After a lovely conversation with First Love director, A.J. Edwards last week, it was great to speak to the lead actor, Hero Fiennes Tiffin. You may know him as the heartthrob lead in the After films (2019-2022), Hardin Scott, but his turn in another romance film, First Love is a great performance to watch for those who are unaware of his work. He’s a lovely gentleman and I cannot wait to see where his career goes.
I spoke with Hero about his experiences on First Love, specifically working with Sydney Park and playing Diane Kruger’s son, but he also spoke about his upcoming roles, wanting to diversify from the romance genre, and gives a little tease as to what’s to come in the fourth After movie, After Ever Happy.
Coastal House Media: Hi, Hero, it’s a pleasure to meet you. How’s your day going so far?
Hero Fiennes Tiffin: Good, pleasure to meet you too, Andrew. The sun’s out in London, which doesn’t happen often, so I’m happy.
CHM: Before we get too far into this interview, what led you to take on this role in First Love?
Fiennes Tiffin: Do you know what? That’s a really good question. I’ve done a bunch of romance films called the After franchise, and I was keen to start exploring other genres and then I’ve got another romance come through and I was out to my agents, “Guys, I thought we were trying to move away for a bit,” and they said, “Just read it, it’s a great script, great director.” And I read it and it was a great script with a great director. So I thought I’d always give the time to talk to A.J. [Edwards], the director, and when I did it was his belief in the project and specifically belief in me that kind of persuaded me to do it.
I think I was quite ready on that call to say, “I’d love to keep doing romances every now and then, but I think I’m quite keen to diversify my portfolio by doing different genres,” and yeah, it was his belief in the project and belief in me, I guess, that led me to say yes. And yeah, I don’t regret any of it. I was so, so lucky and happy and learned so much working with all those actors and with A.J. [Edwards].
CHM: Do you recall your first zoom meeting with A.J. [Edwards] by any chance? I spoke to him last week and he vividly remembers that and I just was curious to hear your perspective.
Fiennes Tiffin: Yeah, I do. I remember it very well. I was in the hotel room in Wales that I was staying in while I was shooting The Loneliest Boy in the World. And again, he might not know this, but my perspective was very much: “I’m going to hear him [out] and let him persuade me and stay open-minded,” but I kind of entered that call being aware that I might not want to do another romance so soon off during the back of [the] After [movies], but again, in the first minute and a half, his belief in me is kind of what persuaded me to do it, so I remember that call distinctly.
CHM: You just mentioned how many romance movies you’ve done, but what do you hope that audiences take away from First Love and find unique about it?
Fiennes Tiffin: Well, I think the difference between specifically First Love and the After franchise [is] that they’re completely different sides of the romance coin; the character specifically the character I play in First Love, Jim, is so different to the character Hardin in [the] After [movies]. And I think the dynamic of their relationships [are] different and just how they tell the story. I mean, you can have a genre movie [be] completely different from another movie in the same genre, and I felt like if I was going to do another romance [movie], it was important that it was the other side of that coin, which First Love definitely was.
CHM: Shifting gears back to A.J. [Edwards], I know you talked about his belief in the project, but what was unique about him as a director, as opposed to maybe some others you’ve worked with? And was there anything that you learned in particular from A.J. [Edwards]?
Fiennes Tiffin: All my experience as an actor has come firsthand on-set — I’ve never done any training. A.J. [Edwards] is a little bit old school in the best way and quite experimental and testing and I think he knows the project so well. [And with] his editing background, he knows how he’s going to piece it together. He would throw out some things here and there, like say we had a couple of hours free, he’d be like, “Let’s do post-breakup,” and instantly, just like that, [you’re] making [things] up as you go. So very improvisational and [he’d] just chuck you in the deep end, which I think you get some great stuff out of it.
Also, [having] the ability to just work without having to worry too much about continuity is so freeing. I think nowadays when you work with a bunch of cameras [it] is so important to make sure [that you] sip the water on the same line and do the actions at the same time, which can sometimes take away from the performance because you have to juggle so many different physical things in your head and beats to get. But A.J. [Edwards] allowed us to just live it and just say, “Do you want to do that scene completely differently?” [and then on] take two [say], “Do whatever you want,” and that allowed such a spontaneous, real, authentic kind of performance [that] made me feel so free, and I’m really proud of the work. I think his style was different and I can actually speak for a while about how kind of different he is to every other director I worked with, but I loved it.
To sum [it] up in a nutshell, [it] is just so freeing. There [are] no limitations on what you can do or when you should do it, he will make it work. If you can put the performance out there, he’ll make it work within the film.
CHM: I want to talk a little bit about Sydney [Park], who you share a lot of your screen time with. Could you describe her in three or fewer words as a screen partner?
Fiennes Tiffin: I’m going to need more than [three words] — I can’t do it in three or less. She’s so fun to be around. It’s kind of nuts, I don’t know how she’s always so positive on-set. It feels like she’s done this a million times and she just enjoys it and has fun with it.
She [will be] joking around, doing accents, playing around, and then, “Action,” and she’s straight into character. I think all the actors on it were amazing to work with, but Sydney [Park] just kept me in a good mood, she’s so positive. And just like I said, she feels like she’s a veteran. I mean, she’s obviously so young and new to the game, but she’s clearly had enough experience to feel so comfortable and that kind of has a knock-on effect on you. I feel like everyone around someone who’s comfortable and happy on-set kind of feeds into that as well.
CHM: Did the chemistry come naturally for you guys? Did you guys have to hang out a little bit before the production?
Fiennes Tiffin: We hung out a little bit. We didn’t get too much time, but we went to grab some food and we played a bit of golf with a bunch of other people through[out] filming, but we didn’t get too much time. I think we just naturally got on quite well, which was good [and] I hope that shows. We’re both Scorpios as well, so that might have something to do with it [laughs].
CHM: One of the established actors in First Love is Diane Kruger. Not many people can say she played their mother, what were some memories you had working with her? And did you learn anything working closely with her?
Fiennes Tiffin: There’s a scene in the film where she starts to get a little bit emotional and I genuinely forgot I was acting. I felt like I was [in the] front row at the most amazing theater performance and I suddenly realized, “Oh my God, it’s my line!” and I’ve just been so absorbed in having this front row view of such an incredible performance. Everyone on it was so great in that own way [and] I’ve only got great things to say about everyone, but I think Diane [Kruger] was really aware of her talent going in and that was a big part of taking [on] the project like, “I’m playing Diane Kruger’s son.”
I feel like at this stage, I’m always so keen to work with great actors like her [Diane Kruger] because I know I’ll learn so much and I really did. I was lost for words at some points; the way she can just turn it on and off. It was a pleasure to play her son.
CHM: What’s your favorite memory attached to the film? It sounds like you guys had some fun off-set, but what was your favorite memory?
Fiennes Tiffin: I don’t know if I have a specific thing, but I just enjoyed the whole process because we shot in L.A. [and] I stayed 20 minutes from where we were. And I’m sorry, I’m not specifically answering your question as to a specific thing I loved, but the general thing I love so much was just how it felt like we were making — in the best way — a fun movie with a bunch of friends who had come together. Every location we’re shooting is 10, 15 minutes from somewhere else, and I’m sure we did everything by the book, but we definitely made the most of having a small crew and the ability to just be like, “Let’s shoot over there,” and “Let’s shoot over there in natural light,” and everyone was so collaborative; it just felt like we were doing it for fun, not work. I think the general vibe [and] feeling on-set was what I remember distinctly as the most fun.
CHM: Do you remember the scene where your character takes Sydney Park’s character on their first date by the water? A.J. [Edwards] had described that day and I don’t know what your perspective as an actor [is] compared to his, but I think if I’m not mistaken, you guys had to shift to that location. I don’t know if you were aware of that. Do you remember that day at all?
Fiennes Tiffin: Yeah, I think [that] for the actors, [it] felt really freeing and liberating and we’re [just] doing this [and] that. I’m sure for [the] producers, it was a nightmare because you’re constantly having to adapt, improvise and overcome. But that location is so beautiful and it just felt, again, like we drove an hour down that way, we saw a beautiful spot [and said], “Let’s go shoot there,” and that authentic nature of coming to the location the same way the character would had a domino effect all the way down to [the] performance. I think all of the locations were so beautiful, I remember that day so well, and as I said, [it was] so fun for us, but I’m sure [that] for the producers, it was probably a bit challenging, logistically. But I’m so proud of all the locations and spots we filmed in.
CHM: Your character in the movie makes a mixtape for Sydney [Park]’s. Have you ever done that in real life?
Fiennes Tiffin: I’m so bad with playlists. I’ve got so many songs [but I] just think of it, search it, and then years later I’m like, “Oh, I haven’t thought of or heard that song in ages,” because I was too lazy to make a playlist. So no, that’s something that I should learn from Jim, the importance of making mixtapes and playlists. But A.J. [Edwards] actually sent us a Spotify playlist of the kind of music around the time  that Jim would maybe listen to and that was really helpful to get into character. I think I can take a leaf out of A.J. [Edwards] and Jim’s book in that way.
CHM: If you were to make a mixtape for somebody, could you name one song that you would put on it?
Fiennes Tiffin: There’s a song by Sam Sparro called Black & Gold that I always forget to add to playlists and I always come back to; it feels kind of timeless, so maybe that one.
CHM: I don’t know anything about the After movies, quite frankly I get them confused with Linklaters’ Before trilogy, so could you give me a little bit of an elevator pitch for these films?
Fiennes Tiffin: Listen, I think the fanbase of the books specifically, and then the films secondarily kind of speaks for itself in a way that I think the story is so brave in showing a relationship that is so far from perfect [yet] both parties worked so hard to make it perfect. I think the fanbase speaks so loudly in terms of how much people resonate with that and how much criticism you can get for portraying a toxic relationship. But no one wants to watch a film where everything goes right, do they? So I think that kind of teeter in the balance between documenting a relationship that’s challenging where both parties try so hard in that poignant, important part of your life when you’re coming of age; similarly to First Love.
I think [the] After [movies are] definitely high-stakes, dramatic [movies], you know? Everything is turned up to 10 out of 10. If you’re looking for a steamy romance, I don’t think you’d have to look much further than [the] After
CHM: If I’m not mistaken, there’s a fourth one coming out this year, correct?
Fiennes Tiffin: Yes. I honestly lost count at this point, but there is; I’m really happy.
CHM: You mentioned there’s like a rabid fanbase so could you give me any sort of tease for what’s to come in this?
Fiennes Tiffin: I think naturally, as you know, people who have read the book know we’re coming to an end. If there’s anything that’s in the books that you think should be in [here], that probably [will] be in this one.
Without saying too much, we are coming to an end, so I think if you’ve seen the first few, you definitely need to see this one. And if you haven’t, then you need to go to watch them.
CHM: You mentioned wanting to kind of get out of the romance genre a little bit, do you have any other projects coming up that maybe aren’t in the romance genre?
Fiennes Tiffin: I definitely do. I shot something in South Africa called The Woman King, which I’m so excited for. And again, I learned so much working with some amazing actors on that [film such as] Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Jordan Bolger, John Boyega, yeah, I can’t wait for that. That’s very far from a romance, especially [with] my character, so [I’m] happy to diversify the portfolio. I think that one comes out around mid-September.
First Love will be released in theaters and on demand on June 17 by Vertical Entertainment.
Eddie Island Discusses His New Album Folkstar and American Idol | Interview
The former American Idol contestant discusses his journey, fame and his new album, ‘Folkstar.’
As a break from the NYFF coverage, I’m excited to finally share an interview I did with former American Idol contestant, Eddie Island, that I did last month. Island — whose new album Folkstar is available to stream now — was so generous with his time and it turns out that we related on a number of things.
In this interview, Island discusses the American Idol experience, pivoting into the spotlight, some of the inspirations of his songs and more.
Thank you to Planetary Group for organizing this great interview and to Island for all of his time.
Coastal House Media: It’s a pleasure to meet you and I’m very excited to talk to you. I have to ask one question about American Idol; can you give me one tidbit about something that we wouldn’t know unless we were on the show?
Eddie Island: I would say just the time that the show is [filmed] over; it was like a year-and-a-half, two years of a process from initially auditioning to flying out and filming the segments. The pre-tape was my favorite part. I loved the live show, glad I had the experience, [but] it was a lot more stressful, but I think there’s a lot that goes into it. I think the second piece of that is [that] you’re not really paid [as] I’ve never been paid by [American] Idol. I had stipends for food and stuff, but everything was like me going to thrift stores and wearing my clothes and figuring it out.
CHM: Wow, I would not have known that.
Island: You have to pivot, man. People think I have a tour bus and a million dollars and it’s like, “No.” It’s definitely a challenge and I think I’ve conquered it, but it’s a rare thing to kind of pivot from American Idol into an actual career, I think.
CHM: Basic question, but do you have any inspirations that inspired you to do music?
Island: Yeah, I really love Nathaniel Rateliff — he’s a folk artist. I saw him playing in his RV years ago. My friend gave me a vinyl of his song “Shroud” and hearing him sing and kind of just whaling on the guitar really inspired me. Ben Gibbard, Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark.” When I first saw that video, it kind of inspired me to go into the “acoustic” kind of singer-songwriter [path] like I wanted to be the folk man that could just walk up there with a guitar and play. Those are big inspirations.
I mean like a lot of artists, man. André 3000, Childish Gambino — I like a lot of rap music. It’s similar to folk in a way where it’s just like honest storytelling and [are] like the “voice of the people,” maybe they’re different people but that’s something that I love.
CHM: I was talking to one of Paul McCartney’s guitarist recently who recently put a single out and something he mentioned was how music promotion has changed. In the old days, there were 45” singles, now everything is about pre-saving songs and albums. For you, a younger artist, what’s music promotion like for a younger audience? What’s the social media factor?
Island: I mean, definitely man, I wish it was the seventies in a way, like, it’s kind of horrible, but it’s not bad. I think you can connect with people more, but people don’t understand what really goes into doing social media as an artist.
I actually work in social media as well, I’ve had like a 10+ year career [and] I work for like big brands, Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s [and] Lyft. I still consult and work in that field because it’s allowed me to work remotely like be able to say “no” to opportunities in music and kind of just keep that protected.
But social [media]l is just very interesting. You don’t just post one TikTok video and go viral overnight; you have to tell your fans what you’re up to and deal with the algorithm and kind of a necessary evil that you either get with, or just kind of get destroyed by. And I’m learning that now with Folkstar and just working with the team and [how they’re] kind of encouraging me. The cool thing is, my fans and the people out there like my story and it’s okay for me to be me and I’m learning how to tailor that into who I really am as a person.
American Idol kind of had like a sliver [of that] and it was kind of scary when all happened because it was like, “Oh my gosh, I have to be this person all the time,” and it’s like, “No, there’s more to me,” and I think people like that other part as well.
CHM: Really quick, what’s the story with American Idol?
Island: [On American] Idol, just like the Mayor [Instagram handle], all that stuff was real. Like my friends [and I], we had a crazy night out. I played in a bunch of indie rock bands and they changed my Instagram to @nashvillemayor. I kept it [and] people started calling me Mr. Island. I moved to Nashville for a Paramore concert after college and never left. [I] moved like 10, 15 times my first year, like it was kind of nutty. I didn’t know anybody, I just did it and I was living in a living room with another person in the living room as well. And I built a little house out of PVC pipes and moving tarps and I sent my friend a picture and she was like, “You’re kind of like Eddie island there — it’s like your little world,” and I was like, “That’s the name?” And so I mentioned it to a few people and then it kind of grew and that was just what I kind of became. So I think the thing with [American] Idol is really awesome, but for me, there’s a very big difference between music fans and reality TV show fans, and there was a lot of crossover into the reality TV aspect, which I was happy that I had the promotion and that it happened, but I definitely didn’t enjoy meeting those people — not in a negative way — but they’re just like, “Oh, are you dating anyone? What’s your name again? I don’t care, are you famous? Here’s a picture” and it’s like, “Do you even know what I do? Do you like music?” And where I’m at now is that people come up and they’re like, “Oh, I play guitar” or “I like your song,” it’s so life-giving and I love it. I had to kind of throw the brakes on and pivot because I don’t want to be Snooki.
CHM: Well, I play guitar and I like your music [laughs]. But I do want to ask you about interactions with fans because you have a big following. Have you had any crazy fan interactions through social media?
Island: I mean, it was hard for me to kind of grasp. I don’t think anyone really understands what it’s like to do something like this unless you’ve done it. I was going to free artist counseling in Nashville and the guy was like, “The most traumatic way to get into music industry is [to] do something like American idol — it’s just overnight exposure.” Everyone I’ve ever met in my life [has] tried to DM me or reach out which is cool, but it’s very overwhelming. I was at a really cool Chinese restaurant — I think it [was] Lucky Bamboo — [and there was a bunch of indie rock shows there. It was so cool space prom but we rented out the back and we had [American Idol] on the screen and I went to the bathroom and came back and went from 2,000 to 30,000 followers and my phone was like shaking and exploded, basically, and there were like hundreds of thousands of DMs that I didn’t even receive that. Sometimes I still get [them] years later, like my phone will just randomly send them to me. I think the one thing people don’t understand is I cannot physically see all the messages they’re sending me. I don’t know if I followed you back or didn’t follow you or whatever and like me following you doesn’t mean I don’t care, it’s just [that] it becomes a whole different thing than what people are used to with social media, it’s more of a business.
I have to protect myself and all relationships — now I have to see if there are motives. It was a hard transition just because everyone was talking to me and being nice, but then a lot of them always had another motive and I had to kind of go through a few relationships, not even romantically, but just with people and kind of learn like, “Okay, I have to look for X, Y and Z and trust people’s actions, not their words,” and kind of reframe the way that I live as a person to be able to handle it. And I think I’ve stayed the same, which is awesome, but it’s definitely an extremely traumatic, overwhelming experience. It doesn’t have to be like bad trauma, but it’s pretty nuts.
In terms of fan interactions, I had a girl wreck her car once and she took a picture of me and didn’t care [that] the car was totaled — it was crazy. I’ve had people follow me home and take pictures of me at restaurants and, like, it’s okay, it’s part of it, but it’s like full-blown “Biebermania.” I went to the airport to fly out for the live show and like every 10 seconds, someone started screaming and recognized me and started to take a picture of me, which was fine but it was unsafe — I had to like run away. And then I remember going into the bathroom and this guy at the urinal looks over and he is like, “Whoa, it’s you,” and I’m just like, “I can’t get away from this.”
But I think it’s in a good place now. The music’s speaking louder than television, but the television is there and I’m thankful that I did it and I learned a lot and kind of grew — it’s kind of like “artist boot camp” overnight. I’m ready for anything now
CHM: I’m glad to hear that you are able to navigate relationships with people’s motives and whatnot. That’s important in other avenues of life, too, like school.
Island: Exactly. That’s how I made it was going to a private school growing up and then going to a college and doing music there and no one cares and then I played a talent show and everyone’s my friend overnight. And that type of like “campus celebrity” is like the only way that kind of prepped me for like worldwide [stardom].
CHM: What’s the most unique thing that you’ve autographed?
Island: I [sign] a lot of shirts. Really, the most unique things I sign [are] contracts. I’d say it’s scary, like, there’s just like tons of pages. Luckily, I’m off all the [American] Idol contracts, which is kind of nuts. But nothing too crazy yet. I’ve signed people before. [But] I have merch, so I’ll like give them the merch and maybe that’s kind of [how] we’ve avoided weird signings.
CHM: You know, everybody does music for different reasons. Some people are just good at it and just play it. Other people are using it to express themselves or to tell a story. I think you had used the word “storyteller” earlier, but why do you write music?
Island: I write songs because nobody listened in my life. I kind of had to process all these things going on and I was just kind of like this early bloomer, at least emotionally, emotionally less [in] other areas. But I think we’ve leveled out as an adult man. I think music was different for me. My family isn’t really musical, they’re not like unmusical, but like I really would just listen to the oldies in the backseat of the car and sing along with them.
Music kind of like found me throughout my life. My first exposure to it besides like listening to like Elvis’ Christmas [Album] or something with my family was [when] my friend gave me a mix CD. I think it had Weezer, The Killers, Red Hot Chili Peppers and stuff like that. My first album was Hot Fuss and once I bought that, I was like, “What is this whole world of music?” and I got my little LimeWire rolling with my MP3 player and I kind of discovered this whole world of other people like me that felt a lot and then were like creative. And I didn’t even know what HSP, or, highly sensitive people was. Even the concept of being an artist was foreign to me growing up in the suburbs of D.C.; that wasn’t a career option. All we had was Guitar Center.
And then I was late to a meeting with a potential manager in Nashville and he said, “Oh, it’s okay. Artists are always late,” and I was like, “Oh, I guess I’m an artist.” I didn’t even know what that was.
CHM: I do want to get into a couple of specific songs. The first one I’m just curious about is the story behind “Worship Leader” as someone with plenty of experiences — good and bad — in the church.
Island: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying, man — it needed to be said, and like, I’m not aiming to do anything. I’m just talking about my life and people really get it and it’s kind of going crazy.
So I went to Cedarville [University], which is a super Baptist school — I almost got kicked out for having a beer sampler the size of a little baby cup, it’s okay — but it was definitely a unique experience. Going there really formulated a lot of my writing during this album; during that time and not have anything else to do except for going to Walmart. [When] it’s snowing all the time, we [would] just sit and listen to the records in the dorm room and write sad songs.
But I wrote “Worship Leader” years later, I think it’s one of the more recent ones, maybe 2020 or 2021, but the concept kind of came from [when] I was in Nashville. I was in Franklin at this really cool coffee shop called Honest Coffee. I used to go there all the time and I knew the owner and basically, this guy ran up to me and he was like, “Oh my gosh, man, how have you been?” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is like the big worship leader from my college who was actively working at this megachurch in Texas,” it was so crazy. It was like we had this thing called HeartSong and it was the worship team and you basically got your whole tuition paid for, and you got like a salary to tour and do music at my school. And we had chapel every day and it was crazy and they would play huge worship concerts every day at my school.
So this guy was on the brochures, everyone wanted to be him. And I was like, “Whoa,” [because] he was like fan-ing out over me. We ended up hanging out and like kicking it at my apartment and like one wine glass in or something he was just like, “I wish I was you,” and I was like, “What?” It was just like so nuts and I was talking to him and he was like, “No, dude, like everyone treated you bad and you have stuff to write about and you have all this substance, but everything’s been so good for me — I have nothing to pull from,” and like, “Your writing’s so unbelievable and you’re so gifted.”
And I was like, “Wow, this is really crazy that someone in that world [is] saying that I’m good,” because I felt like I was trash. And I was kind of taught that I was worthless growing up in that whole Christian world. I had something to offer and I was like, “Man, maybe I’m the real worship leader,” and that’s kind of what the song was about.
We ended up cutting a line at the end, but I wrote, “He said ‘I wish I was you,’ I always wished I was him.”
CHM: I went to a Baptist school down in Virginia for my freshman year before transferring and I understand because everybody wanted to be on the worship team. They’re playing in an arena full of 10,000 kids every day. And you mentioned like the Walmart thing, and that made me laugh because that was the big thing at my school; we’d walk over to the big Walmart across the street.
Island: I get it! Everyone always says, “You get it,” [but] it’s like, no, I get it and I have this ability to say these things [not] because I’m trying to say anything, I’m just talking to God really, or like myself to like let this out when I write music.
CHM: Where do you buy your sunglasses? They’re so cool.
Island: Thank you, man — these are prescription. I actually used to work at Warby Parker in the office, doing social media. I love boring; like put me in the boring world because I can make it lit. So I was working there and I bought kind of crazy glasses, I can almost cheer myself up or like do something different — and also blue light blocker — and so I was like, “Man, it’s only like $5 more to make them yellow,” it was some promo I’m like, “I’m gonna just get yellow glasses.” And so I started wearing those around then I would wear them out of the office on lunch breaks and people would react to them — they would either love it or hate it — and I’d kind of know if they were cool or not and it was like this like Truman Show-style, like rebelling against the world feeling that I had, I’m gonna just wear these glasses around because I’m tired of living my life caring what people think.
Really before all of that, when I played my high school talent show, I was so nervous and I wore sunglasses because I couldn’t sing without my eyes being closed. And I started wearing glasses because of Buddy Holly [but people also mentioned] Elton John; I never thought about Elton John once until everyone said I looked like him or whatever, I don’t know.
CHM: Funny you brought up Elton John because you did a cover of “Bennie and the Jets” and nailed that on American Idol.
Island: I think I was a little off because they put me on this lift that Joe Jonas used and I ran the rehearsal and they had no TV screens on the floor — they didn’t have some weird B-roll cut up, [it looked like] I was crying because I was cleaning my glasses, it was just insane. So when the live show happened, it was like, Okay, Ryan Seacrest is here; there’s TVs on the floor; there’s a lift now I’m going down. And when I did the rehearsal, Franklin was Beyonce’s vocal coach, he was my vocal coach, [and] he cried. And he was like, “You’re gonna win the show,” because it was just [a] blowout performance. I’m happy it happened the way it did. I still did good, but it wasn’t like “in the pocket, full sauce,” which I usually do when I play for real.
Thank you though, man. I mean, we ran with it, Elton tweeted to everybody else — he didn’t really support me, I don’t know why, but we blessed it. I still love it. I sang “Bennie and the Jets” at the show on Saturday in Ohio.
CHM: You infuse folk music into your music and I also noticed a brass section in a couple of your songs. I love both of these but I’m curious why you wanted to infuse them into your music.
Island: People don’t understand [that] I have had to put blood, sweat and tears and pay out of pocket for things and like put that extra 10% on my entire career every single time — and the horns are evidence of that. When we were tracking, I was like, “I really want horns on my album,” [but] there was no budget or whatever. So I ended up hiring a kid on Fiverr from Ukraine who didn’t speak English — I translated everything — and I actually wrote the entire album [out] and I also wrote the horns and I recorded myself going like [imitates horn noises] on my phone, I sent that to him and then they played that. And then my friend Ian tuned it and we put that on the record for a demo and they liked it so much that they ended up having the horns recorded on Abbey Road.
CHM: So of all the songs you have on the album, what’s the one that you’re most excited for people to hear?
Island: Man, it’s a tough one because I’ve learned with this album [that] what I like isn’t always what people like. And I do like the whole album a lot, but I’ve learned my taste. Getting out of the way of myself and serving the audience has been a really big lesson, but not changing what I like.
I think for me, “Subway” was the most licensed, which was a shocker, but I’m excited to just see which song is the one. And I know each song is so deep and unique and catchy and amazing. Honestly, I think each one of them is like a time bomb [ready] to explode, I just don’t know which one it’s going to be.
I really like “1974,” that song is one of the weirdest songs I’ve ever written. It’s a kind of a stream of consciousness about a time I lived with a professional BMX writer in Nashville — Corey Martinez
CHM: When playing live, do you prefer the solo act kind of thing, like an Ed Sheeran performance with just a guitar, or do you prefer to have a band there?
Island: You know, man, I like playing with a band, especially when it’s tight [but] I do some songs by myself. Where we’re at now with my music here [on Folkstar] — I’m also in a crazy rock and roll band called Kid Cherry and the Graduates, which is about to be insane. It’s like “modern Nirvana,” [and] people say that, but it actually is. But I think like for me, we have Ezra, who’s like my band leader [and] guitar player, like awesome “ride or die,” he toured with me and John, our sound guy in Ohio at the recent show. I think that was one of the [most] fun formats because I’m able to put the guitar down, sing songs, not have to learn everything and do everything and just focus on the crowd and the performance and then pick up the guitar, have some solo songs and have some songs I’m playing when we’re both playing. I think Travis, my keys player, is going to come along with us for some of the future dates.
That’s my favorite format because it’s easier to tour. There are less people, [so]I can get booked more because they don’t have to have as big of a budget. I honestly really excel in that kind of intimate environment.
CHM: When you do play on a smaller scale — even if it’s just in the section with the songs you play by yourself — are you just playing an acoustic version of the song? Because you have songs seem to have a layered arrangement there, right? So are you stripping those songs down or just playing songs that are meant to be played acoustic?
Island: Yeah, we did every kind of [arrangement], we had like an hour over an hour set list [and] I did “Mantra Chameleon,” which is another song I love, but we either make it into acoustic, or, to be honest, [and] a lot of the songs on Folkstar I would just play by myself.
I’m not changing the record really at all, it’s the same kind of experience, but we do kind of flesh it out and like [on] “Bennie and the Jets,” Ezra role play some of the other parts and the lead lines and things like that. But I think I kind of reimagine the songs in the way that I would just play them anyway and so it all kind of becomes cohesive.
CHM: Do you have any tour dates set? Perhaps on the east coast?
Island: I mean, it’s interesting. It’s one of those Catch-22s where it’s like, I could go on tour with a huge artist right now and kill it. But I’m in this in-between world with American Idol. The big thing I’m excited about is we are going to play this showcase for like the College Bookers Association [National Association for Campus Activities] for schools, so I think that will unlock a bunch of dates. And then I think from there, all the other opportunities that I have that are kind of like, “Yeah, let me know,” will start [to] kind of [become] solidified. But [we’ll] definitely [play] in the Pittsburgh area, Pennsylvania region for sure.
Folkstar is available to stream on digital platforms now.
Annalaura di Luggo Talks We Are Art — Through the Eyes of Annalaura | Interview
Analaura di Luggo discusses her new project, ‘We Are Art — Through the Eyes of Annalaura,’ a stunningly-unique documentary.
One thing I learned from sitting down and talking with Annalaura di Luggo — albeit over Zoom — is that she can do it all. She’s a director, writer, artist and she can sing! It’s truly incredible and her talents are as unique as her art. Her new documentary, We Are Art— Through the Eyes of Annalaura explores this idea of inclusivity and creativity. But above all else, the most eye-catching (pun intended) part of her work is the way that she captures the iris. Her stunning technology — which she created — makes for breath-taking visuals that you won’t soon forget. Read on to learn more about that technique that she has created, her new film and why she focuses so heavily on the idea of inclusion. Thank you to Annalaura for sitting down and chatting!
Coastal House Media: Nice to meet you, Annalaura! How’s everything going very well for you?
Annalaura di Luggo: Good, good!
CHM: Congratulations on your film, We Are Art — Through the Eyes of Annalaura. You just traveled to New York, right?
ADL: Yes, we just arrived in New York.
CHM: What’s this experience been like? I know you’re doing a lot of press and how do you like being in New York?
ADL: I have been in New York a lot of times but I’m very excited for this new premiere in New York. The first one was very good, we had a lot of very nice people come and it [was] in LA. We had a very good Q&A, everybody stayed for the Q&A and [there were] lots of interesting questions. It’s very nice when you have the chance to share your thoughts and people get into the stories.
CHM: And you know, there’s so much content out there with all these streaming services and movies in the theater, so people kind of pick and choose what they’re gonna go see. Could you just quickly pitch your film to the average movie-goer?
ADL: This document depicts my journey when I undertook my most strategic challenge. So creating “Colloculi > We Are Art,” [which] is an immersive multimedia interactive art installation that is constructed in the shape of a giant eye that is made of recycled aluminum. And this is a way to symbolize environmental rebirth and recycling. And in this kind of huge installation, I incorporated [a] visualization of [the] lives of four young adult people. We found a spiritual path out of the darkness into the light and so they reclaimed their self-esteem and found a new value in life.
If I should describe [it] in two words, it’s like [a] documentary [and an] inspirational story of creativity, second chances and new beginnings.
CHM: I wanna talk more about the eyes in a second because I find that so interesting, but I know you’ve done a few documentaries now — I think maybe two or three other ones — has it gotten any easier with time with each one?
ADL: Yeah, I’ve been doing stores that were based on social inclusion. So social inclusion had been always my first thought. So it’s nice that I got more and more experience from my first documentary that was Blind Vision, and that was about a journey into the eyes and the world of blind people.
Then the documentary before this was Napoli Eden where I also work with my friend and partner Stanley Isaacs, who is the creative consultant of both Napoli Eden and We Are Art and with Greg Ferris who also was a marketing consultant in Napoli Eden and on this one. So it’s I’ve been doing a path through this journey towards social inclusion.
And at this time, I wanted to compare different young adults so I put together various types of challenges of these young adults so they also could feel like [they] have support from each other.
CHM: You kept mentioning this idea of inclusion and I just wanna ask you a little bit more about where does that stem from? Because I find it so powerful to push that.
ADL: All my life, I wanted to achieve my greatest desire of social inclusion. Because I believe I have a very deep spiritual thought and so I believe that all of us are incredible — God’s creations. So I mean, the reason why I want really to enlighten the value of our human being [is because] I think that every human being is precious and special. We all are God’s creation, we all are a work of art.
So this was the real thought that came out during the time and so I wanted this kind of experience [and] I thought it was very nice to put together people with different stories. And I believe that a culture of diversity equity and inclusion should be always our priority. And when you bring diversity and representation into the mix, you get views from various ethnic backgrounds, different abilities and so this turns into [something] thought-provoking and a new inspiration.
CHM: Something that you’d mentioned was the eyes and you said that you had created a specific lens for that?
ADL: Yeah, I did it more than 10 years ago when nobody ever thought about taking pictures of the eyes. So I made this special camera and I patented [it] and I still use my system. And this enabled me to catch the eyes of a huge number of people around the world. I was able to catch the Hollywood stars’ eyes like Antonio Banderas [and] Jeremy Irons, a lot of them, but at the same time, I wanted to catch the eyes of like homeless people who are challenged in their lives. Because every time that I [photograph] an iris, I always look for the stories of the people who I’m photographing because what I’m interested in is going beyond the appearance or trying to find traces of that person and their feeling and the meaning of life. And so, for me, [it] is always a very incredible experience when I see an eye because I always see something different.
CHM: So does anybody else use the same technology that you use for that?
ADL: I don’t think mine because the one that I did was really [made by] me piece-by-piece [laughs], so maybe there are other systems, but I did it [on] my own really sitting down, experimenting [with] every single piece of my camera.
CHM: So you filmed We Are Art in Naples, right? Was that, am I correct?
ADL: We Are Art was filmed in Naples, Italy. And now in two weeks there will be a big opening of the piece of art in the Naples National Archeological Museum that will hold the piece of art on display for three-and-a-half months in the biggest area of the museum next.
CHM: Is that exhibit something that would ever be considered to be brought over to the United States? Because I would like to check that out if it was in New York.
ADL: Yeah, I’m looking to have some answers to see when and how I can display the piece of art here overseas. But my greatest challenge in this work was to do a documentary that is like an audio-visual journey that uses languages of visual art and sound design. And so it’s in between like the documentary and this new frontier of video art.
CHM: Is there anything else from your works, it could be a film or any sort of artwork/exhibit I can see online, that you would recommend to me?
ADL: Blind Vision because it’s this journey in the world of blind people and it’s a very enlighting journey. So I was in the dark for two days, holding hands with these people. And I tried to meet them without looking them into their eyes. So that was a very, very great experience. And it came out a multimedia work and a documentary.
Napoli Eden was a great experience because it was like also in consideration for [the] Oscars as Best Documentary that also was a very joyful work and inspiring. And now I believe that this one [We Are Art], with this great team. I think [judging] from the first opinions that I received, I think that a lot of people enjoyed this kind of film and they saw that it was quite different from everything else they saw.
Also, their stories and what was going on during the shooting inspired me to write a song. So the song that is called, “We Are Art,” it’s in the commentary. That was also [a] great challenge because you know, it was really done during the moment while we were shooting and so we are trying to get into Oscar’s consideration for Best Documentary and Best Original Song.
We Are Art — Through the Eyes of Annalaura is in select theaters now. For more information, click here.
Cinematographers Bianca Cline and Eric Adkins Talk Bringing Marcel the Shell with Shoes On to Life | Interview
‘Marcel the Shell’ cinematographers Bianca Cline (live-action) and Eric Adkins (stop-motion) discuss bringing the one-inch-tall shell to life in time for the film’s digital release.
Very few films are as small (literally and figuratively) but pack the emotional punch that Marcel the Shell with Shoes On does. Dean Fleischer-Camp’s film is an extension of the web shorts that date back over a decade ago. The first short has over 32 million views as of July 2022, and what began as a three-minute short has now expanded into a 90-minute feature film.
Jenny Slate voices the adorable Marcel, a one-inch-tall shell that is being interviewed by Dean, played by Fleischer-Camp himself, a young filmmaker who I mistook for Cooper Raiff just by his voice. But like Raiff, who is an up-and-coming filmmaker himself, Fleischer-Camp has made a special film with Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, and it’s a film that truly appeals to all audiences (bring tissues for a beautiful rendition of an Eagles classic).
I could go on about the film for hours, but because of the dense nature of this interview, I’ll introduce our subjects. I spoke with live-action and stop-motion cinematographers, Bianca Cline and Eric Adkins over Zoom. They were so generous with their time, and I had so much fun hearing them go into such detail about the process of making the film that you won’t get anywhere else. In this interview, they discuss what their unique working relationship was like, the differences in techniques filming live-action and stop-motion, and the way the two blend together.
Coastal House Media: Could you two describe what your working relationship on this project was like?
Bianca Cline: It’s a really unique film because it wasn’t one or the other [live-action or stop-motion] — the two overlap quite a bit. It wasn’t like there were sections that are stop-motion and sections that are live-action, it was a constant blending of the two. When I came on in pre-production, they hadn’t hired a stop-motion DP, and so I was like really excited when I met Eric [Adkins] because that collaboration was going to be so important but also unusual because it’s not like there were normal delegations the way you would [have them] with grip, electric, or the art department, so it was like we were developing a new thing and it was different for Eric because [he] doesn’t usually have to work with somebody like me.
We started the film like a live-action film. I think we filmed for 24 days, but there was so much more that went into it. We wanted Marcel and his grandmother and some of the other characters to always be made in stop-motion instead of doing them as CGI characters. But doing that isn’t as simple as just doing the character and putting it in because he’s constantly interacting with things that are in the real world, spoons, books, fruit and all of these other things including living things like grass and dirt — dirt’s not alive — but tangible, organic things. So it was a constant puzzle of [figuring out] which pieces need to be replicated in stop-motion, which parts need to be captured in the live-action portion of the film, and also [figuring out] what things can work for the stop-motion; like what kind of camera movement can work? What kind of lighting is going to be replicable [without] adding too much? If it’s going to make the film much better, we’d do it that way.
And Eric was there every day of the live-action [portion of filming], constantly watching what I was doing because we were creating the look of the film there, but it [also] needed to be replicated on a stage, which is a much different situation especially since we wanted it to feel like a documentary. Even though most of the lighting wasn’t natural, we had to make it feel natural and we were trying to push the envelope a bit with things that you might do in stop-motion because we had the opportunity. With live-action, you might film sunlight coming in the window with leaves which [are] constantly moving and is something that [is] very easy for me to film but then super difficult for Eric to replicate on stage.
Eric Adkins: Early on, I did some testings almost a year before the live-action [filming] and we were trying to figure out what would be the easiest way to do these interactions. And what came out of that was that the real high-tech way, which not only would be extremely expensive but also was the least successful way how to go, especially because the original production — the little web episodes — were done by this director [Dean Fleischer-Camp] who is an editor [and he] would essentially do a live take and then animate many different cuts and animate in post [production] and edit. So what was baked in was this beautiful movement of wind blowing, a branch or something, or light shifting because of the window. Traditionally, you don’t do that in stop-motion; you control that stuff and make that not happen, so the idea of working with this fluid live-action feel came down to trying to interact with what is captured as much as possible.
So while live-action is beautiful and sometimes you capture unique things, my part was to actually translate what was captured and actually lock it into something that is a reaction to what was given.
The fact that you’re dealing with live actors too was really kind of interesting because there were all [of] these focus issues: making sure you’re not too closely-focused, making sure it’s not a diopter situation where you ruin the background focus just for the sake of what’s up front. So it’s really a nice, collaborative scenario where each of us are doing our own jobs but [are] also working together to try to create a whole, and it was really fun to do that.
CHM: So neither of you worked on the original short films then?
Cline: Yeah, I think it was just Dean [Fleischer-Camp] and Jenny [Slate] that made those.
CHM: Whenever I interview a duo that worked together, I like to ask this. Could you guys complement each other and name one thing that the other brought to the table?
Cline: Going in, I was really worried. I thought that it would be very restrictive, that Eric [Adkins] would say, “Oh, that’s too hard for me to replicate,” or, “I can’t do that,” over a sustained period because it could take days to do one scene [and] we wanted it to feel spontaneous so that it would feel like a documentary [and] also so Marcel would feel more real. I thought that that would be really difficult, that it was going to be very restrictive, that we’d have to have the camera locked off a lot and that camera movement or having interactive lighting would be tricky, and Eric was just constantly pushing to make those things better. I’m like, “Oh, let’s film the scene with candles,” and sure, it’d [have] super unpredictable lighting, but Eric was like, “Yeah, we’ll find a way [and] we’ll make it work.”
He [Eric] was taking notes on everything; how the lighting was working and focal distance and lens and was never snobbish. I could just do my job [and] didn’t have to worry about all those things because Eric was just on top of it constantly.
Adkins: Well, thank you. I felt blessed in the sense that the spirit of Bianca and what she was trying to achieve and her relationship with the Dean [Fleischer-Camp] the director whom I knew a little bit about but I didn’t know as much about the project as a whole; that was probably a good thing [because] it was just nice to experience firsthand what was transpiring, what was being worked out, [and] not only Bianca was inclusive, but [the] entire crew was very helpful to me, too. It must have been weird [to have] this guy taking notes and eventually he’s going to take over the show, but yet, her whole crew was very supportive and giving me color temperature reports or distance to the main subject on [a given] take and we were all doing different things and because of that, I think we were able to just work well with each other.
I think when you work with stop-motion people, they’re working so tight that you really have to have a good spirit in life, and so going into a live-action world, I knew I wasn’t going to be a problem but I also was really happy that I was included and [that I] had a good time.
Cline: I didn’t even know that that was happening, Eric. [There’s] a whole world of numbers and problems that I just didn’t even have to think about or worry about [and it was] so nice that it was taken care of without me having to think about it.
CHM: We’ve talked a lot about stop-motion, but was there any CGI in the film or is it all stop-motion?
Adkins: Well, we had puppet people there to not only move characters around if Kirsten [Lepore], the animation director, didn’t do it, but things like the worm going through the box were practical puppetry in real live-action and then we had some puppets that were oversized that we were going to use for the bee or the spider and all that. But they decided to actually photograph those objects because the bee was going to be so small and the spiders’ part grew. But [because] they’re so detailed, the spiders ended up being CGI. Some of the mannerisms were based out of some puppetry and some design work that [would have] been done had they been stop-motion puppets, and they would put them on a Lazy Susan, a rotisserie gear, getting a 360º of them so they could actually scan them so [that] they could actually play with them. [While] they were authentic to the puppet creation, they ended up being sourced-out CGI. But everything else, all the shells, all [of] the other products that were used, were stop-motion. They weren’t real shells; some of them were, but the lead characters were not because they had to be exactly the same, [though] they were designed after a real shell. We had like a dozen Marcel’s on set.
CHM: I heard that Bianca, you have some stories about creating the look of the film and the landscape, for Eric to do the stop-motion work. Would you be able to share any of those?
Cline: I mean, we wanted the film to feel a little bit homemade, so we wanted there to be some amount of the film feeling kind of “off the cuff,” a little bit thrown away in certain ways because it’s meant to just be impromptu. Not every scene, but for the majority of the film is meant to be this filmmaker named Dean who’ll [see] Marcel has something to say and film, so we wanted everything to feel very spontaneous but obviously it doesn’t work that way, especially with feature films in general. But [we] also knew that it had to be replicated, so everything was very planned but had to feel like it wasn’t, which is a really difficult thing to do. It’s like trying to make something [that is] super controlled but make it feel like it’s a little bit chaotic and out of control.
We filmed almost the entire thing in one house — I think it was 18 days in this one house —so the house was also our production office for pre-production so we were basically there every day. I’d spend 12 hours a day at this house and when I came on the film there, actually I didn’t see a script and they sent me locked audio; it was like sound effects, dialogue, music, everything was fairly locked and they had storyboards to go with it.
And then what we did during prep was Dean and I kind of went around the house and found locations in the house that would work for the different scenes. And [if] we would find [that] we had too many scenes in the kitchen [we’d] try to find somewhere else and look to spread it out and so by the time we started production, we had locked audio with photo boards that you could watch. They’re all stills, but you could just watch, see this is happening here, this is happening here, which was really great for inter-departmental work, especially [as] everything becomes very complicated.
Usually, when you’re filming a live-action with human actors, it would just be like, “Okay, the art department will dress this room and it’s fine and we’ll put the lights outside the windows,” but it just didn’t work that way because, if he [Marcel] is interacting with certain things cannot be replicated or cannot be removed from the house [like] a hundred-year-old wood floor [that you] can’t pull out and take it to the stage. So [we’d] set him [Marcel] on a book or something that can be taken to the end; [we would] like constantly [have to do] that.
The other thing that was really tricky was Marcel is very, very tiny and [while] he comes across as small, when you’re thinking about it, I think he’s less than one-inch [tall]. Trying to film somebody that small is difficult without looking down on him all the time, and we wanted to have depth and feel things and other characters in the film as well as we wanted to be at Marcel’s eye level just so he could be in his world.
We ended up doing a lot of testing for the scenes that were going to be on the actual floor or on surfaces where we couldn’t lift him up. We got prisms and we would film him; so the lens was all the way to the floor and then we were just trying to incorporate a lot of things that you would into a documentary like filming near windows and filming near lamps and light sources and as well as what Marcel [would] do, what’s going to be really cute [and asking] What does he do in that world?
We sat with a couple of people, I can’t remember their names; [one] developed all of the treehouses and there was another woman who was developing props, little chairs and little things that Marcel would live in and that a one-inch-tall character would create. So we were constantly trying to do that, repurposing candles; birthday candles become this thing that lights the entire room if you’re one-inch-tall, that was kind of our theme, that’s the world we want and then we’ll see how we can make it work on a stop-motion stage.
CHM: This is probably going to sound like a stupid question, but you mentioned some of those shots where you’re looking at him on the ground, whether he is being chased around or running around or whatever the case is, is Marcel CGI in those scenes, or is that all stop-motion?
Adkins: You know, the live-action unit shot reference footage of the character in the route, but we also put tracking dots on the floor: one that represented another character, one that represented the Marcel in the route that they were going to take and the focus defined where the contact was going to be. But if it was a wide shot of Marcel running down the floor, it was still stop-motion. We would actually cheat the scale of it and shoot it closer, but as long as we had the measure distance that they ran and we were at the right tilt angle and the right lens, everything could just be placed in there and tracked with it.
As far as my knowledge, none of Marcel or Connie was CGI, but the concept of a wide-shot, like the bee who was a non-supporting character [doesn’t] make ground contact so why not have it be an object just floating around? As far as Marcel and the contact, we had different surfaces whether it was a wood floor or a metal enamel on top of the washer machine, there were always different reflections. There were always different things that helped make Marcel feel attached to that surface, even on the glass table where the dog was interacting [with it]; there was the puppeteer flicking water up in the dog’s face and there was the glass top surface and we got the natural reflection of that table. It was a nice blend and yet they were shot in two separate worlds.
Cline: My kids were asking me about that shot last night. They were like, “How did you get the dog to do that? And the water?” and I was [like], “Well, it’s actually a bunch of different shots composed together.”
Adkins: I think it’s even confusing for me sometimes, and I was glad I watched it the other day again because sometimes there were things that were completely replaced and sometimes they were just applied onto the existing surface that was in the actual plate. It was easy for them to roto the coffee table and have the background be in there, but when there was an elaborate camera move or something that, the dynamics and the layout were changed.
It’s all about interactivity and making it believable. Sometimes the animators would use sticky wax or things that would’ve fixed the character and then the cleanup artist has to paint all that out because that wouldn’t be there or how shiny the map ended up becoming because the wax kind of bored into the paper pulp of it and then all of a sudden the lights got a lot more contrasting, but “Hey!,” we said, “it’s GoPro footage — it’s going be a little bit hot,” you know?
CHM: There’s a scene where Marcel is trying to launch a fruit onto a shelf, was that done with the same process you guys just talked about?
Cline: No, I mean, we did it fairly practically on set. Our puppeteer had a stick with an actual Marcel on it and he [was] trying to drop down into frame, hit the spoon and make the berry fly for real. Other than [that], we’d replace the black stick that he was holding and the Marcel and replace him with a stop-motion Marcel, right? That was at least the plan on set, I don’t know how it actually went.
Adkins: Yeah, I looked at that shot again because it was a sequence of shots and I think that there were some shots that were practical that were left like Marcel [was] flicked over and just laid there and didn’t move and then there were shots where Marcel hit it and then walked away.
I know we lined up the spoons exactly the way it was and tried to create reflections within the spoon that felt like they were in that environment. I don’t know because I wasn’t part of the composite layer of how much of that was actually reused from the plates and how much was over-shot because the animator physically had to animate the spoon to copy the movement of the spoon of each take. So it was rapid-fire recreation and whether or not they just used the reflection of the spoon or the whole spoon, it’s a mystery to us, too.
Cline: There are two more people on this team: Kirsten Lepore, the animation director, and Zdravko Stoitchkov, the visual effect supervisor. The four of us together had a really symbiotic relationship.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is still in select theaters now and available for rental on digital platforms. For information about showtimes, click here.
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