Tag Archives: BIFF

Former Burbank Resident Directs Film Up For Burbank International Film Festival Award

Documentary Director and Producer Roya Aryanpad’s foray into fictional short films, Jacob Stone, screens Friday, September 11, as an Official Selection of the Burbank International Film Festival. The film has been nominated in the “Best Short Films By Women” category.

Written by David Blacker, Jacob Stone tells the story of an inner-city high school basketball player, portrayed by Nicholas Alexander, as a mistake from his past threatens his future.

Jacob Stone examines many social issues, such as racial profiling; stereotyping; dysfunctional families; corporate greed; incarceration for non-violent crimes; and the straight men HIV stigma,” commented Aryanpad, noting the film’s message resonates with people from many backgrounds. “These are the challenges that our youth and young adults are facing in 2015, in all parts of U.S.”

Roya Aryanpad directs actor Nicholas Alexander in "Jacob Stone." (Photo Courtesy of Dream Benders Productions)

Roya Aryanpad directs actor Nicholas Alexander in “Jacob Stone.” (Photo Courtesy of Dream Benders Productions)

“I believe the message of the film is also universal, and not only people at home, but everywhere can relate to and make connection with.”

A former refugee born in Shiraz-Iran, Aryanpad’s directs and produces films that contribute in a positive way to environmental, social, cultural and political issues.

“My own experiences in Iran during the time of the Revolution which led to my family’s exile have made me very sensitive to issues of social injustice, poverty and human oppression everywhere.” Aryanpad also said. “The struggles of African-Americans may not be my own, but I feel a kinship with them, as we are all survivors of oppression. The story of Jacob Stone is one of survival and hope in the face of great obstacles – themes which are very relevant in my own life.”

Nicholas Alexander and Jazlyn Yoder in a scene from "Jacob Stone." (Photo Courtesy of Dream Benders Productions)

Nicholas Alexander and Jazlyn Yoder in a scene from “Jacob Stone.” (Photo Courtesy of Dream Benders Productions)

“As a former resident of Burbank for six years, I think the beautiful city of Burbank has a lot to offer, and Burbank International Film Festival (BIFF) is certainly one of them,” Aryanpad commented. “I particularly favored BIFF for having a Short Films By Women category.”

“In a society with an ongoing battle for equal pay for women and in an industry with the percentage of the network and cable shows directed by women being ridiculously low, it is wonderful to have festivals like Burbank International Film Festival to bridge the gap, and celebrate the films made by women,” she added.

Director/Producer Roya Aryanpad. (Photo Courtesy of Dream Benders Productions)

Director/Producer Roya Aryanpad. (Photo Courtesy of Dream Benders Productions)

“I’d like to thank Jeff Rector, the president and festival director of Burbank International Film Festival, for making a great difference and providing options for women filmmakers to showcase their work. We are truly grateful for the opportunity and honored to be a part of BIFF this Friday.”

Jacob Stone was shot in Glendale and Los Angeles, because Aryanpad’s Dream Benders Productions crew was able to find the necessary locations in those cities. The film is a true indie production as local independent filmmakers with home studios offered their services for post production work.

Jacob Stone is a real story, about real people, having real experiences in life. Although we examine many social issues in this film, our writer David Blacker has woven these issues so skillfully into the story that it does not feel preachy at all, and you get so deeply drawn into the story from the get go,” Aryanpad continued. “That was one of the reasons I was also attracted to the script.”

“The performances of our actors are great. The cast was nominated for Best Ensemble at LAIFFA (Los Angeles Independent FIlm Festival),” she said.”Nicholas Alexander and Jazlyn Yoder (our lead actors), Virtic Brown, Deon Lucas, Stephanie Charles, Nathalie Autumn Bennett, James Haley, Crystal Lott, Joe Gabler, Stephen Quadros, Lucas Dean Peterson, Richey Nash and Ashford Thomas are just brilliant.”

(Photo Courtesy of Dream Benders Productions)

(Photo Courtesy of Dream Benders Productions)

“Our Cinematographer Idan Menin and his wonderful crew have created a great look for the film. The excellent quality of the film is attributed to the love and passion the cast and crew have invested in this film. I believe all of these have contributed to the success of the film.”

Jacob Stone premiered at the San Diego Black Film Festival in January 2015. The film has screened at The Alhambra Theater Film Festival, Indie Night Film Festival and Black Cat Picture Show. The short film will screen in coming weeks at the Catalina Film Festival, the International Black Film Festival and Gary International Black Film Festival.

The Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards honored Jacob Stone with the Best Drama Award. The film was nominated for five other categories at LAIFFA, including Best Director (Roya Aryanpad) and Best Actor (Nicholas Alexander.)

Advance tickets for the screening of Jacob Stone at the Burbank AMC Town Center 6 for Burbank International Film Festival, on September 11, at 9:30p.m. can be found here:  http://www.itsmyseat.com/events/322892.html

Next up for Dream Benders Productions, Aryanpad will focus on a full-length screenplay she wrote, based on her experiences as a teenager growing up in Iran, and her family’s escape after Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

Burroughs High Filmmaker Gets Major Award At Film Festival

“Filmmaking is more than ‘a passion.’ It’s my life.”  BELLA KING, 16, said it matter-of-factly, as befits someone who started acting at six and has been acting professionally since seven.

Recently at The Castaway, Bella was absolutely thrilled to win the “Los Angeles County Student Filmmakers Award” during the Closing Night Dinner and Gala Awards Show of the 6th Annual Burbank International Film Festival (BIFF.)

Pictured is Bella King along with her sister Sage Tousey, and Lead Actress Caitlin Carmichael award presenter Tanner Cusumano (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Pictured is Bella King along with her sister Sage Tousey, and Lead Actress Caitlin Carmichael award presenter Tanner Cusumano (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Her winning film, Unmatched, is about a young girl who has to deal with “the single worst day of her life.” In making it, Bella had to go beyond acting and tackle writing and directing. “I’ve been writing screenplays for the past several years,” Bella said. “ And my friends in the industry have really helped me to learn the craft.”  (Fans will have to wait awhile to see Unmatched on YouTube; it’s competing in other film festivals.)

“I didn’t get a car on my 16th birthday. Instead I got a production company,” Bella continued.  My parents knew I want to have a multifaceted career.”  Her acting career has certainly been versatile. Besides TV commercials, she’s had guest roles on Smallville and Eureka, as well as appearing in a 2012 episode of Leverage. On screen, Bella’s movie credits include roles in Beautiful Boy, Red Riding Hood and American Girls. In 2015, she’ll be in the feature The Gunrunner Billy Kane.

(Photo by Ross A. Benson)

(Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Bella had attended Burroughs early on, but her professional life has made home schooling necessary. All the same, she’s red, white and true blue to Burroughs, cheering on the teams and meeting friends at the social events.

She’ll be graduating this academic year. A year early.

And it looks like Bella’s also on the industry fast track.

Congratulations, and “Break a leg!”

Additional pictures from the closing events of this years Burbank International Film Festival, by our Chief Photographer Ross A. Benson


One Man’s Journey Into The Heart Of Filmmaking

A chance encounter launches a story whose ending was unknown until the final minutes of the Burbank international Film festival (BIFF)…


Act I. The Screenplay

In 1985, a young man’s father had just finished building a lakeside cabin in the Canadian woods. It was to be a family retreat, soon to be filled with fish stories and laughter after long summer days on the lake. Then, on the eve of the grand opening, cancer claimed his life.

The young man was SAM ROBERTS, in his early twenties, who was still trying to find his way. He was bartending in New York, hoping to break into acting.  He and his dad had been close. They shared a love for the outdoors and fishing. Now he faced a future without him, and felt the weight of a crushing grief.

Sam Roberts

Sam Roberts

“What I would’ve given if only my father could be with us again, even for a few days in the cabin he’d built for us,” Sam says, sadness marking his imposing face for a moment.

In that mysterious place in the heart where art can emerge from grief, Sam had encountered his own ‘fish story.’ The log line: After his sudden death, a father’s search for heaven brings him back to his distraught family and his wilderness fishing cabin for a few precious days in the body of a wanted man.

Sam started writing. A year later, in 1986, he had completed the first version of the screenplay to A Fish Story.

Sam began making headway in his acting career. Soon the industry zeroed in on his voice, deep and resonant. He did voice over in countless commercials, from Advil to Wendy’s. He moved into on-air promos, notably for TNT Entertainment, NBA ON TNT and the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch.

The years passed, with much to celebrate. But Sam’s inner voice was persistent, reminding him of unfinished business.  “It wasn’t until 2007 that I decided to commit to doing the film,” Sam said. He reworked the script. In 2008, it had garnered five screenplay laurels, including Best Screenplay (Gaia Award) at the Moondance International Film Festival.

If Sam had been looking for an excuse to have second thoughts, the screenplay recognitions closed off that avenue of escape.  He took a deep breath. He was going to make a movie that lived up to what he had written.

Act II. The Movie

Sam asked his lifelong friend MATT BIRMAN to direct the movie.  Matt said yes. Up until then, his wheelhouse had been stunt work and coordination. But he knew how much it meant to Sam to bring this story to life. Like countless filmmakers before him, Sam was pouring his own money into the film, with more than a little help from his friends.

“We wanted to make an ‘old school’ movie, old school style, using 35 mm,” explains Matt. Sam also wanted the movie to be ‘old school’ in another sense: “to be a film with a moral compass.”

Sam succeeded in getting his film company Urban Lumberjack Films off the ground and partnered with Equinox Films to produce the A Fish Story. Filming occurred over a month two years ago, in 2011, with all the usual thousand-and-one brush fires shouting for attention.  Sam offers two examples: “I had to rent all of the camping sites along the lake, and I did an awful lot of rock hopping to find just the right scenes.”

And soon after the movie was ready. A Fish Story was about to face the judgment of a world that still insists on excellence in its entertainment even as it settles for mediocrity in so many other areas of life.


Submitting a movie to film festivals is a gauntlet many aspiring filmmakers never overcome. The Burbank International Film Festival (BIFF) has been receiving ever better submissions over its five-year history. PAMELA VAN ZANDT, BIFF’s Director of Communications, estimates that they accept only one out every six or so submissions.  And more than a few of the rejected films are of high quality. “Jeff [BIFF President/Festival Director] and I really arm wrestled over some of these films,” explains Pam.

BIFF accepts A Fish Story for its 2013 festival. Better yet, it had received BIFF nominations for Best Dramatic Feature Film, Best Actor and Best Actress.

It’s Saturday, September 7 at about 4:50 p.m. at the AMC 6.  A Fish Story is about to roll. The theater darkens and we see a gorgeous panorama of Canadian forest, lakes and lake islands country. It seems that the ‘old school’ cinematography is working. Then we zero in on the father (played by SAM ROBERTS) finishing the day’s work on the fishing cabin. The story is now underway. My wife loves it. I love it.

You know, they say that a seamless black dress is one of the hardest things to make. No ruffles, no sashes, no raised patterns to hide the imperfections or distract the critical eye.  A dress like that is either a dud…or it’s dazzling. A Fish Story is the cinematic equivalent of that seamless, dazzling black dress. No sex, no profanity and no violence to distract the viewer from experiencing the deep emotions flowing from fundamentally good people grappling with intense grief.

Everyone in the cast does great job, with two actors in particular having to bear the story’s emotional weight: Eddie and Jayne.

Best Actor Eddie McClintock

Best Actor Eddie McClintock

EDDIE McCLINTOCK, Best Actor Nominee, played the wanted man who accidentally caused the father’s sudden death.  Eddie made us believe that his body had been taken over by the father, down to the subtle facial expressions. “I’ve always been into improvisations and mimicry,” explained Eddie after the show. “And I spent a lot of time hanging out with Sam and learning who he is.”

JAYNE HEITMEYER, Best Actress Nominee, gives a luminous performance as the grieving wife who unknowingly encounters her dead husband in a new guise. It would’ve been very easy for her character to descend into mawkishness or numbness. Instead she embodies a character that commands enormous sympathy.

Jayne Heitmeyer

Jayne Heitmeyer

The end credits roll to spontaneous applause from the AMC 6 audience. People are smiling, people are moved. “I really liked it.” “Great job.” Some eyes are visibly red from tears of emotion honestly earned. It seems that A Fish Story has made it into that small circle of family-friendly films that are neither silly nor insipid, but instead truly compelling. A “moving picture” that is “moving” in a far more important sense.

But will A Fish Story and its actors win BIFF’s top awards?

Act III. The Prestige

It’s Sunday night at the Castaway.  BIFF’s Gala Award Show & Dinner is underway. Industry luminaries are being honored first: writer/director/producer SHANE BLACK (Iron Man 3, etc.), award-winning composer MARCO BELTRAMI, animated feature director BRENDA CHAPMAN (Brave), distinguished actor JOHN SAVAGE, creature and concept designer NEVILLE PAGE (Avatar, etc.), ace sound mixer GREG P. RUSSELL, artist and sculptor MIKE HILL and social media campaigner/documentarian DAVE O’BRIEN.

This is one of BIFF’s advantages. It’s in the heart of Hollywood, offering at least the hope that industry movers and shakers will take notice…at least, we hope, for those that garnered the big awards.

The award categories for A Fish Story are near the very end of the ceremony, making the tension all the more excruciating. Finally:

Best Dramatic Feature Film….A Fish Story!

Best Actor…Eddie McClintock! (tied with Scott Wolf in Imagine)

Best Actress….Jayne Heitmeyer! (tied with Elizabeth Smith in Incident on Highway 73)

And The Winner is 'A Fish Story' pictured are Director, Lead Actor and Actress,DP. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

And The Winner is ‘A Fish Story’ pictured are Writer, Lead Actor and Actress,Director. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Sam tells the audience “he’s been friends with director Matt since they were teenagers.” Eddie says that Director Matt “explained that they were looking at ‘names’ for the role. So I told him, ‘When you get to the bottom of the list, call me!’ Then one day Matt calls me and says, ‘We’re at the bottom of the list!’” Jayne said how wonderful it was to work with people that were so committed to doing justice to Sam’s story.

More congratulations from well-wishers as their pictures get taken. It’s been a long night for Sam, Matt, Eddie and Jayne, but one with a happy ending.


A Fish Story has attracted industry interest.  There is still a distance to travel before there are firm deals and checks that don’t bounce. The ultimate destination of Sam’s movie lies in the unknown third act of a wider story.

But I’m sure of this: Sam has already succeeded in journeying deep into his own heart, with all its hopes, joys and griefs. And in so doing, he has also journeyed into the heart of filmmaking.

One hopes that is still the heart of Hollywood.