Fresh off of 61st and Pine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, we sit and spend some time and get to know the 18 year old, up and coming artist, KEEM HEAVY.
With his dedicated mother, Lynnette, a.k.a. Da Goodsister, by his side as his number one fan and motivator, greatness is surely coming for this young artist.
Tell us your story. In your own words, who is KEEM HEAVY? Give us a small biography of who you are as an individual and as an artist.
KEEM HEAVY: I’m a person that always loved music since I was six years old. The person that inspired me too start doing music and dancing was Chris Brown. My family use too call me Lil’ Breezy, because I always had my shirt off dancing And singing to the girls . When I was nine or ten that’s when I started writing music, because that was the only way to express myself . Since I didn’t ’t tell people about what I’m going through. I always stayed on my own grinding , trying to turn my dreams to reality. I was always a positive person. No matter how many negative things come my way. I always found a way to ignore it by listening or writing music.
Where did your stage name, KEEM HEAVY, originate from?
KH: KEEM HEAVY was given to me actually. I use to just go by KEEM, but my friend Akhen heard me rap for the first time in a studio and told me that I have swag, my songs are hot, and I’m always where the money’s at. In result, he came up with KEEM HEAVY. I’ve stuck with it ever since.
Let’s throw a quick sell point for your name and music. How would you describe, in your own words, the style of the music you create?
KH: I would describe my music as different . For example, I know I be going through a lot and done a lot, but I don’t always want to talk about the negative things about me. I want the world to hear positive real music. Music that can cheer you up. Music that can actually touch people by words.
How did you get into the entertainment industry initially? Were you always drawn towards music or the entertainment industry your whole life?
KH: Yes, since I was six years old, I’ve been in love with music. I got into the entertainment industry initially from my family help working as a team.
When and how did you discover that music was the route for you?
KH: I always thought music was for me. But when I was young people use to say I couldn’t make it or I’m corny. But that didn’t stop me it just made me grind harder.
Even though you are an up and coming artist, I’d like to know about your vision a bit more. What’s your ultimate mission with your lyrics and music?
KH: My ultimate mission with my lyrics is to show The world to be There self . Don’t portrait something that you are not . Then , to always be real, because being fake will catch up to you one day.
What influences the lyrics you create for your music?
KH: My family influences the lyrics I create because they the ones that’s making me go harder with this music . Helping me follow my passion and make it come true
What artists have had the biggest influence for you in life and in music and why?
KH: Chris Brown, because I like his style. His music is always evolving, and his imagination for his videos are creative, and Lil’ Durk, because he’s always grinding for his family and taking care of his city . Which, that is my goal. I want to do that for my folks and city.
You just released your EP, Season One, that you just released in 2018. Describe your EP and how you came up with the name, Season One, for the EP?
KH: I came up with Season One, because I wanted it to be like a movie. I want to get the world’s attention. Tell them my story of what I been through and show them that dedication and hard work can always get you to your goals .
Should we expect new music from you soon?
KH: Yes, very soon.
Do you want to get involved in other entertainment avenues like film, television, fashion, etc… or are you planning to stick to just music for your career?
KH: Yes, my other passions and interests are fashion and acting. I will work towards those avenues, as well, in the near future.
We are still in the first quarter for the year of 2019, what kind of goals have or are you setting for yourself this year?
KH: The goals I’ve set for myself this year is to keep grinding and staying focus. No matter what I go through, I always express it into music, because any day you can become rich and any one of them songs can get you famous.
I head back to Madison, Wisconsin for this Q&A to catch up with the producers of Madison’s 48 Hour Film Project. I met these two talented and hardworking individuals last year, when I came on to the RGBeasts team for the very first time.
An unforgettable experience, to say the least, but thanks to this particular opportunity, I have an expectation of how the film life works for future projects. Now I get to sit down with the masterminds that are working towards bringing Wisconsin on the competitive map for the film industry.
Let’s open this interview with a story. How did you two come together as business partners? How long have you two been business partners?
Michael Keeney: Ooh, pick me!
Kat leans backward in her chair, clearly giving Keeney the floor.
MK: I’d been hired to launch and operate a boutique film festival for a convention that was coming to Madison. I knew I could get films and filmmakers involved, but I also knew I didn’t know a darn thing about scheduling … anything. I’d met Kat at a different convention, where she was the Director of Operations, overseeing a five-day event with 1,500 attendees, more than 70 scheduled panel discussions and other timed events that completely took over one of the largest hotels and conference centers in town.
And so I asked for a meeting. To be honest, I was hoping to make my pitch, and she’d suggest one of her interns who might be willing to take on my little two-day, 20-film, one-room event.
We met, and I explained what I thought would be the upsides and the challenges. About half way through her questions and answers, Kat used the word ‘we.’ As in, ‘Well, we could go through Brown Paper Tickets for ticketing ….’
I did my best to look calm and cool while I quietly picked my jaw up off the floor. Again, I was hoping for the name of an intern.
At this point Kat rolls her eyes and leans forward again.
Katherine Thompson: I had been looking for a new challenge, and his timeline happened to fit with an opening I had between shows and it sounded like fun.
MK: That was … seven? years ago?
MK: I immediately began utilizing her skill sets more and more for Key Media Entertainment projects, and before too long, Key Media Narratives became an official thing — Key Media Entertainment had been working in film and commercials for a number of years before that. We did more in the first 18 months as Narratives than I had in the five years before on my own as Entertainment.
How long have you two been producing the 48-Hour Film Project in Madison,WI?
KT: This will be our third year at the helm as Producers. We competed successfully as a team off and on for a few years before that.
For prizes, you open opportunities up not just on a local level, but the winner gets a spot in the film festival, Filmapalooza, to compete against other 48-Hour short films. You both were just there supporting last year’s winners for Madison, The Porchetta Paradox. How was the experience for you both?
MK: It was pretty great. Filma is a combination film festival-slash-competition- awards ceremony. There were approximately 150 City Winners from around the world that were screened. In addition to that Festival aspect, there are a number of mixer and networking events, as well as classes on filmmaking and programming specifically for us as City Producers. The chance to find common ground and discuss common challenges with other filmmakers and producers was tremendous.
KT: The ability to watch award-winning films, made by filmmakers just like us, with the same challenges we face was a wonderful opportunity. You learn something about different cultures around the world, and how they use the medium. You would think that with everyone having the same rules and the same restrictions, the films would have the same feel. But they really didn’t. Yes, there was much they had in common, but it was very interesting to see how different cultures use film differently.
It was was very rewarding to see ‘The Only Logical Conclusion,’ which is The Porchetta Paradox’s City-winning 2018 film, really reach a genuinely international audience.
MK: In fact, David and Matthew were one of the few teams chosen to be interviewed afterward. They held their own, and the humor of ‘Conclusion’ holds up. We were proud, and Madison should be proud.
It was also an amazing chance to see what it takes to make it to Cannes. I really think we have teams right now that have a shot at making it all the way.
Let’s open the picture up a bit for those wondering the role of a producer requires. Can y’all describe your days working together or separately and what comes with organizing these types of events?
MK: Lots and lots of Tylenol.
KT: Far more goes on behind the scenes than on the screen. We are responsible for every aspect of producing the Madison event from planning to covering the costs. We negotiate with the theaters and any local sponsors we recruit. We set up any meet- and-greets and educational seminars. Most of the correspondence with filmmakers comes through us. The 48’s international team does provide us with some templates, but almost everything you see leading up to Kick-Off and through our Awards Ceremony is our responsibility. All those graphics you see on our Facebook page, for example, Michael does those. The trivia contest we had last year, that was all him.
MK: It’s really a team effort. Kat let’s me play. She does all the work. I get to focus on doing one thing, knowing she’s got the pulse of everything. Then I do the next thing she says needs to be done. I don’t need to worry if we have an e-mail scheduled. She knows. I may write or edit it, but she makes sure everything is actually going out. If you think about the 48 as a railway, I get to be the cool engine and blow steam and smoke and it might look like I’m the one getting the passengers and cargo down the track, but really, there’s whole lot more to it than that. Who makes sure there are passengers and cargo? Kat. Who makes sure there’s a staff working the train station? Kat. Who makes sure I don’t just steaming off down the tracks and run into another train? Kat. And while she’s doing all that, she’s also still very involved with the theater scene, so she’s networking with actors and stage directors and crew, letting them know about this opportunity. I just do one thing.
I am sure you guys provide work in the film industry past the 48-Hour Film Project. Can you give us an insight on the tasks and other projects y’all do when the 48-Hour Film Project is not going on?
KT: Key Media Narratives is in Pre-Production on a short that I’m really excited about. As usual, Michael wrote a wonderful script. And we’ve had a feature we’re slowly assembling for a while now. Again, Michael wrote that. I think he’s got five or six stories in his head at any time.
MK: I’ve got a desk drawer with 13 treatments in it right now, waiting for the stars to align.
MK: Stories are not a problem. But those are the passion projects that we do, because we love them. We also work on a couple of commercials and significant films every year. You’ve seen our work, whether you realize it or not.
We’ve been a part of commercials for the Wisconsin Lottery, Johnsonville Sausage, ESPN, Kwik Trip and more. We worked on the Christopher Nolan ‘Batman’ series; spent the summer on ‘Public Enemies,’ traveling all over. We did Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut ‘Lost River’ with Matt Smith and Christina Hendricks. We just wrapped up ‘Deliver Me’ in Chicago — actually most of our paid work is in Chicago in film or television, sometimes Detroit.
We also do a handful of local commercials and industrials. We’re in talks right now with a scientific instrumentation company with offices on six continents and instruments and employees on all seven. I work as a writer and script consultant on other people’s stories as well.”
KT: I’m on the Board of Directors for the Madison Theater Guild, and I continue to stage manage a handful of live theater.
MK: She’s also a fitness instructor and mother of three, all of whom have been and are very active in the Performing Arts. So, really, she has three full-time jobs.
A lot of other awards, opportunities, and experiences can come with participating in the 48-Hour Film Project. Can y’all share what could possibly go right for an inspiring filmmaker, even if you don’t win Best Picture and head to Filmapalooza?
MK: It can literally launch your career. The truth is that that no, most films do not go on to critical acclaim, and most filmmakers are doing this purely for the love of the Cinematic Arts. But it does happen! Eight years before becoming the director of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Gareth Edwards made his first film in a 48.
KT: Last year one of the 48 films at Cannes was offered and signed a distribution deal, and one of them from this year is negotiating to be a television series in Europe.
Are y’all working on any projects currently or is your focus merely on the film project event right now?
MK: Thirteen ….That I’ve told her about.
KT (Sighs): We’ve got a couple things in the works. We anticipate posting some cast and crew auditions soon. Schedule permitting.
Last year,you had an astounding 30 teams, plus a waiting-list for this year’s film project. What was the reaction and experience for that kind of turnout on your end? Are you expecting a similar turnout this year?
MK: More Tylenol. Actually, it was … very gratifying. When we came in the 48 was on a bit of a downward trend. There had been some concerns — which we knew, because we had them ourselves when we were competing. And we’ve worked extremely hard to address them.
KT: There is a huge difference, logistically, in 30 teams versus the 16 we’d had our first year. We have the best problem ever — we’d outgrown the spaces the 48 had been used to. So we literally began planning 2019 the day after the 2018 Premiere. By the time our Awards event rolled around, we’d had our new partnership with Marcus Point Theater virtually sewn up. We just couldn’t announce it yet. We’re not sure if 30 is our high-water mark, but we’re preparing to make things bigger and even better.
MK: We’re one of the smallest cities in the 48 community, and when other cities find out that we had 30 teams, they tend to want to give us advice, because they have 40 or 60 or so. And then I ask them how big their city is, and get, ‘Oh, Philadelphia is 1.5 million,’ or whatever, and then they ask how big Madison is and I get to say, ‘247,000.’ Suddenly they’re asking us for advice. We’re proud of our film community.
KT: I’m extremely proud. Madison is very engaged in the cinematic arts.
What has been the biggest highlight for Madison’s 48-Hour Film Project over the years?
MK: I’m going to go personal. For me, personally, the biggest highlight is a tie. Our first year as competitors, I was the team leader and producer, and I really didn’t know if we could do this thing. I’d worked my tail off and I was afraid it going to crash and burn all around me. And then we got to the Premiere, and I got to sit in a real theater with my friends who’d busted their butts with me and for me, and I got to see our film, a real film, that hadn’t even been an idea just a few days before, let alone a script, much less a complete film, on the big screen, and I got to watch all those people see their work, and be proud of their work and then see their names on the end crawl. To watch their faces when they saw their own names and heard the applause is just … transformative. To this day, whenever we’re screening one of our films for the first time, I stand quietly in a corner at the front of the room, so I can watch our people experiencing our film.
And it’s still a tie. Just as wonderful as that moment is, having someone type their own name in to IMDB and see their first listing, for the first time? It’s … just as good.
KT: The biggest highlight for the 48 is still to come. We’re going to have films in the Cannes Film Festival. One of our actors is going to get discovered. Someone is going to get a picture deal. And it’ll all have started right here.
MK: Okay… Yeah, that. Put me down for that, too. What has been the biggest highlight in your careers in the film industry, separately, or as a team?
MK: To the public, it’s probably my work as a stunt driver, with Oscar-winners lives literally in my hands. Or working on Oscar-nominated films.
If you’re asking me, not the public, there’s no replacing those firsts. Those firsts I’ve already mentioned. The first time I walked around on a set that had only existed in my imagination before we built it. The first time I had a script optioned, and getting to be there as the amazing talents I get to call my friends experience those firsts for themselves. It gets no better than getting to make those things happen with one of my best friends as my business partner.
KT: This is why he’s the writer.
What is the one thing you are looking forward to most with this up and coming film project here in Madison this year?
KT: Turning off the microphone after greeting the crowd, and sitting in a theater full of area film-makers and film fans and just being a film fan myself, watching the amazing productions that our community made, in just 48 hours.
MK: I was going to say, ‘Declaring registration closed, because we were full, but, I want to take her answer, again!
I heard there are a few changes for this year’s project. Can y’all reiterate the changes that are coming up this year that the incoming filmmakers should be enlightened about?
KT: The biggest changes should be ones that the teams and fans will barely notice —
MK:— But please do notice them!
KT: — and that’s that we’re in a new theater on a new day this year. Our premiere will be July 29th at Marcus Point Theater on their Ultra-Screen. The 29th is a Monday. The Ultra-Screen as a few more seats, but we often sell out, so it’s always a good idea to get your tickets through Brown Paper Tickets in advance.
We’ll have that information to you as soon as possible. In the mean time we have a brand new Join-A- Team program and a Talent Directory where would-be participants can post about themselves and what they would bring to a team, and Team Leaders, and would-be Team Leaders can post what they’re looking for to fill out their team.
Do any of you two have last minute tidbits of information to share with the readers and anyone interested in joining the 48 community?
MK: Registration for new teams will open on May 1st. Simply go to 48hourfilm.com and follow the prompts to find Madison. The best thing is to just jump in and do it. The Madison filmmaking community is on the rise, and that break- out star could be you!
I’ve connected with this artist for the past five years, at least, and I have the largest amount of respect for his craft and artistry as an actor, a hip-hop artist, and a motivational speaker.
Even as today’s hip-hop industry can’t seem to draw away from negative terms and swear words, Tray Chaney has formatted his craft of not using such words in his messages.
Even as a combat veteran who swears like a sailor, I can respect him for infinite miles on his direction for his powerful stories and positive messages, because what it comes down to for the both of us is providing a positive life and changing the world for the better from our own visions. This is why I stand with his purpose and mission in his artistry in today’s day and age.
Thank you Tray for taking your time with me to answer my questions and promote Chaney Vision while collaborating with GautschVision. Let’s dive right into the interview, shall we?
You’ve been diving into the music career for 6+ years, and ever since I discovered your music, thanks to Twitter for connecting us years ago (laughs), I’ve noticed how your lyrical messages are strong across the bored from anti-bullying, to dedicated fathers, love to women, and an AIDS anthem for the world to listen on. Of all messages, what influenced you to promote such powerful messages in the hip-hop community?
Tray Chaney: I just felt there was a void in the hip-hop industry when it came to these kind of messages, so I wanted to go against the grain and really push more positive storytelling. It’s really been a blessing with the recognition that comes from it.
Do you ever feel you are taking a risk in the hip-hop community by promoting these topics?
TC: I don’t really feel like there is a risk, because there is an audience that I’ve tapped into pursing this kind of music. I’ve been getting booked with some of the biggest acts in the hip-hop industry, because they respect the route I took. Plus, as much as I’m entertaining, I’m also educating, so it’s been a win for me as an independent artist. It is a lot of hard work, but most importantly, I enjoy the whole process.
Your last music album, S.A.M. (Strictly About Music), came out in 2017. Are there any other music projects in production that your fans can look forward to in the near future? Any you can tell us about?
TC: I’m working on an untitled album right now, as we speak. In the meantime, I’m staying consistent with the music by dropping singles. Just dropped my new Single MOMENTUM today. It’s available on all digital streaming platforms including Spotify, iTunes, etc.
A few of my favorite songs from you over the years are “Be Yourself”, “Self Made Star”, & “Mike Bully.” What are some of your favorite songs you’ve made and are most proud of to this date?
TC: That’s a hard question (laughs). All of the songs hold a special place in my heart, because I tell the truth with the lyrics. I do not have a favorite, I love all of them.
You’ve been in the film industry for a good 15+ years as an actor, but now you are starting to dive into the producer role for a few projects including your upcoming autobiography. Care to share some details on that a little bit?
TC: Yes undeniable The Tray Chaney Story Documentary is my first major project that I’m executive producing & I’ve partnered with a Washington DC film crew, Anthony Commodore (Commodore Independent Filmworks), & Mitch Credle (Safe House Films DC).
It’s my story about how I came into the entertainment industry and how I had to overcome trials and tribulations in my personal life. Bottom line, no matter what I went through in life, I never gave up. Features some awesome testimonials from Clifton Powell, Kenny Lattimore, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Russ Parr, Big Daddy Kane, Anwan Glover, Keith Robinson, J.D. Williams, and Blackchild! I’m very proud of it and it’s coming out very soon.
What influenced your decision to allow yourself to dive into the producer role?
TC: It’s about ownership & having creative control/freedom to give you all my art plus I’ve always wanted to step behind the camera & be involved with everything that goes on behind the scenes & everything it takes to put a great project together! I absolutely love what Anthony Commodore & Mitch Credle are teaching me.
Which role brings more challenges for you, a producer for film or bringing a character to life for the film, and why?
TC: I love the word Challenge & I love being able to face my challenges head on so I would say a producer for a film but the only reason why it doesn’t feel like a challenge is because I actually love learning the processe. With me being an actor having a job of bringing the character to life is pretty easy once I start diving into the backstory of who the character is.
You seem to be attracted musically and film-wise on stories with true and genuine substance. What are some stories that haven’t been brought to life yet, that you would love to see in the movie theater or in another art form?
TC: I would love to see the life story of how Def Jam records was put together. Everything Russell Simmons had to go thru building such a dynamite brand of artist that still have a huge impact on the industry.
Are there any directors/producers/actors you would love to work with that you haven’t worked with yet in the film industry? Any artists in the hip-hop or music community in general you’d like to work with?
TC: I’d love to work with Ryan Coogler (Director Of Black Panther , Creed & Fruitvale Station), as well as, Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, and Will Smith. I’m speaking that into existence. It’s going to happen.
You’ve worked in various spots around the country for different film projects. What is the environment like in Atlanta, Georgia, compared to the Baltimore, Maryland and Washington D.C. area? Any similarities? Any differences?
TC: The difference is Atlanta has so many projects going at one time from film, television, music , fashion, and so much more. This is definitely a location where you can come and either get on, or you will be inspired to come here and create your own. I’m from Forestville, Maryland/Washington DC area, and I see my city is improving on the music and film side of things as well, but not quite on the same level that Atlanta is at.
What seems to be the biggest challenge you’ve come across over the years as an artist? What has been the biggest reward for yourself as an artist?
TC: It’s been nothing, but rewards to be honest. I’ve been able to really build great relationships in the industry. I’m fortunate, because The Wire was such an impacted show that opportunities even on an independent level come across my desk all the time.
So, a crazy small-world story, I must share. I was looking through your IMdB page to spruce up some questions for you, and I discovered a connection we both share now, since it involves a credit of yours. Click on This! with my good friend, Johnny Alonso, and creator, Elena Moscatt. I also recently just interviewed Johnny Alonso, as well as, working on an interview currently with Elena Moscatt. How crazy is that?! (Laughs). Talk about a small world! And, with that in factor, you were one of the hosts in 2011 along with Alonso. What was your favorite memory from that whole experience?
TC: I loved connecting with the people! Such a wonderful experience!
What’s next for the brand, Chaney Vision? Where do you see yourself in the next year? In five years?
TC: Chaney Vision is producing more projects in television, film, and music. In the next five years my company will be a household name giving other artist platforms and opportunities.
I met this next artist at a talent competition for local hip-hop artists around the surrounding areas in Dubuque, Iowa. We connected on our similar backgrounds, prior to our civilian purpose as artists. Now I sit down and converse with another veteran turned artist about his music, his philosophy with art and life, and how the military shaped him as an artist.
You have an astounding resume prior to your music career. Care to tell the readers about your background?
Klazik: Sure, I’m originally from East Cleveland, Ohio. I joined the Navy in 2003 and did nine years active duty. After going through training in Great Lakes, Illinois, I was a Tomahawk missile technician on board the USS Mason DDG 87 in Norfolk, Virginia. I did three deployments from ’05-’09, and went on to be an Instructor in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Now I live in Marion, Iowa.
First and foremost, thank you for serving our country. As a fellow veteran for the armed forces, do you feel art is therapy or an essential outlet for people like us? Why or why not?
K: Some type of healthy release is definitely necessary, everyone isn’t artistic, but alcoholism is heavily encouraged in military culture. I’ve never smoked anything and have only taken a handful of drinks in my life. Making music is an escape for me, all creative expression. I’m confident in my music and comfortable on stage, it’s fun.
During your time in the armed forces, has your service strengthen your philosophy with life or had it evolved during those years?
K: It shaped my philosophy on leadership, because I saw first-hand the type of leader I don’t want to be. The nature of military leadership is abusive and hypocritical and there are a lot of people that meet qualifications for positions of authority that don’t deserve to lead.
Have you ever found a time where it has weakened your beliefs? If so, how did you overcome those moments?
K: Something that really affects me is when people that I have committed myself to show me they don’t care about me. I don’t like being taken advantage of or manipulated because its something that I have had happen to me from people that I trusted. Times like that can make you bitter if you allow it and the way I’ve learned to deal with it is by reflecting on the situation and everyone involved once it’s over. When you look back you can gain a better understanding of who you were at the time and why you allowed those people in your life, then you can grow from that understanding.
Presently, what is your philosophy in life?
K: The law of attraction is very real to me. The things in your life are drawn to you. They echo who and what you are back.
Where did your name “Klazified Sick” aka “Klazik” originate from?
K: It actually came from a line I wrote in a verse. It was during a time where I needed to come up with a new name for myself because a name I used previously was taken. I came up with the lyrics and thought “that’s pretty clever” and ran with it.
When it comes to your music, not only are the lyrics leaning towards a spiritual deliverance, but you carry an old school vibe in the beats. Who in the old school era influenced your flow and sound?
K: My style is directly influenced by the music of the mid 1990s to early 2000s, so that includes Notorious B.I.G., whose my primary influence, as well as, Jay-Z, Bone Thugs -N- Harmony, Fabolous, Kanye West, 50 Cent, etc.
I’m also studying and learning the history of rap music and hip-hop culture, so I connect with older artists like Big Daddy Kane and Rakim. However, I don’t hate new music, that’s just my style of creation.
Is it your path in life that influences the lyrics you deliver, or do you feel the influence from within?
K: I guess it’s from within because I don’t think about it, I just let it come to me. I haven’t written a verse down in over ten years.
Music isn’t your only creative outlet. You are also an amazing photographer. Is that another career move you have considered in the past or currently? Or is it just a hobby of yours?
K: Well thank you! It’s just a hobby now. I’m not as confident in it as I am with my music. I got into photography, because I wanted to learn to shoot videos. My thinking is, since video is just a series of pictures and if I can take a good picture that would help my videography. I am going take a more professional step forward with pictures this year though.
In 2018, you dropped six singles for your fans. What should we expect from Klazik in 2019? Can we expect any music videos from you?
K: I like to release music in small doses, so its either a single or a three to five song project. I have a single that I just need to get mixed and get cover art for and Ill put that out in the first quarter of 2019. Also, I want to book some more live performances this year.
Is there anything in life that you haven’t done yet, that might be on your bucket or goal list?
K: The biggest goal I want to accomplish is to be able to make enough money from my music or any work that’s music related to fully support my family, and I’d like to make a song with Big Daddy Kane.
I interviewed this guy with two other essential individuals last year for Coffin II. Now, I sit alone with Johnny Alonso in this interview where we talk about his upcoming film projects, his philosophy in life, and the tricks and trades that has kept his longevity and freshness in the film career, as well as, his life in general after twenty years of hanging tough as the individual he is! (smiles)
You started 2019 already with one impressive schedule. You just got done shooting your promotional video for your new mob film, The Driver, out east this week. Along with that production, you are also preparing to head to the Sundance Film Festival, not only to be apart of the Click on This! crew, but also the showing of your film What Death Leaves Behind. You must be excited for how the year is starting off. Yes?
Johnny Alonso: This year has already started off like a rocket to the moon, and I love it; however, I’ve been planning for 2019 for the past eight months. I’m more than ready for this inhuman schedule, Sundance, Click on This!,What Death Leaves Behind, The Driver, and The Riddle House. This is the short list of what’s happening in the next four months.
In this industry you need to keep moving forward and not worry about what everyone else is doing. Focus on yourself, period. Make a better you without relying on others. For the past six months, I’ve been pushing the motto, “2019 is about change and about being positive.” I have a saying, “Never listen to anyone who has never done anything.” and that includes change.
This isn’t your first trip as a Click on This! host for the Sundance Film Festival, is it? Who has been some of your favorite artists to interview at the Sundance Film Festival previously, and who are some of the artists you are looking forward to interviewing this year?
JA: I love Click on This! I’ve been with Elena and the revolving cast and crew for ten years. TEN YEARS! I’ve been through two jeeps in ten years! I’ve interviewed so many great people on the show. It’s hard for me to say who’s my favorite interview. If I had to choose, I’d say it’s between Kevin Bacon, Keanu Reeves, and Kevin Smith at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015.
Another favorite memory of mine was when I ran into Rachel Leigh Cook randomly at Sundance, our interview was like two friends trying to catch up at the mall, while your friends are trying to pull you away from each other (laughs).
Add the guys from Steel Panther, because they were just hilarious and wore as much patchouli as I do.
To top off my favorites, my most recent Gotham interview with pretty much the entire cast. Robin Lord Taylor kept telling Gotham producer Danny Cannon “Johnny Alonso is Gotham alumni!!” It was so rad and an unforgettable moment for me.
Is What Death Leaves Behind your first film project to be featured at the Sundance Film Festival?
JA: Yes, What Death Leaves Behind is my first film to screen at the Sundance Film Festival. I’ve always covered the festival with the Click on This! crew and nothing more until this year.
I’ve always loved the opportunity to work with Elena Moscatt and company, but this special screening at Utah Film Studios is going to be so rad. In fact, I did a couple interviews, I think back in 2015, at Utah Film Studios for Clickon This!, so it’ll be cool to be back, but this time on the red carpet, and then getting interviewed on the panel.
Can you share a small synopsis of What Death Leaves Behind?
JA: I can say this, it’s a nonlinear film like Memento, Dunkirk, and Manchester By the Sea. The What Death Leaves Behind story-line is not spoon fed. It carefully jumps from one idea in the time line to the next systematically forcing you to pay attention. It’s dark, intelligent, and it’s one of my favorite projects I have worked on to date. That is all I can really share, other than the link to the trailer. So below this answer is the trailer for the film, What Death Leaves Behind, for the viewers.
You are known as an extrovert in this field of work, but you must get exhausted from all the travel and demands that comes with it. How do you stay grounded with your type of schedule? What are some outlets you lean towards to re-energize yourself when you do get burned out?
JA: Honestly, I have never been an extroverted guy, especially with typical choices like sports. It’s my lot in life to be exhausted (laughs). I do find great downtime with snowboarding and horseback riding. Unfortunately, I don’t get enough time to do those things as much as I would like, so it’s just that much better when I do find the time to disconnect, escape, and snowboard or horseback ride.
My brothers and I go bowling. That’s another way for me to decompress. We bowl several games, order bowling alley pizza, and drink gross bowling alley beer. That is the Alonso recipe for success (laughs).
Otherwise, I’m a musician by nature. So, another way for me to decompress is to play music. I love writing and playing music. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in making short films and recording in the studio. I have hundreds of short films that I’ve shot through the years, but these are just for myself. I’ve never shot these short films for anyone or written music for others. It helps me know where I am in a film on set, to be a force without being forced.
On the downside, you’ll have those who have to say, “…but, how is anyone going to appreciate what you’ve done?” Here is my answer, I appreciate what I’ve done, and I like looking at my work for myself. So, when there’s a time when I must perform or show my work, I know you’ll like what I’ve done, because I don’t put myself out there like everyone else. I don’t need that recognition. I do it for me.
Where does this drive and passion for your work root from?
JA: A lot of my drive and cloaked ways comes from my upbringing. My parents are super driven in their lines of work. They’ve built their empire on relying on no one else, but themselves. I get a lot of my lone wolf qualities from my old man. He’s never really ran with the crowd. When all his friends were finishing their residency in Boston, as surgeons, my dad said he was going to go on to be a plastic surgeon. They all laughed at him and said, “Cool, we’ll see you when decide to drop out and hang back with us at the hospital.” He didn’t listen to them and signed up for another several years of school, residency programs, and being bossed around by doctors you know you could dance rings around. All that hard work and perseverance has helped him where he’s at today. With that, he continues to be the best at what he does.
As for my mom (laughs), if there was one person in this world my brothers and I get our artistic, non-conformist qualities from her. I don’t mean that in a bad way. She too built her career as a well-respected pediatrician, where she has cared for baby patients that grew up to become mothers and fathers who wanted their kids under the care of my mom. That’s a very valuable skill in life, and that commands respect.
My mother, when we were kids, would play classical piano at the old house and persuade us to play instruments. She has a voice, so she also encouraged us to sing. Her entire family is very artistic with the lively arts. To this day she’s still a little off center when it comes to being in the “norm”. We never really subscribed to being in the norm, but that’s a good thing. That’s where I get my “art weird” from. I could go on about this for days… (laughs)
(Laughs)… Alright continuing on. You’ve been working in this line of work for over twenty years. Inquisitive minds must know, what motivates you to keep up in such a fast-paced life? How do you keep the longevity in your career?
JA: Holy God has it been that long? I’m just getting my stride! (Laughs). I was an individual who was coined an outcast back in my early adolescent days, but I took it was a compliment and just ran with it. It was all that i knew. I didn’t care about the crowd. Fuck everyone. I really enjoyed being an individual, and not follow other’s flaccid ways.
Even within the outcast crowd I still would find myself an outcast within this group. I really believe this has helped me to come up with my acting choices. You know, being a little off center. I never go with the usual choices. I can’t. It’s not me.
As for the longevity and remaining youthful, my brother, James, says that I live in Peter Pan hour and can’t find my way out. In all seriousness, a lot of it’s genetic. I have this surfer build that I’ve always sported. I also work out and try to stay healthy, so I can stay toned with my body.
Rumor has it, there is still no sign for you slowing down this year. In fact, you have another production lined up for your return to Los Angeles after the Sundance Film Festival in February? Can you share some details about it and what your role(s) are for this project?
JA: I’ve never felt like I’m going too fast. I’ve set a standard and this is the speed I’m cruising at. Like i mentioned earlier, in this industry, you have to line up your work and not just any work, but legitimate work that’s going to help you advance your career.
The production I have lined up is called, The Riddle House. It is a new horror independent film that is going to knock your socks off. With one of the most solid casts I can’t wait to work with. This new haunted house horror is going to be the one to break us through to keep producing films and television projects.
I will be playing one of the main characters, Peter Gunn. I also am a producer for the film. We recently produced one of the coolest concept trailers ever. The way we shot this thing it looks like the film has already been shot. It’s sick. I’ll want you and your readers to chime in and give us feedback.
Are there any other projects in the works for you in the producer field?
JA: I’m currently producing another project, aside from The Riddle House, in Los Angeles. The other project is a television series a writer and I have been throwing around for a while. We’re not waiting for one project to happen. We’re trying to make things happen, so all these projects will happen. One will springboard the other, so to speak. My good friend, Irv Becker, has always said that I’d make a good producer.
You have some returning cast and crew members from previous film projects joining you for The Riddle House like Robert Mukes, Richard Siegelman, etc. There must be some comfort already knowing how the work flow will progress throughout the production with these individuals.
JA: Yes, of course! If I could produce and cast every awesome actor I’ve ever worked with, my film would look like the carnival end scene in Grease. (Laughs) There’s a comfort working with actors you admire and trust. A lot of the actors I admire are power actors. What that means is the actors really go against conventional thinking to get to the level of acting they show on screen and on stage. I like real risk takers; actors that have put in the time have lived through the battle. Those are people I respect and will work with again and again. So yes, working with repeats means we have an admiration for each other’s work.
Is there anyone who haven’t worked with that you are looking forward to working with?
JA: Vincent Young was on that list. I always admired his career and how he handles his craft. He also comes from the dark method acting some actors, including myself, need to use to get to our characters. After we worked on What Death Leaves Behind, Vincent calls me and said he’s preparing for his new film Escape Plan II with John Travolta. He continues to tell me how he’s getting mentally prepared, but this also requires him getting physically prepared. We talked for hours about his routine. We compared notes and laughed at how we both do similar things to change and become serious character actors.
Another individual I am looking forward to working with is actress, Tracey Fairaway. We’ve known each other for over seven years. We really know each other way too well. This is one of the main reasons I’m dying to work with her. I cannot wait to see how she’s going to test me and make choices I’m not going to be able to catch. Of course, I must do the same to her.
I told Tracey, “When I’m on set and when it comes to my dialogue, I punch and I punch hard. I hope you punch back, Fairaway.” Her reply was “Go for it. Let’s see what you’ve got, because I’ll break you, Alonso!”
It’s like a game of chess. You’re always thinking several moves ahead. Tracey is always ahead of the curve which gives her those Jedi qualities. So, when we become our characters in The Riddle House, you will see a tug of war like no other. And that’s what gets me motivated to act.
So, I’ve mentioned two actors off my (not-so) secret list. The other nine will remain secret. You’re just going to have to wait and see. (smiles)
Speaking of Vincent Young, you got to work with him on What Death Leaves Behind. What was it like to work with another prestige seasoned actor?
JA: Vincent Young and I became good friends since working on the project, What Death Leaves Behind. I remember meeting him at a pre-production meeting a few weeks before filming in Philadelphia. We were getting wardrobe measurements, hair and makeup tests, producer questions answered, etc. I remember saying to myself, “Christ, this guy is as hyper as I am. We’re going to get along really well!”
I was familiar with his work so I was a fan from jump, then we got a few drinks, smoked cigars, and the next thing you know, we’re talking about four film projects we can each find our way into. (laughs).
There are some actors you meet that you gel on and off screen with. I really dig his character in What Death Leaves Behind. I’ve always described his character Andrew as the small town, blue collared guy that everyone has known or met in their past.
Andrew is the type of guy that you remember from when you were growing up. He’s the type of guy who would mow your parents’ yard, deliver appliances to the house, check your oil when filling up. It’s not easy harnessing that into a character. It goes beyond and it should always go beyond with what we just see visually on screen. That’s what I love about all the characters in What Death Leaves Behind. Everybody came prepared. Our performances force you to watch the film and take us seriously. I am very proud of this project.
So, you mentioned the dark method acting technique. Can you describe to those not familiar with acting techniques, how one would get into a character by using the method that only a few are drawn to use?
JA: For sure! For example, if you watch me in Coffin, Coffin 2, or What Death Leaves Behind, I walk, slouch, and twitch. I also don’t use my left dominant eye, or left dominant hand. I also lower my voice register, and slow my reflexes. The trick of all of this is done consciously and unconsciously. That’s just for starters. It’s a mindset we have to create to successfully deliver to the viewers. Physically, we’ll lose weight or even gain weight to make an internal statement. I know for the next project, Vincent and I work on we’re going to go in full force with the dark method technique, and I can assure you, it’ll be a mental and physical ride.
With the Johnny Alonso brand that’s developed over the years, you seem to be drawn to the horror, thriller, and suspense genres more. Were those genres always preferences from the get-go, or did it create itself naturally?
JA: It was more created naturally. The Johnny Alonso brand was created out of necessity. I, as a person, am not interesting enough to just walk on stage and play these dark, macabre characters without little theatrics behind me. So, through the years, I’ve learned to create a version of me that is acceptable for camera that would be interesting enough for people to understand and to enjoy on screen. Like any organic acting, it just takes shape, whether you want it to or not. I don’t like to dilute myself or my acting like other actors. I do this for me.
Are there any roles or genres you haven’t done yet, that you’d like to challenge yourself with?
JA: I’d love to be in a chick flick/light-hearted romance like the film, Serendipity. Come on! Who doesn’t love Serendipity? (laughs) I don’t see myself in a film like that, but I am totally game to challenge myself, and love to try my hand at more of a light-hearted film and acting. I believe I could do it.
Are there any other announcements you can share as we head our way into February? Do you foresee it to be a good year for the Johnny Alonso brand?
JA: I’d love to share one project that’s happening in the next couple months, but I’m under contract not to mention it publicly yet. When I’m allowed to say, the whole world will know in fifteen minutes. That’s how exciting the news is!
In this business we never stop working. It’s a continuous cycle. I sincerely enjoy what I do. Seriously, the best is yet to come. (Smiles)
Thank you, Johnny, for taking time out of your chaotic schedule to sit down for an interview with me, yet again! If any of my readers are at the Sundance Film Festival, make sure you make some time in your schedule to head to the Utah Film Studios on Saturday night, January 26th, to watch the Sundance premiere of What Death Leaves Behind, and capture the cast and crew, including Johnny Alonso, at the panel!