Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Canadian Film Fest: Ben's At Home Director, Mars Horodyski

UPDATE: MARCH 27-Pacific Northwest Pictures announced today that they have acquired all Canadian rights to BEN'S AT HOME, the hilarious new relationship comedy from Canadian writer/director Mars Horodyski and writer/actor Dan Abramovici. PNP’s Emily Alden, Vice President, said, “We’re excited to be sharing this hilarious and heart-warming film with Canadian audiences. BEN'S AT HOME is the perfect film for lovers, best friends and comedy fans to enjoy together.”  The film will be released in theatres across Canada in May 2015 and on Video On Demand (VOD) platforms including iTunes, Shaw, Rogers and Bell in July 2015.
Source: PNP press release.

I first met Mars Horodyski  years ago through her involvement with First Weekend Club. The Canadian Film Centre alumnus has kept busy directing short films, documentaries, and series television. Her first feature film, "Ben's At Home", already the recipient of several awards, is screening at this year's Canadian Film Fest. The film stars, Dan Abramovici as Ben, a 30 year-old, recently single (okay, dumped) guy who has decided to give up on external social activities, and just stay home. I recently had a chance to interview Mars about directing the film, and the development of the script which she co-wrote with Abramovici.

donna g: I know you shot in Dan Abramovici's actual apartment. What were some of the benefits and challenges of shooting multi-camera in his apartment?

Mars Horodyski, Director, Ben’s At Home, Toronto, 2014
Mars Horodyski: Dan’s apartment is tiny so it was a challenge finding the best angles to shoot from and keeping the space interesting for the duration of the film. Shooting multi-cam made this even more challenging. I worked closely with our amazing DP Walter Pacifico on creating subtle lighting themes to reflect the character’s journey and add interest to each scene. One benefit of shooting on location was that Dan’s existing space worked perfectly for the character. We tried to work with what was there as much as possible with minor tweaks for colour and composition.

(L-R) Craig (Craig Brown) and Ben (Dan Abramovici) 
Ben’s At Home
Awkward Silence Productions & Cinemars, 
Toronto, 2014
donna g: Thirty is by no means old, but there is a distance in experience from being in your early twenties. Who gets writing credit for the hilarious but humiliating bar scene where Ben  is talking to those three barely-out-of-their teens young women--you or Dan?

Mars Horodyski: We both brought a bit to this scene having had experienced moments of uncertainty about turning thirty and feeling disconnected from the very plugged-in, social media-savvy millennial generation. Dan also drew from experiences of a recent break up and feeling pressure to start dating again.

donna g: Please tell me that "Foosball Girl", as I like to call her, is not based (even loosely) on a past dating situation that either you or Dan has had!

Mars Horodyski: This scene is actually based on combination of two real online dates that Dan went on. After we wrote the script we felt like there was a story beat missing where things didn’t go well for Ben. Dan ended up writing this scene and it’s one of my favourites. Inessa Frantowski (who plays Foosball Girl) is amazing.

donna g: Did you workshop the script first because the "guy" dialogue is bang on?

Mars Horodyski: Since we wrote the script in about a month we didn’t have time to workshop any of the scenes. When writing we were really influenced by indie mumblecore films (Duplass Brothers, Lynn Shelton) and wanted the dialogue to have a very natural feel. Dan, being an actor, also has a great sense of real sounding dialogue so that contributed.

donna g: The film is very funny but there is a sad and lonely undercurrent in the fact of how easy it is to socially engage without leaving the house. Ben works at home, has meals delivered, and even dates online. As he says in the film, people come to him. Was it difficult balancing the comedic and realistic tones of the film?

Mars Horodyski: It was important to us that all of the humor felt grounded and came from a real place. While we were writing we were always questioning how the comedy fit tonally and making sure it was never too broad for the type of film we were making.

donna g:  Congratulations on Ben's At Home being optioned as a web-series. When do you start working on this new venture?

Mars Horodyski: We have partnered up with Back Alley Film Productions/Muse Entertainment ("Durham County", "Bomb Girls") and are currently applying for IPF funding. We are hoping to go into production this summer and are excited to explore the possibilities of the Ben’s at Home concept further. To see what’s in store check out our hilarious web series teaser here:

We also have a new feature film in development. “…You Have Feet in Your Shoes” was recently selected as a Top Ten Finalist at the Cinequest Screenwriting Competition and we are planning on shooting it this year.

Ben's At Home screens
Saturday, March 28, 3:45 pm.
The Royal, 608 College Street

2015 Canadian Film Fest
March 25 - 28

More About Ben's At Home/Mars/Dan
Ben's at Home website:
Ben's at Home trailer :

Mars Horodyski

Dan Abramovici: @dan_abramovici

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Toronto ComiCon Artist Profile: Amy Spaulding

In the second of my Toronto ComiCon artist profile, I decided to check out the work of Amy Spaulding, gal pal of my first profile artist, Deena Pagliarello.

donna g: A lot of your work has a retro/pin-up feel. Could you please comment on why this style appeals to you?
created by Amy Spaulding
Amy Spaulding: This developed from a great love of mid-century style. Whether it be pulp fiction covers, pinups, advertising and travel posters etc. I am also a huge fan of rockabilly music which has greatly effected my aesthetic. Even my cats are named Wanda and Jackson. I also really appreciate how kitsch works so effortlessly well with geek culture and allows me to explore some lighter, humorous moments.

donna g: What software do you use to create your pieces?

Amy Spaulding: I actually create a majority of my work in Sketch Book Pro. For me it was the most intuitive software.  I originally was an oil painter and stumbled around in Photoshop but really found my technique and work flow beginning in Sketch Book. That being said almost every piece has likely passed through at least two of the programs before going to print.  Especially if it is a more design driven piece.

created by Amy Spaulding
As a general rule my more painterly work is done in Sketch Book Pro, type in Illustrator and then finished off in Photoshop where I edit and apply textures.

donna g: I can imagine that it must take passion to go to a con and sit at a booth and sell your work. At what age did you become interested in art, and what spurred you to enter the world of comic conventions?

Amy Spaulding: I have always been interested in art and I have been lucky to have that supported and nurtured my whole life.  After high school I went to Queen's University for a Bachelor or Fine Arts where I studied painting.  I did not really have a direction I wanted to take it.  I went back to school for Illustration at Sheridan and that really started helping things take shape.  My good friend Deena Pagliarello asked me to share a table with her at Toronto FanExpo five years ago. Up to that point it had been off my radar. It was overwhelming at first but by the end of the weekend I was hooked and have been adding more conventions every year.

donna g: Many fans attend conventions to meet their idols. Have you ever had a "fangirl" moment where you met an artist that you really admired?

created by Amy Spaulding.
Check out the Zombie eyes in the sword!
Amy Spaulding: Usually my mantra is: "just be cool". The more I do conventions and events the more my idols become my peers which is really an amazing thing to be able to say.  One convention though, a few years back, sticks out. I am not an autograph collector by any means but I had my sad dog-eared and well read volume one of Swamp Thing signed by Yanick Paquette.  He took the time to make a little watercolour sketch for me even though he was in the middle of a commission.  I think I called him dude and I just drifted back to my own table just staring down at it and hoping the crowd parted for me.  

donna g: Do you have any other cons coming up?

Amy Spaulding: Yes! Toronto ComiCon kicks off my convention season.  In a couple of weeks I am in Anaheim for Wonder Con, which is my first convention in the states.  I am at Ottawa Comic Con in May, Montreal in July and I am hoping to be back for FanExpo in September.  More will likely get added along the way.
You can find Amy at booth A03 in the Artist Alley, right next to Deena. Stop by and say hello.
More about Amy Spaulding
Want to find out more about Amy's "fan girl" artist, Yanick Paquette?
MARCH 20 - 22

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Toronto ComicCon Artist Profile: Deena Pagliarello aka Deena Draws

In a previous post, I mentioned my appreciation of Artist Alley at Toronto ComicCon. Illustrator, Deena Pagliarello aka Deena Draws is one of many artists you will encounter in that enclave over the three days of the convention.

donna g: What is it about Toronto ComicCon that keeps you coming back?

Avatar created by Deena Pagliarello
Deena Pagliarello: I started attending Fan Expo in 2009 as a con goer. I always felt that there was a great sense of community among people who enjoy the nerdier things in life. I had a couple of friends who had tables there that year and I thought I should give it a shot. In 2011, I shared a table with my talented friend Amy* and we loved it, so when they introduced Toronto ComicCon in March, I decided to try my hand at that one. And truth be told, it's a lot more manageable size and stress wise but still remains fun.
donna g: Organizing for a Con must be nerve-wracking. How do you know decide what to bring? Do you focus on a theme or go with a variety of subject matters? 

Deena Pagliarello:  Ha, it definitely can be. Something that a friend of mine told me when I first started doing them was "Never take it personally". At a con, it's so subjective, in terms of what people are looking to shop for. I basically make pieces that I would want to see, and the last couple of years I decided to create some nostalgic prints, Princess bride, Labyrinth, Alien, She-Ra, and Jem. I grew up watching these characters and I figure "I loved these films and shows as a kid and still love them today, maybe someone else loves them too" Over the years, I've made a lot of prints with DC, Marvel and various pop culture characters, and I'm always striving to better myself with my work and reaching a wider audience. At the con I'll be selling various prints of all sizes along with some magnets and necklaces, too.

donna g: I noticed an Ursula postcard on Etsy. Is that something you decided to create especially for Toronto ComicCon?

Disney's Ursula by Deena Pagliarello
Deena Pagliarello: Actually, I created three new prints for this con, Ursula is one, followed by an armoured Wonder Woman and a print of Agent Carter. I like to try to create at least 1 new print per con, it sets a challenge for myself and allows me to create some new product. I did the Ursula because I got on a Disney kick last year, creating Frozen and Tangled prints, but I  think a Disney Villain print series would be kinda cool, so expect more Disney Villains!

donna g: When did you decide to make the move to digital art?

Deena Pagliarello:  I started working fully digital a couple of years ago. Before, I would draw out a sketch, then I would ink it. I've got these fantastic brush pens that can create some great  and unique line art. I then would proceed to scan in my image and colour it in Photoshop, including the line work. In recent years, I've gotten a better handle of Photoshop and my pen and tablet so the majority of the work I produce now is all digital. I still love to sketch and colour traditionally. Who knows, maybe I'll tire of the digital world and return to traditional work sometime.


Wonder Woman by Deena Pagliarello

 donna g: Will you be doing any commissions at Toronto ComicCon?
Deena Pagliarello: I only started taking commissions last year. It took me a really long time to gain enough confidence to do them at conventions. It's nerve wracking  to create a piece for someone in a matter of an hour or two. And after that, you hope to God that they like it because I've definitely have had both kinds of reactions to's much nicer when they're ecstatic with it. But I plan on doing them again this year. 

donna g: How do you deal with mental and physical difficulty of sitting at a table for hours a day for three days? Do you ever get bored, tired of talking, or answering the same questions over and over?

Deena Pagliarello:  It can be a little taxing being behind a booth all weekend, though when you get out onto the floor to grab a tea or get a bathroom break the hordes of people immediately make you want to get back to your table. It could get boring too, but having a table mate or working on commissions takes the edge off being behind a table for so long. I have to remind myself to drink loads of water and have lots of small things to snack on too, so I'm not so thirsty and hungry by day's end. And as for the questions, I never really tire of them. Most people are genuinely curious about my work and how I create it, I'm only happy to answer them and maybe provide them with some insight into an illustrator's work.

Deena will be at booth AO5 at Toronto ComicCon, March 20 - 22. Metro Toronto Convention Centre.


Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Toronto ComicCon: No Fear of This Alley

photo by/property of donna g
One of my favourite areas at Toronto ComicCon is the Artist Alley, where you can meet legends and up-and-coming artists all in the same space! Pencillers, inkers and writers! Oh, my! I love watching these artists at work, and with various price points, you can always find something to take home with you--maybe even a sketch of...well, you!
Love a good battle? An event I never miss is the Sketch Dual, where artists duke it out sketching brand new creations, while answering audience questions about their work. At the end of each session, two lucky people will walk away with an original illustration signed by each dueller. Who wouldn't want a sketch from the duelling teams of Mike Del Mundo vs Marco Rudy vso Michael Walsh or Michael Golden/Neal Adams vs. Chris Sprouse/Nick Bradshaw, to name a couple of participants coming to this year's Con?

I don't sew, I don't make armour, I don't do specialty make-up, but I do enjoy attending the Cosplay workshops, and panels to see just how some of these intricate costume creations are dreamed up and realized. Participants are always generous in sharing what worked and didn't work for them. Planning a costume? Have you figured out how you're going to sit in it, go to the bathroom, or how to cool yourself down after a few hours in your precious gear? Questions like how to make wigs or do make-up that will last are also answered. I find these sessions fascinating because as someone who is still a newbie to the world of Cons, I come away impressed by the talents and passions of these creators.
March 20 - 22, 2015

Metro Toronto Convention Centre 
South Building
FRI: 4 PM - 9 PM
SAT: 10 AM - 7 PM
SUN: 10 AM - 5 PM

Monday, 2 March 2015

Canadian Screen Awards 2015

photo credit:
The 2015 Canadian Screen Awards shone the spotlight on all sectors of the true North's film, television and digital media industry last week, culminating in a two-hour gala broadcast hosted by the hilarious Andrea Martin, who delivered a côterie of jokes ( penned by comedy teams from the camps of  Martin Short, Steve Martin and David Letterman) with the surefootedness that Oscar hosts can only dream.

In film, Xavier Dolan's Mommy was a huge winner that night, including the top award for  Best Picture. The volcanic, Pompeii took home several awards for its technical achievements--not bad for a sword and sandal epic shot on the grounds of a parking lot on Etobicoke, eh? The music category saw a nice win for Dr.Cabbie, with Manjeet Ral and Parmjit Sarai dancing away with  the award for Original Song with "Dal Makhani".

Television's Orphan Black added several more trophies to their shelves this year, including another well-deserved nod to Tatiana Maslany, while Jason Priestly's Call Me Fitz said its farewell with notable wins for Joanna Cassidy (yes, I had a Blade Runner fan girl moment in the press room) as well as recognition for the show. Wins for cop dramas  Rookie Blue (Fan Choice for Anna Silk) and 19-2 (Jared Keeso) proved that Canadians continue to enjoy solid precinct pieces. Patriotic love continues to beat for reality go-getter, The Amazing Race.

The  digital award for best online series went to Space Riders: Division Earth,  and you couldn't have asked for a more enthusiastic group as they came into the press room beaming after their win. In response to my question about what made doing a web series so hard, they expressed that there is no money, long hours,  and no guarantee of an audience, which is why those involved have to love what they do in order to accomplish their goal. Mission accomplished, I would say.

For complete details about the Canadian Screen Awards, the nominees and recipients, please visit

I was reviewing past coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and realized that as good as it is to use social media, I m...