…when we make films with true diversity, especially when it depicts unity, it is something that becomes the norm and can take down barriers and build bridges between us; that’s needed especially now.
As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Multi award-winning filmmaker and actor, Harley Wallen. Harley has starred in over 40 feature films and TV shows with legendary stars such as Tom Sizemore, Tara Reed and John Savage among many others. He started his journey as a Martial Artist early with Judo at age 7 and is now a 5th degree black belt. Harley also spent time learning other arts (Jiu-Jitsu, Tae Kwon — Do black-belts as well) and Mixed Martial Arts. His other love at a young age was dance as he was an outstanding break dancer in his teen years. His sheer talent and skill is what landed him his first opportunity in acting as a dancer at the syndicated Swedish TV cult hit ‘Solstollarna’! Soon after, he realized he was bitten by the acting bug. Harley then moved from Sweden to the United States to boldly pursue his dreams. After a short stint these plans got sidetracked by business opportunities as Harley climbed various career ladders. After returning to acting It wasn’t long before the roles started coming and the growth he had experienced in the business world started happening to him in the acting world. After the film incentives ended in Michigan, he decided to start making films of his own. Not having a film school background with only limited experience, he decided to go online to further his education in filmmaking and took several more classes and seminars in acting. Finally in 2016 Harley and his wife Kaiti formed the film production company ‘Painted Creek Productions’. The one thing he really takes pride in is his commitment to the character he is playing regardless the size of the role or the paycheck. Harley is now writing, producing, acting and directing and has found his life’s purpose.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Harley! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Sweden, southern Sweden first in a small village and then to the City of Malmo.
I am the oldest of three siblings in a musical family, we had more instruments than people in our house growing up. I fell in love with Judo at an early age and eventually really found my groove and competed all over Europe. I tried a few other Martial Arts but never quite got to the same level as my Judo. My second love was Break Dancing. As a young teen I started Break Dancing and eventually I was doing shows and performing all over and that’s actually what eventually lead to my first acting experience as a dancer on the cult hit cabaret style TV show “Solstollarna”. Being on the show I got fascinated with Acting after seeing the actors on the show. I started taking acting classes and was hooked so to speak.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Since I already talked about my acting I can share the story about Filmmaking. I live in Michigan near Detroit and as most people know Detroit was a front runner on film incentives, but I was sitting on set when the former Governor Snyder cut the film incentives and at the time there wasn’t much of an independent film scene in Michigan. I looked at my scene partner Walbert Beltran and after both of us had opportunities in bigger films and said “Who’s going to make sure any films of quality comes out of Michigan now?” We both decided along with my wife Kaiti Wallen to put our names in the hat. After making a couple of short films and even a feature we realized we needed to get better, we simply didn’t know enough so we took classes and I can highly recommend Rocketjump as a great information source. I brought on a crew and a co-director in Jerry Hayes and Co-Producer Nancy Oeswein to make Moving Parts (On Amazon Prime) and we’ve made strides ever since!
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Oh great question.. There was so many especially in the beginning… But I think at our Betrayed Red Carpet Premiere we were at The Chinese Theater in Hollywood. I flew in a few days early and I went there two days prior to screen test the film when I noticed that the patches for three transition scenes were missing. Of course I almost fainted when I saw but I contacted my distributor to send me the VOD link instead so I could turn that into the screening copy. We realized the huge file size and knew we’d be up against it but we managed to download the proper link file within a half hour of the Premiere and played the film off a laptop.. This is actually the first time I’ve publicly shared that, it was crazy actually how many people I contacted to get it on screen properly who said it couldn’t be done, there wasn’t enough time, but persistence prevailed..
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oh there was so many mistakes but not realizing what goes into making a film and mounting a shot gun microphone on the camera and having to deal with awful audio in post-production of our first short film was funny in a not so funny way.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Right now we are getting ready for an incredibly busy stretch as “Eternal Code” is heading to theaters August 30th and it has such an incredible ensemble cast with Richard Tyson, Scout Taylor Compton, Billy Wirth, Yan Birch and Mel Novak and many more. Then in October we should see “Abstruse” and November “Enigma” followed by “A Bennett Song Holiday” (Sequel to the Family Rom-Com Bennett’s Song released last August). The the highly anticipated Horror Film “Agramon’s Gate” that’s been such a festival darling so far in February 2020, and as crazy and busy as that sounds we also shot a short film we’re pretty proud of I feel is pretty timely called “Snapshot” and just recently wrapped another Horror film “Ash and Bone”… Each time I share this I look at the agenda and take a deep breath.. Wish me luck!
I’m very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Sure, first off we should all feel represented in art and identify with people on both sides of the camera. I think it provides hope to each of us that we can do it too!
Second I also feel when we make films with true diversity especially when it depicts unity it is something that becomes the norm and can take down barriers and build bridges between us and that’s needed especially now.
Third I love to learn and grow as a human so I learn a lot when I work with people unlike me. For instance in the Bennett Song films we made an effort to not cast hearing people and teach them ASL but rather actually hiring deaf actors for those roles. It was a great learning experience and a great time for us all and it shows in the film!
From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
First off realize that there is a huge market who will NOT identify with your movie if it excludes them, I think that’s something everyone can get behind.
Second, imagine watching movies and TV show never seeing someone you can relate to or someone that look and sound like you…
Third I think we need to live it, don’t be afraid of different.. There is so much to learn and share and it would be a shame to miss out on that because we are comfortable…
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I love these questions! Fantastic things even to myself are brought back!
- First of I wish people in general were more openhanded with help, making films is hard, very hard and many things we don’t need to learn first-hand but from a mentor or someone ahead of you taking you under their wing. To me this is something I’ve made a point of really going after.. I meet with other filmmakers and actors help them skip some of the mistakes.
- Second I wish someone would have told me to research distribution and learn the ropes in a very cut throat business where not all offers are the same and not all distributors are either. We had to delay several films we first made for the simple reason my lawyer Bill Dobreff read each of the first 10 or so contract offers and said “Sorry Harley, don’t sign it, you’ll never see a dime.”
- Third, don’t get too low when someone says mean things about you or your project or performance. It’s become far too easy to anonymously hate on people and their work. What would be considered cyberbullying on social media is somehow acceptable on IMDb and other sites and in comments all over. At first when you’ve put everything aside for a year plus to make a film, it can be pretty rough to have people rip it apart, but I’ve learned that’s on them and it’s really sad they don’t care enough about others to be respectful. A good friend of mine said “look them up and see what they’ve ever done!”
- Fourth, get great representation! I had agencies but never managers and publicists and legal help up until about two hyears ago. I can’t tell you enough how important that is especially in the beginning.. We’re not all Bill Murray with a top secret pitch phone number. I have so much to thank my Manager and Publicist Joe Williamson for in all he does and my Manager Bennie Taylor for such great opportunities to get great roles in projects I wouldn’t have without him. And I already mentioned Bill Dobreff who’s been incredible with his legal assistance for me!
- Fifth, don’t forget to have fun… This is a very fast paced, stressful business and if you let it it’ll chew you up and spit you back out or worse so remember how incredibly fortunate you are that you’re doing this in the first place!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I think ultimately if you’re going to do this at all, make sure you love it as much as you love anything else, you’ll need it! Like I said before from funding a film, to pre-production and then of course all the challenges in production and post production and distribution if you don’t absolutely LOVE it then it’ll break you or burn you out for sure. And when I say LOVE it, I don’t mean the celebrity part, I mean the grind, the work, the hustle on a daily basis. Also instead of focus groups and marketplace trends (although important) you should make art you love and desire to express, you’re way less likely to burn out when you do. When you’re excited about a project you can create a movement and be a trendsetter or trailblazer, don’t let the market be your only guide, let your love and passion be the first guide!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
One of my big loves in filmmaking is how pursuing my dreams enable me to help others reach theirs. I love passionate and talented people who get the big picture of creating and collaborating and of course sharing. I find room for those people because their energy is contagious and that’s a movement I want to be a part of. A movement that enables and activates dreams, hope, and love! I love building bridges and I love helping people! I believe all those things come full circle eventually and if nothing else I’ll end up living a life I can be proud of. My good friend and fellow Swede Yan Birch and I talk at great length of this as we are both passionate about it!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have so many I’ll try to narrow it down, but let’s start with my mom Laila who’s still in Sweden but she’s such an inspiration and so supportive. She has been there for me every step of the way of everything, good and bad! She is an amazing person and my hero! I also have to mention my wife Kaiti who’s wired similarly. I remember being at a cross roads leaving my employment wanting to venture into filmmaking but lacked the guts to take the jump at the financial risks when she said pretty much to trust what I feel and that if I don’t go for it now, I probably never will. Saying how much she believed in me and my abilities was what made me trust and believe in myself to take the leap of faith. I’m blessed with so many people like that at my side like Annette Cama my co-producer who took a huge bet on me and has an incredible trouble solving attitude that finds ways whenever we are stuck. She’s in Europe right now touring with her daugther Angelina Danielle Cama who’s a very talented actress and musician/singer. She’s become a really good friend and partner! My editor Fred Mossman who’s taken our post production to a whole new level and it just comes to show how important building a team is!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My life lesson is actually the serenity prayer, if you’re not a Christian you may feel like skipping this but don’t because it’s powerful. I’ve lived through losing so many very close people at far too young ages and I learned how fragile life is and how easily it’s all gone and that we can’t control that. I think it’s huge to learn to spend your time and energy on things within your own control instead of worrying about the things others are in control of. I think it takes me from a flash light to a laser beam and so much more can be done when I do and it comes with great peace of mind!
I didn’t use to have that and I’d much rather live this way!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Haha, many of my great inspirations have passed away such as Bob Marley and Bruce Lee but my favorite Actor is Robert DeNiro and I’d love to talk with him and I am always intrigued by Quentin Tarantino because he does what he wants and he lives so much of what I strive to be and do by marching to the beat of his own drum.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My social media is a bit of a cluster as I started most of it as a professional MMA fighter and I was known as Harley The Swede (I think my broadcast partners on Warrior Wednesdays on UFC Fight Pass still calls me that) and some came after as I became a filmmaker, so here goes. OfficialHarleyWallen on Instagram, Harley Wallen on Facebook and HarleyTheSwede on Twitter.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!
Thank you for taking the time and I must compliment on the questions, I loved it!