to west coast working actor?  I actually don’t act very much anymore. My focus has shifted mainly to writing, producing and directing. As an actor, I loved appearing in my own films or in those of talented friends, but a lot of the work I was getting was in TV shows. And coming from a place where I was used to being the writer and producer and often the director as well, I found acting in TV to be mostly frustrating and unfulfilling. I just craved being a part of the storytelling process more. As for the west coast thing, I love living in LA, but I (thus far) make all my films in Canada. However, I have a film we’re planning on shooting in Colombia coming up.thumbnail (4)All the while you’ve been guesting on tv series, have you been writing and developing scripts? And if so, can you share any news about upcoming productions?  I never stop writing or developing. I have now written and/or produced 8 feature films, 2 of which I also directed. I also have a number of TV series in development. I can’t help myself. An idea for a film or tv show comes to me, I try and bat it away and tell it that I’m far too busy, but if it won’t leave me alone and keeps haunting me, then I need to exorcise it. And that means writing it. Once I write something, I then put on my producer hat and find a way to get it made.

With GIRL, you took on the mantle of Producer – was it difficult to secure funding for the indie thriller or were you able to secure support from past collaborators?   I’ve always produced. Right from the start when I was 15 and was doing a sketch comedy series for a cable access station in Ottawa. That led to two seasons on the Comedy Network of a show I created and also produced. For GIRL, the project came to me from some past collaborators. It was a terrific script and I loved director, Chad Faust’s vision for it, so I came on board and helped secure some financing and dived in to make it happen.ok1-VTEIChad Faust (pictured below), who appears in the film opposite Bella Thorne, also wrote AND directed the film…is he a friend or industry colleague?  He is now both. But when I first met him, his script was brought to me. I had worked once before with a first-time writer/director on Backcountry. I felt for GIRL, as I did for Backcountry, that I could help support an up-and-coming talent who I believed in.GIRL_Still04 (2)GIRL is a very dark story, a contrast to your hilarious Hank & Mike and Running Mates films. Is this a genre that you’d like to continue exploring?   To the frustration perhaps of the industry, I can’t seem to limit myself to one genre. Comedy is still very near to my heart and I have some comedies I’ve written that are moving forward. But I also love dramas and darker stories. I do believe that adage is true that if you can do comedy you can do drama, but not necessarily the other way around. I have a gritty western we’re making next year as well as a revenge thriller and a coming of age dramedy, and I just wrapped a romantic comedy. If it’s a good story and I feel it needs to be told, genre is the last thing I think about.GIRL_Still11 (2)How was the experience working with award-winning and Oscar-nom’d Mickey Rourke, an exciting but sometimes volatile actor? He has always been a favourite of mine and he’s chosen such diverse film roles – how did he approach his role in GIRL?  I have always loved Mickey’s work and was very excited to watch him work. He’s very mysterious and mercurial. Sometimes it feels like he’s not doing anything at all, and then you watch the dailies and you go “Oh my God! He’s mesmerizing!”. He has an ineffable quality that makes him incredibly captivating. GIRL_Still10 (2)Singer/actress Bella Thorne plays the bad-ass heroine in the film – do you see more women taking the lead in action/crime/horror films as indicative of the more positive audience attitude towards women as “heroes”?  Totally. Backcountry was a big success both critically (holding at 92% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes!) and that film featured a strong female lead. The last film I directed, “Nowhere To Be Found” was about a mother desperately searching for her missing daughter. That film won my lead actress, Kate Drummond, a well-deserved CSA award for Best Lead Performance. I have two sisters, was raised by my mom. I’m married and have a daughter. Starting out in more male-oriented teenage comedy, I take my responsibility as a storyteller very seriously in terms of how women are portrayed on screen. I’ve also been a long and proponent of working with as many women behind the camera as I could. It’s just always seemed obvious to me.GIRL_Still01 (3)You’ve worked with Paolo Mancini (stars as “the mechanic” in GIRL) for many years – as a close friend as well as actor, does he bring a sense of security to you to the set?  Paolo is my long-time writing partner and best friend. We’ve been writing together since we were 13 years old. Writing is such a lonely occupation, so to be able to do it with your best friend is a joy and privilege. Paolo is also a stellar actor and I always know when he’s on set that he’ll not only deliver a great performance, but will also be a stable and solid presence in a sometimes frantic and hectic environment.

Is GIRL currently playing the festival circuit during Covid lock-down? Where can audiences find the film once it goes to general release?  The film has done the rounds of Canadian and American festivals and comes out in theatres across the US on November 20th, and then on VOD and all digital platforms on November 24th in the US and Canada.bannerHow can fans follow your films and production activity? As you well noted, I haven’t updated my website in a little while. I need to get better at that. I guess Facebook is the best way to keep tabs on what I’m up to. I don’t post much, but when I have a project coming out, I make an effort to let people know. I focus on the making and not on the selling. I do need to get better at the selling part. Here are the official social media links for GIRL
https://www.facebook.com/GirlMovie2020/
https://www.instagram.com/girl_the_movie/
https://twitter.com/Girl_The_Movie
Official website: https://screenmediafilms.net/productions/details/3202/Girl

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Director, Screenwriter, Producer, Composer, Actor Bruno Verdoni

TORONTO-BASED ACTOR/FILMMAKER BRUNO VERDONI DOESN’T LET COVID STOP HIS CREATIVE PROCESS

A few years ago when my sister, Jenny, visited Toronto from Australia, she introduced me to Marianne Sawchuk and her actor husband, Bruno Verdoni. Marianne is a twin to one of Jen’s besties back in Oz so it was a fun meet-up for Jenny at an art gallery opening to which I invited them all, and I made 2 new friends here in Toronto.  Since then, I’ve watched as Bruno’s film and tv work has gained buzz on social media and more recently, he launched a film production company with wife Marianne – their first cinematic joint venture has resulted in increased awareness in the industry and much online attention from fans and movie lovers. PosterI recently chatted with Bruno about his current success and exciting new production venture with Marianne, as well as asking a little about his past experiences with well-known Hollywood actors and what’s ahead for him, regardless of the current Covid situation.

Bruno, you’ve enjoyed quite the stellar career to date and have worked with the likes of award-winning actors Jessica Chastain, John Malkovich, Lawrence Fishburne, James Cromwell and Viola Davis: how have they inspired you or shared their own acting experiences with you?  Most of the well-known actors I have worked with were very gracious. Robert Patrick was doing a very emotional scene and was nailing it take after take, and he openly shared with me how he did it. Back then I wasn’t sure if I understood what he meant, but now with all my experience I absolutely do. Barbara Hershey openly shared with me some of her life’s events and Scott Wilson and Shoreh Aghdashloo were genuine and quite generous on and off set. Jessica Chastain impressed me with her work ethics. Speaking of Jessica, I had quite the audition experience with Aaron Sorkin who directed Molly’s Game. I went in, we tried the scenes a few different ways, he said I was perfect for the part – something I had heard before but no candy. 90 minutes later my agent got the call that I was going to shoot both in TO and NY. A man of his word. Loved that!

You’re able to act in French language productions as well as English; how has this increased your working opportunities in Canada? A lot more opportunities as I can access casting for film, TV, Voiceover, Commercial and some Video games x 2 J. Often enough I am asked to do accents, both in QC and ON and that helps a lot too. For some reason I get offered roles more often in Montreal. I am from there but haven’t been living in that city for many years. So even while living in LA I was so chuffed to be offered substantial roles on French-Canadian series.

What motivated you and your wife Marianne Sawchuk to create your own film production company, Valiant Heart Films?  My career came to a point where the roles and stories I had been dying to tell and had been training hard for, were not presenting themselves enough, so I thought I should be carrying the load, and be more the in control of my destiny. I had written a story that moved us both a lot and a friend of ours (a screenwriter in L.A.) said “not only do you have to do this project but you have to direct it too”. And I did. From then on, Marianne (pictured below) became the main motivating factor both as a producer and a partner. She has those organizing and unifying qualities that she used so well while producing her theatre projects/festivals, skills that are so important – if not more – when producing film projects.Producer, Actress-Marianne Sawchuk Photo by David LeyesAfter that kickstart, I spent a considerable amount of time studying the craft; from screenwriting to cinematography. Even as a young actor, with a recurring role on Stargate, I kept bugging the DP with my many technical questions. That DP – Robert McLachlan –ended up winning many awards for his work on Game Of Thrones.

Your first short film, Heaven and Earth: A Ritual has been well-received on the film fest circuit – what inspired the 1880’s-based story and the characters?  I was living in Vancouver then and was really curious about issues of racism towards First Nations people and the Chinese community. So I started looking into the Chinese migration in an around Seattle and BC during the 1800’s. And I thought it’s hard enough today, but how horribly hard it would have been for a bi-racial woman (Chinese and Indigenous Canadian) back then.May (Sera-Lys McArthur) on the set of Heaven and Earth; A Ritual. Screen ShotAround that time, I had moved to Los Angeles and decided it would be a better fit, story-wise, to make the character MAY, a strong and combative First Nation character. Mostly because we were going to shoot it in and around L.A. and it felt more appropriate to focus on the U.S.’s Indigenous reality. We ended up moving back to Canada around that time and so Heaven & Earth was shot in and around Toronto.Frank (Bruno Verdoni), Elizabeth (Marianne Sawchuk) and Dancer doing a master shot at Lang Pioneer Village. Screen Shot (2) Frank Mitchell (BrunoVerdoni) and Dancer during magic hour on location in Kleinburg. Screen ShotHeaven and Earth is currently showcasing at the American Indian Film Festival (Nov.6-14) and the Huntingdon Beach Cultural Cinema Showcase (Nov.13-15); it’s just been accepted at the NatiVisions Film Festival in Parker, AZ, December 3 to 5, with more festivals in the pipeline – what are you doing to prepare for the wider int’l exposure and audience kudos and media reviews?  For as far as I can remember, my sights as an artist have always been on festivals. I’ve always been very inspired by the international community coming together during those times. It’s always been one of my dearest goals to collaborate, co-write, co-produce projects with different countries around the world. And, I also need to make sure I have many strong ideas up my sleeve and ready to be pitched. (see official trailer, below)

During the Covid lock-downs and country-wide industry shut-down, how have you remained busy? Have you been studying scripts for future projects, writing, doing voice-overs remotely?  Well I did take the time to write and direct a COVID short for a Toronto COVID short film festival, called Molly’s World. There again it was Marianne who jolted me into action as we had less than 48 hrs to write-shoot-edit this project. It was a lot of fun to play a bad guy in this family fare, opposite Marianne and our daughter Francesca.
Out of the stories I have been working on over the last few years, I am spending some time fine-tuning the ones that move me the most in terms of films and series. I recently recorded a voice-over gig for New York out of my own voice-over studio. 2 weeks ago I finished shooting a French series where my character had been recurring for the last 5 years and on a different artistic plane, since Heaven And Earth: A Ritual gave me the opportunity to compose music again, I decided to keep pushing in that direction, too, and play/compose more music, as I need to elevate my musicianship skills since one of my upcoming projects involves 70‘s rock music.  You can listen to Bruno’s music score for Heaven and Earth: A Ritual here:

What’s next for Valiant Heart Films – do you and Marianne have any projects in the works?   Well, that 70’s rock music project is actually a coming-of age story and has been brewing in the back of my mind for many years now. I strongly feel that it will be in a finished pdf format real soon. I have to say I find myself amidst many stories/concepts/ideas the run the gamut in terms of genres, from fable to musical drama, sci-fi to documentary, family comedy to thriller. I’m impressed that my intuition/inspiration is sending me in all these different directions but in the end the purpose remains the same; to tell a solid, compelling story that feels authentic and reverberates with people, that moves them.

Any advice for other actors or filmmakers struggling to establish themselves in a very tough business?  For me it’s always been about “what moves me” to the point where it makes me relentless. You have to find that “thing” which moves you enough to be unstoppable in your journey. That is the only way. And as you grow you will need to gather as many skills as possible on your journey – people, technical and artistic skills.  And ALWAYS surround yourself well. Find people who are talented, kind and who thrive in a communal environment.Our all female camera crew at Kleinburg Chelsea Springgay, 1st Assistant Camera, Deirdre Leowinata, 2nd Assistant Camera, and Sarah Thomas Moffat (Cinematographer)How can people follow your work and Valiant Heart Films on social media?
https://www.facebook.com/valiantheartfilms
https://www.facebook.com/bruno.verdoni
www.instagram.com/brunoverdoni/

Good luck with all your upcoming projects, Bruno (and Marianne) and I hope we see Heaven and Earth: A Ritual at even more film festivals over the coming months. Good to see you living your best life!Director, Screenwriter, Producer, Composer, Actor Bruno Verdoni1 Photo by Dennys IlicLATEST UPDATE:  

Currently Bruno is starring in another short film called Bloodshed directed by Paolo Mancini and Daniel Watchorn. It has been officially selected and playing at the following festivals…so far:
World premiere at Fantasia Festival in Montreal
Night Visions Festival in Helsinki
NOLA Horror Film Festival in New Orleans
Oregon Scream Week Horror Film Festival where Bruno was a finalist for Best Actor Award
LUSCA Fantastic Film Festival in Puerto Rico
Hellifax Horror Festival in Halifax
Requiem Fear Fest in Montreal where Bloodshed won Best Short Film
Frightening Ass Film Festival in Tennessee
Bogota Horror Film Festival in Columbia
Panic Fest in Kansas City
Monster Fest in Australia
Tacoma Film Festival
Festival El Grito in Venezuela Dec 3-5
Mostra Crash International Fantastic Film Festival in Brazil Dec 9-13
Another Hole in the Head Film Festival in San Francisco Dec 11-27
Chandler International Film Festival in Arizona Jan 21-24, 2021thumbnail