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COKI PRODUCTIONS

Fray Forde and Catherine Dee Holly- a couple from seemingly opposite worlds but not quite, are chasing their Hollywood dreams one kick a** independent film at a time. Together the curly-haired duo, formed Coki productions named after their beloved pomeranian. What a lucky dog!

Fray and Holly birthed the creation of “Good Hair,” a film centering a couple blessed with massive manes that are in a never-ending feud over “conditioner.” The production was selected by comedic veteran Kevin Hart to screen at the world’s largest comedy festival, Just for Laughs in Montreal, Canada.

Following the film’s success, the stakes are high, but according to the pair, that’s a good thing. Coki Productions is releasing their second project on Aug. 29. called “Pop-Pop is Dead,” which was inspired after both South Carolina natives suffered a few family losses. The chaos surrounding the deaths somehow brought laughter into the atmosphere, causing the two to write a script.

“With the movie, we wanted to flip some of those Southern funeral tropes on their heads. The first thing we did was skip the funeral altogether. We wanted to do something more interesting,” says Fray. Their version of a wake involves a wild party with unlimited Moonshine. Now that sounds like a plan!

Fraye and Holly spoke with Ndlyss to give us the inside scoop on their new film, the nightmares of crowdfunding, and dissected a few dreadful Southern stereotypes.

How did you two connect to establish Coki Productions?

Catherine: We met on a film set in South Carolina. We are both from South Carolina but didn’t know [each] other when we lived there. I had just moved back from [Los Angeles] and my friend asked me to co-direct a short [film]. Fray was one of the replacement actors for one of the actors that had dropped out. The relationship didn’t begin there. We [started] dating after we both ended up in Atlanta. From there, we sat down to make something and in the process of that we realized we liked each other more as friends – 6 months later we [produced] our film “Good Hair.” That’s how Coki Productions was formed. We named it after our dog, Coki. [chuckles]

“Pop-Pop is Dead” is the polar opposite of “Good hair,” which shows range within your directorial skills. What spurred the inspiration to pen this narrative?

Fray: After we finished “Good Hair” we were kind of spinning our wheels a lot, trying to figure out where to go next. While we were on the film festival circuit, we dealt with some losses in our family. We saw how crazy it made everybody. It was the most emotional stakes we had ever seen and we saw comedy in it. We started writing from there and then it grew into sort of a love letter to our hometowns and the South.

COKI PRODUCTIONS

Americans seem to harbor some very strange beliefs and priorities in connection with funerals. What are your thoughts?

Catherine: I don’t think we celebrate, at least, not where I’m from. I do think it’s a big ordeal and multiple-day thing. It’s very rooted in Southern Baptist religion. It’s usually a church ceremony and a receiving of friends where people come into your home and bring you food for days at a time. The appropriate behavior is to “ball your eyes out.” I’ve always felt a lot of pressure going to Southern funerals because I had a thing where I didn’t like crying in public. It upset my family that I wouldn’t cry at funerals. It was definitely expected. You’re the first person to ask us this question. Pretty cool!

Following the critical acclaim of “Good Hair,” are the expectations absurdly high for “Pop-Pop is Dead?”         

Catherine: Totally! We question that all the time and we’re always like, “Is this one a piece of sh*t and we just don’t know it?” This move is very similar because Fray and I are doing what we do best, which is playing a couple. Besides that, thematically nothing else is really similar in this film. We forced ourselves into this big premiere so clearly we like putting the stakes high. We just pray we don’t drown- that’s the motto. [burst of laughter]

Fray: “Good Hair” is a very simple story about a couple that focuses on conditioner. This time we wanted to go bigger; it’s more of an ensemble cast where we focus on other characters outside of ourselves. It does feel like the stakes are high but we like the stakes being higher, it’s more fun.

What prompted the decision to integrate yourselves into the story opposed to casting other actors to play the lead roles?                                                   

Fray: Our dream is to have a TV show that focuses on a couple, admittedly us. I think we might be narcissistic. [laughs] Essentially, what we’re trying to do with our films is show that we can carry this kind of story format over multiple storylines.

Catherine: And [show that] we’re good at multiple lengths because “Good Hair” runs 24 minutes, which is kind of like our dream 22-ish-minute pilot. “Pop-Pop is Dead” is 60 minutes, which is our dream TV-movie pilot for a 1-hour dramedy. These stories felt so personal to us as well. With “Good Hair,” that situation of a couple picking hair condition so seriously… that only happens to me and Fray. After we made the film, we realized how universal that was when I had so many women come up to me and say, “I have to scream at him about my conditioner all the time!” It’s not that specific, but at the time, we felt like we were the only ones that could play that role.

“Pop-Pop is Dead” was so personal to my family and roots. I felt like I could trust myself the most with the part if that makes sense.”

COKI PRODUCTIONS

How do you both manage to act and direct at the same time while maintaining quality?

Fray: Usually, you’re writing it and your like, “We can do this!” Then you get on set, and you’re like, “Why did we think we could do this?” “Good Hair” was harder because we had never made a film before. That was a steep learning curve on our end. This time, we came in more prepared because we knew we couldn’t do it by ourselves. We did 4 months of pre-production. Our producer, Andrew B., was there through the entire process. When we were in scenes together, he was the guy behind the monitor making sure we captured the thing we intended from the beginning.

What are the biggest challenges with crowdfunding your films and has the process altered your perception about getting financed?

Catherine: We hate crowdfunding! It’s very challenging and we’re not very good at it. We still haven’t cracked it. Now, that’s not to take away from everyone who did show support to us because we did raise money. Although, we raised nowhere near the overall budget of the film. However, it was helpful and appreciated. We started to get into the system of private investors and have had executive producers who’ve come on board. That’s how we’ve made the majority of our budget. We were totally more successful with finding people who really believe in us and have a couple thousand dollars to put behind the passion projects.

“I find it difficult trying to get people to support your art, especially with money. It’s hard because there are a lot of other important things going on in the world.”

Atlanta is reported to now be the home of a $7 billion dollar film industry, how has your experience been working in what’s considered to be the “New Hollywood?”

Fray: There is no way in the world we could have made this film in Los Angeles or New York. We shot the film in Gaffney, South Carolina at Catherine’s childhood home, but the entire cast and crew was from Atlanta. We stayed in Airbnb’s with air mattresses everywhere… that wouldn’t happen in Los Angeles. There’s more community support here. [One thing] about Atlanta is that everyone’s hungry right now and willing to put the time in. You just don’t see that anywhere else.

The film premieres at Buckhead Theatre  in Atlanta on Wed. Aug. 29 To purchase tickets, head to www.poppopisdead.com.

Take a listen to the “Pop-Pop’s Dead” full soundtrack featuring songs from Jenna Desmond, Susto and Babe Club,  Matthew Lohan from Dyado, and the High Divers.

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‘LEONA’ Review AJFF: A Jewish girl defies the her family’s rules of attraction

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In an era where women are fiercely denouncing gender norms, “LEONA” is a feminist’s cinematic dream. The film examines the evolution of a young woman’s self-discovery amidst her family’s traditional Jewish beliefs on love.

In Spanish director Isaac Cherem’s “Leona,” the brilliant Naian González Norvind plays Ariela, a young Jewish woman from Mexico City who finds herself torn between her strict family’s beliefs and loving a non-Jewish man, Ivan (Christian Vazquez). For Ivan, relationships have no bounds in terms of race and background. For her, however, her family’s opposing views on intermarriage quickly throw a wrench in the relationship.

The narrative harboring over González’s character is identifiable for many women trying to figuring who they are in their mid-twenties. Throughout the film, Ariela finds herself struggling to make life-altering choices regarding her career and love life at the expense of her family’s expedited demands.

A street artist is no profession for a Jewish woman in the eyes of her community and marrying or dating a non-Jew is simply an abomination but to Ariela that was her life and what kept her going. Scene after scene, the 25-year-old rebelled against what was expected of her. And while life may have seemed to be dismantling, her confidence as a woman was strangely falling into place.

Ultimately her non-Jewish boyfriend called it quits after she refused to introduce him to her racist family as if she had the option. As for the tall , Jewish specimen her cousins forced on her after the fact she made the decision to leave him also.

The film does end with a fairytale ending, just not what you’d expect. Let’s just say Ariela wins in the end. We won’t give too many spoilers away but it’s definitely a must-watch.

The review serves as part of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. For more information, click here.

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Jussie Smollett axed from ‘Empire’ Episodes

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Reports of Jussie Smollett being cut from “Empire” scenes have surfaced amid the controversy surrounding his alleged hate attack.

The actor, 36, who plays gay singer-songwriter Jamal Lyon on the show, was contracted to have nine scenes, including a musical performance scheduled for one of the closing episodes on Season 5, according to TMZ

Smollet has currently been axed on at least five episodes of which will now feature an ensemble of characters after the show’s writers were forced to revise the scripts.

Smollett still claims he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack near his Chicago apartment Jan. 29, but there is major speculation that he paid two close pals to help stage the assault for a reason unknown.

There is a high possibility a grand jury will consider an indictment as early as Tuesday, TMZ said. Smollett could be charged with felony filing a false police report.

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Tilda Swinton shines in Joanna Hogg’s New Film ‘The Souvenir’ –– see trailer

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