Monday, December 10, 2012

Barberianism 2012: Blogging About Haircuts

So, I got a haircut last Thursday. This was a big deal.

I'm an actor, and therefore have kind of a strange relationship with my own body. Since I've got a current headshot that presents me to casting directors with a certain 'look', I can't really deviate from that look lest I walk into an audition and present a different product than casting is expecting. Getting a significantly different haircut means I'd have to drop a couple hundred bucks on new pics. Since I only get new shots every couple years or so, I'm pretty locked into a certain look for that period. This can get a little insufferable - occasionally it can feel a little bit like I don't actually own my own face.

When I wrapped on Stage Fright, my hair was reeeal long. Like, significantly longer than my headshots - in the movie I'd essentially been playing a guy that's supposed to be a Disney Prince (thanks for buying me as that, casting!) and flowing locks just made sense. However, when I'd got back from shooting I really wanted to get back to a shorter cut. I'd also just recently seen the movie Beginners, which, in addition to being a fantastic drama, features Ewan MacGregor with a totally rad haircut.

Rad haircut, Obi-Wan. Photo Credit: Beginners - copyright Alliance Films
I really wanted this haircut. Like, intensely. It was weird, as this wasn't the first time I'd wanted a Ewanspired haircut. The first occurrence ended in disaster around the time Episode II came out, leading me to have the nickname "Mulletor" throughout the spring of grade eleven. Maybe there's some kind of mystic connection between me and Ewan MacGregor's hair - more likely it had something to do with the fact that, due to headshots and it working pretty well for me, I've had vaguely mid-length 70sesque hair for close to 6 years and I was wanting a change. Erin's encouraging "yeeeeahs" every time I mentioned maybe getting that new haircut also probably helped - and, even more perfect, it was modern and different, yet only ever so slightly different than my current look.

So, after confirming with my agent that taking a little more off that back and sides didn't constitute an extreme makeover, I took the plunge. I figured, hey, it's December, the industry slows down anyway, it'll have grown the inch or so back to normal by pilot season. Despite this, I was still a little worried - change, even subtle change, is scary when it's tangentially related to your profession. I walked into my barber with more than a hint of trepidation.

My barber, Jason, is hilarious. An ex-pat Brit who's cut hair in Toronto's Yorkville district since the mid-eighties, sitting in his chair is consistently a laugh and a half - the man wears a tie and a fake ocelot tail to work. He invented a sound-reducing 'pillow hat'. Comedy all around. He was very surprised to see me more than once in four months - but quite excited to see me try something a little different after giving me the same haircut for years.

As the tufts fell from my head it was glorious. Jason asked if we needed to take a little bit more off the back, if we were "really committed." I responded "do it" as if ordering a nuclear strike. May god help me.

After it was all over, I was real happy. As I ran my fingers through the back of my head and looked in the mirror, I felt super confident. It felt like a really subtle change that didn't compromise my look...

...then I got an audition that Monday. Suddenly, all my doubts flew back to me. "Oh noooooes!" I thought. I'm gonna walk in and they're gonna be all like 'What did you dooooooo?!?!' and I'm never gonna work in this town again! Visions of having to explain myself and my crazyhair flew through my head the whole weekend as I prepped.

As I walked into casting on monday, I braced myself for accusations of unprofessionalism.

Casting didn't mention it once. Of course. Nothing, not even in passing - audition went super smoothly. All that worry for nothing. Actors are weird, sometimes.

Long story short, sweet haircut, bro. Also, the audition went pretty well!

Now all I need is to get some implants on my (mostly beardless) face so I can physically grow some bitchin' sideburns. That'd be rad.
Intense. Photo Credit: Erin Gerofsky

Friday, December 7, 2012

Fanboy Friday: Marvel NOW! First Impressions

All New X-Men #1 and Captain America #1 - images copyright Marvel Comics
Welcome back to Fanboy Friday! I seriously thought I'd post something else this week, but... I didn't. And I do love comic books.

This past year has been a weird one for comics. DC Comics' The New 52! initiative rebooted their entire comics line with vaguely revamped origins and costumes, for better or worse. Despite it blatantly being a marketing ploy designed to bring in new (and especially lapsed) readers, I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Though I've followed several super-hero series in trade paperback, I haven't bought single issues of comics in years. The last time I followed comics month-to-month I was in grade school and my Dad bought me Amazing Spider-Man for a year back when Spidey was a blonde clone. I decided to give single issues a chance again when DC promised that this weird New 52 thing meant I wouldn't have to be jumping to wikipedia every other panel to follow a current comic book.

So, on account of pulling in lapsed nerds like me, DC has been kicking Marvel's proverbial ass this year when it comes to single-issue sales, in spite of The Avengers. Thus, Marvel NOW!

What a dumb title. Anyway, despite the suspect branding (to be fair, The New 52! isn't that great a catchphrase either), Marvel NOW! is a slightly different beast than DC's New 52. While DC tried to go for broke and completely Batman Begins-style reboot their continuity (to a debatable degree of success), Marvel isn't rebooting anything. A ton of their books are getting cancelled and restarted with new #1 issues, but the story isn't starting from the beginning - the company is just shuffling around creative teams and starting some continuity-light story-arcs to try to bring in new readers. Though this approach sounds less attractive to me than DC's reboot, I've always been a bigger Marvel fan, so I decided to pick up All-New X-Men #1-2 and Captain America #1 last week.

All-New X-Men is written by Brian Bendis and drawn by Stuart Immonen, a creative team from Ultimate Spider-Man, another very successful reboot series that I've been reading in trade for years, so I immediately had high hopes. The elevator pitch for All-New X-Men is also an incredibly ingenious way of preserving continuity while remaining attractive to new readers. It's a time-travel story where present-day Beast brings the original X-Men from the 1960s comics (Cyclops, Jean Grey, non-furry Beast, Angel, and Iceman) to the currently confusing Marvel Comics Present-Day to try to convince present-day Cyclops (who has apparently gone crazy and killed Professor X and is a mutant war-criminal or something?) to stop being a total jerknose.

First off, I haven't been following this whole Avengers Vs. X-Men thing that happened over the summer, and I was immediately skeptical that this story (and most of the new X-Books) seemed to hinge heavily on that crossover event. These are new #1 issues! No previous knowledge required! I was promised no wikipedia was necessary!

But, despite being heavily centered around previous continuity, All-New X-Men manages to satisfy both long-time fans and people like me who are using it as a jumping-on point. Those who've been following the comics get to keep this crazy Cyclops-is-a-bad-guy-now timeline - and for new readers, who probably view the "present day" Marvel Universe as a trippy, weird dystopia that's completely different from the X-Men comics they used to buy, the old-timey X-Men characters have the exact same perspective! By providing the original '60s X-Men as viewpoint characters who are just as confused by the present-day continuity as the new readers, the staff at Marvel get to have their cake and eat it too! It's not a reboot, but it's a great jumping on point.

I was especially tickled when Marvel's weird augmented reality iPhone app informed me the first scene that takes place in the past is a direct lift from a 1963 issue of X-Men written by Stan Lee. Neat! There's also a throwaway scene with Wolverine teaching some kids about how to fend off a ninja attack that's hysterical, that leads into Wolverine finding out Jean Grey (young, time-displaced Jean) is still alive that's actually quite affecting. My one worry so far is that it might be a wait-for-trade as the book moves pretty slowly on account of Bendis' trademark cinematic writing - by the end of issue #2 it barely feels like we've hit the first commercial break. It's the kind of book you might want to mainline six-issues at a time, so, we'll see. But, still, an all-around great book. I recommend!

Captain America #1 is also pretty fantastic, though less ingenious than All-New X-Men, conceptually. It's literally just a continuity-light first issue - no wikipedia trips required! So, that's a plus. Cap has an opening fight against an eco-terrorist named the Green Skull who talks like The Dude from The Big Lebowski, so that's pretty cool. My one quibble, which has been pointed out in other reviews, is that the opening flashback to Cap in the 1920s watching his mother being beaten by his father (so his mom can show lil' Cap you should never back down) feels weirdly serious and dark for a book whose story-arc title is Castaway In Dimension Z.  But in general, it's a book that is yet again a great jumping-on point for people who've only really gotten into Cap as a character post-movies.

Long story short, apparently I'm a sucker for targeted marketing. REBOOTS! But, hey, if it gets me editorial staff that realize comics don't need to rest so heavily on 50-odd years of continuity baggage, that's fine by me. I'm definitely gonna keep picking up more Marvel NOW! books, and I'm particularly excited for Dan Slott's The Superior Spider-Man coming in January, because it's entirely possible that series might also heavily use time-travel. And I do loves me some time-travel.

See you next friday, nerds!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Fanboy Friday: Top 007 Bond Songs

Image via Wikipedia:

Welcome to the first edition of Fanboy Fridays here on Jetpack Wonder Stories. Every Friday I'm going to try to write about something nerdy that I like, because I'm a huge dork and also like alliteration. Thus;

I have a special fondness for the James Bond franchise. When I was but a wee tween back around the turn of the century, the Connery/Moore/Dalton films (on glorious VHS) were a staple during summers at my cottage when we'd finally exhausted the supply of half-decent movies available at the video store in town. Around the same time I used to spend the summer making epic feature-length films in the backyard with my Dad's camcorder. When I re-watch them for giggles I can definitely see just how much the genre conventions and plotting of the 007 films influenced my young writerly mind.

And the songs. The songs. During this same period, my taste in music hadn't yet evolved into anything more than a protoplasmic ooze. The six cassettes I owned in the summer of 1999 were the original Broadway cast recording of The Buddy Holly Story, the Phantom Menace soundtrack, two greatest hits collections (the Mamas and the Papas and Louis Armstrong, respectively and bizarrely), and, of course, a two-cassette collection of the main title songs from the James Bond films. Thus, that world of blaring brass sections and wailing melodrama had a significant influence on my taste in, and love of, music. When a new 007 movie comes out, I'm almost as excited about there being a new opening titles sequence as I am about the film itself.

In honour of the just-released Skyfall (run, don't walk, to your local cinetorium and see it. Really.) and the fact that I've now published a blog on the internet and thus my opinion matters (I am definitely 100% qualified for this), I bring you my top double-oh-seven Bond Songs (see what I did there? Ha! Ha! Ha.)

In descending order!

#007. K.D. Lang - Surrender (Tomorrow Never Dies)
Surrender is an almost perfect Bond song, which is sad, because it was bumped to the end credits of Tomorrow Never Dies in favour of Sheryl Crowe's kinda-satisfactory theme tune. Penned by David Arnold (score composer for all the Brosnan and some of the Craig entries), it's full of brass and very blatantly recalls the classic John Barry themes from the Connery era.

#006. A-Ha - The Living Daylights
I'm a big New Wave fan and I've always been kinda confused as to where exactly that predilection came from. Recently I've decided that A-Ha's The Living Daylights is definitely (at least in part) to blame. I specifically remember playing Game Gear games with this song on my Walkman and feeling like a complete little nine-year-old badass.

#005. Adele - Skyfall
I wish I'd called this sooner, because Adele doing a Bond song makes pretty much every kind of sense. Her voice is a perfect successor to Shirley Bassey's work on Goldfinger and Skyfall is an impeccable song right from the opening horn thing.

#004. Shirley Bassey - Goldfinger
Speaking of which, this song is a classic in every sense of the word. Big, brassy, lyrics that are pretty much literally about the plot of the film - it's great. Also, I'm indebted to John Barry's Goldfinger soundtrack in general for being such a heavy influence on the excellent Janelle Monae.

#003 - Chris Cornell - You Know My Name (Casino Royale)
I hate Soundgarden. There is nothing at all interesting about them. That being said, Chris Cornell can hang out at my house and drink my beer for as long as he wants for writing this song. "Arm yourself because no one else here will save you" is one of my favourite lyrics from any Bond tune, and a go-to watchcry of mine if I ever need a shot in the arm of sticktoitiveness and/or pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstrapsitiveness.

#002. Carly Simon - Nobody Does It Better (The Spy Who Loved Me)
I am not a big fan of the more ballad-y Bond theme tunes (Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, et cetera), but this song... is perhaps one of my favourite songs ever, even more than my #1 pick. Nobody Does It Better is an incredibly sexy song and is excellent even out of the context of being a Bond song. Just like...

#001. Paul McCartney & Wings - Live and Let Die
...this song. Nothing will top this song. Pretty much the first rock-and-roll James Bond theme, it is still, to this day, absolutely and utterly fantastic. The fact that it gets airplay outside of being a James Bond theme does it so much credit - it is objectively a fantastic song in its own right, and has been the best of influences on later songs in the series, from A View to a Kill to You Know My Name (which is heavily influenced by it.)

Honourable mentions go to Duran Duran's A View to a Kill for also being partially responsible for introducing me to New Wave, Tina Turner's Goldeneye for being written by Bono and the Edge (I love U2. Deal with it, internet), and Madonna's Die Another Day for being objectively one of the worst songs ever recorded and yet incredibly, insufferably catchy.

Oh, and this. You're welcome. See you next friday!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Shameless Plugs: An Excerpt From "Roomies"

Welcome to the first edition of Jetpack Wonder Stories' feature Shameless Plugs, where I blatantly talk about work I'm doing and why you should watch / buy / eat all of it. This week, I'm taking a look at a delightful short film I did about a month ago - Insomniac Productions' Roomies.

Let's start at the beginning. Throughout August and September of this year I was out of the city up in Parry Sound, Ontario, shooting a yet-to-be-released feature film called Stage Fright. More on that closer to its release when I'm no longer under the threat of spoiling anything! Anyway - whilst shooting this feature I met a strapping young man named Kent Nolan, who, in addition to having starred in a couple Terry Gilliam movies, makes me feel like I've accomplished nothing with my life. This is mostly because he and two of his creative partners have recently started up a production company and were about to embark on shooting their first short!

Somehow, I convinced this lunatic that I would be a good fit for the lead role in the aforementioned short film. Without even reading for the part! The fool. The fool.

Me preparing for a shot, with producer/A.D. Katherine Barrell and cinematographer Christine Buijs.
Though technically a short film, Roomies is actually 7 minutes of a feature film script Kent has been developing on-and-off since he was sixteen. A raucous comedy in the style of Superbad, the movie follows "three down on their luck friends [on] a wild twelve hour adventure when [they're] forced to gather a large sum of money to pay their crazed, drug dealing landlord." Sounded like fun to me! I got to play Brandon, the apparent moral compass of the group (as far as I can tell, from the first ten minutes of the movie). Kent and Insomniac Productions made the excerpt, along with two other shorts over the course of three days in order to put together a demo reel to apply for BravoFACT funding. I sincerely hope they get it, because their projects are all fantastic and they're a wonderfully talented bunch.

The shoot was an absolute blast and a ton of fun. This script was hysterical, and I got to work with Kent again, who is a totally rad dude and did a fantastic job directing this short. Directorial debut! I also got to work again with Melanie Leishman (of Stage Fright and Todd and the Book of Pure Evil, who I oddly enough in real life also went to high school with), who played Brandon's high school crush Jenny.

The excerpt takes place at a big party, which is always a crazy time ("Look like you're having fun! But don't talk!") but thankfully Kent and co. bought a prop keg that could turn into a real keg once we wrapped. Good times.

Kent Nolan, Katherine Barrell, and Jono Logan, the producers and the brains behind Insomniac.
 The short is totally hysterical, and can be viewed here on Vimeo, right now! Do it! And, if you like it, check out Insomniac's other shorts and their Indiegogo campaign, which is trying to raise ten percent of their budget to shoot a proof-of-concept pilot for their "Entourage meets Girls, but Canadian" comedy, Issues.

These guys are awesome, make sure to check them out. And me, in the short! In case you missed them, here are those links again!

"An Excerpt from Roomies" on Vimeo

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Action, Adventure, Bloggery!

Hello, internet.

I'm Ephraim Ellis. I'm a Canadian film and television actor and soon-to-be-published novelist (stay tuned for updates on that).

I'm starting this blog because my excellent and remarkably attractive gerlfraaaan Erin has been having a whale of a time writing hers. It looked like fun, and I haven't made an actual serious attempt at writing regular online non-fiction before (my livejournal presence in the mid-oughts doesn't count). I've rather enjoyed my plunge into the succinct world of Twitter over the past two years, but I've longed upon occasion to blather on an opinion or gag for longer than 140 characters.


Hopefully I'll have some interesting things to say. Stay tuned for rambles, tangents, doodles, and a plethora of shameless plugs.