12th July 2022
Interview: Amy Bell
Written and produced by Dana Abraham himself, Neon Lights follows Clay played by Dana, a thirty two year old, revolutionary tech-tycoon who is on the verge of a hostile takeover, until he loses his cool during an interview, and retreats to a remote hideaway with his estranged family to restore balance in his life.
Thanks for talking to ReVamp, what made you want to get into directing after acting?
It's my pleasure! Thank you for having me! Truthfully, as we all are aware, it's severely challenging to 'breakthrough' into the industry, and in 2017, I made the short-film "Prisoner of Fear" that really catapulted my career as a filmmaker. Thus, directing was a natural step in the process to becoming a filmmaker, to further my knowledge and understanding of our craft. I hope to get back to directing in the feature film space, in the next few years, with the right project and team. For now, though, acting and producing have taken up my primal focus.
What do you think your best acting piece is and what made you want to get into acting?
I truly believe playing 'Clay Amani' in "Neon Lights" may be my best work to-date. It was the first lead role for me in a feature film, and it was a role that required extensive character development and commitment with the help of my coaches and director, Rouzbeh Heydari. Comparatively, ten months following Neon Lights, I played 'Damian,' in "A Hundred Lies" across some fantastic performers, but yet that role felt more natural and required far less character development, outside of the fundamentals. Thus, I'm tremendously proud of the work I've done with Clay.
My leap into acting was one that I will truly cherish. It took watching Will Smith on Oprah's show, talking about the novel "The Alchemist" that got me to search for my own 'treasure.' I, then, had taken my own trip to Egypt and after having seen the country- severely recovering from turmoil, post-war- in 2015, I had realized the ample opportunities I had the privilege of having being in a first world country- Canada. Upon my return, I enrolled in acting classes. I wasn't very good at all, it was quite difficult, but I fell in love and at that juncture, I waved 'goodbye,' to ambitions of being a lawyer, and committed holistically to wanting to be a screen actor- I found my treasure. After about a year of classes in Toronto, reading books on acting, I ended up packing up my car on a fateful December 31st of 2015, and drove out to California. I trained at Speiser/Sturges Acting Studio, couch surfing for a few months- like many artists starting out- and ended up back in Toronto where I got my first agents and got started working.
You have a new thriller ‘Neon Lights’ premiering this month, how is this different from your other shows you have done?
Neon Lights is truly such a wonderful film. It's going to always have a massive place in my heart, not only because of how vibrant and phenomenal the film is, but because it was the 'first,' and we never forgot those! It was my first film as the producer, writer and lead actor in tandem. We shot the film through the second wave of the pandemic, and the film deals with mental health, financial and familial failures, romanticism and childhood traumas, that truly were highlights of the past two years. Due to the restrictions of filming during Covid we had to create a screenplay that was limited in cast size, no extras, and unique in the sense of production design and scale, limiting ourselves to a single location that spanned over massive acreage to seem like it was larger in scope and capacity. Our films "Maternal", shot just before the pandemic, and "A Hundred Lies", just after, were vastly different. Much larger in scale, crew, cast and our overall footprint in the process of making the film as well.
What can we expect from this thriller and can you give us a sneak peek of this?
I believe given the relative theme surrounding the project of dealing with mental health issues, the battle to save one's career and to overcome traumas, the film will be very distinctly relatable to a lot of anxiety that the general populous feels day-to-day in present societies spanning throughout the world. But truly, I believe we did a phenomenal job- Rouzbeh (the director) and Dmitry (Cinematographer) and the entire production team, as well as my fellow performers- in creating such a magical thriller, filled with twists and turns, propelling the audience and viewers to continually question what is real, what is made up and what is the outcome. I hope that the film will engage the audiences throughout the entire 90-mins and I think that the trailer showcases just that!
You are starring opposite Kim Coates, how was working with Kim?
Kim is just a class act of a human being- never mind his abilities as a performer. From the earliest zoom call we had, in the preliminary stages, where he was considering the project, to now, preparing for the release of the film, he's been insanely supportive- providing guidance, wisdom, confidence and love. But having him on set was a memory I'll always look fondly upon. He commands respect for not only the work, but for timeliness, execution, efficiency, and he does it all with such kindness, compassion and tenderness. Before he left, he had given me a few words of advice, and I believe that set the standards for me, personally, for the project and my career since then.
What does your day consist of when you are filming?
I believe like all other performers, it's getting up, getting to the location, getting makeup and hair as well as wardrobe in check and then waiting to be called onto the set. Running through the scenes, ensuring we give our best efforts, for not only our coverage but our colleagues opposite us, and everyone making the film and ending the day, proud of the work. However, my daily routine always consists of meditating, at the very least, ten minutes, in order to ensure my mind, energy and thoughts are in the right place. To create a standard of operation of my soul and being. The typical filming day is hectic for everyone, and requires a lot of effort, and I've been learning over the past three years on how to manage expectations, not only my own but everyone around me, as it's immensely challenging. But I find, now, with meditation, mindfulness and love, I've been able to rise to the occasion with a lot more stability and understanding.
Finally, what made you want to write this film?
Short answer is, I really needed to give myself an opportunity to act. The longer answer is, Rouzbeh and I had become very close since our meeting on March of 2020 over a different project. We fiddled ideas on what we could accomplish over the pandemic, as most producers, and financiers were not keen on large scale films. Over the course of the months of May/June of the same year, we toyed with a 'controlled,' project; one accomplishable with minimal cast, crew, location etcetera. Furthermore, we wanted to create a project that also spoke to the real issues that society would be facing throughout the pandemic, one that closely impacted both of us- mental health. Thus, we came up with the story and I penned the script with some edits from Nikolas Benn, and together we had set the stage for what is now "Neon Lights", releasing July 12th on VOD and Digital platforms.
Neon Lights is now streaming on Apple TV+ & Amazon Prime.