Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Crash Course in Swashbucklery and Fisticuffs!

I started acting at a very early age, running around the forest near my family's cottage re-enacting scenes from The Princess Bride and Star Wars. Recently I decided that as a PROFESSIONAL ACTOR, I should take all steps necessary to prepare myself for the inevitable day I'm on set and someone expects me to be able to convincingly have a sword-fight.

Trying to look cool while catching my breath. PHOTO CREDIT: Erin Gerofsky
 Thus! Early in May I signed up to do a two-week intensive introduction to stage combat run by York University and taught by some of the wonderful humans from the stunt crew Riot Act. In the course, you learn the basics of sword, quarterstaff, and unarmed combat for stage and screen – and rehearse three fight scenes choreographed by the instructors. At the end of the two weeks you perform them, and if the adjudicator thinks you were convincingly badass enough, you pass, and get to put “can swordfight” on your acting resume.

The "Peking Opera" stance. PHOTO CREDIT: Erin Gerofsky
Every morning started off with a “warm-up.” It’s not a warm-up. It’s just a 45 minute workout that any other day I’d consider more than enough physical activity for one day. Ten minutes of non-stop calisthetics! Then run around the room a couple times! Now backwards! Now do a bunch of aikido rolls! Now do eleventy seven crunches! Now do some different weird crunches where you’re also doing yoga! All this and more – it was deadly but incredibly effective, and as someone who often ‘forgets’ to do core exercises it was a really great reminder how important they are.

This is a very awesome looking backwards aikido roll. Trust me. PHOTO CREDIT: Erin Gerofsky
Then, the scenes. Our unarmed fight was a scene from the Benecio Del Toro / Tommy Lee Jones movie The Hunted. I got to roundhouse a dude, choke a dude out, get tossed across the room and land in a roll – and knock a dude to the floor using my favourite move, what I like to call the “Captain Kirk Punch” – the two-fisted hammer-punch to the back, the core principle of Starfleet Martial Arts!

The quarterstaff scene was haaaaaard. I’ve had to do some unarmed stuff on screen before (I got slapped on Renegade Press, punched a couple times on Falcon Beach, etc) but I’ve never handled anything like a staff. Instead of being given dialogue for that scene our assignment was to build our own scene around the choreography and music we chose ourselves. My partner and I, of course, chose Europe’s The Final Countdown. Somehow our scene evolved into me playing an overbearing manager of a doweling factory (hence the staves) and my partner playing a lowly subordinate whose had enough of my hogging the radio in the storeroom. It was hysterical, even included several yells of “FINAL COUNTDOWN!!!” in the place of “HA-YA!”

"I cannot live in a world where you have everything and I have nothing." Loved this scene. PHOTO CREDIT: Erin Gerofsky
The sword scene was by far my favourite. We were taught basic rapier swordfighting, and the choreography was set to the dialogue from the climactic duel in The Count of Monte Cristo (Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce do a fantastic version of that fight in the 2002 version). I got to play Fernand Mondego! I loves me a bad guy! I think my favourite move from that fight was something called “the Angelo” where I swatted the Countess’ blade aside with my off-hand and passed my own sword behind my back to bring her on point. So cool! So cool.

Thankfully I managed to pass! I can definitely put “can swordfight” on my resume – and I had a ton of fun, so hopefully soon I’ll have reason to call upon those skills! I’d recommend this course to any actor wanting to expand their special skills (and get a kick-ass two weeks of working out as a bonus!)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Fanboy Friday: The Old Republic Rises Again

Back when Star Wars: The Old Republic came out in the fall of last year, I was really really really excited for it. Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel are still pretty much my favourite video games of all time, and The Old Republic was being advertised as its sequel. I've never been attracted to MMORPGs because I hate people, but I was desperately itching for another KOTOR, and The Old Republic was being touted as very story-focused and amenable to curmudgeonly misanthropes like me who just wanted to play by themselves. So I tried it out.

I was very disappointed. However, not in the way I was expecting to be. I didn’t find the multiplayer aspect nearly as distracting as I’d thought, and the writing in the game was really strong – but what do you mean I have to grind through the same area for three more hours to level up enough to beat this story-end boss? But my character wouldn’t want to murder thousands more Sand People! Also I have things to do! Not cool, game. Not cool.

Also, the monthly subscription fee was insidiously making me not play other games or read books because I “wanted to get my money’s worth” - so I quit the game. I just wanted the story and to swing a lightsaber around. I’d read the Wookieepedia entry on the game’s story and be done with it.

However, The Old Republic recently went free-to-play. So I’d be able to play other games without guilt and I still reallllly wanted to have that KOTOR III experience. Also, the game sent me an email saying my R2 Unit missed me and it was emotionally manipulative and, and, and…

So I booted up the game again. Here’s what went down.


Alright, booting up the game. I’ve got a couple hours to kill so this... a gigabyte of updates are necessary? Ugh. I guess I’ll go to the gym and come back.


Okay, time to bust out that lightsa- NINE MORE GIGS TO GO!? Update five of twelve?! COME ON.


Five and a half hours to patch a game. Really. COME ON. Alright, now I’m booting up the game.

I decided to go with a dashing human Sith Warrior named Nyvaan. I wanted to call him Niven because I modeled his stellar moustache on actor David Niven, but unfortunately that name was taken and I had to Star Wars up his name with a ‘y’ and an extra ‘a’.


In my first hour I killed some space bugs and decided the fate of three Imperial prisoners – sparing two of them (the light side option) and granting the last wish of the third - honourable death by combat. I find the idea of playing a good-guy Sith Lord appealingly contrarian, so we’ll see if the game tolerates this.


Welp, I obviously like this game. Got my first lightsaber, met a weird Sith Lord in renaissance armor, chose my prestige class – awesome. Until…

“After level 10, free-to-play players begin to accrue less experience.”

Really? Really. COME ON.


Belay that last order. You only gain experience at a -25% rate by being a free-to-player. That's not that bad. Especially because every so often you get quest rewards that boost your experience gain back to normal for an hour - which is good for people like me who like to artificially set a limit on how much time they sink into a game.

Still successfully playing a light-side Sith! I'm changing the Empire from within by murdering people quickly rather than needlessly! Am I not merciful?


I'm beginning to be sold again. Not literally, I can't abide subscription-based gaming. I bought the game already! Let me play it! Thankfully, the free-to-play option gives me that right, and the restricted features for non-subscribers don't break the game and give me an irrational sense of self-satisfaction that I'm resisting them.

I'm still not a huge fan of the game's Warcraft style click-on-the-toolbar-in-the-optimal-order combat, but it's still kinda fun. At this point Nyvaan has ingratiated himself with his Sith Master enough that he can casually suggest that he try not being a total douche without fear of reprisal, and is a hero to the moderates of the Imperial military who just want to keep the peace with a semi-benevolent iron fist, rather than actively antagonize the citizenry with lightning hands. I really like that this play-style is an option.

Long-story short, it's entirely possible that I'll come up against an end-boss that my character can't handle and I'll quit out of righteous frustration, but for the moment The Old Republic is letting me have a lightsaber and pretend to be a Jedi in a very well written story without massively inconveniencing my experience by being an MMO. So I'mma keep playing. Again, until a Rancor stomps me out with one hit.

See you next week, nerds!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Shameless Plugs: My First Novel!

While many of you might be familiar with my work in the (mostly Canadian) film and television landscape, my tiny blogger bio in the top right hand corner of this page says I'm an actor and author. An author you say? Would that new button that's popped up in the sidebar in the past week have anything to do with that? You sure you betcha it does!

That button on the sidebar will link you to the iTunes bookstore, where, if you have access to any iDevice be it Pad, Phone, or Pod you can buy my debut novel, Archie Hartigan and the Frost Wolf!

The book is a tie-in novel based on the world of Seth On Survival, a web-series I starred back in ’09, created by Teri Armitage and Torin Stefanson. Since then, SOS has racked up over three million viewers and spun off a secondary, werewolf-based webseries Your Lupine Life which I wrote an episode of (and guest-starred in)! Teri, Torin and I have become good friends and collaborators over these past couple of years, and when they suggested a new attempt to monetize the SOS franchise by releasing a series of tie-in novels, I jumped at the chance to write one!

At the center of Seth On Survival is the character Seth Greening, who I portray in the series. He’s a supernatural survivologist with a web-show that teaches its viewers how to better prepare for a vampire attack and or how to zombie-proof their home. Seth (quite often) responds to viewer comments, so I figured a great way into a spin-off novel would be to have the book be the story of one of Seth’s viewers, and have Seth “transcribe, edit and annotate” the adventure. That way we were also able to take advantage of SOS’s awesome trans-media wheelhouse and “enhance” the eBook with pop-up annotation by Seth and inter-chapter video content where Seth weighs in on what he might’ve done in the place of the protagonist. Welcome to 21st century young adult fiction! Multimedia! The internet! iPods!

And so, the book is an adventure starring Seth On Survival superfan Archibald Hartigan, an amateur monster hunter who accidentally gets turned into a werewolf while investigating a number of mysterious disappearances in his sleepy and geographically nebulous Northeastern North American hometown. This, of course, leads him to finding out a bunch of his close friends were also secretly monsters, including a cyborg and a high-functioning zombie! Archie and his friends then team up to defeat the werewolf that turned Archie into a monster, and uncover the vast and ancient conspiracy said werewolf brought with him to town. Spoiler alert! There may or may not be universe destroying Lovecraftian monstrosities lurking just off-screen. Also, zombies and flying saucers.

The novel is (in my opinion) is a rollicking action-adventure-horror-comedy for kids aged nine to buys-the-adult-covers-of-the-Harry-Potter novels! The book has been out for two months, and thus far the highest praise I've received has come from my sister (who also created the beautiful cover-art). She read the whole thing in an afternoon when she was very sick. In her words, Archie is "like Harry Potter meets The Princess Bride! Insofar as it sucks you in, and is also very sarcastic." She also said it "totally made [her] forget [she] was incredibly ill!" High praise indeed.

And the book is only 1.99$ on the iTunes Bookstore! What value! Click here or the button on the sidebar to buy it now! Writing this novel has been incredibly fulfilling to me, and if you decide to check it out, I hope you like it (and tell everyone you know to buy it)!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Fanboy Friday: 'Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon'

So, I had absolutely no interest in playing Far Cry 3. But then this trailer happened. An action-adventure-stealth based shooter based almost entirely on aping the conventions of a dumb late 80s action movie? Wherein you play a guy with a cybernetic eye for no good reason? And there are giant Gila monsters that shoot lasers out of their eyes? And the soundtrack is mostly synthesizers and this? Anyone who happened to catch my post on my love of the music and iconography of American cinema of the 1980s can probably guess that this not only piqued my interest but was immediately up my alley, aesthetically.

I think this is the first time I’ve wanted to (and been able to) buy downloadable content for a video game without buying the parent game first. Those inclined like me to buy a schlocky neon-drowned stealth-action romp like Blood Dragon weren’t all likely to have already bought a grim-and-gritty jungle warfare stealth-action romp like the original Far Cry 3. So, thankfully you can buy Blood Dragon without having already bought the original game. It’s a really cool and to my knowledge unprecedented move on the part of the publisher! Blood Dragon was a cool, weird idea for a game whose marketability hadn’t yet been tested, but the publisher was able to give it a chance by building it on top of an existing game. By using the existing infrastructure built for Far Cry 3, Ubisoft was able to take a calculated risk on a weird, niche game that probably didn’t have a tested target audience.  They minimized the amount of work and money the game needed to get made, and thus were able to release an affordable (15$! Cheap compared to the 50$ of the original Far Cry 3) and aesthetically unique game that probably wouldn’t have got green-lit if it needed the bloated budget of a typical triple-A title. And it’s worked out really well for them! Apparently Blood Dragon has sold five times better than expected and has already been tapped for a sequel – and it certainly got me to buy the original Far Cry 3 after the fact.

Sure, the small budget doesn’t always work in the game’s favour – the jokey 8-bit animated cutscenes are a creative way around not being able to afford new motion-capture, but since the game is a loving homage to films like Predator and Megaforce, the decidedly non-cinematic 8-bit sequences seem out of place to me. Other than that, the game is a blast. The eighties are about has far away from us now as the 50s were to when Back To The Future came out – the eighties are ‘period’ now, and not only that they’re a period that 20-and-30-somethings are beginning to remember fondly. As someone who grew up with movies like Road Warrior and The Terminator, the idea of being able to play a video game where I could shoot cyborgs with a neon laser rifle to electro-synth music was immediately appealing. Sign me up. With the popularity of retro movies and TV series like Super 8, Drive, and the BBC’s Ashes to Ashes, I’m surprised no one in video games thought of tapping into this wave of 80s nostalgia sweeping popular-and-nerd culture before.

And have I mentioned how amazing and ludicrous the game’s soundtrack is? Powerglove, the electronic band that did the Blood Dragon soundtrack, also did a remix for an indie solo artist from Greece named Kristine whose Modern Love EP is my new favourite thing. Apparently writing retro 80s pop-rock is a thing for some people? Definitely added most of that EP to my workout playlist, “Traning Montage II: The Re-Bloodening.”

You can see why I’m Blood Dragon’s target demographic.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Shameless Plugs: The Rocket Scientists are the BEST OF THE FESTIVAL!

Last time we checked in with my sketch comedy troupe The Rocket Scientists (composed of myself, Brandon Hackett, Chris Small and Kevin MacNeil) we were just about to go on stage at the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival! Well, just letting you know, it went well.


The Rocket Scientists were lucky enough to be the recipients of the Steamwhistle Producer’s Pick Award at SketchFest this year! There were four awards at the Festival – one chosen by the audience, one by a panel of judges, one by the performers, and one by the festival producers. The Producer’s Pick Award is obviously the one the producers took care of. It was awarded to us not only because we were pretty funny but because we were consistently going out to a myriad of SketchFest events and participating in all the extra shows around the festival like Nerd Off and Sketch-U-Bator. This was mostly on Chris’ insistence, due to my crippling inability to have fun with other people and fear of public laughter (difficult for a comedian) but I’m sure glad we got into the spirit of the Festival and participated! Technically I wasn’t actually at the event where we won the award – I was being a lame-o sitting at home on a Sunday night watching Star Wars on Blu-ray when Chris called me and said “WE WON AN AWARD! YOU’RE NOT HEEEERE!” Apparently Brandon literally yelled “WHAT?!” when they announced we’d won. It was a very pleasant surprise!

The award not only gets us a bunch of free Steamwhistle Beer swag (I’ve heard it rumored that last year’s recipients got a lot more free beer than they were expecting, which is bad for my current attempt to get abs but great for my sense of joy) but we more importantly got an automatic spot in the “Best of the Festival” encore show this Friday the 14th at Measure (formerly the Poor Alex)!

Technically the show is part of NXNE, which is pretty darn cool. I don’t know when NXNE started incorporating Comedy into their programming, but I’m pretty freakin’ excited to say I’m playing the same festival as The National. And Ludacris. I mean come one. I’m much closer to being a rock star now.

We’re incredibly excited to be sharing the stage with two incredible sketch troupes, She Said What and Deadpan Powerpoint. I saw Deadpan Powerpoint’s set at Sketchfest back in February and it was absofreakin’lutely incredimazing. Two months later and I’m still chuckling to myself occasionally over their lecture “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Dogs.” It’s entirely possible that the Encore Show will be Deadpan Powerpoint’s final performance, so I’d come out just to be able to see their schtick before you can’t anymore. Seriously, they’re incredibly funny people.

The Rocket Scientists are going to be bringing back some of our very favourite bits for this Encore show – we’ve only got a fifteen minute opening act slot in the show, so we know we’ve got to make every gag count! We tested the set out at Chris and Brandon’s high school on Monday (the Grade 12 drama class just did a sketch comedy unit and we were invited to give them a short performance and give a talk-back as ‘industry professionals’ – HA. THE FOOLS) and it went over excellently. Fingers crossed this discerning Friday night audience will agree!

You can get tickets for the show RIGHT NOW! And I suggest you do!  Hope to see you there!