March 06, 2016
BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
The view from our rental apartment window of Warner Bros. and Universal Studios in Burbank set the tone for my recent vacation in Los Angeles with my husband, John. Though we hiked beneath the famous Griffith Park Observatory and took a drive down scenic Highway 1, our stay in the City of Angels was really all about the big (and small) screen. From a lunch with James Bond’s nemesis in Spectre, played by Dave Bautista (pictured above), to spending time learning about motion capture filming from T.J. Storm, of the recent box-office hit Deadpool and Godzilla, it turned into a star-studded affair.
But that was only the tip of the iceberg. I have been lucky to know and follow the careers of so many young Chicagoans who are now making their mark on the movies, television, and the arts in the Los Angeles. In this Dispatch, I caught up with Alice Mathias, David Stassen, Dwyer Kilcollin, and Charlie Andrews. Next week, I will update you on the careers of Hayes MacArthur, Chris Kuhn, Kelsey McKinnon, Lisette Bross, and others. Every single one of these talented individuals is making a name for themselves – and for Chicago – in their respective fields.
“The greatest day of my life was directing an episode of Portlandia, a set where I started as an intern. The crew was so encouraging. One day I hope to be a director. There is a real problem in Hollywood of not having enough women directors and I hope to help solve that problem.”
In the six years that the wildly popular Portlandia has been on the air, Alice has risen to the role of co-executive producer, working with Executive Producer Lorne Michaels, and spending a third of the year on the Portland set.
When we spoke, Alice was packing for Minnesota, where she is also a producer of Documentary Now!, the ‘mockumentary’ created by “Saturday Night Live” writer Seth Myers, starring Portlandia’s Fred Armisen and Bill Hader. The documentary parodies, which include a sendup of Grey Gardens, have taken Alice and crew to Iceland, Mexico, and other international locations.
“I work on Portlandia from start to finish, from being on set in Portland, supervising the work of the writers, and then editing back in Los Angeles. I love the variety of my life. As we start our seventh season, I am so grateful to the crew, who has been so kind to me. We have all become so close, and attend family events like weddings and celebrate babies being born. Our star Carrie Brownstein is my absolute hero.”
On growing up, Alice shared, “There was a lot of comedy in our family. In a big family, being funny is a great way to avoid conflict.” Daughter of Julie and John Mathias, Alice grew up in a family with two sets of twins, Marian and Johnny, and Teddy and Peter – a big family, indeed.
“Growing up down the street from Second City, it was irresistible. I joined IO, formerly known as ImprovOlympic, created by Del Close. I love being around comedians. Sometimes they are goofy, sometimes reflective – everybody’s different – but they are wonderful. I am so grateful for the series and to be with people from whom I have learned so much.”
I caught up with writer and Supervising Producer David Stassen at Universal Studios as he prepared to direct an episode of the highly popular romantic comedy The Mindy Project. Starring Mindy Kaling, who was profiled last week in the New York Times for her championing of diversity in the entertainment business, the Hulu show is now in its fourth season.
Stassen described the week before filming as jam-packed:
“This week I am doing the prep work, picking props, choosing camera angles and getting ready to shoot the 21st episode of this season. In this episode, called Under the Texas Sun, Mindy goes to Austin to visit her friend Peter and his family. She is looking forward to getting away from her problems in New York, but finds that her vacation is just a stark reminder of what she is missing at home.
“With my business partner, Ike Barinholtz, I have been an on-set writer, which is great preparation for directing. This is my third time directing The Mindy Project. After working on 80 episodes, you get a hankering to do so. Unlike movies, where the director develops the vision and does the whole film, in television there is a different director hired weekly. The director often asks the writer such questions as ‘Can we shoot this?’ or ‘Have we ever done anything like this before?’ The on-set writer plays a key role.”
His best friend since third grade, comedian Ike Barinholtz (who plays nurse Morgan Tookers on the show), directed an episode the week before. Ike recently starred with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in Sisters.
“We met in 1984 at a Gordon Tech summer camp and later were students together at the Latin School, when Ike transferred there from Anshe Emet for high school. Soon after we became friends, we decided that one day we would create our own show and be directors in the movies. We came to Hollywood in 2001 and became business and creative partners.”
David and Ike have made good on their third grade dream of making a movie together. Universal Studios will release Central Intelligence in June. Kevin Hart, who charmed the Academy Awards audience last Sunday as a presenter, and Dwayne Johnson, the actor and professional wrestler also known as The Rock, will star in this hilarious action comedy.
David gave us a little glimpse into the movie’s plot:
“It is an action comedy about a former ‘king of high school’ whose life, twenty years later, has not turned out how he thought it might. He encounters a fellow student from his school, then a bullied nerd and now a CIA spy on the run. I may have a small cameo part – the director flew me out to Boston for the shoot – but it could end up on the cutting room floor.”
As their professional relationship flourishes, their friendship remains as strong as ever:
“When I married Elisabeth in 2011, and Ike made his best-man speech, he said that I was probably already married to him because we worked so closely together.”
Born in Northampton, Massachusetts, the very beautiful Elisabeth Stassen has appeared on several episodes of The Mindy Project. David and Elisabeth have a two and a half-year old daughter named Lily.
David’s parents, Sara and John Stassen, recently moved to Los Angeles and joyously live three blocks away from Elisabeth and David. Though they were so much a part of the fabric of Chicago leadership (Sara with her tireless work for the Latin School and other community organizations) and scholarship (John’s immense wealth of knowledge Chicago architecture, and John Wellborn Root, in particular), anyone who knew the Stassens in Chicago would agree that David’s sense of humor could be traced right back to Sara. Funny clearly runs in the family.
Taking a break from the cinematic and television arts, I spoke with visual artist Dwyer Kilcollin while I was in Los Angeles. Just as I was arriving on the West Coast, Kilcollin was heading out east to New York for a group show at the Lyles & King Gallery on the Lower East Side.
The strikingly beautiful artist was encouraged at a young age by her parents, Wendy and Rick Kilcollin, to explore her creative interests. Dwyer moved to Los Angeles in 2006 to commit herself to these pursuits, graduating from the University of Southern California in 2013 with an MFA.
In her Alhambra studio, she works in a variety of media, including sand, resin, and stainless steel, often using overhead projectors to create stand-out pieces.
“The current body of my work is made using a process that was inspired by the methodology of 3-D printing. Essentially, I thought about how a 3-D printer works, and the possible meaning of constructing something in this manner. And then, I invented my own process based on that study. In my own version of the process, I myself replace the machine.
“I make work which combines technology and hand-sculptural production. Most of what I’ve been working on over the past several years, cycles around the relationship between images and objects. I feel this relationship is amidst a large shift, as the role of images in culture evolves. In the past decade, images have become their own sort of language. Now that everyone has a phone that can also capture pictures, we’re able to ‘trade’ in images in almost the same way as we trade in sentences. I am interested in how this language of images informs our relationship in form, objects, and materials.”
Dwyer shows frequently at the M+B Gallery in Los Angeles and her work has appeared in Tokyo, Marseille, and the Armory Show and other New York locales. Her work is collected by the Cleveland Clinic, as well as by patrons abroad in England and France. The diversity of her art is astonishing.
With her fiancé Yves Spinelli, Dwyer owns and runs Spinelli Kilcollin, designers of beautifully crafted jewelry executed in precious metals and seen in high-end boutiques across the country.
“Los Angeles definitely offers less environmental stress with the lack of extreme seasons, it also an amazing place to be an artist. Although there are many new galleries opening up, it is like there is just one artist colony.
“In my own work I want to continue to open doors for myself and to work in an interdisciplinary way, bringing art and technology together. I want to make the most of my exploration.”
There are so many that agree – including myself – that she is doing just that.
Sleepy Hollow, a popular supernatural drama based loosely on Washington Irving’s legend, Scream Queens, the horror-comedy hit last fall with audiences aged 18-34, and Rosewood, a crime series about a Miami pathologist played by the charismatic Morris Chestnut, all have one wonderful person in common: Chicagoan Charlie Andrews.
As Senior Vice President for Development and Programming at Fox, part of Charlie’s job is that of “editor’s editor,” giving creative feedback to the writers on these shows, as well as to emerging pilots, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and making sure, as he said, that “the shows keep running.”
“This business is cyclical and right now it’s TV pilot season. We are casting new shows, hearing four or five pitches daily for other shows, working with producers – it is a busy time. Some days we might have eight meetings and many ‘notes’ calls to go over our thoughts. Our days are jam-packed, but where else do you get the opportunity to work with so many talented people? I feel so really, really lucky.”
Charlie’s career began as an NBC page following his graduation from Georgetown.
“I worked my way up there: seven jobs in seven years. I have been at Fox for five years. I love the variety of my assignments. I work closely with the marketing and public relations departments. Decisions are always made in partnership.”
For those who knew Charlie’s mother, Laurie Andrews, who died recently after full-force fights against debilitating illnesses, it is her creativity and imagination we remember most, something she has clearly passed down to her son.
“Mom was all about creating memories. My sister Louise and I grew up in such a wonderful way. We lived on Webster Street, where a bakery had once been, and each Valentine’s Day and Christmas she did a wonderful display in those broad windows. We had a basement and instead of stairs, she put up mattresses for us to slide down on because she thought that would be more fun. She was always coming up with family activities and I see Louise, as a mother now in Dallas, putting Mom’s ideas about what makes a childhood really special to use. She was so creative. I think she re-did our house every year. I will always remember how she went about doing things.”
Both Laurie and husband Bill had almost monthly visits with Charlie and sister Louise, despite increasing difficulties for Laurie to travel. Her children and Bill were the source of endless joy.
One of the nicest people around, Charlie loves his “jam-packed” life. “I am having a blast,” he said, “I love TV and the terrific characters we can feature.”