THE STARS OF ‘CONVERSATIONS IN L.A.’ TALK SEASON TWO 209

With season 1 having proven to be somewhat of a surprise – and huge – sleeper hit, dark comedy Conversations In L.A. is back for a second run, with new episodes currently airing via iTunes and Amazon. TITL caught up with creator, writer, director and star Anne Marie Cummings and her co-star Gustavo Velasquez, both Daytime Emmy nominees, to find out more about season 2, the impact social media has had on the show and any future projects the pair have lined up.

TITL: For those who have never seen or heard of the show, how would you sum up Conversations In L.A. and the characters you play?

Anne Marie: Conversations in L.A. is a story about an older, menopausal woman who meets a young, Hispanic millennial and the obstacles they overcome in their relationship. It’s a one-shot series which is what makes this one-of-a kind. Michelle Macabee, my character, is having a mid-life crisis, she just lost her dog, she just quit her decade-long job at Amazon, and the last thing she was expecting was to meet Gus Borrero, who she initially gets involved with just because he’s the only one who makes her feel alive after the death of her dog.

Gustavo: Conversations in L.A. is a story about Gus, a young, old soul who embarks on a journey with Michelle, an unexpected older woman. They battle doubts from their friends and family as their relationship grows. Gus Borrero is a young, Hispanic millennial dealing with internal battles that are preventing him from who he is meant to be. Gus is a bartender/hairstylist looking for something more out of life then what he is used to.

TITL: What do you think the show’s unique selling point is, and why do you think the first series was such a sleeper hit?

AM & G: The unique selling point is that Conversations in L.A. is a one-shot series – something that’s never been done before. Each and every episode is shot in one-take with a single camera, with highly choreographed blocking, and with continuous camera movement.

The first series was such a sleeper hit because so much time goes into creating a one-shot series. Each season takes us almost an entire year to produce. There are a number of films that have one-shot sequences that last up to ten minutes, but they don’t go on much longer because they are so incredibly challenging for the actors and the crew. Between seasons one and two, we produced one-shot episodes that are up to 30 minutes long. This is extremely rare, and it’s essentially theatre on film.

TITL: You both received a Daytime Emmy nomination thanks to your roles in the show, but how much do accolades and praise like that mean to you? Are they be-and-end-all for actors, or are you personally more concerned by what your audience and fans think?

AM: If you were to ask me personally how much accolades and praise means, the answer would be, not much, however I say that in the sense that accolades and praise come from the outside, and while I’m extremely honored to receive that outside praise, I think it’s very important for anyone in this industry to know that if you feel good about what you’re doing, then that’s enough because you don’t always get outside praise.

All that being said, as the creator, writer, director, and producer of a series, another answer to your question is…it means a lot. Why? Because the Daytime Emmy’s is equivalent, in the eyes of much of the public, to the Oscars. If you’re recognized by the Daytime Emmy’s, then it helps audiences in terms of wanting to watch the show and learn more about it. Plus, that kind of recognition can help sell a show as well.

To answer the second part of your question, I certainly hope that nominations and awards are not be-and-end-all for actors. If that were the case, then I don’t think too many actors would continue working. Now, regarding what my audience and fans think? I don’t write or perform for them, so I’m not, in my creative process, thinking about what they think, I’m thinking about telling an interesting story – writing dialogue that feels layered, like life is. And then, if the audience and fans sense the truth of what I’m writing and can relate to it, then I’m happy – I know I’ve done my job.

G: I performed in season one not knowing that the Daytime Emmy`s offered awards for the category of Digital Drama Series. The appeal of any award was never the determining factor as to why I decided to become an actor. However, I am extremely honored to be recognized by the Daytime Emmy’s, and it’s something I will always be proud of, but the work never ends. I need to continue discovering my character, finding new layers, takings risks and challenging myself as an artist. To answer the second part of your question…although awards are an honor to receive, they cannot be the be-and-end all, because they are out of your control. As the artist, all you can control is your work. So, what I concern myself with is, my work as an actor. If my performance is genuine, real, and heartfelt, then I know that will resonate with fans.

TITL: To what extent do you think social media helped and continues to help spread the word about the show?

AM: Before we received the Daytime Emmy nominations, we had no publicity or social media presence whatsoever. We focused all of our energy on the acting, the writing, the directing, and cinematography. As the creator of the series, initially my focus was to find the style of this series and that didn’t happen right away. I didn’t go into this knowing that the intros and outros for each episode would either give a taste of the City of Los Angeles or be character driven. All I knew was that this would be a one-take series, but I had to find an interesting way to conceptualize that for episodic work.

G: After the Daytime Emmy nominations, and in regards to season two, publicity on social media has been extremely important. It allows us to reach a diverse audience that we would never be able to reach at such a rapid rate without it. It’s worldwide, and now that we’re on iTunes and Amazon in the U.K., Australia, and Canada, social media is a necessity. And, social media combined with an amazing product can really help anyone reach for the sky.

TITL: Season 2 premiered last month – without giving too much away, what can fans expect from the upcoming episodes?

AM: As the director, I pushed the actors for stronger performances even more than in season one. As the writer, I dug deeper into the psyches of the characters so you’ll be surprised to learn about some of the characters’ secrets, and I also think it’s exciting to meet some of the other people in Gus and Michelle’s lives. In terms of the character Michelle, we really do get to see her at her most vulnerable.

G: A deeper look into Gus’ family situation. Diving into the family obligations that are keeping Gus from being who he wants to be. Gus is placed in difficult situations that force him to be vulnerable and reveal truths.

TITL: The new series also has a considerable number of guest stars including Sterling Jones, Rebecca Metz and Mike E. Winfield – did/do you have any favorite people you got to work with?

AM & G: It was an absolute pleasure to work with all of the guest stars. They each brought their individual perspectives and creativity to their roles that made our jobs very easy. Each of their performances are memorable and will stand the test of time.

TITL: Are there any stories or funny moments you had on set you can share?

AM: Oh my God! Where do I begin! Certainly every episode had its funny moments because this work pushes people’s buttons, but the funniest moment that stands out for me is when I was shooting the episode called Narcotics Anonymous with Brett Banner and Sterling Jones, we were all ready to go with our shoot, we had had several camera rehearsal, and we were shooting in a parking lot in Culver City, and at midnight, all the lights in the parking lot turned off. As the producer, I had visited this parking lot at least seven times over the course of a month before we began rehearsing there, but never did I visit the parking lot after midnight, never did we rehearse after midnight. We all had to return the next evening for the shoot. You live and learn, sometimes the hard way.

G: During the filming of season two, episode one, “Red Flags”, in downtown Los Angeles, a black van was parked in the alley where we were going to shoot. There was a not on the dashboard that read, “If you need me, I’m in the basement…” and there was an address attached. I said, “I don’t feel like being murdered today, so let’s find a new location,” but Anne Marie, and our hero cinematographer and production sound mixer, decided to go to the basement. Knowing how most horror films end, I stayed behind at our location with 911 on speed dial. Eventually, like three detectives, they found the owner of the van, got him to move it, and we were able to have our shoot.

TITL: Do you think a show like Conversations in L.A. would work on mainstream TV or is it better fitted to services like iTunes and Amazon?

AM & G: I think we both agree that at this day and age, mainstream TV is not what it used to be. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and countless others, are producing a variety of shows with unique perspectives that are all becoming mainstream. Audiences now have control over what they want to watch. With so many options, viewers are asking for something new all the time. Conversations in L.A. is meeting that need. It’s real. It’s deep. It explores love and exploring love does not mean just showing when things are working out – it shows every side of love. And, as the producer, we have the luxury of making our work available on multiple platforms all serving unique purposes. It’s a win-win.

TITL: Where would you ultimately like to see the show go? Do you think it could be one of those shows that runs for several years?

AM & G: We definitely see this show running for multiple seasons. We don’t want to give anything away just yet, but we are reaching for the stars. As should any artist.

TITL: Finally then what’s next for you? Are there any upcoming projects you can tell me about and what would your dream roles be, and why?

AM: All of my energy is on Conversations in L.A. and moving this show forward at the moment. When I moved to Los Angeles two years ago, I came to hone my craft as a writer, actor and director, and to concentrate on my work. This does not mean that I am not interested in doing other projects, written by other writers. But, my journey is currently focused on being a writer, actor and director. That being said, my first feature, a culinary romantic comedy, Eat, Bitter, Taste Sweet, was picked up by the two-time Primetime Emmy nominated director, Wendey Stanzler. Continuing to create unique and daring work with talented and dedicated artists for television and film would be a dream come true.

G: Being a lead hispanic character in a daring series means a round-the-clock effort. When the camera stops, I keep going. I am helping in every way I can to make sure Conversations in L.A. gets the exposure it deserves. My focus is on finishing season 2 at the moment. Working with talented directors, writers, crew and everyone who makes this magic we call cinema come alive for the rest of my life would be my dream role.

For more information on Conversations In L.A., visit the shows’ website and you can keep up to date with Anne Marie and Gustavo on Twitter.

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MAX CHATS “LIGHTS DOWN LOW” & TOURING WITH FALL OUT BOY 42

With a flair for rather theatrical performances and a growing fan-base, especially in the US where his track “Lights Down Low” has been one of the biggest hits of the past year, MAX is a name more and more people are sure to become aware of in the next few months. Ahead of his opening slot supporting Fall Out Boy on their UK tour, ThisIsTheLatest met with him backstage at Manchester Arena to chat

TITL: For those as yet unfamiliar with you and your music, who exactly is MAX? How would you describe yourself in four words?

MAX: Energetic, soulful, glittery – it’s always hard to describe yourself – and slay. SLAYYYY – with a lot of y’s.

TITL: I don’t think we’ve ever had anyone use that word before…

M: Oh really? Awesome. I say it a lot!

TITL: What would you say your unique selling point is? What is it about you and your music that makes you stand out from your many other artistic counterparts out there?

M: That’s a tough question to answer on my own. I would say, for me, I try to bring a very theatrical show, while also having a very personal connection to my people, my fans. I like to be as personable as I can with my people, but also make them feel like they’re in another world when they come to a show of ours.

TITL: You’re signed to Pete Wentz’ record label DCD2. How exactly did he come to discover you and what was/is it about him and his label that made you feel that they were the right fit for you?

M: I’ve always been a Fall Out Boy fan, you know, “Dance, Dance”…every record. Patrick’s voice is unbelievable and he’s so kind. Being an OG Fall Out Boy fan, when Pete kind of naturally reached out after hearing some of my music when I was releasing independently, he invited me to one of their shows. I went along with two of my best friends who are also obsessive Fall Out Boy fans, and he brought me backstage; we kinda hung out for a little bit and I don’t know, I guess it was just nice to see how personable they are as people, and also just how hard they work. That’s how and why they’re still doing what they’re doing. So when he said he was relaunching Decadence, as DCD2, and asked if I wanted to be a part of it, it was an obvious no-brainer.

TITL: You’ve achieved phenomenal success in the States thanks to your track “Lights Down Low.” What do you think it is about that song that, for lack of a better word, has enraptured so many people?

M: It’s been really beautiful to see how people have connected with it. It’s the most transparent song of mine, I guess, that I’ve ever put out. I wrote it for my wife and I proposed to her with it. I love telling that story, and I think this song, even if people don’t know that story, they can connect with a piece of it, feel the energy behind it and I hope, and I think that’s why it’s connected more with people than any other song of mine, in a more global way, and I’m glad about that. The song portrays the message that love is love, and that’s what we believe in, no matter where you’re from.

TITL: How did you find the song having its own Snapchat filter for Valentine’s Day which was posted about by Kim Kardashian West, among others?

M: It was honestly the most unexpected thing that I probably have had happen to me. I guess some wonderful people, part of my team, were pitching this idea for Valentine’s Day, which is such a special day for us, and literally the night before, someone emailed me saying there’s a snapchat filter thing tomorrow and no one had ever done it like that before, I guess. They’re doing it a lot now wirh great artists which is so cool, but I guess we were kind of the guinea pig and I’m glad to have been the guinea pig. It was a wild time and it was so cool – they used my glasses and everything. I love that Snapchat is trying to make a filter that really represents the different artists that they’re showcasing. It was a cool surprise.

TITL: You just need your own emoji now…

M: That’d be wild! Emoji’s really encapsulate our lives so I’d love to be part of one.

TITL: Given that you’re currently on tour with Fall Out Boy here in the UK, have you noticed or are you noticing any differences or similarities between audiences here and back home?

M: My wife is from here so it’s kind of nice to come and visit her roots, hang with everybody. I’m loving it. Tour wise, this is our third show on the tour with the guys and it’s amazing. To play Manchester Arena is unbelievable – it’s so special to not only open for them, but feel the energy from the crowd. I think Fall Out Boy fans especially are so proud of the music they love that, even if they don’t know your music quite yet, if you reel them in just enough, then suddenly you feel a new energy which is just so amazing.

I think I would say UK fans really love music, especially live music, but I also think they might be a little harder to impress in a real way, which I really appreciate, especially as an opener, because it’s so rewarding when you get to a certain song and everybody is there. The best thing about UK fans, and European fans in general, is that as someone who loves to do a lot of crowd interaction, even if everybody’s not quite into it yet, they’ll get involved with every interaction I do and make. They’re doing that because they’re committed music fans and that’s the coolest thing in the world because it’s not at every show you get to see all the fans putting their hands up, clapping along, that kind of thing.

TITL: Do you have any headline shows of your own in the works for after this tour?

M: Oh yeah! I’ll be back here in January. I’m almost done with the second album and I’m hoping to put it out towards the end of summer, or early fall in the States and then come over here and hopefully people will discover us from these dates, and come out and see us again.

TITL: You’ve played some pretty big stages in your career so far but if you could play any venue in the world, which would it be?

M: Madison Square Garden, for sure. Being a New Yorker and just having it be such a special place in my life, getting to play there, or getting to headline the Garden, that would be a very massive accomplishment. Getting to play here, and to play the 02 is additionally pretty surreal.

TITL: You’ve had your songs streamed millions upon millions of times on Spotify and watched millions more on YouTube. With that in mind, how do you feel, both personally and professionally, about social media and technology, and the almost consuming power it holds for artists?

M: It’s so addictive and I’ve realised I probably spend a fourth or half my day, going through all the different social medias, trying to research different playlists on Spotify and things like that. It’s also such a connective tool that we’re lucky to have in this generation because, probably half of the collaborations that I do, I find via Twitter. Somebody like Matoma follows me on Twitter and the next thing, I’m talking to him then we’re meeting in person…the connective power it has is incredible, and not just between artists, but for fans too. It’s amazing to pinpoint one particular fan who is such an OG and get in touch with them to say something like ‘Wow, thank you so much for giving so much life and energy to this – do you want to be part of it more?’

With any incredible tool, there’s always going to be some crazy, negative aspect, and I think the addictive quality social media has is that aspect.

TITL: What’s next for you? Are there any plans or projects in the pipeline you can tell me about?

M: I’m excited about the second album, and my next single, is a duet with my friend Noah Cyrus – I was actually working on the mix today; slay! Then another song after that called “Still New York” with Joey Badass, which is, obviously about my home city, but also about repping your roots and everything else. There’s a bunch of songs after that, a bunch of collaborations I’m super excited for which I can’t quite talk about yet, and then yeah, hopefully more touring, more shows and then I hope to just keep on going.

TITL: Finally then, what’s your ultimate goal when it comes to your music? What would you like to have achieved 5-10 years from now and musically, what do you most want to be remembered for?

M: That’s a great question and one I think about a lot. I would say, for the 5-10 years part, I want to have that same connective tissue between myself and the fans that I feel and have now. I hope for that to grow, and for us to keep doing what we’re doing now, but hopefully on a larger scale. I think you remember energies more than you remember things people say and whatever else, and I hope that we…I…leave behind an energy that is positive towards people. We’ll all pass away one day, we’ll all be gone, and very tiny remnants of our existence will matter, but I think if there’s any way just a little speck can be left to hopefully inspire other people to bring some positivity to the world, that’s really all I can hope for when it comes to my music.

Check out the video for “Lights Down Low” below, and for more information on MAX, visit his website or follow him on Twitter .

TAMI STRONACH REFLECTS ON ‘THE NEVER ENDING STORY’ & TELLS ALL ABOUT HER NEW PROJECTS 42

Catapulted to fame in the 1980’s thanks to her role as the Childlike Empress in The Never Ending Story, Tami Stronach is a name few film fans of a certain era have ever, or will likely ever forget. Having recently launched several exciting new projects, ThisIsTheLatest caught up with Tami to find out how the Childlike role impacted her life and career, which one venue she’d most like to perform in and what’s left to tick off her bucket list.

TITL: How does it feel to know that The Never Ending Story is still as well loved now as it was back upon its original release?

Tami Stronach: It’s incredible. Obviously I am surprised by the staying power, very pleasantly. I don’t think any of us could have anticipated it. I think the story, which was translated from Michael Ende’s book, has these really powerful messages. All the whimsey and magical characters add to it, but underneath all of it, there really is a depth to the story. For me the film is about valuing the child within us…In really dark times, it is really our ability to imagine our way forward that is going to save us. Historically, I think that is always true. The people who can vision a better future and vision a way forward manage to see doors and openings that the rest of us don’t.

TITL: What do you think it is about TNES that makes it so timelessly appealing?

TS: This notion that in each of us resides the power to imagine a better world, a kinder world that we can actually manifest if we believe in our vision enough. That is a powerful message and I think it is one we all need to hear so we don’t give in to apathy.

TITL: Do you have any favourite memories from your time on set/with the cast and crew?

TS: I spent a lot of time with the make-up artists and puppet designers in beer gardens when we were not working. They were really fun adults to hang out with – creative and warm. I learned how to flip coasters and do all kinds of tricks because obviously I wasn’t drinking beer.

TITL: How did landing the role of the Childlike Empress ultimately impact your career? Would it be fair to say that the role is and was your career defining moment?

TS: It definitely is what I am best known for since film has the capacity to reach such wide audience and its very fun to be part of something that means so much to so many people. I view The Never Ending Story as a wonderful defining doorway into what would become a lifelong commitment to a career in the arts. Any opportunity I get to be creative is something I will jump at and I’m happy to do that across a lot of different platforms, dance, choreography, theater, music, puppetry, audio recording–in a small theater or in a massive one–on camera or off.

TITL: You’ve never truly ‘left’ Hollywood having then gone on to do dance and theater work in NYC, but you’re back now, having launched the Paper Canoe Company, which specialises in family friendly work. Where did the concept for it come from and what’s the ultimate aim?

TS: Paper Canoe was something that I founded with my husband after my daughter was born. We wanted to come back to family entertainment because we saw first-hand how impactful stories were to shaping our daughter’s worldview. Also it was something we could do as a team–pool our collective experiences in the arts and make stories that would be meaningful to our daughter, her friends and beyond.

TITL: You’ve also got several other projects in the pipeline including a series of collaborations with indie folk/rock artists in Williamsburg, which marks your first ‘return’ to music since your ‘Faerie Queen’ album in the 80’s. How and why did you decide/feel that now was the right time to work on the music side of your career some more?

TS: After 20 years of being a choreographer in contemporary dance it feels slightly mad to just dive into all this new terrain – but having a kid is a great chance to relive some of your childhood. I’m actually going back to my roots with singing and it is really fun. This project is about how music can be a unique kind of storytelling. No one is making narrative albums any more. You’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to make singles because everyone is streaming and shuffling playlists etc. But I’ve never been so into following the rules of what you are ‘supposed’ to do. Greg and Jake and I dreamed this. And we’re doing it. Beanstalk Jack has won a couple of awards. We’re really proud of it.

TITL: With so many projects ongoing and in the pipeline, how to you find the time to prepare and be part of them all? Do you try and plan as much of each day as you can or are you more of a ‘let’s wake up and see where the day takes me’ kind of woman? 

TS: You have to prioritize what project you will focus on when. I tend to set a goal for a three month block of time and then evaluate where to go next. It’s a lot of juggling for sure but it keeps things interesting which I like.

TITL: What can you tell me about the live theatrical experience you’re hoping to unveil later this year? Are you excited about getting back on stage and performing the new material/production to audiences and how far and wide would you like the experience to go in terms of locations and venues?

TS: I love performing for live audiences and I’m looking forward to finding out how to build some visual support for the musical numbers for shows in the NY area. But to be honest, I’m actually focusing more on digital content right now…making a video, recording an audio book, turning Light into a podcast….maybe even creating a short film.

TITL: If you could perform in one venue anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

TS: It would be BAM Harvey. There is something so magical about that theater. Whenever I go there I feel overwhelmed with excitement even if the show I saw in the space wasn’t my cup of tea. Some spaces just make us feel awe – this is one of them. It’s both majestic and rustic…Sometimes architecture has a way of holding a group of people that just encourages everyone to feel connected. Theater at its best is aiming for that same connection.

TITL: Given that you were thrust into the spotlight at a time when social media and the digital entertainment era was still just a dream, how do you feel about social media and the impact it has on the entertainment industry as a whole? Is it something you use much of or are you more traditional in the ways you prefer to interact with people?

TS: Like everything powerful, there are two sides to the coin. I think that on the one hand, social media has allowed people to connect in unprecedented ways that I really value. I met my press agent Clint on twitter, and have made some other great friendships there. Now there really is an opportunity to have more of a direct exchange with people who you are really curious about following.

On the flip side, I think some issues are genuinely complex and can’t be thoughtfully or productively discussed in soundbites, and there is also a temptation to be more cruel in a format where you don’t have to deal with the repercussions of how your actions are affecting someone else were they right in front of you. I worry about a world where we are looking to oversimplify everything and the cost of that. If social media can be used as a tool to bring people together so that there is genuine engagement and face to face time as a by-product of that exchange then I think we are heading in the right direction.

TITL: What advice would you give to those actors/actresses and performers who are just starting out and hoping to emulate the careers of their idols? Is there one piece of advice you were once given that you still reflect on today?

TS: I think it’s important to pursue your passions but to allow space for your career to unfold in ways that you may not have anticipated. There is a balance between being determined and rigorous and being interested in and open to unexpected avenues.

TITL: Finally then, having already achieved so much, are there any other plans and ambitions you want to fulfil? What’s left to tick off on your personal and professional bucket lists?

TS: One of the values I inherited from my mother was to prioritize growing and learning. There is always a sense that if you were fulfilled and interested, that was the most important thing above how much money the project garnered or how many people liked it. Of course those external accolades matter and can be a useful benchmark in terms of making sure what you are making is relevant to other people. I do think it’s challenging to stick to your own sense of purpose and to live an authentic life if the things you value are less mainstream.

What excites me in the industry right now is how good TV is getting. Netflix shows, HBO shows, and all the streaming content coming down the pipe has transformed kinds of storytelling we can expect from those platforms. I’m also excited to see more women producers and writers and generally new voices cropping up in the industry which are escaping formula and offering us some really exciting shows. After having been out of the commercial acting game for so long, I’d love to do another big film or two at this stage of my life and tick that off my bucket list. But more importantly, I hope I’m lucky enough to keep being creative on a daily basis and inspiring and encouraging others to be creative as well.

You can find out more about the Paper Canoe Company by visiting the website and to keep up to date with Tami Stronach, you can follow her on Twitter.