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Michael Damian: From The Heart
By Marie Asner
Michael Damian said he wrote the screenplay for “Moondance Alexander” from the heart. It is the new DVD release from his company, Riviera Films and a Fox Faith selection. Damian succeeded, for the story of a young girl who gains respect by training a horse to jump, touches anyone who has an obstacle to overcome. Michael Damian is known to television fans for his award-winning, eighteen-plus years as Danny Romalotti on “The Young and the Restless,” to music fans for hit singles such as “Rock On” and as Joseph in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” A note for televisions fans, Damian is coming back to the role of Danny on "The Young and the Restless" in May 2008 for the show's 35th anniversary.
Independent filmmakers sometimes introduce their films to audiences through film festivals before having a DVD or theater release. “Moondance Alexander” has been following this route and already garnered a Best Family Feature Film Award from the Newport Beach Film Festival and a Best Feature Film Award from the Dixie Film Festival. "Moondance Alexander" has a G rating for General Audiences.
Michael Damian comes from a large musical family and his mother was a concert pianist. It’s no wonder he sings and plays several musical instruments. When Michael was in his teens, he recorded the hit “She Did It,” then “Rock On” and “Was It Nothing At All.” After an appearance on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand,” Michael was noticed for “The Young and the Restless” and eventually began his years with this series. In the music field, he has directed the music videos of "Shadows In The Night," "I Choose You" and "With Or Without You."
In, "Moondance Alexander," the girl Moondance (played by Kay Panabaker) comes from a family of two. She and her mother (Lori Loughlin), who is a painter, are the family. The opening scene of the film shows Moondance visiting her father’s grave for a talk. She is lonely and doesn’t seem to have outstanding talents, but one does come forth when she meets the pinto horse Tinkerbell (about to be named Checkers.) As noted by the horse’s owner, Dante (Don Johnson), Moondance has an affinity with animals and soon she is noticed by others in her peer group for this talent. Humor is shown in the scene of washing a horse and Moondance trying to persuade her mother to let her keep the horse.
Kay Panabaker, a rising young star, is an energetic actress and learned to ride and jump horses for the role of Moondance. Ice skater Sasha Cohen (Fiona) plays a high-toned society girl with ease and also learned to ride for the film. The two girls work against each other well. Lori Loughlin as Moondance’s mother, alternates between a growing attraction to an art student (Joe Norman Shaw) and trying to keep up with Moondance. James Best (who happens to be Michael Damian’s father-in-law) is here in the role of McClancy. The film is grounded by Don Johnson’s portrayal of Dante, the stable owner, who has his own past to contend with. Damian’s wife, Janeen Damian, knew of the actor she wanted for the role of Dante, but couldn’t think of his name. It turned out to be Johnson (“Miami Vice“ and “Nash Bridges“). “Moondance Alexander” may be one of the few family films he has made. It’s a study in acting to see him change from a gravel-voiced loner to a man with a softer tone and gentler touch. Cinematography by Julien Eudes is a definite bonus, and the film was done in Calgary, Canada. No wonder that particular shade of sky blue looked familiar.
Religion has always been a part of Michael Damian’s life. He was raised as a Christian, to have faith and to be charitable. Michael hopes “Moondance Alexander…will bring hope to people, because young people are bombarded with cynicism.” He is getting tired of stories with children parenting the parent and no love or respect shown.
We read about the ups and downs, ins and outs of show business every day in every phase of the media. I asked Michael Damien what advice he could give to someone starting out in show business. He explained it this way, "You work hard and stay focused. Put blinders on. Handle criticism and stay true to yourself. Be gracious on your way up because you will meet the same people on the way down. Treat people with respect.” Accurate words for someone thinking of making entertainment a career, or graduating from school and going into any type of work. Keep your mind on the goal and stay on your path. Criticism can be directed at your interpretation, but not you, personally. Smiles are free, use them. Respect is a door-opener. In fact, as Michael recalled, in his years on “The Young and the Restless,” he has seen interns in a few years go from being interns to executives in the business. In other words, the person who works with you could someday be your boss.
Michael Damian has directed the film "Hot Tamale" (Riviera Films 2006) co-wrote the script with Janeen Damian, plus acting, directing and co-writing the 2001 television series "Red Eye." (not to be confused with the 2005 film "Red Eye" starring Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy.) It takes the director to bring the cast together to make a film, and Michael Damian knows how it is done. From “Moondance Alexander” camera angles (for example, shot from ground up as a horse jumps) to sunsets poignantly ending a scene, it’s all in a day’s work. Timing is essential, as in precisely bringing in the soundtrack music by Mark Thomas. Instrumentation was provided by the Prague Symphony Orchestra, with Michael Damien also composing music for "Moondance." This gives multi-tasking new meaning.
“Moondance Alexander” with additional videos of “Music of Moondance Alexander” and “The Making of Moondance Alexander” is the culmination of a family-style film project. The next film in the works for Michael Damian and Janeen Damian is a romantic comedy called “Christmas at Castlebury Hall" to be filmed in Buffalo, and, of course, “The Young and the Restless."
Copyright 2008 Marie Asner
KCUR-FM (NPR) (Kansas City) Film Critic Panelist
WQFL-FM (Rockford, Ill.) “Marlar in the Morning” Film Critic
Metro Voice News (Kansas City) Film Critic
www.PhantomTollbooth.org (Chicago) Film/Music/Book Reviewer