Australian Actor Paul Ashton on His New Film, “Serial Buddies” and His Move to Hollywood

Australian actor Paul Ashton recently wrapped shooting the feature film “Serial Buddies,” an indie comedy labeled as “the first serial killer-buddy film of all time,” produced by Maria Menounos and directed by Keven Undergaro. In it he plays one of the two starring roles, and performed opposite the likes of Christopher Lloyd, Christopher McDonald and David Proval. It was an experience and opportunity that seems a far cry from Wagga Wagga, the small town in Australia where Paul grew up.

Ashton started acting at the young age of seven performing with Louise Blackett’s Theatre Workshop. It was simply a natural inclination at the time, and he had no idea of the huge role acting would play in his life in the future.

He hails from a creative lot – though his parents are both in medicine (one orthodox, one alternative – a lively combination he assures me) his three siblings are all artists too. One of his sisters, Alexa Ashton, is also a successful actor. She starred in ‘Home and Away’ and like Paul has worked for the prestigious Bell Shakespeare Company .

In asking him about his family’s thoughts on his career choice, Ashton was quick to state: “My family is extremely supportive. I think my Dad would’ve preferred it if I’d finished my law degree before heading to drama school, but never once have my parents tried to stop me from doing what I love to do. They’ve been there supporting and providing 100% and are proud of the paths we’ve all chosen.”

After his family moved to Canberra when he was 12 years old, Ashton saw a school production of ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’ by Tom Stoppard. It galvanized his love for performing on stage, and shortly after he saw the first ever Bell Shakespeare Company production – it was ‘Hamlet’ – and he knew this was what he was destined to do.

EARLY INFLUENCES

In speaking of early influences, Paul notes Rob Sitch, the Australian actor/director who was part of “The Late Show” and who with his colleagues, went on to produce some of Australia’s best-loved films, most notably “The Castle.”

Other early influences included Baz Lurhmann, Kenneth Branagh, Anthony Hopkins, John Cleese, Mike Myers, Jim Carrey, Michael Winterbottom, Ben Kingsley and Kate Winslet. He trained at VCA Drama School in Melbourne, where teachers such as Lindy Davies, Tanya Gerstle and Leisa Shelton, and directors Peter Evans and Brian Lipson also had a big impact on him during those formative years.

But he sites John Bell – who created the renowned Bell Shakespeare Company – as making a particularly large impression on him. Paul recalls: “Watching their productions every year in Canberra, and meeting him and some of the other actors as a teenager was really inspiring for me. I was a drama nerd in its purest form – I used to get their autographs. It was a dream of mine to work for them.”

In a true career defining moment, John Bell came and watched Ashton play Orlando in As You Like It in his final year of drama school (Paul had written a letter inviting him to come along, and was shocked when he received a call from Bell’s assistant confirming the dates). He worked for Bell’s company a year later – a dream come true.

Earlier that same year, Paul had been cast as the role of Ben on the award winning Australian show “The Secret Life of Us.”

It would be four years of living and working in Sydney before Hollywood called. During this time, Ashton also was the frontman for popular local indie rock act, Minder.

He reflects back to that time, “I made the move to Los Angeles, like so many other of my compatriots because it is the centre of the global entertainment industry and provides the most diverse range of opportunities possible. That diversity appeals to me, and I think is a better fit for me as an actor.”

In a sit-down interview at The Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, Ashton shared his thoughts with me about his new life in the mecca of the entertainment business.

SIT DOWN:

Bobbi -Q: Paul, what is one of the main differences between being an actor in Los Angeles versus Australia?

Paul -A: Undoubtedly the first thing you discover when you arrive is the scale of it. The sheer size of the city itself is a good indicator, there are just so many people and it’s so competitive. It can be hard to know where to start. You go from knowing most people in the industry and most people knowing you, to knowing no one and in a way, starting again.

But there’s a real sense of possibility and that anyone’s got a shot. There’s a ‘yes’ attitude that underpins much of the American psyche, and I really respond to that.

Bobbi- Q: How did you get the role in “Serial Buddies?”

Paul- A: I got the role by auditioning. Casting Director Jen Cooper had seen some of my work last year and she called me in to read for the role. At first they didn’t think I was right for Gregory, but fortunately I won them over.

Bobbi -Q: Was the character easy to play for you?

Paul -A: There were certain parts of Gregory I had to work very hard on – he has a very dark past and was damaged from years of abuse and neglect.

But his flamboyance and physicality were a huge amount of fun to take on, and in that sense, came more easily. But he was demanding at all times and I had to stretch as an actor to get there.

Bobbi-Q: What acting technique do you use? Are there elements that are essential to success?

Paul-A: I don’t work with any specific technique. Certainly my training had a big influence on how I approach my work, and over the years I have adapted the principles I learned into more of my own thing.

Elements that I think are essential? Nothing new – research and script analysis, using the imagination and understanding the point of view of your character. And then, most importantly playing the moment.

Bobbi-Q: What was it like working with the cast of “Serial Buddies?”

Paul-A: I felt extremely privileged to work with a long list of well established and very talented actors.

We had core group of guys that were a joy to spend time with on set. The other 3 guys all have comedy and improv backgrounds, so there were always plenty of laughs, with lots of innovation and creativity when the cameras were rolling.

To work with an iconic actor like Christopher Lloyd. Playing my dad! It was wild, and a career highlight for sure. He was a gentleman and a joy to work with. And Chris McDonald too? No way. Comic genius right there. We had a lot of fun doing our scene together.

And to top it off – to have Hal Rudnick as Gary, to my Gregory-perfect.

Bobbi-Q: What characters or roles do you want to see yourself playing?

Paul-A: I love both comedy and drama, and never want to restrict myself to just one genre or form.

Bobbi-Q: What are you currently doing?

Paul-A: I’m currently in post-production with a short film I made before I shot “Serial Buddies.” It’s called “Champion” and I’m planning on entering it into Tropfest in Australia early next year. It was a script I wrote, directed and produced.

Other than that, auditioning and entertaining lots of friends from Australia!

Bobbi-Q: What is your goal for this upcoming year?

Paul-A: To continue to challenge myself to be better. Of course, I’d love to see ” Serial Buddies” make the submission deadline for Sundance and then of course get in – though that’s now out of my hands. That would make it a good year straight up. And I want to start working on my next self-devised project. I’m just not sure what it’s going to be yet.

Bobbi-Q: How do you have fun and relax?

Paul-A: Spending time with friends, going to the movies, exercising, playing music, yoga, and when I can- skiing.

Bobbi -Q: Are you married, single, or dating?

Paul-A: Single, but open to meeting someone.

Bobbi -Q: What city did you live in before here?

Paul-A: I lived in Sydney before I moved here, but my family is based in Canberra, so that’s home really. Mum and Dad have a beautiful house there, big garden out the back, and the place is full of amazing organic and biodynamic food and life-affirming healthy things. My mum is an alternative medicine practitioner, and Dad’s a doctor, so it’s always interesting.

Bobbi -Q: Tell us about your music.

Paul-A: I played music since I was 5. I started on the piano, and then later also played the Viola and guitar. I played in my school orchestras and sang in my school choirs, Music’s just always been there as something I did. But it wasn’t till I taught myself the guitar at the age of 18 that I started writing and playing on my own a bit. Before moving to LA I actually was part of an indie rock band in Sydney. I’d written a bunch of songs over a few years and a mate suggested we start a band together so we did.

I’m actually playing my first gig in LA in a month’s time. Just some low key acoustic originals. Should be fun.

Bobbi -Q: What ‘original music’ are you providing for the film “Serial Buddies?”

Paul-A: There’s a song in the film that Gregory sings to his father. I was trying to come up with a tune for it – so I knew what I was doing when we shot it. It developed into a little more than what was on the page. I liked the sound of it, so recorded and sent it to Keven. He loved it and so we arranged and recorded it with genius musician, Giulio Carmassi. It should appear in the film now, which is great.

Bobbi-Q: Tell me about these YouTube video blogs you posted while filming “Serial Buddies”. That was original, why did you do it?

Paul-A: They were just a way to document/blog about the time on set so that there was a fun record of it, and so that anyone , including my friends and family, could have a peak behind the scenes. And to try and get the name of the film out there a bit. With indie films, every little bit helps.

Bobbi -Q: Do you have any special thanks to give anyone in your life?

Paul-A: Where do I start? First and foremost my parents. They’re the most generous and unconditionally supportive people I know. Even outside of looking after our family. And my siblings too – just wonderful people who’ve helped shape who I am. I also have an extraordinary group of friends stretching right back to my early days in Wagga Wagga. They know who they are, and we’re still in touch regularly, and they’ve always believed in me and that’s a rare feeling.

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Marketers – 3 Vital Actor’s Ingredients to Boost Your Storytelling

Business marketers know that their trade presentations need to include a story to connect with their audience. However, the words alone will not necessarily transform into a sale or the results you want. It is the way you deliver those words that will make the difference. We can borrow from acting skills to enhance our stories to make them dynamic and memorable. From my experience working with a variety of professionals and actors, I’ve narrowed three top ingredients that will aid the storyteller to mesmerize their listeners.

1. Creating Believability:

Actors are trained to tap into emotions and truth so their characters or stories are believable. When the audience recognizes the hope, fear, joy, sadness, excitement, or any other emotion; they are moved emotionally themselves. They can make the connection and understand.

So, how do you do this without looking like you are “fake acting?”

One ingredient that actors learn is to paint the picture of the character or the situation for the audience, so they can see and feel the moment. Actors spend time re-visiting their own sensory awareness, (touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight) in their training to help them focus on creating each story to be very real to the actor. Often the actor remembers a time when a similar experience may have happened to him.

In telling your stories during presentation, try to concentrate on creating any of the sensory images for your listener, to let them see and feel your story. Put yourself into the story situation at the moment you are delivering it to your audience. In this way, the audience will connect with the story, whether it is humorous or serious. Leave them laughing, crying, or motivating them into action.

Actors are able to get right into their characters or story. Lawyers who take extra coaching in acting skills learn this technique in order to make their case for a client resonate with the judge or jury, so that they can understand what the person was thinking at the time. You want your business presentation to have that extra dimension to a story that will touch the listener emotionally.

2. Using Improvisation:

Have you ever had an unexpected guest arrive and suddenly need to adjust everything quickly to make things work? Or, have you ever been all set to do your presentation and some equipment piece does not work, or worse, you’ve left your entire notes on the plane?

So what do you do? Do you panic or do you improvise?

Definitely, our actor’s second ingredient, improvisational skills, will augur well for your presentation, and for your own peace of mind. Actors train in improvisation for various reasons, whether it is to allow them to be inventive at any moment or to warm-up their skills. In the popular television show, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” we see the masters of ad lib and improvisation. In this show, hosted by Drew Carey, even the audience gets to throw in last-minute suggestions for the actors to portray.

A short class or workshop in improvisational skills will help you, the business presenter, loosen up and think outside the box. You will have the skill to cover for the unexpected. Improvisational training helps to improve your memory skills and your timing, as well as, to connect with your audience on a more human level.

Through improvisational training, one of the most important things that you learn is how to trust your imagination in any emergency situation.

Most of the actors and professionals that I have worked with, who have not had improvisational training, think that they have no imagination. This is often because they have not had an opportunity to practice using their imagination, or because they feel it might be silly or embarrassing. However, it does not take long for those participants to do improvisational games and apply them to their own lives. It builds confidence and assures them of their new skill which they can draw from at any moment, and to enjoy the experience.

3. Using a “Pause”:

The final actor’s ingredient that business storytellers need to include is their skill in adding a pause during their delivery. A pause can be effectively inserted before or after a certain critical word in your presentation which will make your audience not only think, but also, connect emotionally with the your image.

For example, try saying this line: “Is Harry home yet?” by putting a pause before the word, “Harry” and then after it. See what the results are.

a. Is [pause] Harry home yet?

b. Is Harry [pause] home yet?

Find the key points in your presentation and insert a pause just before or after what you consider are the essential words. This together with how you use the tone and inflection in your voice will make dramatic differences to your presentation.

Stories help people to remember and connect with their own lives and in turn, warm-up to the presenter and trust him. If you use the 3 dynamic ingredients borrowed from the actor’s training model you will be able to make your story believable, and keep it sounding new each time. Whether you are a lawyer, an insurance salesman, a trainer, or anyone using storytelling as part of your presentations, these techniques borrowed from the actor’s skills will give you the applause you deserve. Your listener will be motivated by your dramatically moving story to take action – a marketer’s dream!

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Build Your Home Theater Right Into The Walls

While an ordinary large television with some good quality speakers can provide you with much enjoyment, it’s the surround sound – sound coming from all around you rather than just from the television set, that truly makes the experience theater quality. Now, getting surround sound built into your home’s walls is an option for the movie enthusiast. If you are currently working with a contractor to build your home, now is the perfect time to consider a home theater for your den or living room.

First, it might be useful to understand why surround sound is so great. It works to make the movie you are watching far more realistic to your senses. Movie editors design the sound to come from different speakers depending on its location and context in the movie. Having speakers all around you allows actors to the right of the screen to sound like they are speaking to the right of you, or for background sounds to sound like they are behind you. They even allow sound to move from one place to another, as with a train that starts off in the distance on one side of you and ends up sounding just like it is roaring right by your ear. In short, surround sound allows the sound to be completely and accurately integrated with the movie you are watching.

If you have already built a home, you can install surround sound by placing speakers around the room. There are a lot of systems designed to do this, with elegant, tall speakers. Many are wireless so you don’t have cords running all over your floor or up your walls. However, building a home from scratch allows for a unique opportunity to embed speakers right into your walls, exactly where you want them. Although wireless home theater systems eliminate the need to run wiring around the room, hiding the speaker body right in the wall frees up even more space in the room. It also allows you to mount the speakers at just the right height to suit your sound preference, without the awkward look of surface mounted speakers.

Now the major decision you have to make is whether you want a system with 5, 6 or 7 speakers. The quality and diversity of sound increases with the number of speakers, as you can increase the angles at which they surround you. All of these come with a sub woofer, which will give you that deep base, and help with the rumbling affect when that train I mentioned goes by. If you feel like you’re maxing out your budget already, don’t fret. The 5 speaker systems still offer excellent quality sound, and will be a vast improvement from your average front speaker television set.

Once you’ve got a wonderful speaker system lined up, you need to decide on the type of television you will watch it all on. The largest conventional, cathode ray tube television screen you will be able to find is 40 inches across. Plasma screens are popular because they are flat, lightweight, and take up far less floor space. The also have a screen size ratio that closely matches current movies. The drawback to these is that they aren’t able to produce really dark blacks, so the contrast is never that great. However this technology is improving. The other drawback is that static images, especially those of a light color, can burn into the screen, meaning when the image on the screen changes, a mark of the previous image may be left behind. This only happens if it remained static on the screen for a long time, as is the case with station logo watermarks, text banners or unchanging video game backgrounds. LCDs are another flat-screen option, but they are bigger than plasma screens, have even less ability to produce deep contrast (dark blacks), and have a narrow viewing range, meaning the view is distorted if the viewer is too far off to one side. However, they are immune to screen burn, so are an excellent choice for video gaming. They also run cooler, meaning a noisy fan won’t kick in while you’re enjoying your new surround sound. There’s no easy option when choosing a screen, but it helps to do some research, and consider resolution, aspect ratio (screen size ratio), and contrast when making your choice.

So talk to your contractor, and see if they have experience installing in-wall surround sound systems. The money spent on a quality home theater system will surely be saved by not paying the mark-up on theater pop and candy.

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The Four Best Christmas Actors Ever

Choosing the best Christmas films is like choosing the best soda: everyone has his or her own opinion. These films are played on television every day during the holiday season, bringing joy to the hearts of viewers. While some of the actors do a fantastic job of portraying Santa or another iconic character, some do a less than stellar job, like Ben Affleck in “Four Christmases.” The best Christmas actors of all time are those who create memorable characters.

Tim Allen went from a stand-up comedian best known for his dirty sense of humor to a family name thanks to his role as Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor on the hit television series “Home Improvement.” The success of that show led to the actor taking on the role of Santa in the family film “The Santa Clause.” Allen played Scott Calvin, a man too busy with his career to worry about his young son. One night, his son heard a noise on the roof and thought it was Santa, while he thought it was a robber and rushed outside.

When he found the real Santa on the ground, he discovered a clause in the contract that made him the new Santa. Over the course of the film, he learned the importance of Christmas, bonded with his son, and found a job that he truly loved. The film was such a success that Allen played the role again in “The Santa Clause 2″ and “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause.”

Even those who do not celebrate the holidays know about “A Christmas Story.” The film revolves around the clock on Christmas Eve, and it is such a popular tale that the house used in the film now has a museum devoted to the film housed inside it. The film tells the story of Ralphie Parker, who wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Despite asking everyone in his family for the gun, they all shoot him down, claiming that the gun can put out someone’s eye.

The film landed on the shoulders of Peter Billingsley, who played the iconic Ralphie. It’s hard to imagine a Christmas season passing without at least one viewing of the film. Whether he’s rolling his eyes at his father’s leg lamp or watching a friend lick a frozen pole, he serves as the wise narrator and the heart of the film. Though Billingsley worked little after “A Christmas Story,” his character lives on in the hearts of many.

James Stewart was already a star when he took on the role of George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but the film made him a holiday staple. Though the film achieved little success in theaters, it gained a following when television stations ran it years later, keeping Stewart in the public eye. Much of the success of the film relies on Stewart’s performance.

Bailey is a down-on-his-luck man who worries that he might lose his home, job, and family. After he makes a wish that he could go to heaven, an angel named Clarence comes down to show him what life would be like if he isn’t there. Stewart does a phenomenal job of portraying a man who thinks he has nothing in life but later realizes that he has everything he needs, and people around the world tear up when he learns that lesson.

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