Film and Television

Spotlight: A Talk with Michael Anderson of Purple Cloud Entertainment

Here on the blog, we’ve made it our mission to bring the very best in theatre/film/art to the forefront. That, my dear friends, is why this post exists!

Michael Robert Anderson and I first met during a production of The Heiress on Staten Island. He was Morris Townsend and I was the maid, Mariah. He’s a real Renaissance man: actor, writer, director, filmmaker, singer. And he is also the head honcho of his own company, Purple Cloud Productions.

Their latest project is a short film- Major Key– which is set to premiere at Staten Island’s Atrium Cinema on December 5th. Mike was kind enough to sit down with me over the weekend to talk about his movie and give a little behind-the-scenes info!

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Amanda: So Mike, I know you’ve been into filmmaking for quite some time now, but is Major Key your first feature? If not, what was?

Mike: Major Key is in fact a short film- clocking in at 25 minutes. However, it is NOT my first. My first film was titled The Colors of Perception– which was a 45 minute short about a young man who dealt with disabilities/perceptions of life/love/family/etc.

Amanda: As we know, the “war love story” genre has been done a lot over the years. What makes Major Key different and what inspired you to tell this story?

Mike: I’d like to think this genre hasn’t really been as tackled as many people believe. But regardless, I think Major Key differs from the rest because of the main focus being based around music. Major Key is a story that’s surrounded by love, tension, action, and humility. At its heart, the short is an uplifting story about the power of connection through music during tumultuous times. The film centers on an American band of brothers in the height of WWII who are hosted by a German family. Our lead soldier, John Key connects with the German host’s daughter Ilse Brauhn over their mutual love of jazz music. The rest, as they say, is history.

Amanda: What was it like to both write the screenplay and star in the finished product? Was it a difficult task?

Mike: It was my worst nightmare on top of my biggest dream! I had a blast and wouldn’t trade it for the world… but then again, I could’ve used a lot more coffee and downtime to prepare myself on the acting aspect of things. As you can imagine it’s tough to wear all of the hats at once- especially when you have to switch them instantaneously. But again, I’ll treasure that feeling forever.

Amanda: I’m assuming the film was not shot in a studio lot. Where did you go on-location, and did that factor into the actors you wound up casting?

Mike: The location was actually found by our incredible production manager, Jessica Davies, who recommended the odd idea of AirBNB. But lo and behold, she found us a beautiful early 19th century home in the middle of the woods in Millville, New Jersey- where we shot for a full week with no interruptions, beautiful weather and an incredible cast and crew! In regards to the casting side of it, I cast the best of what I saw. I cast the people who I KNEW could bring it all to the table. Location wasn’t a factor in who I got. In fact, the home was the LAST thing we found in the pre-production days, even after casting it.

Amanda: One more thing! What’s next for Purple Cloud Productions? Are you taking this project further, starting something new, or both?

Mike: Purple Cloud Entertainment is always making work. We just love to create. It’s a passion that drives us fay in and day out. Without this craft, without art, I would be no one! So to answer your question- there’s ALWAYS something going on. We’ve got our webseries out now, “Pipsqueak & Stretch”, which can be found on YouTube. And another project that we shot for a dear friend is in post-production, AND I may or may not have something very special in the works moving into 2018! But you’ll have to keep up with us to see!

Hungry for more? Check out Major Key‘s official webpage.
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Writing

In Which I Take the NBC Studios Tour

Note to self: Don’t attempt to take an hourlong tour during a lunch hour. As I should have known from my past tour guide job- it will run long and then you’ll be rushing back to your building in 75-degree heat. But I digress.

As promised, folks, this is a special recap post of my journey through the innards of NBC Studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Incidentally, you probably noticed that my blog has a brand new look, too! I didn’t actually plan for these two to coincide. Anyway, entry into my 1:20pm tour cost about $30, which wasn’t too bad for a single person…but I can see how a large family might run into problems with that admission.

After checking in at the gift shop, I was given a really pretty pin to wear for the duration of the tour (and keep after it was over). There were about three different stations of security check as well- understandable. There were 12 of us in the group, and we were then introduced to our guides Ariel and Deborah, both students in the elite NBC Page program.

The tour officially began with a short video (hosted by Al Roker, of all people) that explained some of the history and significance of NBC. After heading up the stairs, we were in the rotunda; this is where audiences for the live broadcasts are corralled. This rotunda is a throwback to the original Art Deco designs of 30 Rock.

The first studio we visited belongs to Nightly News with Lester Holt. It was a cozy, sleek room with wood panel floors and plenty of lights and cameras. Ariel and Deborah explained that this studio is also the one that gets used for breaking news stories, as its technologies are well-suited for change on-the-fly. As we left, we saw a glass casing that memorializes NBC journalists who died in their line of work.

To balance this somber moment, we next rode an elevator to what the girls called “the comedy floor.” Sure enough, they had an entire hallway dedicated to Saturday Night Live, including production stills from past and present seasons. When we entered the studio where the show is filmed, I was surprised at how simple it looked! Indeed, a lot of behind-the-scenes magic occurs on the three parts of the SNL stage. Sets are assembled and taken apart in the span of a commercial break! And did you know that “Weekend Update” is the only sketch that occurs every single week?

As we proceeded, Ariel and Deborah mentioned that we may or may not get to see Jimmy Fallon’s studio for The Tonight Show. But we were lucky enough to catch them on a lunch break, so in we went. Fallon’s desk and his announcer’s podium looked very different than on television; as we learned, this is all due to great camera tricks. The Roots band gets their own “pit” on the opposite side.

After another short elevator ride, we arrived at the control floor, where hardworking production people manipulate the technology. We saw rooms at work with cameras, audio, and music mixing (one guy even waved at us). It was also time for the zenith of the tour: an interactive mock talk show, starring us tour guests.

We were each assigned roles- I volunteered to play the celebrity guest, because it was the only part that wasn’t totally scripted. And, well…let’s just say I hammed it up like a butcher shop. Don’t believe me? Just watch!

All in all, The Tour at NBC Studios was a really cool way to spend my lunch hour. I had fun, I learned some interesting information, and- perhaps best of all- it enabled me to get one more notch on my NYC adventure bedpost. Well, so to speak!

Theatre

Two Minutes with…Valerie Ferris

She’s danced for the robe, been thrown into an oven, and donned a mustache as a member of the “Barnabaes.” No, it’s not Jefferson Mays as Salome D’Ysquith- it’s Valerie Ferris, one of the most well-known teen dancers on Staten Island. She’s currently enrolled at the University of Rhode Island and fast approaching triple threat status, having played Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd and a principal dancer in both Aida and Hello, Dolly! This weekend, Miss Ferris and I conversed on Facebook. Our Puccini thanks go out to her for being this week’s TWO MINUTES subject.

~Your birthday: April 4th

~Coffee or tea: Coffee

~Favorite Sondheim showSweeney Todd


~Favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein showCinderella


~Favorite Lady Gaga song: “You and I”


~Favorite operaAida


~Favorite playwright: Arthur Miller


~An underrated showOn the Town


~The dream role to end them all: Veronica Sawyer from Heathers


~Last movie you sawInside Out


~Was it any good: Yes (and she cried)


~The best ice cream flavor: Mint chocolate chip

Theatre

Two Minutes with…Jay Montgomery

“Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all and my dear, I’m still here.” This lyric from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies can sum up any thespian’s career- but it seems particularly apropos for Jay Montgomery. This Georgia-born gentleman has been in the biz for quite a while and worn many different shoes- a dancer, an actor, a singer, a director, and now an Artistic Director for Harbor Lights, an Equity theatre company on Staten Island, NY. In this sophomore segment of TWO MINUTES, we asked Jay about everything from directing to beverage preferences to dogs. Many thanks go out to him!

~Your birthday: March 27th

~Coffee or tea: Coffee

~The best roles you’ve ever played: Marvin in Falsettos, Bobby in Company, and Anatoly in Chess

~Favorite Stephen Sondheim musical: Sweeney Todd

~Favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein musical: Oklahoma!

~Favorite Opera: La traviata (Verdi)

~That show you wish you could direct1776

~An underrated composer or lyricist: Andrew Lippa

~Favorite playwright: Harold Pinter

~Last movie you saw: BIRDMAN

~Was it any good: Yes

~Favorite breed of dog: Boxer

Theatre

Two Minutes with…Seth Christenfeld

At the York Theatre in NYC, Seth Christenfeld is the literary coordinator; his job is to review script submissions and offer creative input when it comes to the off-Broadway house’s productions. He’s also got an incredibly vast well of knowledge when it comes to the performing arts. You want the year that Mary Beth Peil did The King and I and in which theatre it played? Seth is your guy. Today, I’m pleased to announce the new Puccini’s Chronicles column TWO MINUTES, in which we ask some rapid-fire questions to some of the arts scene’s best and brightest.

~Your birthday: September 1st

~Coffee or tea: Coffee

~Number of cast recordings you own: Uncountable

~Favorite Stephen Sondheim musical: Sweeney Todd

~Favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein musical: South Pacific

~Favorite Opera: Little Women (Adamo)

~An overrated classical composer: (Subject opted to pass on this question.)

~That show you’d see multiple times: Good revivals of Sweeney Todd

~Favorite playwright: Arthur Miller

~Last movie you saw: A MOST VIOLENT YEAR

~Was it any good: Yes

~Favorite Wife of Henry VIII: The one who sings “As Once I Loved You” in the musical Rex