In early September, I attended HorrorHound Weekend in Indianapolis. Hosted by the magazine of the same name, it is a horror movie, television, and pop culture convention. A whole weekend full of all things horror!
If there was ever a film festival I wish I could attend, it would be the Artemis Women In Action Film Festival in Santa Monica. I’m not just saying that, either, lest I sound patronizing and fake (really, I live in New York City, so that’s an issue) – there are a LOT of festivals that bring some terrific headliners and sideshows to the table, but the Artemis Women In Action Film Festival is an especially important one.
The latter end of May through early June saw the emergence of a promo campaign for a project now shaping up be quite the festival favorite. The project in question hails actress Sonalii Castillo in her latest electrifying role in Mamba, a new revenge shortfilm thriller from actor and filmmaker Sam Puefua.
“Sonalii brings a level of authenticity to her character,” says Puefua who also co-stars as Sam, a former soldier who applies his skillset aptly as Kali’s right-hand man. “She’s a hard worker and very passionate about her role, and having created this character, there’s no one better than her to bring this character to life!”
Heralded as a cross between John Wick and Colombiana, Mamba is currently garnering acceptances and praise from multiple territories in North America and Europe with Castillo having recently won the Gold Award for Best Actress at the Independent Shorts Awards. The project also earned Honorable Mention as well as Best Thriller Short in June at the same festival, signaling a rather favorable start for Puefua in his film journey with Castillo since their pairing on 2014 short, Dahlias.
With Puefua, he got his start in acting at a very young age with an interest in musicals and stage plays, journeying with his mother and other siblings for shows like Les Miserable, Miss Saigon and Phantom of the Opera. His teenage years saw an evolution of that interest take shape by high school – albeit partly from necessity.
“Upon my senior year after football season, I needed another elective for second semester and drama was the only one left.” he says. “Ever since that class, the acting bug bit me and literally right after high school, I pursued my career in acting.”
D.O.P. Luke Dejoras, Brendon Huor and Sam Puefua on the set of MAMBA (2018)
Puefua’s career has flourished accordingly for well over a decade, from small ones to sizable supporting ones. My first dramatic impression of him was actually in a fantasy action concept piece for an independent film company in addition to seeing him in Prince Bagdasarian’s 2013 heist pic, Abstraction.
Seeing Puefua’s own ability to do perform stunts and action was what appealed to me in the course of my own coverage though, and so seeing him take on Mamba is pretty huge in my view. It leads me to believe a project like Mamba is in especially good hands – something I gather Castillo herself took note of way earlier as Puefua sought to take the helm for a change of pace.
“I always wanted to see what it was like to direct someone.” says Puefua about working on Dahlias. “That first project gave me some good experience and inspired me to jump in the directors chair again one day. Now, four years later, I’m on my solo directorial debut! I learned a lot from this film and I had a GREAT team to join me on it.”
Castillo, whose credits partly include NCIS: Los Angeles, Heroes and The Saint, shepherded the idea to Puefua in 2015. Her training for the role of Kali, a presumed-dead assassin seeking vengeance against the corporation that employed her, and the man who runs it (her brother), was another story to be told – one of the usual pain, sweat and rigorous training employed aptly by none other than Brendon Huor whose credentials in stunts and entertainment are demonstrably exceptional.
“The man is the real deal when it comes to action.” says Puefua. “I’ve known my bro for a long time now and we always talked about working on something together, and Mamba was that something.”
Brendon Huor and Sonalii Castillo on the set of MAMBA (2018)
The idea implemented was a straight-up, tactical approach with guns and knives – relatively akin to what audiences have enjoyed seeing thusfar in the John Wick movies and characteristic of rough and unflashy techniques. By Puefua’s own account, Huor knew exactly what to do without question.
“A few weeks after we met, Brendon started training Sonalii on how to handle a knife and gun properly and safely, conditioning her to look like she had years of training within a short period time and having her drill those motions over and over again.” says Puefua. “This is before she even started to learn the choreo and when the time came man was she sore! [laughs].”
He continued: “Just like the gun and knife training, he made her drill that choreography over and over and over until it was second nature. On set, he stayed hands-on with the action and made sure I had the takes. He didn’t merely just produce what I asked for with the action either. He made plenty sure I had the best version.”
Puefua also provided an ordered list of whos-who in the team members who contributed to the stunt work on hand and tasked with making Castillo look good on camera, crediting Joseph Oreste, Kosey Baskin, Subin Choi, Mark Poletti, Nathan People, Nick Krawiec, Kody Pham, Allen Quindiagan, Anthony Hoang, Castillo’s stunt double Kiera O’Connor, Sinilau Tauteoli, Ping Moli, Enele Tauteoli and Amy Sturdivant; A good handful of these stunt performers have already shared space in our weekly Hit List which is delightfully telling in part what fans who follow our posts can expect with a project like Mamba.
MAMBA (2018) crew and stunt performers with Superman Sam second from right.
“The action wouldn’t have been what it is without all my stunt team!” says Puefua who also shared his gratitude for Sound Guy, Vincent Dang who shared in on the stunt action as one of the villains in addition to director of photography, Luke Dejoras, with whom Puefua worked closely to get the best shots. “My stunt brothers and sisters not only brought their A-game to our lil’ film, but were constant professionals on and off-screen! I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Mamba had its share of hurdles like any other production, including location and screenplay issues, although they weren’t anything he couldn’t handle. It hasn’t daunted him from directing either given much as he enjoys it, but of course he has his preferences, suggesting acting was tanatmount to his spanning skillset, adding “…Acting is my first love and I have to continue to build and master that craft before I master another.”
Puefua’s next stop for Mamba, apart from festivals, is the hopeful funding of a feature film that may very well land Castillo a starring role apart from producing. On the acting front, Puefua also has another title scantly making the social media rounds with a few posters and a caption that reads “Who is Mr. Happy?”. I don’t know if that’s the title or a tagline for the project but I was stanchly excited for this project whose director, D. Miles, has largely been intangible for the past few years. Puefua couldn’t say much either but gave a little something to keep in mind.
“It’s a dark Superhero movie.” he says. “Think Batman meets The Punisher. ‘Protect the Innocent, Punish the Rest’ is what Mr. Happy lives by.”
Follow #MambaTheMovie and Sam’s progress through the official website.
About five years ago I managed to interview stuntwoman, actress and producer Michelle Jubilee Gonzalez. It was through her I managed to build a rapport with several other veterans and up-and-comers in the industry whilst getting an angle going on covering the stunt field and it was a privelege to be able to exchange with her than as it still is now from time to time.
Actor and artist multi-hyphenate Jordan Cann and I have a few things in common. I surprisingly learned this during our latest interview in the days since he debuted the official trailer for his second feature film, Street Dreams: Los Angeles.
It turns out that both of us were born and raised in the borough of Queens in New York City. I actually reside near the area he grew up in for eight years which, at the time, dealt with its own share of crime – enough to upend the Cann household for a move to Hampton, Virginia where would begin cultivate himself in the arts.
“Around this time I really started getting heavy into the martial arts due to the popularity of TMNT and the action/martial arts boom in the 80s – 90s.” he says. “After begging for classes my family finally gave in and I took formal lessons for a month before I quit. I didn’t have the discipline to focus and learn the katas.”
That didn’t stop Cann from finding his angle in martial arts, and not for nothing either. His influences in everything popular at the time from Hollywood and TV to Asian crossover stars like Jet Li would then embody his pursuits in drama at school and church.
“Other than the 5 lines I had in a school play my acting talent was discovered by Stephanie Thomas.” he says. “She was the first to really believe in me when she gave me a lead role in a church play, and encouraged me in all of my arts (even singing)…”
With this, Cann grew more and more pertinent when it came to dance. As Cann tells it “it was dancing that stood out”, imploring regular four-to-six hour dance routines in his room and doing up to two hours of acrobatics in the backyard. This also brought on an interest in music as it became increasingly essential in many ways for his own work.
“Dancing was more spiritual for me. It was my outlet for everything as a teen and it was the center of my life,” Cann tells us, adding on the result of his passion and the numerous awards he garnered for every local talent show, and even teaching dance for several years in North America and abroad. “It opened up the door for everything that I do now. I was heavily influenced by the great Michael Jackson, Usher, Ginuwine, Janet Jackson, Aaliyah, SisQo, Omarion, Darrin Henson and Turbo.”
2009 saw Cann moving to Los Angeles, a burgeoning artist with a goal in mind since his teen years: To succeed as a professional dancer and break into action films. The usual inaugural struggles that come with the pursuit of career fruition lasted about two-and-a-half years for Cann until he was finally able to break into the industry going into his adult years. He was exposed, and he began learning all he could, paying close attention to directors and the crew, and asking questions where and when he could – an approach that proved useful upon getting to work with F. Gary Gray ahead of the release of Straight Outta Compton.
“He was so calm cool and collect. He would pull me to the side and we’d talk about old school hip-hop.” says Cann in discussing his several influences at this point in time, the others being a How-To book on writing treatments, and the work of Transformers franchise shepherd Michael Bay, adding “His eye for cinematography, action and sound just blow me away.”
2014 was the year I discovered Cann for myself as he was crowdfunding an action horror project called Vampire’s Rage. It was the first of my own coverage of his work knowing and seeing the trailer in which he showcased an acumen for directing performing action. Prior to this point in his life and after taking initiative with writing his own shorts being the creative type that he is, he also partook in the editing process and despite not having explicit resources at his disposal, he did what he could and made well with what he had:
“I discovered I was REALLY good at editing. It was like dancing to me because editing has a lot to do with rhythm. After a few short films and feeling frustrated from not getting the type of roles that showcased all of me, I decided that I will have to create my own content. I enrolled in film school and they polished everything that I already knew and gave me the right equipment to make high quality films. Jordan the filmmaker and performer was a go!”
That same year was also when Cann and fellow background dancer-cum-filmmaker Aaron “Stylez” Thompson formed J&S Film Productions, currently proliferating through a variety of music videos and shortfilms, as well as more complex feature projects through a wide range of genres. One such project being Street Dreams: Los Angeles, was birthed just as Cann went to Atlanta to broaden his industry experience.
“I reconnected with a cousin of mine, Malik Delaigle, who loved what I was doing and wanted in, but as an executive producer.” says Cann who also reveals Thompson’s own passion in car racing, discussing the film’s vision and the creative pursuits. “I wanted to create something different than what we had done. Something more grown up and relatable…I wanted a police drama.”
Cann’s creative process is a robust one, shared in-house with Thompson and those among the crew. It’s also not without its share of challenges therein, one being the writing on which Cann took the mantle after being unable to secure a screenwriter. Another was a matter of location and logistics, which also comprised of a number of issues in and of themselves.
“It was originally called Street Dreams: Atlanta, although we had to film it in L.A. due to but due to the budget and our connections out here.” says Cann who later dove even further on some of the more concurrent hurdles, including one arose as a result of not fully scoping the area.
“While shooting, we were rolled up on some Mexican gang members.” he says. “They pulled out a shotgun on us and chased us out the neighborhood. We were close to death. It was scary. We laugh about it now though. Too much to fit in a paragraph. More like a mini novel, I’d say.”
Joined by Romane Simon of Lucky Strike Film Studios following rewrites and further casting, Cann initially set his sights on filming within a week with the hopes of flying back to New York City in time for last year’s Urban Action Showcase and Expo for the screening of the Blade-inspired Vampire’s Rage. We were actually in touch with one another in the hopes of making a meet-and-greet happen, however it turned out not to be so with production going into overtime.
Going forward though and continued hopes notwithstanding, Cann and Thompson will be making some headway with Street Dreams: Los Angeles. The trailer immediately caught my attention as it mixes a lot of what I’ve already enjoyed their work thusfar next to my own appreciation for solid independent productions.
“I play Elijah Wilkins.” Cann says in introducing his character. “He’s cocky, confident, laid back and selfish. After witnessing a death of a friend and an intervention with an admirable FBI agent, he sets out a career path toward the same field by walking in his footsteps. He also shares a relationship with his childhood girlfriend bonded further through their child. As such, he’s constantly being forced to choose between them and his career goals and everybody around him seems to want to suppress him in some way.”
Street Dreams: Los Angeles appears to be in much better standing for Cann and the good folks at J&S. Rest assured, it’s a much more concrete assembly following a dodgier freshman outing a few years ago with his debut feature, From Paris To Rome. It had a good trailer and all seemed ready for a local screening event until Cann reached out to me and informed me that there were certain underlying issues; much was ado with licensing and technical aspects in addition to still learning the business end of it all.
“It was a MAJOR learning curve.” says Cann. “We appreciate everybody who worked on it, but we tremble in disgust over the thought of that film. There is a saying: ‘Never despise small beginnings.’ We all have to start from somewhere.”
Indeed, Cann’s starting point still holds up as a milestone of similar size. It’s early days for J&S Film Productions in my view though, and so I still felt it fitting to ask him what his thoughts might be in terms of some major issues that may plague the independent film scene or the industry in general. I often ask my interview subjects this and a good handful that know what the issues are are often mum on this area. Sometimes saying certain things can be costly for performers still in need of employment and frankly, I reckon there are some people who definitely have a little too much authority, and often observe it in ways that are counterproductive to say the least. It’s something that Cann sheds light on with his own perspective as well, and with a fitting measure of it having been able to get his feet well into the water.
“At our level it is funding.” he writes, citing his faith as a means of steadying his compass in the course of making things work with less.
“As far as things within the industry that I would like to see change… I don’t like the politics within the entertainment industry relating to a person getting more work because of popularity versus raw talent.” he adds. “I can make a video of me doing something obnoxious and it goes viral. Next thing you know I am getting endorsements, paid appearances and the like when Johnny has raw talent and can’t catch a break because his social media numbers are not high. I see why they exist, but it could be frustrating for new talent to break in. Talent is not even secondary, but a third factor these days.”
At best, Street Dreams: Los Angeles is signature to the whole of the education Cann is taking with him onto other projects. He is much more mindful nowadays of the business part – licensing, contracts, proper planning, budgets scheduling, logistics, treatment of talent and crew, and any and all related to production quality. It also culminates amply the very purpose he sees himself living in along with the enjoyement of being an artist:
“I am the creator type and to construct an idea that starts in the mind is a cool thing to see. Of course it’s not easy and at times stressful, but you know what they say, “When you love it, it never feels like work.”
It’s been four years since I met Cann online and I still look forward to him venturing back East. Until that day comes, I put him right up there with any number of filmmakers and actors I’ve covered who are working their way up either on an independent scale, or through the mainstream machine. The latter is much more of a challenge considering the restrictions by which most folks are allowed to divulge information, share and engage with anyone who reads press, but I’m determined.
That said, I certainly hope Cann will be able to cover greater ground. His channel is home to shortfilms such as Reclamation, My Brother’s Keeper, comprehensive dance sampler DeTour and a plethora of videos related to dance and dabbling in fight choreography and performance. It’ll be interesting what else comes of it and as long as Cann is able to shape things his way, onlookers like myself are bound to see deservedly bigger things to come.
“I personally want to get to a blockbuster [Michael Bay] level, but with better storylines.” he says, adding on hopes of more chances to write, as well as direct other major actors so as to condense his focus.
“I also really want to produce and direct major music videos as well. We want our company to be one of the leading independent film production companies that don’t need 100% help from Hollywood.” he adds. “It would be a dream to work with Tony Jaa and Wesley Snipes.”
His recent ‘Best’ wins for the Short Film Competition and Blood Sweat And Bones categories at the Urban Action Showcase and Expo on November 10 are also doing plusses for him this month. Retribution won the latter of the two and you can currently catch that one via YouTube. The other, Uncompromised, still stands plenty to gain with Manuel taking the lead next year following his current endeavors in Nepal.
On its face, you have all the action and spectacle you could expect and more when it comes to stunts on film and television. Behind it all are a lot of intertwining politics and matters of mild controversy relative to important issues regarding work, safety and subjects therein – some of which gets reported in writ articles via trade news sources like Deadline and Variety.
For this, folks looking to delve much more into the crux of it all can catch Chicago-based stuntman Ryan Carr (Chicago Fire, The Exorcist), now well into the second season of his online podcast, The Ryan Carr Show. Carr is joined by recurring co-hosts, actress Natalee Arteaga and fellow stuntman Bob Beck, and as of Friday, adding Peter Antico to the show’s guest history for the usual topical engagments.
Antico has nearly forty years of film and television credits as a stuntman, stunt coordinator and fight choreographer on titles like Rapid Fire, Hard Target, Deuces Wild, Bad Boys 2, Black Dynamite and the current production of Brawl In Cell Block 66 helmer S. Craig Zahler’s new crime thriller, Dragged Across Concrete. His recent candidcacy for SAG/AFTRA president was backed by a number of stunt professionals and actors, from noted coordinators like J.J. Perry and Chuck Picerni to stars like Cuba Gooding Jr., Michael Jai White, Zöe Bell and Sylvester Stallone.
You may need to send Carr a friend request if you wish to view the pre-produced podcast via his personal Facebook page which will be live around 12:00pm EST. With this, feel free to check out his most recent episode from November 3 below via YouTube where you may subscribe.
For this, it is with great pleasure to have been able to share an auspicious chat with Adam Brashaw, someone whose work thusfar in stunts, film and television have been all but impressive. He’s only appeared in The Hit List a few times having done three shortfilms (two of which I have seen), and you need only to see the results for yourself apart from his exceptional work reel just above.
Film Combat Syndicate: Greetings Samuel and thank you for agreeing to share your story with us. How have things been this year so far?
That movie finally garnered my own viewing of its behind-the-scenes featurette just this month, showcasing the antics and shenanigans of The Stunt People – one of the independent film and stunt troupes that bred my earlier interest in the world of online martial arts action filmmaking; The group even accrued its own chat forum as their popularity arose as did their ambitions. Furthermore, said footage, and in timely fashion, likely fills in some blanks that might-have-been in the course of assembling this interview with none other than filmmaker Stephen Reedy, who directed The Stunt People short, Undercut, to perpetual fan acclaim.
It was back in 2014 when I first caught actor and stuntman R Marcos Taylor in Tony Clomax’s action short, Broken Angels. Needless to say, Taylor’s credits in film and TV date back further in a series of achievements that have seen him ascend more politically as an actor having debuted to award-winning status with the independent martial arts comedy, Paying Mr. McGetty, as well as co-starring roles in F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton and this summer’s release, Baby Driver.
He’s got more films lined up and he discusses them accordingly as well in the text beneath, in addition to plans for a new book now well on the way to publication for health and fitness aficionados. Interestingly, he also hints at some possible prospects for the character he plays and that of others in the murder mystery millieu within Black Rose; you can read our latest review by clicking here while I humbly invite you to check out the previous interviews linked above with Hues, and especially Loken who delves considerably into her own involvement and investment in the film.
When David Van Tassell isn’t working on his own projects, every now and then he serves as contributor to Film Combat Syndicate and upon his recent review of actor and martial artist Jino Kang’s latest action thriller, Fist 2 Fist: Weapon Of Choice, Tassell took the opportunity to offer his services for an interview with the film’s director and star.
Matthias Hues: Thank you! Yes it’s been a great opening in 2017. For one, I’m excited that Alexander Nevsky’s Black Rose is getting a theatrical release. Also I’m currently working on a new franchise takeover by the producers of Transformers, Lorenzo Di Bonaventura and with Kurt Russell’s Bone Tomahawk producer Dallas Sonnier called Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich which could be another interesting film and potential franchise to talk about in the near future.
I actually REALLY wanted to meet him late last year when he attended the events at the Urban Action Showcase and Expo, only I had approximately zero clue that he was in town and had only found out when he presented a documentary video of his trip on social media. I was a bit floored and a laughed it off; it wasn’t too upsetting, rather just delightful to know that New York City is in Manuel’s purview and that more and more folks like him are congregating to the uEast to present their projects to audiences and people who share his craft.
It’s not too far into the year but it didn’t take long for me to connect with a director whose previous work on the shorfilm, Handuken, came on my radar once upon a time. Meeting filmmaker Chris Chung last week, I had the honor of almost immediately engaging an interview ahead of the release of his latest shortfilm, Soho Jimbo.
As it is, Yu is one of the dozens and dozens of people I’ve been following in the world of online independent film since 2004 when I first started watching Bilang.com tricking videos and Zero Gravity practice fights for my own evening enjoyment. (Sometimes my Quicktime player [I owned a PC, not a Mac] would crash, whereas my Windows Media Player would save the day. Fun times).
As such, its been nearly two years since this fine indie film group landed on my radar and almost a year since I’ve met them in person. Hopefully it won’t be the last time as fun as it has been while covering these people and I look forward to even more of their endeavors following Black Scar Blues, for which I cannot wait to share my review.
For certain, actor and filmmaker Leroy Nguyen can attest to these and much, having cut his teeth for well over a decade through his own projects, as well as shared ventures with numerous other aspiring film professionals, and with a distinct interest in action and martial arts. Joined by longtime friend and film cohort, Edmond Shum, the two have found a unique working chemistry through their craft under the banner Rising Tiger Films, with such projects as the prolific Do The Damn Thing webseries in association with Jabronie Pictures, as well as festival shortfilm favorites like Baddest, These Dog Days and The Exit Wound.