March 19, 2016
BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
With this third dispatch, my space on the back of this virtual postcard from Los Angeles is just about filled up (though I could keep talking about these successful young Chicagoans for the rest of the year!). Catching up with these actors, writers, producers, artists and so many other creative talents over these past few weeks has filled my heart with joy. I am certain you will be hearing more of them in years to come.
In this final letter from my California holiday, we will get to know four other Angelenos: Lisette Bross, Peter Rugo, Kelsey McKinnon, and George Lako.
While visiting Lisette Bross at her office at Radar Pictures, where she is Chief Strategic Officer, I asked her to share with Classic Chicago her path from acting to producing. This has taken her as far afield as London, to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, eventually landing her back in the United States in Los Angeles, where she began performing stunt work and landing roles in movies.
Lisette remembers when she first broke into acting, long before her travels abroad.
“At about age five I played one of the lost boys in Peter Pan at the Gorton Community Center outside of Chicago in Lake Forest. My parents, Louise and John Bross, had seen early on that acting was for me and let me use a little room at our house for a theater. I took a big refrigerator box and converted it into a ticket booth and sold tickets for my puppet shows.”
She has similarly fond and funny memories of her days as a stunt performer.
“The game plan was that I was to dive through a closed window and quickly slide down a fire escape following an explosion. The first explosion was underwhelming and we had to film again after lunch. The second time, the explosion worked for sure and my hair caught on fire. Luckily, I was wearing a wig.”
It was heading her own production company with her brother Jonathan Bross, and now at Radar Pictures, a leading independent production company, where she brings together her experience in the industry and cinematic dreams.
Ted Field, a descendent of the founder of Marshall Field’s department store, heads Radar, producers of The Last Samuri, Revenge of the Nerds, Spring Breakers, Riddick, and many other blockbusters.
“When I joined Radar I found my home. Ted has produced over 80 films and fosters a real atmosphere of collaboration. Getting a lot of creative people to work together can’t be easy all the time. I love the blend of the business and creative side. Each project is different and no movie is the same; it is always an adventure. My years of acting and working with actors, my studies, and production work help me today.”
And Ted has only kind words for Lisette in return.
“She has a natural ability to read a script and know if it might become a movie – an important talent in this industry. Her instincts in this area are as sound as anyone’s I have seen in my years in the business. Her experience with Radar as it has developed as a company makes her a valuable asset to both the creative and administrative side. She will remain my trusted partner for many years in the future.”
Lisette loves living in Los Angeles with her partner Ray Caccioli and their 18-month-old daughter Addison.
“There are so many likeminded people here, and almost everyone is from somewhere else – we all come to make our way in the industry. I am so grateful for the experience of growing up in Chicago and the grounding that Midwest values bring. My friends work in all aspects of the industry and are highly creative grownups (who still have a great sense of humor). They can be silly and serious at the same time.”
One of her close friends is motion-capture performance actor T.J. Storm, who appears in the current runaway hit Deadpool as Colossus. Storm is a world-class martial artist with whom Lisette trains. He and Ted Field are among Addison’s godparents.
We wonder if Addison will follow in mom’s footsteps towards Hollywood, too?
Peter Rugo hit the ground running when he first came to Los Angeles as a freshman at the University of Southern California. He quickly got a part-time job with a digital music marketing company and now, just two years out of college, he is in an expert in electronic music at ROAR, an entertainment management company. He celebrates his one-year anniversary with the company this week.
“I was a fan of digital music, which is primarily made on the computer, when it first got started. I got in on the ground floor. I grew up in Chicago observing my father Steve Rugo’s entrepreneurial spirit. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I wanted to try it for myself. While I was a USC, I began managing Dr. Fresch, a fellow student and musician, and started an independent electronic label.”
At ROAR, he has been a part of one of the giant shifts in the music industry.
“In the early 2000s, digital piracy was big and the traditional revenues flip-flopped on themselves. In the 1990s, big artists would traditionally release an album and then go out on tour to plug it. It has all changed now, with singles taking over. The public is mostly buying just one song or two, not taking time to listen to a whole album. To compensate, artists are getting revenue from tours and performing at the many festivals that are popping up around the country.”
Peter manages a music roster that includes Dr. Fresch, SNBRN (pronounced sunburn), Andrew Luce, and Coyote Kisses.
Although Peter doesn’t write music, he has loved aspects of it all his life.
“I have played drums since childhood at Chicago City Day School and was in a high school jazz band at St. George’s School. At ROAR, I am not making music on the computer, but provide notes on where the music is heading and help with production. I do a lot of connecting with vocalists. I go to several of the higher profile music festivals, such as Lollapalooza in Chicago, Ultra Music Festival in Miami, and Coachella in Palm Desert, California throughout the year. They are great places to network.”
With regards to networking, he gave us a glimpse of what embarking on a music career in Hollywood might look like.
“Most people start as an assistant at the desk of an executive, taking calls, connecting your boss with people, getting the feeling for the industry, and then after two years you can move on.”
Like his parents, Laura de Frise and Steve Rugo, his Chicago fans are proud of how 24-year-old Peter is moving to his own rhythm in Los Angeles.
With her easy yet elegant style, blonde California-girl beauty (inherited from her mother, Astrid McKinnon), and the determination of a true reporter, Kelsey McKinnon was a natural for her role as Senior Editor at California Style or simply C Magazine.
“Our magazine is an arbiter of taste and trends—primarily in the areas of fashion, jewelry, people, beauty, and home. It focuses on the looks, people, places, and events that define California’s style and its role as the creative center of the country. C is targeted to California’s wealthiest residents. Its readers have a passionate interest in – and a high level of influence on – the trends, styles, and attitudes that shape how we live and look.”
In addition to being a contributor to C Magazine, C Home, C for Men, and C Weddings, Kelsey manages the front of the book “What’s Hot” section.
“I am especially fond of writing profile pieces. Probably the most enticing article I wrote was an interview with Katie Holmes the day before she filed for divorce from Tom Cruise.”
A graduate of Boston University, Kelsey worked at Today’s Chicago Woman magazine before heading to California. Kelsey recently married Josh Donfeld.
“There are, surprisingly, a lot of Chicago transplants here and I love seeing Dwyer Kilcollin [profiled in the first Dispatch From Los Angeles] – we wrote about her in C. My dad always tells me to remember where I came from. Maybe he means it at a deeper level, but I often reminisce about growing up in Kenilworth. I still have a 312 area code on my cell phone!”
We love how you keep that daily reminder of Chicago, Kelsey!
These Los Angeles Dispatches end with filmmaker and actor George Lako. Like the many eastern Europeans who built the film industry in Hollywood a century ago, he is an immigrant from Albania with a dream and determination. He captures this so perfectly in his mantra: “Go for it or go home.”
“I am a self-taught filmmaker and actor, working on creating three shows during this pilot season, and have a new action series, Bad Like Him. There is really no one out here to help you, so you do it yourself. I am very grateful to my parents who left Albania and brought my brother Steve, who is a fine musician, and me to Chicago for a better life.”
“The hardest part was leaving home. European families don’t tend to move away, but they know they have my help if they need me. I am also so grateful to my godmother Merle Gross.”
It was Merle who introduced me to George, and originally shared with me his story.
“I have had the privilege of watching George grow from the tender age of five, when he first came to Chicago, to an adult, graduating with honors from the University of Illinois (and as a baseball star who could have played professionally). He has internalized all the good from his world and chosen wisdom as his lesson from life’s challenges. His heart is pure, his ethics strong, and his generosity of spirit is inspiring. We now count on one another, as he had to count on me once. I hope that his inspired hard work in film and television, behind and in front of the camera, allows many others to experience his vision, kindness, and talent.”
His new police action series, Bad Like Him, is directed by David Mahmoudien, and stars George, Scott Myers, and Carla Abruzzo (seen frequently on Chicago Fire). A fan of graphic art, George has even designed a poster for the series.
That work ethic that earned him honors in college is ever-present still in Los Angeles: in addition to his filming schedule, he works every day for six to eight hours at his local Starbucks or at a library nearby.
“Out here, the question that matters most is: what have you done? With my new show, I have a good answer.”
With the new foundation that he and Scott Myers have started to help children with disabilities to make movies, and with unwavering determination to succeed in a hugely tough industry, George Lako means business. We are so grateful to Merle for steering us in George’s direction and can affirm that we, too, saw that very vision, kindness, and talent she spoke of.