Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Adventures of Manny Siverio: Stuntman, Martial Artist, Mambo Dancer!

I sat down with Manny Siverio at a diner located near Second Ave. and 58th St. in Manhattan while he was taking a break from his latest movie project.

“The most important thing for me," he says in between sips of coffee, "is that I’m a happily married man and father!"

His wife, Addie Diaz, is a dancer and choreographer; one will see pictures of him and his wife performing in various shows. Who knows, we might see them "Dancing with the Stars"!

Manny is also a well known writer whose articles have appeared in the website for Salsa New York and has contributed to various martial arts magazines; among them Black Belt Magazine and Karate Illustrated.

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CALL ME ISMAEL: You’re a professional stuntman, how did you get into that area of work?

MANNY: I’ve always been physically active ever since childhood. I practiced doing fight scenes and filming it with my super 8 camera when I was 12-13 years old. I still have several of these “fight scenes” which I had quickly slapped together when I was a kid. When I later moved to NY I was trying to use my martial art background to get work. I finally got my first Non-Union job as a guy getting killed by this “creature” in this B-Movie, but I think I got my first union gig because they were looking for Hispanics that could box.

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CALL ME ISMAEL: Any Latin American actors/actresses you have worked with. Were you ever a stunt double for anyone well known?

MANNY: I’ve doubled various people over the years ranging from John Leguizamo, Manny Perez and Michael DeLorenzo to name a few.

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CALL ME ISMAEL: Can you tell us what is the difference between a daredevil and a stunt person?

MANNY: I think the best way to think about it is that a daredevil does it for the publicity (in other words for himself) and a stunt person does what he does and rarely gets recognized for his achievements or his work. A daredevil wants to be the headliner or main event in a show, whereas a stunt person is lost in the credits of a movie. The basic idea of the stuntman is not to stand out but to blend in and be a part of the movie.

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CALL ME ISMAEL: Do you ever decide what stunt to do or not to do?

MANNY: The way a stunt is done or executed is decided or put together by a stunt coordinator. I usually coordinate so you can basically say that I decide how a gag is going to happen or going to be executed. Have I turned down a gag that has been offered to me in the past? At this point in my career I can honestly say that I’ve been able to tackle everything that has been thrown my way.

But on the other hand, there are things that I really don’t have any interest in doing any more, or even want to do anymore. For example car hits, high falls, etc. I’ve been there and done that. Not to say that I won’t do them if I had to, but it wouldn’t be one things that I would list on my stuntman’s top ten list. I rather let the younger people in the business do it. I have more fun putting it together, helping decide where the cameras go and putting the action together so that it best works for the storyline in the movie.

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CALL ME ISMAEL: You’ve had your share of accidents, broken bones, any serious injuries?

Over the years I’ve injured myself in an assorted number of ways for example…. sprained ankle, bruised ribs, fractured toe, dislocated knuckle, concussion, hernia, broken nose, stitches.

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CALL ME ISMAEL: In doing this kind of work does your family ever get scared what you do? Do they ever tell you, “Why did you pick this kind of work?"

MANNY: During my early years my extended family (mother, father, brother, sister) never really knew what I was doing until after I had worked on a job. Things have changed somewhat over the years since I got married and started raising a family. My wife is extremely happy that I’ve moved into coordinating more than actually working in front of the camera. I still occasionally get an opportunity to play in front of the camera and have gotten somewhat injured. On one occasion I picked up several stitches after going through glass on an episode of Third Watch. And while doing the opening fire burn scene in American Gangster I got some minor “hot spots” where some skin kind of peeled off on the bridge of my nose and the back edge of my ears. Needless to say my wife wasn’t exactly too thrilled by these results. But she more or less trusts me to know what I’m doing.

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CALL ME ISMAEL: You’re a Martial Artists; which art form is your specialty Karate, Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do.

MANNY: I have a background in Tae Kwon Do, Boxing, Kick-Boxing, Kali, etc.

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CALL ME ISMAEL: You both were in the hit “Latin Madness”(Great Show!) the show was put together by Latinos and the show got good reviews true?

MANNY: Its was a great show. It put together some awesome talent from the New York Mambo Community. It was both a pleasure and a honor to be a part of that show and to have shared the stage with so many talented performers. I loved the fact that we were supported in large part by the New York Hispanic community who came out to see the show in several of its limited runs. Its was a great showcase for various of the different dance companies active at the time as well for their choreographers. My wife Addie had several of her numbers featured which is a testament to her skills as a choreographer. Its a shame that the show wasn’t able to get the type of sponsorship it needed to make the move to a more permanent stage where it could be viewed by a wider audience.

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CALL ME ISMAEL: Stunt man, Martial Arts, Dancer/Performer, we almost forgot your also a contributing writer to various magazines, Father/Husband. What has to be your main success?

MANNY: I would have to say that family is my greatest success. They give me the incentive to keep pushing forward. I’ve been pretty fortunate that all my hard work has paid off over the years, but it really wouldn’t be worth much without having my family there share my success with me.

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CALL ME ISMAEL: If there’s stunt man/women performers hall of fame you, then get inducted what would you like to say in your acceptance speech.

MANNY: It would be the simplest thing. There would be three set of people who I would thank. First, I would thank all those people who I have worked for in the past. Since they were the ones who gave me my start and thus a career in this business. Second, I would also thank those who have spotted and watched over me when I was working in front of the camera. They were the ones safe guarding me from harm. And finally, I would thank all those who have worked for me throughout the years because without their hard work I would never have been able to develop the reputation that I have as a stunt coordinator today.

(Mr. Siviero recently coordinated stunts for a movie starring Andy Garcia that filmed in City Island in the Bronx.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A definition of "antidisenfranchisementalism."


I spoke with Chyll Will over the phone today about the subject of one of the blogs I announced here a few days ago. But I found I couldn't give him a quick 20-second pitch on it. So I instead decided to republish a short mini-column of the same title that I wrote for a newsletter I published in 2006 (at right):

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"What the heck IS this 'antidisenfranchisementalism?'"

It’s a term I made up, so don’t bother looking through your dictionary for “antidisenfranchisementalism.” 

On second thought, open that dictionary and find “disenfranchise: to deprive of a legal right or privilege.”

Let me tell you a little open secret: many Black Americans feel somewhat disenfranchised by their country. In the past, this disenfranchisement was literal and actual by way of slavery and Jim Crow laws.

Now, though, our disenfranchisement exists more in our attitudes — our mental “isms” — than in reality. It manifests every time we cry “racism” and allow that as a reason for inaction such as not voting. Or when we break the law; at that moment our mental disenfranchisement becomes real — and self-inflicted. No use in crying racism then.

Therefore, this column stands against the mental “isms” that disenfranchise people of all backgrounds. There are a lot of these isms. That’s why I chose that long, long name. 

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That's the short version. Need to get it a bit shorter still. Suggestions?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Startin' my OWN blog...(s).

Although I've been a member of the "auteurs" for years, I've contributed maybe three posts?

Now all of a sudden I want to start up my own blog. Or three. I know my precarious employment situation has lit something of a fire under me...I'm hoping that maybe, somehow, having a blog might lead to an extra stream of income. (But maybe I'm fooling myself. Will's sure gotten rich off his...NOT.)

Anyhow. 

If I go through with this (and the wheels are in motion), look in this space for links to my trio of blogs discussing, respectively, current/hotbutton events, pop/geek culture and little plastic superheroes. The side-effect is that I'll be more active here than ever. Weird, huh?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

true hip-hop stories: sadat x of brand nubian

MC and producer D-Nice has clearly been keeping himself busy for the past few years. Anyone that has grown up with hip-hop during the mid-eighties to early nineties would be familiar with Boogie Down Productions, a group that D-Nice was closely affiliated with. He kicked a verse on the Stop The Violence Movement's classic single, "Self Destruction," a track that he also produced. He would go on to release two solo albums and was perhaps best known for the solo joint "Call Me D-Nice." You can also add DJ, photographer, and web designer to his list of accomplishments, putting in serious work in all of these areas since the turn of the 21st Century.

Cyberspace accolades from hip-hop fans young and old have been building with his True Hip-Hop Stories series. Each episode is a mini-documentary showcasing an MC legend sharing their personal experiences within the rap game and insight on some of the genre's revered cuts from the so-called "Golden Age". Within this series, Kwame breaks down the making of "The Rhythm," Masta Ace talks about how he ended up on the classic posse cut "The Symphony," and Monie Love exposes the back story behind her hit, "Monie In The Middle."

However, this is not just a trip down memory lane. Many of the icons captured speak their piece on today's scene and their place in it, as well as the lives they currently lead. D-Nice is capturing hip-hop history for posterity and it is rich, vibrant, and very necessary. The series gets better with each episode released. If you're new to True Hip-Hop Stories, check out the installment below with Sadat X of Brand Nubian discussing the making of "Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down" and the unfortunate circumstances that landed him in Rikers Island for a period of time. Older, wiser, and definitely better as a result of his experiences, I personally was taken aback at the poignancy of this episode. Believe me, once you see one, you'll want to see them all...


True Hip-Hop Stories: Sadat X of Brand Nubian from D-Nice on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Jon Stewart + Jim Cramer = Oodles & Oodles of Ohs!


WARNING: NOT SAFE FOR WORK!

Hmm... I'll let this speak for itself. I can't think of anything to add to this except that there's absolutely no way that we don't hold much of the media accountable for this crap, as much as they want to hold the average middle-class citizen accountable for not only their houses being foreclosed on and their jobs disappearing into thin air, but also for financing the clearly undeserved bonuses of corporate executives who eagerly await their share of TARP funds.

But Stewart also makes an excellent point; it's not fair to blame one person in particular, as it may seem he's doing. If anything, we should all take the self-proclaimed experts to task for not reporting what they obviously knew. I had a felling too, but who's gonna believe me? But you'll believe a TV personality with experience in the markets, and he was among many who either dropped the ball, or hid it in the cellar. The same can go clearly to another area of the media that is clearly spurring a witch hunt against certain individuals to mask their own irrepsonisbilities (cough-cough-steroids-cough)... Breathe in, breathe out. Enjoy >;)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Obama's course on stem cells is dogmatic.

Creating yet another setback for the right-to-life crowd (and another personal disappointment with his presidency), President Obama lifted President Bush's executive restrictions on embryonic stem cell research Monday. Obama's staff says the move is guided by science instead of political ideology.

That's not true. Not entirely.

If stem cell research were truly motivated by science, more funds and resources would be funneled toward adult stem cell research -- stem cells that can be harvested harmlessly -- instead of embryonic cells, which destroy the days-old embryo. Adult cells have been proven many times over to be useful in treating some diseases.

In contrast, embryonic cells are largely unproven. There are great assumptions that these cell lines might lead to cures for debilitating diseases such as Parkinson's disease, or restoration of functions for paraplegics such as the late Christopher Reeve. However, that's all they are -- assumptions.

In fact, one very recent published study shows that embryonic cells might prove a titanic health hazard rather than a healer (here's a hopefully working link to the study: http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1000029). Embryonic cells injected into a young male neuromuscular disease patient were found to have created several tumors in his spinal cord and brain four years later.

Indeed, this shouldn't come as a great surprise, since animal research on embryonic cells have also shown that the injected cells often go out of control. Let me rephrase all that plainly: the SCIENCE shows that embryonic cells are risky. Yet the Obama administration claims to be motivated BY science to pursue cures.

Obama advisers say that they're reversing the previous administration's adherence to dogma. They've got it half-right; this new president is instituting a reversal. Unfortunately, he's merely replaced one dogma for another: where Bush was following a dogma that regarded, at least to some degree, embryos as life to be protected and not harvested for ever-dimming hopes of miracle cures, Obama seems to be beholden to the pro-choice dogma that regards an unwanted, pre-born child as expendable.

It's a position no less dogmatic but far more destructive. Is it worth creating and disposing of millions of very young humans to try -- and, if the early research is any clue, likely fail -- to cure these diseases? ...Especially since they appear to have just as much potential to CREATE new diseases.

When one considers that some of these discarded kids may have been destined to truly discover safe and effective cures to the same diseases we may be vainly slaughtering them to find...well, it's a bitter irony. And one we really ought not be tasting.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mitchum Man - The Spec Commercial

For those who hate to read director's notes; especially a first-time director's notes, please skip to the credits at the end of this post >;)



So, I directed my first piece for distribution outside of college, a semi-parody of recent Mitchum deodorant ads playing on the phrase, "You're A Mitchum Man!" The concept was created by my producing partner, Chris Allen, who says something similar to this happened to him, and he wrote the concept two years ago intending to direct it himself. When he told me about it, I wrote up a quick treatment and pitched it back to him, he loved it and we set about pulling the resources together to make it happen.

Chris had his buddy and right-hand man, Kristofer Sharkey, do a lot of heavy lifting while he called just about everyone on the planet to either participate or donate what they could. One of our lead actors, David Smith, provided the home as our shooting location, and whipped up a great meal for our cast and crew; he also found other members of the cast and crew in Connectdadots where we shot the spec, for which he earned a Producer credit as well.

Our last bit of business was locking in a DP; after a very last minute change, we signed on the talented Ms. Alexa Mignon Harris, with whom I established a great set repoire and I hope to continue to work with on more projects in the near future.

The shoot was absolutely what I expected it to be; Chris Allen is a fantastic AD as well as a producer, Alexa exceeded my high expectations, Sharkey was a rock and a great confidant; our Hair & makeup team of Sharon Smith and Bethany Little did fabulous work on our actors, and David plus his co-star Sherese Reddick looked special on camera.

Me? Well, I had fun. Chris said that there was a moment in between takes when I looked over at him, grinned and nodded my head, as if to say, "This is what I've always wanted to do." To him, I looked as natural as one could be, as though I had been doing this directing thing for a long time. Although I don't remember the instance, he hit the nail right on the head.

The ride home, well, that was not so fun. Our NY contingent consisting of me, Chris, Alexa and Sharkey (who's really from Bayonne, NJ) hit the rode at dusk, embarking from somewhere between Bridgeport and New Haven, back to Brooklyn, Manhattan and the good ol' BX. It began to rain hard while we were on the New England Thruway, and I was so tired I almost nodded off while driving at least 60 mph to keep up the pace of traffic. When we crossed the border into the Bronx, I took the first exit I saw and drove straight to a gas station to load up. I'm not a coffee drinker, but I told them I needed to put something in my system.

There was dead silence for a moment. "Coffee," said Chris, "really? You??"

Well, whatever. When I came back out, I had a large steamy cup in my right hand. "We were laughing about you wanting coffee," Chris taunted me, "I said when we pulled over; 'watch, I know he's gonna want some coffee."

"Well, I knew I needed to get something in my system before we ran off the road or something, " I replied, "but I really hate to disappoint you; I got tea instead."

But as arduous as driving through hard rain from the middle of nowhere when you're dead tired was, it was nothing compared to the beast that was editing. Chris fancied himself a fairly sharp editor, having downloaded and teaching himslef how to use Avid Express Pro on his laptop. So after digitizing our footage, we began to assemble the storyline and do the editing thing. Here, both Chris and I learned a couple of key points:

- You have to have an extreme amount of patience to be a good editor. Chris, between tweaking clips and effects, fighting and learning the program some more and listening to me either change my mind several times or ask him to do something he didn't already know how to do, decided midway through that he would never edit anything we shot again. As far as he's concerned, he's strictly a producer. I wouldn't say he did a bad job, but I had a strong issue with timing each clip properly while we were cutting this. Thankfully, it never came to blows and I doubt the average viewer will nitpick.

- Editing is the time when a director realizes how difficient and vulnerable he/she really is. There's a reason why the Oscars give away a Best Editor statue, yet it's often to the director's detriment. Good editors will often say, "if you don't notice the editing, you did a really good job." Truly, if you look at some of those fine films that have won the Oscar in the past, more often than not it's because of the engaging story and performances, which is to say you didn't notice the cuts, cutaways or other editing effects that make the whole movie seamless. But if it wasn't for that unnoticable transition from one shot to the next, the movie would look like something someone did in their backyard, and the director would likely look like a fraud.

Fortunately for us, we had zero budget when when we made this (that is, only a few hundred dollars at most was spent toward producing this spec), so if it looks fraudulent, that's okay; we're not going for Oscars just yet.

Lastly, I'd like to give a big hug of appreciation to our own Macedonia for his contribution; he allowed us to use a segment of his podcast, Radio BSOTS, which is heard in the background during the action before the product shot. I felt it was important to have an ambient sound to fill the background during the scene, and what ends up doing the that task actually adds to the humor of the piece. I find often that coincidence and Macedonia have gone hand in firmly hand throughout the lifetime that we've been friends, and the timing of the dialogue in the background sound and the action on the screen was another happy accident...

Okay, so I'm obviously overexcited and over analyzing a simple spec. But hey, it's my first of many, so gimme that. Let me know what you think >;)


Mitchum Man - Spec Commercial

Starring

David Smith ...... Boyfriend
Sherese Reddick ...... Girlfriend

A Broken Chain Production

Chris Allen ..... Producer, A.D., Editor
David Smith ..... Producer
Kristofer Sharkey ..... Associate Producer
Alexa Mignon Harris ..... Director of Photography
Sharon Smith ..... Hair Stylist
Bethany Little ..... Make-Up Artist
Will Jackson ..... Director

Music Contributed by Jason R. Smith for Radio BSOTS

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Happy Anniversary Ozzark & Company


It's that time of year again, with birthdays and annual markings of being a year older. Today marks the 27th anniversary of the creation of my comic strip, Ozzark & Company, which I created in 1982 when I was a wee lad. I last explained Ozzark's origination and how I developed him and the others into a coherent cartoon series; I used to literally manufacture comic books with my drawings in them and send them around to publishers. If those publishers were still around, I'd send them a note reminding them about it, but that would probably end up in the bin as well.

This time I want to talk about the future of Ozzark & Company. As many of you have noticed, I haven't drawn any new strips in a while, though I do draw doodles and sketches to keep myself practiced (a couple of which are inserted, not to mention a lost strip from the site I designed at Golden Lotus Magazine). I've been very busy with writing and film making; I'm debuting a spec commercial I directed any day now (my producer says tonight, we'll see!), but the main reason I haven't drawn the strip is because of where I live (and whom I live with). As most of you know by now, I live in a basement apartment below a loud family of ig'nant folk whom I would not mind if they were to just up and leave, like some past residents have done. I also have a very unstable roommate situation; all of which represents a complete and unwelcome distraction from the stable, quiet environment I develop my artwork in.

I've often found it impossible to draw under these circumstances, so I'm planning to build a studio space from the office I will eventually have as my films start to come together. When that happens, I can guarantee you will see Ozzark & Company on a weekly (if not more) basis.

As it is in the Ozzark universe, Ozzark & Sillone will be moving in together, but I will not reveal how or why. The rest of the gang are still up to their crazy antics; Rhalo, Zane and Tone have formed a band with a few other folk, Mikey becomes a spoken word artist and writer, Aquil tries out for pro football. Tradge tries to stay a step ahead of prevailing technology and Fats... well, Fats is Fats, and continues to be the foil to Ozzark's well-laid out plans. Meanwhile, Mrs. Tee-Jay and Junior continue to make cameo appearances, Sis visits from her Rhodes Scholar studies in Europe and Ouncey mysteriously hides in his room, buried in study...

The thing with Ouncey... I've developed an alternate universe for him and a different time line, where he is a roving mercenary-type on a mission to reunite his lost family in a world that is nearing apocalypse (as opposed to a post-apocalypse world these type of characters often find themselves in). With the world falling apart, Ouncey also finds himself developing mystic powers the same way others go through puberty, yet it's his studies that have helped him to survive as the world around him dissolves into anarchy. Hopefully I can find a way to not echo so much of the stuff that's already out there...

So, that's that. Ozzark & Company lives on, with good intentions and plans I intend to keep. Who knows, the way things go, you might see these guys on a television screen in the relatively near future. Time will tell, but thanks for continuing to support. >;)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Flip The Script (Someone Saved My Life Tonight)

Until a little while ago, I would have swore that the only way you could understand this is if you had been through what I’d been through.

I was in her bedroom; actually standing in the bathroom, looking in the mirror. This is where they had found them both. The window had been cracked, as though someone had tried to punch their way out. But now everything appeared, as it was the day before. Mom stood by the bedside in the middle of the room.

I burst out in uncontrollable tears. She rushed by my side and cradled me in her arms.

“I understand,” she said, rocking me in her arms as I sobbed uncontrollably. I looked up and now I was sitting on the curb of a street that ran in front of the school I was attending when everything happened. I looked into the sky and saw a line of clouds, all in the shape of train cars, from the steam engine to the caboose. Mom stood over me, beside me.

“I’ve got to go now,” she said. I looked up again at the train-shaped clouds as they became more defined and heavenly. “You’ll be okay.”

I woke up from that dream some eleven years ago. I looked in the mirror the other day; my cheeks were worn and tired, where scraggly black and gray sprout from the sides of my face, my chin, my neck. My hair is filled with gray and falling out. My dark eyes reflect the vestiges of youth that told a different story a decade ago. There is a man now, yet with the same thoughts from before. I think about how this used to be her day; actually it was their day. I wonder if Mom was still standing beside me, would my hair be so gray at this time of life? Would I have known what mistakes not to make along the way?

And yet...

The other day I sent a message to Aqua Boogie, asking her to think of me in her prayers as I wrestled with the fact that their day was approaching and they were no longer here. She replied:

"I know it's tough, but just know that they are your guardian angels now. They are always around you and taking care of you... I really do believe that once our physical life is over, it's the beginning of our true soul life."

How did she know? I think she chose to be there with me. I look back at the eleven years since I last saw them, and I've endured much chaos and hardship, but I survived, got on my feet and embarked on a career in entertainment. Now, I'm about to take a huge step in my journey by premiering my first directorial project; a spec commercial to debut on YouTube in short time. This is what I set out to do when I came to New York, and this is what I'm about to do. And throughout that time, A Boogie has been my friend, the one who can flip the script with her thoughts. And she reminded that Mom & Terry had been doing the same, and continue to do so all my life.

There is no off-switch for love, for pain or for guilt. But if I didn't have Mom & Terry to watch over me, and A Boogie to remind me, what's the point? I love all of you; thanks for being here. Happy Birthday, Mom & Terry!