For as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in acting. Growing up in an artistic family helped lead me in a direction towards the performing arts. My father, Matthew, was a locally famous jazz musician; my mother entered her share of beauty contests in her early adult life; and my sister, Mara, was a successful actress until her untimely passing from breast cancer in 2006. My father passed away last year from bladder cancer and I had a cancer scare of my own 10 months ago that, thankfully, turned out to be negative.
A few years ago, while working as the editor of a newspaper, I learned of a young man by the name of Brian Smith who was a filmmaker and cancer survivor. Smith had created a company called Atlantian Films, an independent movie company in Connecticut that was run mostly by cancer survivors and caregivers.
Smith, who also goes by the professional name Brian Spectre, had survived two close calls with death due to his aggressive stage-4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Against all odds, he beat the cancer, but the toll from chemotherapy and radiation left his body weak at times. He’s undergone numerous operations and is on multiple daily medications just to get through the day as pain free as possible.
Brian has never complained about his pain. He is a dedicated professional that doesn’t believe in making excuses. In an industry where producing independent films is hectic enough, he is a true inspiration to those who know his story.
Brian’s love of life and passion for filmmaking is palpable. His dream is to make films in the state of Connecticut using local cast and crew. He also wishes to create a film workshop for cancer patients who want to learn the art of filmmaking. Brian understands discrimination when it comes to fairness in the workplace to those with health issues. A workshop for cancer patients would allow them to learn an artistic trade while taking part in an Atlantian Films production.
While interviewing Brian for my newspaper, we talked about my acting background and he asked if I would consider playing the lead villain in a full-length science fiction adventure called “Mindscapes.” The film involved two telepathic CIA operatives left over from the Cold War who must race each other into the mind of a comatose woman—one that holds a secret code that reveals all of the Mindscapes (those with telekinetic/telepathic abilities) throughout the world.
Although I love acting, I realized I hadn’t performed in front of a camera since my sister’s death in 2006. A part of me lost interest after she passed away, but now I was being offered this fantastic role. For an actor the idea of playing a lead in a feature film was alluring.
I agreed to take the role of “Gerth,” a megalomaniac and genetically altered telepath out for world domination. The script is action-packed and on par with any big-budgeted blockbuster in theaters today. Last summer, two Hollywood studios actually approached Brian about selling the rights to his film. It seems some bigwig had heard about the initial “Mindscapes” trailer shown at a local film fest and thought it might be worthy of reshooting on a serious budget (currently set at $3.4 million).
Brian was initially thrilled that Hollywood had taken an interest in his film until he discovered they didn’t intend to use him or any of his Connecticut-based crew. The verbal offer was to sell the rights and be gone. One studio representative even went so far as to tell Brian that, because of his cancer history, he might not be insured while working on a studio film. Brian respectfully declined the studio offers, as it meant more to him to be loyal to his friends and family who had worked so hard up to that point.
I was intrigued by his philosophy, and that of his team. The organization’s motto—“Cancer Survivors who CAN!”—really hit home for me. Brian and his team created the Cancer Survivors Who Can Charities, Inc., a non-profit organization to be recognized as tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the United States Internal Revenue Code.
In May of this year, “Mindscapes” had raised enough funds to start full production. As of now the cast and crew are all volunteers. The goal is to be able to raise enough money for the cancer foundation soon. Filming will continue through the end of 2013 with non-theatrical distribution sometime at the end of 2014, if all goes well.
As an Armenian-American actor who has had several members of my immediate family succumb to cancer, I am thrilled to be a part of such a noble and worthwhile endeavor.
For more information on the film’s progress, visit our Atlantian Films page on Facebook. To make a donation, visit indiegogo.com and type in “Cancer Survivors Who Can Charities.” Readers may also e-mail our producer, Maura Fitzgerald, at [email protected] for more information.