Welcome back for another Local Independent Film Spotlight. Today I am elated to feature Chad Eric Smith. He is a talented, and brilliant local actor, as well as thrillingly imaginative story teller. After learning about, and viewing his recent short horror comedy film, “Dark Therapy”, I just had to learn more about Chad, and bring his story to you. You would understand what I mean after you’ve seen the witty “Dark Therapy”.
Stay tuned, and read on to learn more about the film, and its upcoming screening on Saturday, January 24th. I am confident that, like myself, Chad’s experiences, and drive will further inspire, and stir up your passion for theater and film.
Chad, how did you get involved with the world of acting, and filmmaking?
When I was 12, my Grandmother took me to the Arena Stage in Washington, DC to see my first play “Oak and Ivy,” which chronicled the loving but strained marriage of two early-20th-century poets, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice Ruth Moore. I left the theater mesmerized by the actors’ performances. I also left determined to perform at the Arena Stage one day. A little while later, my grandmother took me to New York City to see my first Broadway musical, “Annie Get Your Gun.” I was again awestruck. While in High School, I became a member of Children’s National Medical Center’s theater troupe, Teens Against the Spread of AIDS (TASA). It combined improvisational theater, poetry, and hip hop, to educate our peers, parents, and health professionals about important teen health concerns. All these experiences made me interested in acting once I got to college, and ultimately pursuing acting professionally.
After college, I performed in several short films and at many community theaters throughout the Pittsburgh Metropolitan area. I also was an extra in the big-budget Hollywood films “She’s Out of My League,” “I Am Number Four,” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” My first big role in a feature length film was as the mild-mannered and slightly socially awkward reporter Pete Henderson in the superhero comedy “Squid Man,” by writer/director Charlie Cline.
How long have you been acting?
I have been acting for a little over 10 years. I’ve been in a total of 18 stage plays, over a dozen independent films, a couple of web series, and a music video.
Wow! What bit you first; the acting bug, or writing and telling stories?
The acting bug bit me first. The first play I performed in was “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” by Steve Martin, during my freshman year at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. The experience of performing in front of a live audience was exhilarating. So, I just kept doing it and loving it more and more. Writing and telling my own stories happened much later.
You have performed a wide range of characters. Your acting wheelhouse is pretty vast. Do you have a favorite character which you have acted? Please fill us in on your acting experiences.
In 2010, I enjoyed playing Walter Lee Younger in the Kuntu Repertory Theatre production of the musical “Raisin” and was awarded an Oynx Award for ‘Best Leading Actor in a Musical’ by the Pittsburgh Chapter of the African American Council on the Arts (AACTA). That same year, I also won an Oynx Award for ‘Best Supporting Actor in a Musical’ for my role as Wilson Pickett in the New Horizon Theater production of “I Gotcha! The Story of Joe Tex and the Soul Clan.” Those two are a couple of my favorite stage roles because, on top of acting, they both challenged me to sing and dance, things that aren’t necessarily easy or comfortable for me. In film, my favorite, most gratifying role so far was as a mysterious drifter named Ahmad in the upcoming horror feature film “The Suffering,” by LA based filmmaker Rob Hamilton. It was by far my most physically demanding, complex film role. My character is a mix of charisma, madness, and danger. Check out the trailer at http://www.thesufferingfilm.com.
Fantastic! Well, let’s delve into your recent film, “Dark Therapy”, about a vampire with an irrational fear of blood, and seeks psychiatric help as a result. How was the idea for this short horror comedy conceived?
In the summer of 2013, I met local actress Devin Nikki Thomas at a table read for a script by filmmaker Harold Jackson III. Right away, she and I clicked. I thought she was funny. We had a very similar sense of humor and I was impressed by her quick-wit. So, we did what all strangers do right away: We became Facebook friends. We then decided to collaborate creatively. For me, it was an exciting and empowering opportunity to bring to life the type of quirky character I’m attracted to as an actor, and for Devin to be executive producer of her first film through her production company, Unitivity Productions, LLC.
You possess the main role of the Vampire, which was brilliantly performed. However, what was the writing process like? Did the ideas, and dialogue flow naturally, or were there instances of struggle?
Thank you! The idea and dialogue definitely came easy and a lot of it was improvised during filming. I knew right away that I wanted to create a cinematic-looking comedic skit with an improvisational flair, similar to Comedy Central’s “Key and Peele,” which I’m a big fan of. I’m also a big fan of Johnny Depp because of his knack for playing flamboyant, eccentric characters and I had recently seen him play a vampire in Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows.” So, that was my initial inspiration. When I started brainstorming ideas for the first rough draft of the script, I first thought about a skit about 2 vampires who give up blood because they become Jehovah Witnesses. Then, the idea of a vampire with an extreme, irrational fear of blood popped in my head like a lightbulb and Devin was like, “I’m game.” I began writing it in November of 2013 and then sent it to Devin and she added to it.
Those are great places to find inspiration. How did you prepare for your role as the Vampire?
I named my vampire character “Erebus” because it is the name of the primordial deity who personifies darkness in Greek mythology. I liked the idea of his name representing something opposite of his harmless, apprehensive, and constantly mortified demeanor. I liked that juxtaposition and irony. I sent the script to Carl Randolph and Robert “Bob” Yoho Jr., who were the special effects/make-up artists for “The Suffering,” and they really liked it and came on board to help bring Erebus to life. Bob designed realistic-looking, custom-fit fangs for me and Carl did my make-up, nails, and gave me white eye contacts. Devin purchased my blousy shirt and lace front wig. Transforming into Erebus took a little over an hour in the make-up chair and really helped inform my mannerisms and voice.
In the film, it appears that the “fantasy world” collides with the “urban world”. Was this intentional?
Yes. Even the fact that my vampire character is wearing jeans in the film was a conscious choice to collide fantasy with urban. I remember seeing an interview by director John Singleton in which he said that when a filmmaker is very specific culturally, it becomes universal and special. Not to be all deep, but I really like the idea of universality being found within cultural specificity. So, I thought that having urban references, especially references that were very specific to the DMV, with a black vampire as a lead character, would be funny and relatable to many.
The role of the psychiatrist is played by Devin Nikki. She was a natural. What was the approach to this character in the planning stages?
Devin is great as Dr. Anne Rice! Her name is a nod to the popular author of the series of novels The Vampire Chronicles. Devin decided for her character to have a southern accent to make her character quirkier. She was also very meticulous about her character’s appearance, as well.
There is certainly comedy throughout the short, but the horror portion certainly does peek through, including a twist. It is a fair balance. How was this accomplished?
It was certainly a collaborative experience. The original script had a simple comedic ending. When Devin made edits to the script, she added a darker ending and I loved it. It accentuated another idea I was trying to present, the idiom “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Omar Juarez (Bad/Splice), our awesome Director of Photography, also edited the film and did some cool color correction that really hit the nail on the head regarding my vision. He was assisted by Manuel Santos. My father, Jonathan Bey, is an Emmy award-winning producer and composed the film’s original score, making it sound simultaneously quirky and ominous. I told him to think of the music of composer Danny Elfman. Audio engineer Michael Balasia further enhanced the sound of the film and added a few really funny effects. The wonderful performances of actor Niko Tarlay and actress Honey St. Dennis definitely helped emphasize the comedic/horror balance, as well. Everyone really elevated the project superbly, in my opinion, especially considering that we shot the film in a single day.
The comedy film premiered at the West End Cinema in Washington, DC, in October 2014, and later went on to receive awards for the film work, and acting performances. Please tell us a little more about that.
Yes, it premiered at the West End Cinema as part of the 2014 Reel Independent Film Extravaganza. It was a thrilling experience and the audience loved it! There was lots of hearty laughter. The following month, at the National Press Club, the Television, Internet & Video Association of DC (TIVA-DC) awarded Unitivity Productions, LLC a Bronze Peer Award in the “Independent Short” category for “Dark Therapy” and awarded me the Gold Peer Award in the “Acting on Camera – Fiction Male” category. It was a very exciting and gratifying night!
“Dark Therapy” will also be featured at this Saturday’s (January 24th) Rosebud Film & Video Festival, at the Artisphere in Arlington, VA. What is the significance of that for you?
I’m just really happy that it’s continuing to be accepted into film festivals so that people can see it on the big screen. In fact, on that same evening, it will also screen at the Indie Night Film Festival at the world famous TCL Chinese Theatre on the historic Hollywood Walk of Fame! I’ll be flying to LA, for the first time, to participate.
How can fans, and avid movie-goers get tickets to attend this weekend’s screening?
Folks in the DMV area can purchase their tickets for the Rosebud Film & Video Festival at https://www.arlingtonmedia.org/rosebud. Ticket’s are $10. If they are in the L.A. area, they can RSVP for the Indie Night Film Festival at http://www.indienightfilmfestival.com/event/3-3/.
What are the extend of your plans for “Dark Therapy”, moving forward?
We have submitted “Dark Therapy” to several film festivals all over the world and expect to get responses throughout the remainder of the year.
In your opinion, what is the forecast for the Independent Film climate in the DMV area? We’re not L.A., New York or even Toronto but do you think that the independent film industry can thrive locally?
Yes, I think the independent film industry can thrive in the DMV. There certainly are lots of talented people in the area. As a DC native, I would like to see more and more filmmakers and producers capturing the images of the diversity and historic landmarks that make the city so great. I do think, though, that DC officials need to do a better job at creating economic incentives to attract more film and TV production companies. From the things I read and hear about, I feel there’s too many jurisdictional and bureaucratic hurdles in DC, which dissuade filmmakers. That in return makes it more challenging for local actors to find high quality, paid gigs to audition for. That’s also part of the reason Devin and I decided to produce our own project.
What advice would you give to budding actors, and storytellers in this area, seeking to recognize their dream of performing and filmmaking?
I would tell actors to be selective about the type of work they choose to be part of. Don’t compromise your personal integrity just so you can add a credit to your resume. Being an actor is as much about your brand as it is about the craft. And your brand is made up of both what you choose to do and what you choose not to do. I recently saw an interview with actor David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King, Jr. in “Selma,” and he said something that really resonated with me. He said, “You erode your talent by being in things that are lesser than your talent. You are only as good as what you subject yourself to by way of the material, the people you work with, and the parts you accept.”
I, also, definitely recommend doing theatre. I believe theatre is the best training an actor can receive because it truly is the actor’s medium. It’s where the actor has the most say as to how he or she portrays the character he or she has been entrusted with. Plus, the energy one receives from a live audience is an amazing feeling. If you are a film actor, arrive on set on time, know your lines, listen and react to your scene partner, and be cognizant of continuity so the editor will love you. With regards to technique, well, as the late, great comic George Burns once said, “Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
Priceless advice! So what’s next for Chad Eric Smith?
My upcoming roles include me as a restaurateur in the feature length romance “Last Night,” by writer/director Harold Jackson III, a distraught artist in the feature length drama “Secret City Bluz” by writer/director Ambessa Jir Berhe, and a werewolf suffering with alopecia in the feature length comedy “Zombie Ted,” by writer/director Anne Wells. I’m also currently writing a new original comedic screenplay.
How can we stay abreast with your actor, and filmmaking work?
The best way to keep updated on what I’m doing is by “Liking” my Facebook fan page at http://www.facebook.com/ActorChadEricSmith. People can also follow me on Twitter @ChadEricSmith and Instagram @Chad_Eric_Smith. In addition to being an actor, I’m also a musician. Some of my music can be heard on SoundCloud at https://soundcloud.com/chad-eric-smith.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me Chad! I would like to wish you much success with “Dark Therapy”, and all your future endeavors. Again, your story is inspiring. I am convinced that the your limitless imagination, and purposeful drive will transport you to your goals, and even further.
To everyone, I highly recommend securing your tickets for this Saturday’s screening of “Dark Therapy”. It is a entertaining treat!
To reiterate: Tickets for the Rosebud Film & Video Festival at https://www.arlingtonmedia.org/rosebud. Ticket’s are $10. If they are in the L.A. area, they can RSVP for the Indie Night Film Festival at http:/www.indienightfilmfestival.com/event/3-3/.
Chad Eric Smith
Dark Therapy Poster