A child at heart, Ali Scher has always found a way to infuse whimsy and fantasy into her work and life. Originally from Toronto, Ali began directing and acting in theater at a very young age. She went on to receive a degree in Theater and Literature from Smith College, transitioning to film after spending a summer as a research intern for the television show “ER.” She attended USC School of Cinematic Arts, where play is pursued with the utmost dedication and seriousness. Last year Ali received the DGA (Directors Guild of America) Jury Award for Best Woman Filmmaker of 2011. On her USC Thesis film, “The Maiden and The Princess” Ali had the opportunity to work with David Anders of “Alias” and “Vampire Diaries,” Julian Sands of “Room With A View“ and “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and Broadways Megan Hilty of “Smash.” Her thesis film has played at over fifty festivals worldwide and won countless awards, including the 2012 USC Faculty Award for Best Directing and a Student Emmy.
An award-winning filmmaker from Houston, Damian moved out to Los Angeles in 2007 to join the production program at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. His thesis film, “Children of the Air” is currently playing across the festival circuit. The film stars Katheryn Winnick (“Love and Other Drugs” & “Bones”) and Travis Van Winkle (“Friday the 13th” and “Transformers”). Damian is a narrative filmmaker who enjoys telling stories visually. He has shot pieces for the Foo Fighters, Coca-Cola, Sony, and Forever 21/Hello Kitty to name a few. His narrative work can be seen on several films currently playing on the festival circuit. Damian studied directing and cinematography at USC, where he had the opportunity to work under such legendary cinematographers as the late William Fraker. He and his wife are living happily ever after in California.
What are the current project your working on?
Ali: I’m nearing the end of my first year on the festival circuit with my short film, “The Maiden and The Princess.” We’ve played at over 50 film festivals (both in the US and abroad), and it’s been a fantastic ride! The film has won quite a few awards, including a Student Emmy, the 2011 DGA Jury Award for Best Female Director, and the 2012 USC Faculty Award for Best Director. Aside from Candyland, I’m currently working to adapt a really exciting magic realism book (set in 13th century Italy) into a screenplay with my writing partner from Maiden, Joe Swanson. We have an amazing producer attached and I truly believe we’re gonna get this made! Fingers crossed
Damian: I’m currently working on a project called “CandyLand” with my good friend Ali Scher. “Lying, cheating, seduction, betrayal…preschool ain’t so sweet anymore.”
We created the show around the premise of taking the wonderful melodrama of classic high school shows like the original 90210, Dawson’s Creek, and My So Called Life and twisting it into a dark comedy with preschoolers dealing with the intense drama of preschool life. It’s a funny twist on the classic melodrama we all grew up watching on TV. You can find more information, including a promo video on our Kickstarter Page: www.kickstarter.com/projects/1396193475/candyland or on our Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/candylandtheshow
I’ve also been screening my USC Graduate Thesis Film, “Children of the Air”, across the festival circuit. We’ve been lucky to have quite a few screenings across the country and world and have been lucky enough to bring back some awards from a few of them. The film stars Katheryn Winnick (“Love and Other Drugs” and “Bones”) and Travis Van Winkle (“Transformers” and “Friday the 13th”) and is a dark contemporary allegory to the original fairytale version of the Little Mermaid. You can find more information on the film at www.damianhoran.com/childrenoftheair or www.facebook.com/childrenoftheair
In addition, my first feature-length film, “Barbarian Days”, can also be seen at various festivals across the country. The films follows a legion of loyal fans who travel down to Cross Plains, TX once a year to celebrate the life and works of Robert E. Howard, creator of “Conan the Barbarian.” You can find more information on the film at www.barbariandaysmovie.com
I’m also writing a feature dark comedy that deals a lot with the themes we explored in “Children of the Air”; the idea of fleeting memory and wanting to change the past but being impotent to do so. It’s a very whimsical piece that is a lot of fun but also has a lot of heart at the core.
What was it like work with such a young cast?
Ali: It’s actually been fantastic! I acted as casting director for the webseries, and the trick is to see as many kids as possible (as many casting sessions as it takes) until you find talented kids who also really want to be there. You can always tell the kids who want it from the kids with parents who want it for them. I have a lot of experience working with child actors, from my thesis film, “The Maiden and The Princess,” as well as from my theater background, so it’s nothing new for me. Kids can actually be easier than adults to work with sometimes. They don’t internalize their emotions, so words like “sad” and “happy” have very clear, definitive meanings for them. We have a really amazing group of kids on Candyland. I’m so excited to get to work with each and every one of them.
Damian: We were incredibly lucky and found an amazingly talented cast that has been a ton of fun to work with. Honestly about 90% of the work of the entire show was completed when we found our cast because they are that good. It’s a lot of fun working with kids because of their energy and unbridled excitement.
Why did you decide to collaborate on “Candyland”?
Ali: Damian and I were in school together at USC and I’ve always had a lot of respect for his visual artistry. We’ve been wanting to collaborate for a long time and this just seemed like the perfect project to do it.
Damian: Ali and I were in the same class at USC so I got to see a lot of her work throughout our years in the graduate film production program, and I really thought she’d be the perfect partner for a show like this. She is a very talented filmmaker that has a very unique whimsical but edgy child-like nature to her work, and that was exactly the type tone we wanted for CandyLand; she was really born for a show like this. I have a lot respect for her as a filmmaker and have really enjoyed partnering up with her on this project.
Why did you decide to make it a webseries instead of a film?
Damian: We had initially discussed the possibility of writing a feature-length script for it instead (which we are still looking to do in the future), and actually pitched it to a couple different TV Studios, but in the end we felt like at this point in time a Webseries format would be easier to get in front of a lot of people. We looked at old shows like Saved By The Bell, and realized the classic 30 minute sitcom without commercials was actually quite close to a Webseries type format or length. The tough thing about doing a good Webseries is finding a concept that is strong enough to capture and entertain an audience in such a short time-frame. We really love the concept of CandyLand, and think it’s the type of show that will immediately grab your attention and hold onto it.
What’s your opinion on crowdfunding?
Damian: Crowdfunding is a really wonderful thing because it has created an opportunity for thousands of artistic endeavors that may have never been created without its support. There are a ton of talented starving artists out there in the world and there a ton of people that want to support the arts, and websites like Kickstarter allow those people to find each other and identify projects where they may share a similar like or interest.
What is your favorite film festival you’ve been to so far?
Ali: I’d have to say that HATCH Fest was my favorite! Though Outfest is a very close second! I’d never heard of Hatch before when I got in, so I didn’t really know what to expect. Having attended only 5 festivals beforehand, I was prepared for the same competitive atmosphere, cold handshakes, empty congratulations… What I found was a living, breathing community of people passionately trying to change the world. Unlike any film festival I’ve attended since, Hatch is not just for films, but for inventors, scientists and anyone looking to creatively make a difference. It’s about finding smart, creative people in all different fields and bringing them together to try and make the world a better place. I got to see how a 3D printer works and why hybrid technology is going to change the planet. It was a pretty life changing experience
What’s your favorite quote and why?
Ali: Amanda Pope, an amazing documentary filmmaker and one of my mentors from USC always told me – “never ask for permission. Just do it (whatever it is) and ask for forgiveness later!” It’s the perfect bit of advice as nothing is ever handed to you on a silver platter in this industry. It’s all about making daring moves and just hoping they pay off.
Damian: My favorite quote is actually from “Joe Vs. the Volcano” and it goes something like, “My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.” I think it’s a really beautiful thought, because as you grow up your vision narrows a bit, and reality tends to tarnish the magic that was once there and if you are not careful it can fade away for good, but if you can fight to keep your eyes open, you’ll see, even in the smallest of places, that the world is a pretty amazing place. Also Meg Ryan said the line at the time, and I had a huge crush on her in the early 90′s.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Ali: Yes! We have exactly 4 days left on our Candyland Kickstarter campaign:http://www.kickstarter.comprojects/1396193475/candyland
Check out our hilarious promo and please, donate if you can! Even just $5 really helps and will go a long way toward making this project.
Thank you Ali and Damian for doing the interview. I’ll be sure to check out “The Maiden and The Princess” and ”Children of the Air” ASAP and write reviews of the films. I wish you the best of luck with “CandyLand” and your future projects.
Readers can see my interview with Ali for her thesis film here : http://wp.me/p1B7Vj-4