TAMI STRONACH REFLECTS ON ‘THE NEVER ENDING STORY’ & TELLS ALL ABOUT HER NEW PROJECTS 46

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.

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KAYO WASHIO OF JAPAN’S WOWOW BROADCAST NETWORK TALKS HANDLING PROJECTS & PRESSURE 50

As the head of US Operations for what has been described as Japan’s version of HBO, WOWOW, Kayo Washio is used to working under pressure and alongside some of the biggest names in the business. With five projects currently in development, ThisIsTheLatest caught up with Kayo to talk about how much the broadcast industry has changed and continues to evolve, the acquisition she’s most proud of and her advice for anyone looking to follow in her footsteps.

TITL: What is it about broadcasting that encouraged you to make it a career path and how did you get started?

Kayo Washio: I have a relative who worked for the U.N. in New York City and was a licensed attorney who passed the New York State Bar. She was born and raised in Japan, like I was. Because of her, I wanted to be an international attorney, starting from the time I was in high school.  When I enrolled and attended University, I selected International Law as my major. While studying, I learned that law practice and enforcement has a lot of gray areas and I soon came to the realization that this was not the field I could spend a lifetime working in. At that time, while I was in the midst thinking of what I truly loved to do, I discovered a unique ‘unknown’ person who accomplished a remarkable feat, and thought it would make for a great interview feature for an outlet. I arranged a job interview for myself with a TV broadcaster to become a reporter/creator and to make a program for reporting on this great figure I discovered – in Japan, you don’t need to work for a company that relates to your major at your college. This experience allowed me to begin working for WOWOW right after I graduated university.

TITL: It could be argued that, like film, the broadcasting industry is dominated by men. With that in mind, how much, or little, of a struggle has it been for you to pave your way and make a name for yourself as well as you have in recent years? Are you seeing a rise in the number of women joining the business and if so, does such please you?

KW: Having worked for an established ‘old guard’ type of Japanese company for about 20 years and working in Japan for about 15 years before moving to Los Angeles, I can say I have much more freedom and flexibility here in U.S. The entertainment industry in the U.S. is much, much, much less dominated by men compared to Japan.

There are many cultural and business rules in Japan that play into gender inequality. Some of you might realize that we exchange business cards by holding our card with both hands when we meet a new person – right at the onset of the meeting before having any conversation. The order in which cards are exchanged is important, and rules dictate that you should exchange cards with the person with the highest title, which in Japan is normally the oldest man. I’ve often seen the awkward situation here in the U.S. where senior executives try to exchange a business card with an American older male first, even if a female has higher position.

I understand it’s very difficult, but eventually I would like to have a society where we do not need to talk about these gender disparity issues. Like most, I just want to work with talented people who I enjoy collaborating with – regardless of gender, race, nationality, ethnicity, etc. Life is short and we are all one human race.

TITL: For those who don’t understand the way in which broadcasting and its companies work, what are the main objectives of your job as the head of U.S. Operations?

KW: Basically, the objective of my job is to secure the best content – films, TV series, special award shows, concerts, etc. – for our service in Japan. WOWOW has established and maintained tremendous relationships with studios, networks and content rights holders for about the last 30 years, which positions us well to make great acquisitions. Growing and nurturing these relationships in the U.S. is so important for a foreign company like WOWOW. I am diligent in trying to foster even more relationships through an open and transparent exchange of information with new companies on a daily basis and explore new relationships not only from the sales side, but also on the production side through our co-production projects. This all dovetails another very important objective – building the WOWOW brand name here in the U.S.

TITL: Is there one aspect of your job you like more than any other or do you just enjoy the different every day challenges that come your way?

KW: I love waking up every day to the opportunity of working with very talented creators and artists. These kinds of opportunities have motivated me to keep aiming high and stoke my passion for the next hit project! I’m always mobile too. I’m not a type of person who can sit in an office from 9-6 every single day.

In Japan, most companies have a job rotation system whereby every 3-5 years employees are transferred to a different department within the company and assigned new job duties without any reason. Because of this system, Japanese people are used to working with various titles. But here in the U.S., more value is placed on experience, expertise and relationships and how these are built over time by working in the same field. I very much prefer the American approach on this front.

TITL: WOWOW is essentially the Japan version of HBO – how do you feel about the comparisons, and would you agree with them?

KW: While there is a difference in brand name recognition worldwide, where HBO is bigger and more widely recognized, I think HBO and WOWOW are alike in that the two companies strive to be the preeminent suppliers of premium content.

Comparing WOWOW with HBO is not an apples to apples comparison though. The base systems are different. In Japan, people don’t need to pay any fees to watch network TV and many households still do not carry cable nor satellite. WOWOW as a business is not worried about chord cutting in the same way HBO and other television channels have been, but are intelligently adapting to now. Viewers would have been able to subscribe to WOWOW directly since the launch of our service in 1991.

Systems aside, when it comes to programming, I think WOWOW has similar programming selection criteria to HBO, and that is a great thing for audiences who expect the best quality of movies, TV series and events. As a premium pay television service, we would like to show only best quality content from all over the world to our subscribers. For example, we broadcast movies that have had great box office results in Japan from all major studios and also great quality movies from all over the world such as awarded films at film festivals.

WOWOW curates the best content in each area. We have aired four major tennis tournaments, since we consider them the premiere tennis events; licensed the best American shows every year; produced top original documentaries and TV series, which were created with very talented Japanese creators and Japanese artists; and started doing co-productions five years ago to produce our original programs with international creators and artists.

TITL: Your job has allowed you to work with Martin Scorsese and executive produce his documentary “The New York Review of Books: A 50 Year Argument.” How did you get involved with that project and how did you find working with such a highly respected individual?

KW: It was through my relationship with a sales agent whom I worked with on the documentary “Cathedrals of Culture.” She informed me that Martin Scorsese was coming to Berlin at the time I was there for the world premiere of ‘Cathedrals”, and that he would be giving a presentation about his next passion project. So naturally, I rearranged my travel to attend his presentation and began thinking about ways to structure working together. I had twice interviewed Martin before, for my program in Japan, but of course this was a totally different interaction and I was very excited about this opportunity.

Martin Scorsese is fascinating and truly brilliant. I don’t know how he handles all the things he has going on in his world. He remembers every detail of everything he has seen and done and knows how he should handle every deal and circumstance!!! His knowledge of movies is second to none. For example, I learned quickly that he has more knowledgeable of Japanese films and Japanese directors than me. I was also fascinated with the fact that he doesn’t create any walls between himself and newcomers in the business. He treats everyone equally – with respect. That says a lot about his character and composition. I really hope I can join another project of his again in the near future!

TITL: You’ve also handled negotiations for projects involving Robert Redford, Wim Wenders and others. Given the pressure you must feel in those situations, how do you stay focused and relaxed? 

KW: In these situations my feelings were more of excitement than pressure! I of course knew all about the legendary Robert Redford and Wim Wenders before I started to work on the project. I just felt that if I joined their project, I would rather enjoy the experience and be fully immersed and contribute rather than be shy and passive! One thing I’ve always kept in mind since the first day I started as a producer is that I want all people who work with me to want to work with me again, even after challenging times like a hard negotiation or having creative differences. This is my goal for everybody who has worked with me. I hope they felt that way too.

TITL: Is there any one of projects/acquisitions you’re particularly proud of? If so, which is and why?

KW: Producing a film or event is so difficult that I feel a great sense of accomplishment with all the projects I have had the privilege to be involved in, and am proud of every one! If I have to single out one project though, I would say a small mini-documentary about Baz Luhrmann was especially gratifying for me. This was a passion project of mine in 2003 and WOWOW at the time couldn’t understand why I would produce this particular documentary. But I felt it was necessary for me to introduce our subscribers to Baz Luhrmannn’s vision and his unique way of thinking, as well as the people surrounding him in his private studio. I really felt this program would inspire WOWOW viewers and encourage them to purse their dreams.

I remember telling my boss at the time that I would put my own money into producing this program, but I needed to have a slot for broadcasting it. In the end, I got a very small budget approved by WOWOW, which is still the lowest budget I’ve ever had to work with, and we made a great documentary. To this day, I watch this program whenever I have difficulties because it reminds me where I came from and encourages me to enjoy the process, even if it’s very tough, to achieve my goals.

TITL: Are there any projects or negotiations underway you can tell me about?

KW: This is a very exciting time at WOWOW as I have five projects currently in development. I can’t reveal many details just yet, other than to say they will all be narrative features. I think audiences will be excited when we make the announcements very soon!

TITL: With the rise in social media and illegal streaming sites, are you finding your job any harder to do in terms of being able to get a good deal for clients and broadcasters who fret about audience figures and the like?

KW: This is a great question. The situation stemming from evolving technologies definitely costs us more than before and forces us to spend much more time dealing with agreements and recognizing and addressing new technology related components. Generally speaking, Japan is as advanced technologically as any nation, but it seems our problems and the serious issues that arise are at a lower volume compared to other technically advanced countries.

TITL: What advice would you give to anyone looking to follow in your footsteps and aim for a career such as yours? What three things would you say they need in order to get their foot in the door?

KW: You have to be strong enough and confident enough to really be yourself and should try to enjoy every step of the journey to realizing your dreams. Everyone’s experiences and encounters will ultimately be useful. Life is like a circle! Now you might see your experiences and encounters like many dots, but in the near future these dots will be dot-line and then will be continuous line!

Three things are 1.) Really get to know yourself well – meaning know your strong points (what you are best at) and also your weak points. 2.) Don’t be afraid to take chances, but be well prepared to take chances since you don’t know when they come 3.) Building trusting relationships with people you would like to work

TITL: Finally then, where do you see the future of broadcasting going in the years to come, and what would you most like to see the industry take on board/bring to fruition for both those in the industry and TV/film fans?

KW: One thing that never changes is that “great content” has staying power. It will live on forever. The only thing that will change is how it is consumed – from a big screen to a small watch. Talented PEOPLE have, and will be, the key to the creation of great content. AI cannot create content with the warmth of people. We have to keep creating great content but consider which type of content to fit which type of media.

For more information on WOWOW, visit the website.

MAX CHATS “LIGHTS DOWN LOW” & TOURING WITH FALL OUT BOY 47

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 .