From Aris with Love, Music, and Film

Losing a loved one is unthinkable. Knowing it could have been prevented makes it even more horrific. The people responsible not taking responsibly is unacceptable. There are no words to comfort someone who has suffered such a loss, there are no actions that can bring a loved one back but there are ways we can help to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. If you don’t already know him, I want to introduce you to my friend, Aris Ziagos, and I would like to share his story and the story of his mother, Virginia.

I met Aris after the loss of his mother and from what he has told me of her, I’m sorry I never got to meet her. She was an interesting, kind, loving soul and someone I would have LOVED to interview! I know she was amazing because she raised one amazing son. I’m so proud of him for taking on this latest project and I want to help him to make the film a reality.

In his words:

“On October 29th 2012 Bellevue Hospital was crippled and left without power in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. My mother was a patient in the ICU, and died in the aftermath of the storm. In the midst of the worst tragedy that has struck my family, the biggest storm ever to hit NYC changed our lives forever and revealed cracks in our emergency management and health care systems. This documentary is so important, for learning from the lessons of these events, for grieving and healing.”

You all know I have always felt entertainment and social media are best when we are telling stories that help others and this is definitely the case here. Please enjoy our interview and visit the fundraising page if you can help. Even one dollar can assist and hopefully prevent this tragedy from happening to others.

Q: Your project, From Virginia With Love: A Documentary, is a labor of love and the story of your mother. Can you tell us a little about your mom?

Aris Ziagos: Yes, thank you! My mother was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and travelled around the country a lot in her youth as the daughter of an army family. In her 20′s and 30′s she toured as a belly dancer across America, finding a home in New York City. It amazes me that an Irish American girl from Ohio taught herself Greek, how to dance and sew, and made a career out of it. As she approached 40, she went on to real estate work and had me. I grew up around all these amazing photos of her from her belly dancing career, and it definitely influenced and inspired me to find my own way to the stage. When I made this choice and at every step along the way afterwards, my mother was my biggest fan, attending every show and offering any help she could.

Q: You suffered such tragedy during hurricane Sandy, and it seems like it could have been avoided if the hospital was better equipped to deal with natural disaster. Is part of the motivation behind the film to try and correct this for others going forward?

Aris Ziagos: Yes, that’s exactly what sparked my desire to make this film. The hospital (Bellevue Hospital) where my mother was an ICU patient did not make the necessary modifications to their emergency power systems or infrastructure for a tropical storm or hurricane in preparation for Hurricane Sandy. Worse yet, because the hospital is run by a corporation and the city, they worked in lock step to keep their failing infrastructure out of the news, until the entire hospital was unable to function with doctors unable to wash their hands, medication not reaching patients, toilets not being able to be flushed, no food for anyone. It was an absolute nightmare. We can’t change the past but we can learn from our mistakes by addressing exactly what happened and what could and should be done differently going forward. Anyone who lives in a coastal area should be thinking about ensuring the safety of the vulnerable in emergencies like this.

Q: We hear so often that “it gets better” but that surely doesn’t happen all on it’s own. Where did you find the strength to go on after all of this? What advice would you give to people who are grieving right now?

Aris Ziagos: My biggest motivation has been living in a way that would make my mother proud, and also finding a way to transcend the tragedy and find a way to honor my mother’s legacy of love. Her passing was so tragic, and I got stuck in that for a while in deep depression as could be expected. A big motivator for my life moving forward from that was to make sure my mother was remembered by her amazing spirit, not just by her passing. That’s been the inspiration for a lot of my music, and definitely for bringing this film to the world. The arch of tragedy to grieving to healing to finding purpose is one everyone can take something away from, and it’s one that plays out during the documentary.

Q: Since you have gone public with the story, what responses have you been getting from fans and friends?

Aris Ziagos: Everyone has been very supportive, encouraging and sympathetic. A lot of people were surprised to hear about the events surrounding my mother’s passing, because very little of the information made it to mainstream news. It was a week before the 2012 Presidential elections, local elections, and the entities that hold New York City together were very careful to present the story in a way that would not cause public outrage.

Q: Has anyone from the hospital contacted you since you started the campaign?

Aris Ziagos: No, not a peep. The hospital’s official story is they triumphed through the disaster with no loss of life. In spite of a great deal of independent reporting, and some good mainstream reporting exposing the hospital’s faults, there has been no accountability for the choices made. They have made some improvements to their infrastructure as defense against a future Hurricane Sandy, but we’ll have to see how thorough those defenses are in a future hurricane.

Q: How can people help you to get this story told?

Aris Ziagos: I’m raising funds for the documentary on IndieGogo:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/from-virginia-with-love-a-documentary/x/260537

I’m offering some really cool merch, like vintage photos of my mom’s belly dancing years, original music, tickets to advanced screenings and fun experiences, as well as pre-selling the documentary.

Q: What are some of the greatest lessons your mom taught you that you can share with us all?

Aris Ziagos: So many things! Love can move mountains. Never stop believing in yourself. You can achieve anything if you keep trying and learn from failure. Be of service to others and give back often in different ways.

Q: I know you have other projects you are working on as well. Can you tell us about some of those?

Aris Ziagos: I’m finishing up work on a few new songs and remixes which I’ll be releasing on the deluxe edition of my album “Pulse” in a few months. I’m also excited to finally release my collaboration with Paula Cole as a single in 2018.  It will be a year that will also see me focused on completing this film, and some new music to accompany it. I have a lot of other songs in the works for future releases, so there’s a lot on the horizon for the next 24 months.

Q: Where can we find you, your music, and your projects online?

Aris Ziagos: You can find me on my official site at http://aris.fm

and on social media at -

http://twitter.com/arisziagos

http://youtube.com/arisziagos

http://instagram.com/arisziagos

http://facebook.com/arismusic

Q: Do you think you will be doing more film work in the future? Would you stick to the social good theme or perhaps branch out into other genres?

Aris Ziagos: I can definitely see exploring film more in the future, a short film, more documentary work. I tend to put my heart into things that inspire me that I can get fully passionate about, who knows what the future will bring?

Q: I always ask people to give me one thing they absolutely cannot live without and one thing they wish we could all live without.

Aris Ziagos: CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT: MUSIC!

WISH WE COULD LIVE WITHOUT IT: TRUMP!

Q: What’s up next for Aris the artist?

Aris Ziagos: Next up is the deluxe edition of my album “Pulse” and some new singles in 2018!

I want to thank Aris for taking time to talk to me and for being a part of my NYC family. Take my word for it, he’s one of the good ones. Here is the Indiegogo page if you can make a donation:

And, for your enjoyment, here is the video for his song ‘The Music’:

Interview with Sean Cunningham (Friday the 13th Director)

In October I was honored to be part of the San Pedro International Film Festival, where I got to walk and work the red carpet, see some amazing new Indie films, support those filmmakers, and celebrate the industry. One of the two weekends was October 13th to the 15th, which meant we were in attendance for Friday The 13th. This Friday became the horror night, which was the perfect opportunity to show the original Friday the 13th film.

What was even more serendipitous was the fact that Sean Cunningham was in attendance that evening too as a special guest. Mr Cunningham is quite an interesting artists and a pleasure to talk to. I think I learned more in those few hours than I have in a long time about movies, filmmaking, and the industry as a whole. He was also gracious enough to grant me an interview and sit down in front of a camera for a change.

One of the things we talked about was his new project, The Nurse With the Purple Hair, a Social Good film that shows what hospice care is and what it can be. It’s the story of Michelle Lasota who makes the switch from surgical nurse to hospice nurse after the death of her father.

Sean met Michelle at Fan Expo in Toronto, CA, and was captivated by her stories about her hospice work. As filmmakers often do, he turned his interest into a project.

To date, the film has been viewed by focus groups from Vitas Healthcare, Skirball, and Kaiser Permanente. This has been their reactions:

– A catalyst to break through American culture’s denial of death.
– A great tool to bring awareness to what hospice is really about.
– Takes the mystery and fear out of hospice and dying.
– I feel brave, inspired, and honored to start a conversation that matters.
– A true look at a caring hospice nurse and the wonderful qualities of hospice care.

Here is out interview from SPIFFest:

Here is the trailer for The Nurse with the Purple Hair, you can learn more here:

FeiyuTech SPG PLUS Handheld Gimbal Rig Review survived a NYC wind storm

If you are looking for a last minute gift for an iPhone filmmaker in you life or you are an iPhone filmmaker who received a gift card and need an idea of what to spend it on, I think I have the perfect idea for you! The SPG PLUS Handheld Gimbal Rig is amazing for expert video content creator and those who want to get started. For me, one of the hassles I have with handheld video recording is the editing afterwards to make sure its stabilized. Especially if you are filming for an extended period of time or filming in a crowded area where you may be bumped into (like on a red carpet).

I recently received the Gimbal Rig from the good people at FeiyuTech and set out to get some pictures and video of what I thought would be a pretty nice day at the beach in NYC. When I left, the sky was fairly clear but by the time I got there, as is typical for winter months in NYC, a storm began to brew. The temperatures dropped considerably within a half hour and the sky started darkening as clouds rolled in. Thankfully, the temperatures didn’t drop low enough to cause snow but the winds really kicked up, especially at the beach. I took shelter because, like all of us, I am always concerned with the safety of my iPhone and decided to try out the gimbal to see how the winds would affect it. Unfortunately, it started pouring before I got a video but I did get to snap a few pictures

Taken with the steadiness from the SPG plus 3-Axis Gimbal Rig for iPhone

to test it out.

For those of you in the know and those of you who just love cool tech features the FeiyuTech comes equipped with the following perks:

- a balancing mechanism that ensures stabilized and steady video

- Two simple buttons that control all features. A Bluetooth button to control the iPhone’s shutter and a function button to control on/off modes.

- A joystick to control the iPhones motion, INCLUDING pan, roll, and tilt.

- Automatic horizontal and vertical screen adjustments

- Five and one quarter inch screw jacks to attach lights, microphones, and other accessories (so, they really have thought of everything)

- The ICR 22650 battery provides 8 hours of shooting time (which may actually be more than your iPhone battery will last during shooting without a charge).

- And my very favorite thing, FeiyuTech On and FY settings app, which allows you to initialize calibration, update firmware, and personalize various parameters through your phone. (Don’t worry, as a not-so-exprienced video tech, it didn’t have to make sense to me in order for it to work).

Here are your specs:

Tilting angle: 320 degrees

Rolling Angle: 100 degrees

Panning angle: a full 360 degrees

Timing increments: 2 degrees/second to 75 degrees/second

Panning increments: 3 degrees/second to 150 degrees/second

Usage time: 8 hours (again, I think that is longer than the actual iPhone battery will last if you are using it for pictures or video)

Adaption: iPhone 5/5s/5c or later

Weight: 51g not including battery and iPhone, but don’t worry, you’ll still need to do arms at the gym. This isn’t heavy enough to replace that.

To test the video capabilities, I decided to take the Gimbal Rig along with me to my parents’ house in Pennsylvania for the Christmas holiday weekend. Here it is in action (I took the video of me taking the video with my Snapchat Spectacles) Just Click on the description to view:

Now, here is the video footage from my iPhone. Again, just click on the description to view:

As you can see, the video stays steady and the range of motion is perfect to get all the action. I was lucky there was a car passing while I was filming, normally there isn’t much action on the mountain. If you regularly film for projects or clients, I recommend checking into this product. Even if you are new to video or have been scared of it, this device is so easy to use, I’m sure you will learn with ease and end up with amazing footage just like a pro! It’s priced at $299.95 and is available now at the apple store online!

Throuple is the Little Drama that Should and Could with your help

I have known James Townsend for a few years now as an artist and photographer but I was recently introduced to another side of him, Filmmaker. I came across some information about a film he is trying to fund called “Throuple” when I found a group he has on Facebook.
The concept of the “Throuple” is fascinating to me from a psychological standpoint because relationships have changed so much and continue to do so all the time. Traditional values may not work for some people while for others it is all they are comfortable with. Is there a right and wrong or does it depend on the individuals involved and the circumstances?
I was very happy to be able to interview James about it since this is the first time we have really gotten to talk in depth and I was interested to learn more about him as well as “Throuple”.
Q: Throuple was originally a 2007 project. Can you tell me a little about what happened that stalled it and why you decided to resurrect it?
JT: THROUPLE began in late 2007 as a small character drama centered on what attributes define, make and break a relationship. At the time, I had just wrapped production on another psychological-thriller, A SIREN IN THE DARK, and THROUPLE was to be a quick little project to stir some creative drive until a larger project would move forward. The original idea of THROUPLE had been there from the start. Some of the story was sparked from personal experiences with cheating boyfriends of the past and the conflict of having been in a long-term relationship previously with someone myself, but knowing I was still in love with someone else outside of things. While I had the basic plot in focus, there was still a lot to be explored by it. I wanted the film to be small, intimate and even claustrophobic, with its minimal locations and next-to-nothing list of characters… think Richard Linklater’s “TAPE”… or Roman Polanski’s “Carnage”– pieces that resulted in great tension and character breakdowns without much overall action… 

In trying to bring the story full circle, my friend Caleb Carter got involved. We had a lot of similar tastes in film and in turn, our storytelling meshed well. With Caleb, as a co-writer, the film started taking a darker twist, allowing it to meander from reality to dream, present to past and future, in a more philosophical yet nightmarish way…

Originally we had very little budget for THROUPLE… We had cast and crew working for meal/credit and hopefully deferred pay. We were filming it on nonconsecutive days in our spare time when we were able to get everyone together based on their work schedules, etc. We were paying for everything needed from our own pockets. Needless to say, it was a difficult task and wore people thin on patience. We were having to cut a lot of corners due to certain agreements falling through with locations originally offered for free, having people simply not show up to help out as promised for various reasons etc. It got to the point that we actually built the recurring “dive-bar” in the story, in my living room, since the location we had planned to use backed out… THROUPLE was really pulling at our creative drive and making us utilize what we had on mere pennies. 

We reached the point that we had about three days of filming left, and we found ourselves at a stand-still… People had left town for work or vacations, school had started back up again– I was moving to a new apartment, which became a huge obstacle, as 90% of the film took place in my current residence… With so many holes in our path, we decided to take a breather. 
With everyone being so busy with conflicting schedules, it was difficult to get back on track but we knew it had to be done. We were so close to being finished. Several months passed and I wound up calling Caleb specifically about the film and we brainstormed on how we could make it work, being that we no longer had access to the original apartment, etc. We decided to just utilize what we had, establish in the story that the characters had moved or whatnot– implement some lines and a scene or two to warrant such changes… We were going to make it work. Caleb seemed energized and ready to go. I immediately started putting word out to those involved, so that we could schedule things out… It never panned out.

About a week or so later, in February 2009, I logged onto Facebook one morning as I always do and stumbled upon some posts… Caleb had passed away. Over the next few days, more would come forward about his death… he had taken his own life. I instantly lost interest in the film. We had lost one of our lead actors, and more importantly a good friend…

Over the years, THROUPLE, has come in and out of my mind. At some point we did try to finish it by pulling a David Lynch type trick and having characters change identity so that we could finish their roles with new actors. It was a disaster and I shelved the project feeling that it would be unfair on too many levels to pull such an antic.

For the past year or so, the film hadn’t really crossed my mind much. But, recently I found an original hardcopy of the script in a box I was going through. It had all of our handwritten notes, doodles, inside jokes, etc. scribbled on its pages. I sat down to read it, following along with the notes included. I just had this huge urge to make it all come to reality… with a new cast and a few rewrites and needed updates. I hope to move forward… to make the film from start to finish with the budget and attention it deserves… while being able to show some of the original footage, behind the scenes moments, etc. to shed light on the history of the project and bring it to a close properly… That strong urge do to get it produced and released feels a lot like Caleb yelling at me to simply do so! 

Q: The concept of Throuple is about three people getting into a romantic relationship. Do you think that such a thing is possible without it getting complicated or someone getting hurt?
JT: Everyone is different on their ideas of love and relationships. I have known most people to believe that strictly one partner is the correct thing… Yet, others believe in open-relationships… And, I’ve even known some that believe in “sets” (whereas there are multiple partners all under one roof and everyone belongs to everyone). For me, I can’t say anything but one person at a time would work romantically. But, there are so many different forms of love and understanding when it comes to relationships, that some of these less common make-ups could definitely work better for others…
In THROUPLE you see these characters move forward with what seems to be one-on-one relationships… But, as the layers are pulled back, things are not quite what they seem. They sort of find themselves in this forced situation of “love” as they are unable to define what it is one or the other wants. There is a lot of compromise involved that leads to people getting hurt, going behind each others’ backs, manipulating events for their own attention, etc.
Every relationship has moments of hurt and jealousy and complication… Nothing is ever perfect. With THROUPLE, we see that from the one-on-one on into the “permanent threesome” (as some have called it) that occurs. However, how it pans out in the end– that is all up to the individual and their own personal beliefs and paths of love. 
Q: Do you think the theme of the film is more controversial because it is about three homosexual men? Do you think it would be less so if it were two men and one woman or two women and one man?
JT: We tend to only really see these sort of “threesome” relationships when it comes to comedy films. Even then, it is usually a case of trying to keep “so and so” a secret from one another… I really can’t think of a film that has explored such subject matter in a dark psychological way as THROUPLE attempts to do.
As for all male… or two women and one man… or vice versa… Hate to say it, but society is still more accepting of such a plot or relationship device if it is a mix of man-woman.
THROUPLE would be controversial on any level though as it does explore relationships with more than one person involved, cheating, addiction, abuse, and some other dark and twisted things we shall keep as a surprise! 
Q: Do you think we will ever see a day where art is not described as “gay themed”? Are we making strides in the direction where all films would be human stories?
JT: “Gay Themed” has basically become its own film genre. While there are so many facets to it– comedy, drama, horror and everything in between, it still seems that if you have gay characters or plot lines, a lot of people are still going to refer to it as “that gay movie”. I do think it is getting better though… the ‘gay themed’ tag doesnt seem to be as prevalent as it was a few years ago. Even despite all the critical and audience acclaim for BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN the joke or reference of “that gay movie” was very strong… Today, you have films like THE NORMAL HEART sweeping the Emmy nominations and getting the same critical acclaim but the tag of “gay themed” has seemed to lesson. Perhaps people are starting to focus more on the actual storylines rather than just the sexuality of the characters. 
I think as long as “gay themed” films focus on creating well rounded characters, rather than stereotypes, and allow themselves to tell stories that could easily be told with a straight cast as well, we break out of that box of categorization that we were put into. For so long, it seemed that the gay character always had to be the closeted or flamboyant guy, trying on his best girl friends shoes and delivering every line with sass. Films are getting away from that… There are more and more films where the gay character are real life, well-rounded, everyday representations… The gay characters are slowly but surely being written and portrayed not as “characters” but as believable, real life people… 
Q: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing Indie artists and projects today? Has it gotten easier as time has gone on and people have become more familiar with crowd-funding?
JT: Technology! The technological advancements have been amazing and yet at the same time, they have made the indie world of film so much more difficult on so many levels. As cameras and other equipment get smaller and more powerful, and even more inexpensive compared to years ago, it seems that anyone and everyone that has a camera is out there producing content. It has gotten very competitive because with so many positive attributes of today’s technological advancements, it is really easy to put together a web series, or get some friends together and make a film on limited funds, etc. The need to have huge trailers of equipment and large crews etc is diminishing in many levels for film. Another facet is distribution! DVD sales are far from being as successful as they were just a few short years ago. So many things are going digital and V.O.D.– people are not buying films in a tangible medium like they used to. So, profits are obviously down. And, with so many low budget films being made so quickly and easily, the options are much greater… Distributors are feeling the crunch too. Rather than invest to produce actual original content, they are relaying on pre-made films that they can scoop up from the festival circuit and license cheaply for distribution…
With crowd-funding, there seems to be an over saturation. Going onto social media, it seems everyone is crowdfunding for something these days. I admire the people that set out, do it and make it happen, for creative causes or things more important like health matters, etc. But, as crowdfunding becomes more and more popular, a lot of people are using it as a quick money maker and it is turning away a lot of people that have lost patience for it. For, now we have college kids funding their spring break vacations and people making $50,000 for raising funds for potato salad. It has become a joke, or sort of a competition in a way– like, what stupid idea can we do to make money?! It can be very frustrating to see some guy post a potato-salad joke and bring in endless cash… while you see struggling artists and people in even more important need, raking in a few pennies despite their drive, talent, and passion  or overall need. 
Q: Where can we find you, James Townsend, online?
JT: Oh, I am not hard to find. Simply google my name or “JTownsendPhotos” and I usually turn up a lot of pages… 
For photography, we my official site is down you can find me on Tumblr (http://jtownsendphotos.tumblr.com) as well as related sites such as ModelMayhem and OneModelPlace…
Facebook: facebook.com/jtownsendphotos
Q: Where can we find out more information about Throuple and donate to the campaign?
JT: THROUPLE’S official facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/ThroupleMovie
Our indiegogo crowdfunding campaign is: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/throuple–4/x/33566 
Q: I know you have other projects going on and you are also into photography. Anything to share on those fronts? 
JT: The most recent project was a horror-comedy entitled KISSING DARKNESS. I wrote and directed the film and it starred Sean Paul Lockhart and Ronnie Kroell. It is newly available on Amazon. I hope to have more information on its overall distribution/release soon!
Aside from that, I am also in preproduction for a comedic webseries entitled DOG HAUS (
https://www.facebook.com/doghausseries ) . It is in association with LA Based clothing company WhiteyTighties.com and follows the antics of a gay couple that find themselves out of work unexpectedly. In a chain of comic events, they wind up launching a hot-dog company and things get even more complicated. It’s like THE ODD COUPLE meets 2 BROKE GIRLS! We are currently recasting a few roles and then hope to film our pilot and launch crowdfunding for the rest of the season, which we have planned at 10 episodes, within the next several weeks. 
While all this is happening, I am available for photographic needs!!! Check out some of my photography at:http://jtownsendphotos.tumblr.com and/or follow me on FB at: https://www.facebook.com/JTownsendPhotosPage (note the Tumblr gets updated almost daily, but it does contain some NSFW photographs!!!) 

What’s New and Hot from Artistic Analogies Film Co

I recently had a chance to speak to producer Kevin Slee about his upcoming projects in Television and Film.  He is working on a few new interesting projects that I thought we might all be interested in hearing about.  Kevin has produced films like: The King of the Jews, Election Day, Talon’s Rant, Franky, Frankly, Grey Matter (a short), Imprints (short), and The Sublime and the Beautiful

Kevin is also an experienced director and writer and is currently working on the following  from Artistic Analogies Film Co:

  • A television Pilot: “Options” – described as Entourage meets Wall Street
  • A feature Film: Running, from writer Gregory Goyins and produced by Kevin
  • And a feature Film: Fool For Love (Based on the play by Sam Shepard), where he directs
I was happy to be able to ask Kevin a few questions about the industry in general as well as get his opinion on a few of the things currently going on in the entertainment world.

Q: You have recently worked on a TV pilot (Options), feature films (Running and Fool for Love), and a short film (Franky, Frankly). From a producer/directors point of view what are the differences each platform?

A: The main difference is pace… Working on feature films is slow, meticulous and only a few pages are shot a day — this is because you’re spending months creating a singular creative output. With television you have a pilot and you need to continue with the same style and maintain the same structure which is expected by the fans so there isn’t much room for creative input… Each director is more of a “work for hire”. Thus, the process is quick because a lot of the decisions are made for you (you being the director). If you direct the pilot you get to establish that but if you come on later you have to follow the same track. Also, and to clarify, a lot of these projects sit in development for a while — this is the case for “Options” in terms of television and “Running and Fool For Love” in features. Of the features I have worked on, I have Dispatch and Sublime & Beautiful. In the studio realm there’s Saving Mr. Banks with Disney and Tom Hanks, etc.

Q: The television industry has changed so much in the past few years. With cable TV, Netflix, and Hulu we have seen some major competition for the traditional networks. Do you think this is a good thing or not so good?

A: I love it! “Options”, which is Entourage meets Wall Street, is being developed for Netflix or Redbox — the new platform. Seeing the success of House of Cards, etc. has really motivated me to enter that medium.

Q: What do you think of the growing popularity of Crowd Sourcing for Indie projects?

A: I think it has its place and it’s great. That being said, I do not agree with celebrities going to that course (i.e. Zach Braff). I think it is for the new filmmakers, the filmmakers without studio hook-up, private equity, etc. and it should stay that way.

Franky, Frankly | Trailer from Artistic Analogies Film Co. on Vimeo.

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