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Portraits of Hollywood

It’s more important to understand someone than to judge them. We think the first step to understanding someone is asking them the fundamental questions about who they are and how they became the person they are today. Understanding and empathy are essential building blocks for a better, more compassionate world. We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to ask these questions each week through our interview series. Below you’ll find inspiring interviews from in and around Hollywood.

Jake Thomas

I’ve been making short films since I was in elementary school and under the production banner of Benchtree Pictures ever since I was in college. The one feat that eluded me was making and finishing my debut feature. A few years ago, I began experimenting with iPhone camera apps and filmed footage of our pet cats Panda and Apollo. Panda was always distracted by the world outside our living room window, and so I wondered, “What does he dream of seeing out there?” After I cut the footage together to make the beginnings of a story, I drafted the idea of a fairy tale about a curious cat who gets his chance to explore the outside world when he mysteriously transforms into a human. My wife Erin helped produce the finished film, titled “Shedding.” After a successful festival run earlier this year, it is now available on iTunes and Amazon. Read more>>

Sophia Carter-Kahn

I started as a freelance writer and interned at places like BuzzFeed, HelloGiggles, and SoulPancake before co-creating She’s All Fat, my podcast about fat liberation and pop culture. I was born in Pasadena and lived several other places before returning to LA! I love working for myself and the freedom it brings. Read more>>

Christina Havis

After five successful years in Law Enforcement working in State Correction and Federal Probation (Chris)tina was challenged to exercise her true passion in entertainment and was tested with an opportunity in artist development. Within that first year (Chris)tina’s the artist shared stages with Lizo, Aaron Carter, and Iglu & Hartly. Through hard work, networking and consistency (Chris)tina was hired on as Director of Development and Jr. Theatrical Talent Manager with Next Level Entertainment Global (NLE). (Chris)tina along with owners Kimberly Strouss, Mario Anastasiades and two other Managers manage over 80 clients and run offices in LA, NY, New Zealand and the UK. In August of 2020, NLE announced that (Chris)tina was promoted to Talent Manager and Director of Development West Coast. Her clients have appeared in shows such as ‘The Conners’, ’Insecure’, Netflix ‘Family Reunion’, and The Mayans’. Commercials such as iPhone, JC Penny, NBA 2K20, Spectrum, and many more. Read more>>

Brendon Slee

I moved to LA in 2006. I’ve worked just about every job there is in the industry in order before realizing my passion was writing. I have ten short film credits so far and more in the works. I’ve also completed the UCLA Professional Program for TV writing. Read more>>

Manoucheca Duchatelier

Growing up, I struggled with self-esteem and confidence. Mainly because of my “untraditional beauty” and struggles with my weight. As I got older, I developed a genuine love for myself and who I am as I am. I became determined to help young girls and women by applying makeup for them and sharing my story. I received positive feedback and so many personal testimonies. I also found calmness and quickly realized that applying makeup was therapeutic. One day, my sister and a close friend said, “Nou, you need to make this official.” I thought about it for some time and finally mustarded enough courage to start Nou Faces, LLC. My goal is to continue to help women of all ages, physical appearance, and backgrounds improve their self-love, self-confidence, and self-worth. Read more>>

Young Invent

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California Oct. 11, 1986. My mother is named Casandra and my father was named Jeffrey senior so of course, I got Jeffrey Jr. At the age of 12, my brother (Eddie Clocker) and I was sent to stay with my grand grandmother for the summer in Gulfport, Mississippi, it was a great amazing experience until I got hit by a car standing on the sidewalk. I was hospitalized for two months, the car accident had an almost completely severed one of my legs and broke the other one, broken my right wrist and scratched up most of my face. My mother flew out immediately and stayed for a month and a half but had to return to California because she had ran out of sick and vacation time. Doctors Slaughter told my family and I, I would never walk again and if I did, I’d have a severe limp but he was able to save my leg instead of amputating it. My great grandmother and mother pushed me to my maximum limit to get better. With her and the Grace of God, I began to walk again fully no limp no anything just pure blessings. Read more>>

Andrea Bellucci

I started playing classical piano by myself when I was a teenager. I used to play almost all the week, leaving some little time for playing basketball and studying. After a little while, I started performing with some bands, from rock to metal, in my home city, Rome, Italy. I slowly got more and more interested in music for films and games, so I decided to switch from a performer career to a composer/producer one, following specific courses at the Conservatory of Rome, and after my Master’s Degree there I started working as a composer right away, on some films and tv shows. The real change happened in 2016, when I was chosen by Mr. David Newman and Mr. Angel Velez for their inaugural workshop, the “Los Angeles Film Conducting Intensive”. It was a 4-day workshop during which I had the pleasure to meet new fellow composers and learn a lot about the film music industry in LA. It ended with an amazing final day, spent recording a 72-piece orchestra at the Warner Bros Scoring Stage. That was a wonderful experience for me, and right after it I realized that I wanted to move my career in California and call LA “home”. Read more>>

Maxwel Payne Stark

Maxwel and manager Brandon Miller (BAM MGMT) built their empire in Reno, NV where they took on the biggest stages they could find locally. LEX Nightclub, EDGE Nightclub, The Saint, and many more. Maxwel states “This city has given me so much love and I’m ready share my music internationally.” As the duo team sets forth to Los Angeles the city of dreams. Where they reside currently teaming up with Oshri a major pop artist. Managing two unique speakeasy private event venues for local artists to perform and release new music to the city. Working with major players in the industry such as Atlantic, BET, Netflix, Universal, AWOL, and many more. This year was supposed to be his big break with his first six city tour but was ruined by the COVID-19 pandemic. Maxwel then decided to release the project ”Daily Dose” EP which is a modern day masterpiece fusing together New Wave, Psychedelic R&B, Ocean Vibes, and Neo Soul. Read more>>

Tina Tara

I was born and raised in Vienna, Austria. I started to play the classical piano from the age of three, began to sing at six years old and wrote my first song at 14. After moving to Spain where I spent one year studying the Spanish language and culture, I moved to London to further my music career. I attended the BIMM Institute for Music and began to produce my own material which I performed together with my original ten piece band in and around London. I worked with artists like Tony Mortimer(East 17), Dele Ladimeji (Natasha Bedingfield), Phil Edwards (AllSaints, Mariah Carey) and recently with Jerry Barnes (Nile Rodgers) and William S Barnes (Beyonce, Roberta Flack u.o), who co-produced my late 2019 single “Worth It”. In 2018, I met Anthony Goldsbrough – Producer, Songwriter and Manager – who I began an ongoing collaboration with that lead to the songs “Arriba” and “Worth It”. I have performed in different countries such as Germany, Austria, Switzerland and United States. I love to entertain crowds as a soloist playing the piano, but also turn it up and perform with a full band to bring an audience out of their seats and onto the dance floor. Read more>>

Sweatson Klank

I was born in Paris, France and moved to LA when I was five. My mom was a graphic designer and my dad a documentary filmmaker and film historian. From an early age, I gravitated towards music. In high school, I played guitar and bass in little garage bands in my neighborhood of Topanga canyon. At the time, I was very much into 60’s psychedelic rock and funk music. A friend of mine turned me onto hip hop and I fell in love. A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Pete Rock, The Pharcyde. This music was so revolutionary and the message was of unity and revolution. I loved it!! In college, I began djing and collecting records. That led to me eventually wanting to make the music I was djing. I picked up some cheap beginner equipment and locked myself in my room for six months. My friends would say “come on let’s go to this party” and I was like I’m gonna stay here and practice making beats. Read more>>

Ciera Foster

Ciera Foster is an actress, activist and public speaker as well as one of the first leading female black superheroes as Valiant Comic’s Livewire. Ciera is the former Director of the United Nations Women’s LA Speaker’s Beauru. Ciera’s journey of activism started long before she was an artist. At just nineteen, the student athlete began working part-time at San Francisco County Jail as an interview agent for the SF Pre Trial Diversion Program, a government-funded nonprofit program designed to allow individuals who are not high risk or first-time offenders to be released from jail under a judge approved agreement to return to court for trial. A former NCAA athlete and State Champion finalist (Women’s basketball) Ciera also learned the nature of giving back through various community outreach programs for NCAA student-athletes to enrich the community. After Ciera’s athletic career ended Ciera continued to fight for both student and teacher equality in the education system. Prior to graduating university, Ciera was a paid full-time student ambassador. Read more>>

Eric Gorfain

I got my career as a studio musician started while living in Tokyo in my early 20s. I moved back to LA and the next thing I knew, I was on the road with Jimmy Page & Robert Plant leading the string orchestra on their Unledded tour of Japan. I founded The Section Quartet in 1998 but it wasn’t until 2002 that the lineup solidified and we became a band. As a studio violinist playing on recording sessions for albums, films, tv shows and the like, I wanted to create a string ensemble made up of musicians who liked playing with rock and pop acts, rather than just orchestras. I found a kindred spirit in cellist Richard Dodd, and a few years later we met and hit it off with violinist/arranger Daphne Chen and violist Leah Katz. By day we are session musicians playing on records by Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age, Banks, Dr, Dre, Christina Aguilera and others, but by night we’re a rock band disguised as a string quartet performing our own arrangements of rock songs by Radiohead, Tool, Led Zeppelin, Elliott Smith, The Postal Service, etc. at venues like Largo at the Coronet, The Echo, and the Edye. We’ve even played sets on the Main Stage at Coachella. Read more>>

Thaïs Castralli

I’m passionate about translating into images the stories that are trusted to me. That love affair started thanks to my grandmother. It seems weird to say that, but she was the one who introduced me to this alluring and exciting craft. She fled Europe during WWII and found in cinema a way to connect with others in a different land, where she didn’t speak the language. She introduced me to European cinema to teach me about my roots, and to her favorites: Hollywood classics. The idea that visual storytelling was the most effective language to connect people to concepts and to one another made an impact on me. That concept ultimately led me to film school. I knew I wanted to help tell meaningful stories. The “how-to” became clear when I discovered the craft that never ceases to enchant me: photography. Ten years ago, I found myself in both college and real-world productions in my hometown, São Paulo, Brazil. I worked as a bartender and waitress to pay for school. Read more>>

Harrison Flynn and Olivia Beck

Harrison Flynn: Olivia and I both grew up in the east bay area and met through a music performance class at Diablo Valley College that was taught by Steve Sage. We ended up playing together in a few groups through this class and eventually formed our own group and started playing out in various bay area venues. We honed our skills by consistently playing gigs and learning songs (mostly covers which gave us a strong musical foundation for writing songs). We both have our own influences which give us an interesting dynamic. I grew up listening to artists steeped in the blues, folk and rock tradition ranging from Eric Clapton, Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan and The Beatles. Olivia comes from a soul, r&b and blues background as well with influences like Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson. I relocated to LA about four years ago and Olivia about two years ago. We had written this song, “The Shadow” together about three years ago while I was in LA and Olivia was still living in the bay area. Read more>>

Nico Donys

We told our love story because our story was very different in fact the TV presenter had compared our story to the Phoenician goddess. After concluding our interview, we decided to make it public and publish it on a well-known video platform (Youtube). Well, fate would have it that the views grew day by day, I was amazed by all this and we understood that we liked it a lot. My musical career begins precisely from all this. A lover of Latin music since I was a child, I always dreamed of being an international singer and of getting on stage. I immediately understood that fate was on my side and so I started writing a song dedicated to my wife, and the song was called “TU ERES MI VIDA” written in Spanish and Italian with reggaeton sound just because that was my nature to write Latin music. Then I created a stage name with my own name but only internationalizing it so my stage name “Nico Donys” was born from my legal name Nicola Donato. It makes me laugh to think that when I created it, I said you have my relatives and friends to do the tests calling me prorio so to see the effect it had and since then, I fell in love with this name. Read more>>

Vu Tran

It all started in 2014. I was 24 years of age. Lived in Kansas City all my life. Family worked in the nail salon business. And to help pay for college, I worked part-time, managing the family business and did pop-up DJ gigs here and there. After a second failed attempt at engineering school, I decided it was not for me. I became frustrated as I’m the type of person that hated failure. I ended up getting quite lost with what I wanted to do in life. Then one day, a hairdresser friend said I should try out Cosmetology school. He planted the seed in my head, but at the time, I said “no” right off the bat because I wanted a career that didn’t have to deal with people. Remember, I was a very shy engineering kid. I wasn’t out of my shell yet. A week later, I took the leap of faith and enrolled myself into Cosmetology school. As months went on, my teachers started to notice how engaged I was when it came to participating in every fashion show, hair coloring class, barbering class all over Kansas City – you name it. Started networking in and out of school. I eventually became a socialite around Kansas City doing hair and cross-promoting DJ gigs within the LGBT community. This was what sparked the connection for me. Read more>>

Paolo Andino

20 years ago, I became obsessed with creating a recipe for the perfect cookie. Equal parts crunchy & chewy, sweet & hearty with all that buttery-chocolatey flavor packed inside.  After a ton of research and several recipe tweaks, I came up with this cookie dough and it was so good I wanted to sell it! At the time, there was no Instagram and after I exhausted my friends and family, I really didn’t know what else to do. So I gave it up, but I kept baking the cookies as gifts every once in a while. My cousin Liza has always been a big fan of the cookies and one day in late June while enjoying a well distanced (13 feet… measuring tape included, lol) picnic in the park she was determined to get the cookies on Instagram and created a special account just for them. With only a few pictures and her endorsement the cookies began to get noticed by her friends who wanted to get some. She told them I sold them and to contact me to buy some! So I started baking and selling and soon Liza began envisioning a brighter future for me and these cookies. Read more>>

Jeff Bosley

I was born in Colorado and raised by an Emergency Room physician father and a stay at home mother. Went to school, played sports, went to (a LOT) of college where I studied pre-med, journalism, theatre and sports medicine (this is where I truly embraced my childhood dream of acting-I spent every waking moment in the theatre working and/or performing), joined the Army, became an Army Special Forces Green Beret, then became a Firefighter and I’m now back to acting for a career in Los Angeles. That’s the short, take one deep breath, version. Read more>>

Rivest Dunlap

I do psilocybin therapy & this is my story. In November of 2019, my father passed away but I didn’t know how to take it. As men, we are taught to not show emotion bottle it up & keep moving on with life. During my father’s passing, my girlfriend & I wasn’t doing well, it was a very toxic relationship (which I take full responsibility for) two broken people doesn’t equal health. I loved her but didn’t know who to love her because I was never taught. Come January 2020 we broke it off, & of course, I was hurt by it but I just bottled it & shelf it with the rest of my problems I didn’t want to deal with. So in January & February I doing what I’d normally did before covid. Work, come home, smoke repeat. Then when covid hit, it changes my life completely! Because now I have to face what’s in front of me, & even during quarantine the first two months I was still running away. But instead of just smoking now, I’m drinking (heavy) doing cocaine so I didn’t have to deal with thought bottles I’ve accumulated throughout my life. The one day I lost it, everything came rushing back, & I wanted to end my life. While I had the knife to my throat, this voice emerged (it was my voice) & said everything is going to be okay. Read more>>

Lupe Fuentes Cambiasso

I am originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I am an actress since I can remember, and I’ve always wanted to live here. My determination and persistence helped me coming to LA to study at Stella Adler Academy of Acting, back and forth within three years. After many years of building my career, studying and working very hard to make my dreams come true, I decided to make it happen and got my artist visa! I would be able to work and live in the City of Angels. Like most of the artists in this town, I had to leave my country, my family and friends, in order to find better opportunities in my field: acting, tv hosting and VoiceOver. With fears and hopes, I came to live to Los Angeles knowing it would be hard, challenging but also a way of growing up. My parents, who always supported me, were sad and proud at the same time. Their little girl would be happy chasing her dreams, however, far away. But this little girl was scared and anxious too. Though I did everything I had to, faced challenging situations and finally moved to L.A. Read more>>

Stav Ben Zur

I’m 24 years old living life in Los Angeles, California. I’m a professional dancer and an international model. I grew up in my tiny holy land Israel, in a small town right by the sea. Finished high school and joined the military like we all do. In my service, I got to be lucky enough to travel outside my country, that was my first time visiting California through dancing. I fell in love and after I served for two and a half years while always knowing I’ll move here as soon as I can. Read more>>

Danielle Carter

You know when something is yours: It’s in your favorite color, it’s soft to touch, or you absolutely love the fit. It speaks to you and makes you say: YES, PLEASE!! ONYX xoxo was born from that excitement! As a child, I would make headbands and headscarves as a fun and fast way to spice up my day. I felt my mood lift and I felt special knowing I had something made just for me. Now I love extending that feeling through ONYX xoxo jewelry pieces, such as my signature ear cuff, to help the wearer feel fully expressed and fabulous! It’s one-of-a-kind, just like each of us. At a young age, I was a brave little lady who walked up to each neighbor’s door and asked directly if they’d like to see what I made and buy one for themselves or their friends. I’ve always loved making things by hand that make people smile. As I grew up and started wearing my jewelry casually, as well as on-camera and during musical performances. My friends began to ask me to make them jewelry as well. Saying “yes!” led me to create an entire collection of jewelry which I started selling at a local artisan marketplace in the Arts District in Los Angeles. My customers kept coming back and ONYX xoxo grew very organically. I love that we still cater to person by person to keep them smiling. Read more>>

Eli Dewitz

It all started back in the 90’s in a little place called Kansas City. A town known for its hole in the wall jazz clubs, the best barbecue around and you guessed it, The Wizard Of Oz. Back then, my mom was an aerobics instructor and we had music playing constantly throughout our house. She used to joke that she could leave me in a room with mirrors and music for hours and I would keep myself entertained. I think she preferred somebody watching me though, so she put me into dance class. Little did she know, that single decision to enroll me into a tap class at age five would impact my life forever. From an early age, I was passionate about performing. I may not have been the best dancer, but I sure had the biggest facial expressions. When my teachers asked us to dance full out, I was not playing around. For many years, dance was just a fun hobby for me. I enjoyed where I was placed and was content dancing in the intermediate level. In 2005 a new show aired called So You Think You Can Dance and my eyes were opened to all of the creative possibilities that could be available to me as a dancer. Read more>>

Stefan L. Smith

At an early age, I constantly listened to music and could hear so many different parts in my head that weren’t aurally represented in the recordings. I grew up in what many would call a low income/middle class suburb of Chicago (Joliet, IL), which lacked funding in their music programs, but they made up for it with inspiring instructors. I started playing the viola in third grade and fell in love with it. However, I was also excited that I could finally start writing down all of the ideas that were swimming in my head. Playing in an orchestra at an early age introduced me to repertoire that, to this day, continues to inspire me as a composer. That’s one big reason why I still love performing as much as composing music. I began to become inspired by all types of composers but took a huge liking to the film music genre in middle school. Composers like: John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, Howard Shore, and James Horner were fully loaded in my cassette/CD wallet (yes, I was born in 1985). It was around the age of 12 that I decided that I wanted to become a film composer and a professional violist. Read more>>

Tomas Cutts

I grew up in Grand Rapids, MI. Born Nov. 2nd, 1995 to Tom and Dianna Cutts. My dad is a musician and my mom an accountant and I feel like I gained the best of both worlds. Artistically and in business. I sports throughout my life but grew up surrounded by a musical family. I always loved to draw. I moved to Illinois for school and played basketball in college at Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago. In Chicago is where I met some of my closest friends to this day. In 2016 while still in school, I had a clothing brand ‘God Gifted’ where my partners DiAngelo Perry and Dwight Bolden ran until we came to a hault because of other life reasons. Through God Gifted was where I found the love for storytelling. I felt there was a message that we were trying to get across through various mediums using the clothes as a main platform. I changed my major five times in college. At my first school being athletic training, health science, and exercise science. Then I transferred to Roosevelt and they only had biology. Read more>>

Donovan Jones

After graduating from George Mason University in 2018, I was introduced to the film production world on Wonder Woman 1984 (2021) which was shooting in DC for about a month or so. Before that job was even complete, I started working jobs for Marriot, Adidas, and HGTV. Shortly after, I got to work as a staff “walkie PA” on the movie “Harriet” following the story of Harriet Tubman. That’s the film project that changed the game for me. I went on to work over 300 PA days on projects like Showtime’s The Good Lord Bird starring Ethan Hawke, Catfish, American Ninja Warrior, Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse starring Michael B. Jordan and much more! – Now, I am working as the assistant to the executive producer on a CBS/Apple TV show called “Swagger” which is being backed by Kevin Durant. – On top of all this, I own my own non-profit style record label called “Unity Records”, and have my own production company where I produce and direct content for local artists and businesses. Read more>>

Electra Gustafsson

It all started in Sweden where I was born, creating independent short films and it continued to the USA where I am currently based in the heart of Hollywood. At first, I personally wanted to be a Producer and Director but then I wanted it to be more and now in this upcoming year 2021, the plan is to open it up as a company. I did not start with a lot of equipment or resources so made the best of what I could and reached out to a lot of people. In the beginning, it was difficult but I kept going and found talent who wanted to collaborate and create as well. By exploring opportunities and talking about how teamwork makes the dream work, the list of artists and crew members started to grow. Read more>>

Troy Brookins

My story is quite interesting on how I started and how I got to where I am today. I grew up in the inner city of Cleveland, OH in low-income housing. I do not like to complain much about that because it truly developed a person that I had no idea I’d become. The housing projects were called Garden Valley. I met some lifelong friends there and I also lost a lot of friends due to murder or ones that failed victim to the system, either way those boys will forever be my brothers. Along the journey, there were other friends that started to become like brothers to me from other neighborhoods that my neighborhood didn’t quite get along with. King Kennedy, Case Court, Unwin, 30th, those projects were all surrounding my high school (East Tech) and were also places where I established a solid group of friends, despite the troubles it would bring in my own neighborhood. Fast forward a couple of years, ended up heading off to college (Tiffin University Division II) on a partial scholarship after losing all of my big offers (Ohio State, Minnesota, Michigan, Miami, USC and UCLA) due to the lack of my test scores. Most of the colleges that offered me a full-ride my junior year were all BIG schools. Read more>>

Nasos Gatzoulis

Ever since I was 18 years old, I started randomly writing and collecting notes on any piece of paper I could find. These notes would be all sorts of thoughts on philosophical subjects, human interactions I would observe and personality traits that I found interesting. I would also make note of images and visual cues that I would randomly imagine. Slowly I began to realize that all these random notes could eventually be tied into stories with beginning middle and end and filled with imagery that I found inspiring. I began to shoot these stories as short film projects through my 20s while I was also earning my bachelor’s degree in Political Science and at the same time crewing on all sorts of sets so that I can gain the most experience into the world of cinema. These experiences are what I considered my first film school. Read more>>

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