First of all, let’s set the record straight. I never watched Young and the Restless. I remember being “forced” to watch soap operas when I was growing up because my grandmother and mother had their moments of being addicted. I couldn’t tell you a thing about them now, except maybe I might recall the theme songs. And I never paid much attention to the directors of films until recently. And unless the writer was an actor-friend of mine, I rarely cared who wrote any of the films I watched.
So how on earth did someone like me even happen upon an actor/director/producer/writer/musician like the phenomenal Michael Damian? I will tell you honestly. It is literally by the grace of God that I “happened” upon this man and his ground-breaking film High Strung. And it is even more miraculous that he chose to give of his time and grant me an interview. But he did just that.
In the following interview, you will read about the humble man whom I am only just discovering. He is fiercely passionate about filmmaking and his most recent release, High Strung. I believe the text demonstrates that exceptionally well. What I could not encapsulate was the warmth of his voice, the genuine interest and encouragement he displayed, and his darling laugh. If I tried to insert all the times he laughed, I might have doubled the length of this interview. So without further ado, enjoy the interview of this benevolent, unpretentious, and absolutely amazing individual named Michael Damian.
R: I think I first heard about High Strung because you were on Home & Family. I was never into soap operas when I was younger. I had heard about you, but I didn’t make all the connections until that moment.
M: Well, I’m glad that’s how we got connected–through Home & Family. It’s a really great show. It’s really funny–my niece actually works on the show in the wardrobe department. So it’s kinda cool. They’re good people. And one of the people that works over there, Will Keck, was an intern at CBS in 1981 during the time I was on Young & the Restless. And he remembers that I gave him a ride in my Ferrari. And my response to that? “That’s awesome!”
There’s an active Hallmark group on facebook, and once I brought up your name and that I was interviewing you, it was crazy with questions! In fact, there was a fan that shared a fan story of when they met you when you were on Young & the Restless.
Oh, really? That’s awesome. I hope it was a good encounter for them.
Oh, yes. Here’s Sherry Edie’s story in her own words:
“My friend, Mandy and I met Michael at the Original Farmers Market in Los Angeles — maybe back in 1981 or 1982 or so. He was on “The Young and the Restless” at that time, OR just about to join the cast, and CBS was/is across the back parking lot from Farmers Market. A lot of the actors and game show hosts went to FM on their lunch breaks. He was also popping up in various teen magazines, alongside people like Leif Garrett and Scott Baio.
Michael had a black Porsche at that time. He drove the Porsche and parked in front of the area where Mandy and I were sitting at the Farmers Market. She recognized him instantly, and asked if he was Michael Damian. He proceeded to pull up a chair and sit down with us for almost one hour, chatting and talking about his teen idol status, joining Y&R, and his music, his family, and whatever else. He was so down to earth and friendly. I don’t think he ever got any food. We took up his whole break, and then he hugged and kissed us goodbye, got in the Porsche and drove away.”
After all these years, she told me she still remembers it.
That’s great. That makes me really happy. I love it when we hear stories like that. I’ve got great memories of meeting people in my life. It makes a big impression. And it can make a big impression when it’s not such a good meeting.
I can imagine. I can understand that.
It’s like, I wish I’d never met them. You know what I mean? Now my dreams are crushed.
Hopefully those kinds of meetings are very few and far between.
Well, I’m just glad that fan had a good experience.
You have a lot of fans in the Hallmark community. They were having a blast asking all sorts of question and saying, “Ask him this,” or “Ask him that.” Thankfully a lot of the questions were similar because otherwise there could have been a good 25 or 30 questions.
Oh my gosh! We need to set up a twitter chat with all of them. (See the information below!) The really cool thing about the channel (Hallmark)–and this is completely coincidental–is that one of the biggest Christmas releases for the channel was A Princess for Christmas, which is what my wife and I wrote, produced, and directed. But they’ve also had The Sweeter Side of Life, Marley & Me: The Puppy Years, Flicka 2, Flicka Country Pride, Moondance Alexander–all these movies we’ve made have been on the channel. It just kind of worked out that way. We made them for Fox, and they sold them to Hallmark. We make family-friendly films, and there aren’t that many channels out there with programming like that.
Oh so true.
I’m sure you know about that. There’s a lot of cynicism, a lot of dysfunctional people–not to say we don’t have conflict in life, but there’s also resolution and a way to resolve your differences and problems. This is something we take very seriously as filmmakers. We always want to put out some kind of positive message through our films that leave you with some hope versus leaving you with, “Well, that was a really good movie, but now I’m depressed.” or “I don’t feel so good after watching this. I really wish I hadn’t.”
Oh yeah, I’ve been there. I do want to say Princess for Christmas is one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies.
Aw, thank you.
And I’m not alone because a lot of people said that. And I was noticing on your page, is there a possibility for a sequel to that?
Well, we were going to do one, but what happened is we got involved with High Strung. We wrote a story outline for A Royal Christmas. But we couldn’t make the movie, and we really couldn’t finish the script either. So we set it up, and the parent company we were working with finished the movie. And we went on to work on High Strung.
We never made Princess For Christmas 2. We were going to but… Sam Heughan has his own show now–Outlander and Katie McGrath is on to doing Jurassic World. It’s tough to do a follow-up when you can’t get the cast back together.
I will say at least that the first one, every time that one is on, it seems that our family just sits down and watches it. There’s something special about it. I guess it’s the cast, the writing of that film–I think it’s enjoyable.
Well, thank you. You know, we had a magical setting. Real snow. And we found a real castle. That’s the difference when you have that kind of background. First it starts with the script, then it goes to cast and setting. And that’s the same thing with High Strung. We did the script–we’ve got to get the script right. And then we’ve got to find the right cast. And casting is so important, and we were so fortunate to find Keenan Kampa who is an extraordinary ballerina. I don’t know if you know she’s the first and only American ever accepted to the Mariinsky Ballet Company of Russia, which is one of the most important ballet companies in the world. You have the real deal. You have a world class ballerina playing a ballerina. An actress trying to play a ballerina who has some ballet experience, you would have to bring in a body double. There’s no body doubles in any of the dances. And what you see is really what you get. From a directorial standpoint, it’s great to get to film the dancers from head to toe without any cheating or Hollywood razzle dazzle. Because the razzle dazzle’s right there.
I remember after I saw you on Home & Family, I was looking up the film to see if it was going to be showing anywhere near me. When I saw it wasn’t, I thought, “Ok, I’ll have to wait for it,” because it wasn’t showing anywhere near me.
We had a limited theatrical release in something like the top 30 markets. We tried to get into as many places as we could. We also tried to target the heavy dance communities that we hoped would come out and support it. That was part of the release strategy, always knowing it was going to be on the digital platforms, which is where everyone is finding everything nowadays. We are excited to be on multiple platforms now: ITunes, On Demand, Amazon, Amazon video, which is great, and now FandangoNOW. So that’s really cool. This is all new to me as well. Fandango’s now in the game, this is great! It makes so much sense because that’s where you get your movie tickets. I know all our movies and showtimes were on Fandango as well. And now you can buy the movie on FandangoNOW which is pretty cool.
Is High Strung going to be released on DVD?
Yes, in July, there should be a physical DVD of High Strung released.
I actually was waiting for the DVD release, but then I got tired of waiting and decided I would go ahead and watch it digitally.
It will be great to have it released on DVD and Blu-ray. That’s what I do. I love having a physical DVD with the packaging and the artwork. But hey, however people want it. If they want it on their Ipad, great. It is great that by using On Demand, you can watch it on your big-screen TV at home. We’re thrilled with all the different opportunities because the world has changed so dramatically. It just depends how you like to watch your entertainment.
I also noticed what a good social media campaign you have going for the movie.
Thank you. We’ve really worked hard at it. We started on Day One. We have an incredible team, and we started even before we rolled camera announcing it, and it has just been building and building, and it’s building all around the world. The film is actually in theaters in several countries right now–South Africa, Greece, the Philippines, Singapore, just to name a few. And this summer, it will be on major theatrical wide release in Germany, France, Italy, and all of the international territories. So we’re really excited with the international rollout of the film.
What inspired you to enter the entertainment industry?
My mother is a concert pianist. I have eight brothers and sisters. She taught us all music at a very young age. We all branched off into different instruments. I was really a musician, and we had a family band for about ten years. We performed all over. Then I got a break. I had a single record out when I was sixteen called “She Did It,” and I was on American Bandstand performing it, and the producers of Young and the Restless saw me on American Bandstand and wrote the character of a struggling singer/waiter and asked me if I wanted to play the role. And I had no acting experience at the time, but when they asked me if I knew how to act, I said, “Of course I can act.” But if someone had asked if I had ever acted, I would have said, “No, I never have.”
I was going to play the character Danny Romalotti for three months–for the summer–and at the end of the summer, the show asked me if I could stay for three to five years. They said I could continue doing my music. You can do your tours and your albums, and we’ll work around your schedule. So that was really cool. Danny Romalotti is on tour, so is Michael Damian. Danny Romalotti is in the studio recording, so is Michael Damian. Danny Romalotti has a number one record “Rock On,” so does Michael Damian. That was my first actually. Michael Damian stars on Broadway playing Joseph in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s show, so does Danny Romalotti. They followed the career aspect really to a tee which was pretty cool. I was a regular on the show for nineteen years, and then I came back, and I still come back for small cameo appearances. But really, I’ve transitioned into movie-making. That’s my love and passion, so I wouldn’t do a contract now, but if I happen to be in town and something wonderful is happening, I’ll pop in. It’s kind of fun. Art imitates life or vice versa. I was really very fortunate. Some amazing opportunities happened for me, but you have to get out there and do the physical footsteps–you know what I mean? You have to get out there and work hard and look for it, and when opportunity knocks, you’ve got to really be ready. I’m just really thrilled that it happened the way it did.
You and your wife do a lot of the writing of these films together, is that correct?
Yes, we write together, and we produce. Janeen is also an amazing dancer. Do you know her dance background at all by chance?
I actually don’t.
The movie High Strung is loosely based on her story. She got a scholarship at fourteen to the School of American Ballet, which is one of the most amazing ballet schools in the country. It’s in New York City. And so that’s where it all began for her. In the movie, where the mom drops her off, that’s identical–literally the dialogue was exactly that moment in her life. Where she’s from Jackson, Mississippi, and her mom is now like, “Now, sweetie, this is everything you’ve ever wanted and everything you’ve dreamt of–here it is.” You know, “I love you. Good luck. Miss you.” It was really hard for Janeen being fourteen in New York City. In the big city and an intimidating school. So that was kind of the driving force–the nucleus for the whole story. Janeen went on and danced contemporary. She moved out to LA after being at the school for five years and landed a show by accident. She was in a dance class–she always took class every day–and the producers and choreographer of Solid Gold, one of the most popular dance shows ever on television–they had big stars performing on it and they were looking for the next big Solid Gold dancer. And they said to her, “We need you on the show.” So she landed that show. And from there, she danced with Michael Jackson, Prince. She did the Oscars. Emmys, Golden Globes, the American Music Awards–all the big shows–she was the A-list dancer in Hollywood. And I come from the music world originally. So we said, “Let’s make a movie of our two passions dance and music.” Let’s do a story of a ballerina and a hip hop violinist.” Although I don’t play hip hop violin, I play keyboards and vibes. Now, vibes are not really a theatrical instrument. Although I made it theatrical when I performed on it because I lit my mallets on fire to create some excitement. But we had to find an instrument you could have on stage with a dancer that wouldn’t be dangerous to those dancers.
The dueling violins–I loved that scene.
Thank you. I’m so glad you liked it. It’s one of my favorites. I call it “The Pirates of the Caribbean scene.” I always wanted violinists to have a swordfight. It was fun.
It’s not easy to make a film. There’s a lot of moving parts. There’s a lot of collaborating and a lot of people you have to work with. That’s what makes it so exciting. That’s why I like it. There are so many aspects from the conception to the casting to the building the team to the location to the filming, post-production, music, even through to the marketing, there are several tiers
High Strung has been a two-year project. It’s an incredible experience. I’d do it again, in fact, we’re gonna. We love it. I appreciate that people like you understand the complexity of it. If it were easy, everybody could do it.
I noticed you’re doing a sequel to High Strung.
Yes, we are working on it. We’re not sure if the title is going to be High Strung 2. We kind of use that as a working title. It was all we could think of at the time. But we have a new idea–my wife and I are working on it–and what’s so great is when promoting High Strung, what we did is went out and visited dance schools and conventions across the country, and we were like, “Okay, while we’re here promoting the film, we should really let them dance. We should see them now.” So we saw dancers all over the country. We’ve got a list and video and contacts of some incredible kids that we saw–teens and young adults. We saw some amazing dancers. It triggered ideas for characters and situations and some really exciting numbers we could do. Our plan is to finish the script in the month of May, start casting over the summer, and the goal would be to shoot this September. You’re the first person I’ve talked to about this actually. I am hoping that will be the schedule. We’re hoping to roll in the fall.
I would love to see a sequel to it, as I’m sure many people would. It was so nice to watch a movie where it was family friendly–no profanity, no sex–my daughter is 12 and I wouldn’t mind her sitting there and watching it. And even my parents could watch it. There just aren’t enough movies like that out there.
Thank you for recognizing that. I hope and pray we get the support of families. There’s a lot of people online complaining that there’s not enough family programming. But as much complaining as there is, they need to be proactive and actually come out and support the movie. That’s the thing. And we need them to come out in full force because that’s the only way we can continue is if they support us. And then the message will get back to Hollywood. Hollywood is inspired by box office numbers. If High Strung does well–and we’re off to a really great start–there could be more films like this. And other studios would make films in the PG range where everyone could watch the movie. That would be wonderful. We write with a conscience, and we have to believe in what we are doing. We want to inspire young dancers–young people–but the way to inspire them is they have to see the movie. We don’t want them to sneak into an R-rated movie. Also, the parents are incredibly important because we want them to enjoy the film as well. For me personally, it’s a thrill to have my mom and my nieces all love the movie. And that means a great deal to me. Because you don’t have to put earmuffs on or send someone out of the room. I think the film has edge, and there is conflict, and there is drama, and there’s romance. We maxed it out to the point where we could feel comfortable with it and it would be appropriate for the audience. We had to follow the story. The characters really tell us what to do. We worked for the characters. We wanted to write a story that was fun, inspiring, and romantic and hopeful.
From my perspective, you succeeded.
Thank you. That means a lot. I really appreciate it.
You’re welcome. In the filming of High Strung, were there any special moments that stood out to you?
I really love the scene in the ballroom–the tango really turned out well with those dueling violins. Nicholas Galitzine (Johnnie) and Richard Southgate (Kyle)–they were incredible. They were so committed and so rehearsed. They did their own rehearsing in the hotel rooms. They got in trouble. They got calls from the manager that there was noise. They thought they were having a party and they said, “No, we’re rehearsing the ‘sword fight,’ the battle.” And they were rehearsing their dialogue. I mean they were having a “shove fest.” They worked so hard. And that number was really amazing.
And you know, another number that was a memorable moment when Ruby did her solo at the dance studio with the teacher Kramrovsky, and Johnnie’s watching her. That number blew away the crew. I’ll never forget looking over at the big 250-lb. Romanian grip, and I saw tears coming from his eyes down his cheek. And that’s something that was really awesome. It emotionally moved him. For all the crew and everyone there, it was really a magical moment. I’ll never forget the first frame when I saw it with Johnnie looking at Ruby through the window and his expression, his eyes. On the video tap, I remember seeing that and I thought, “Oh, wow, that is amazing. I can’t wait for people to see that. That is real, so beautiful, so heartfelt.” When chemistry happens, it just happens. Johnnie and Ruby had–you tell me–but I think they had really good chemistry.
Oh yeah. Definitely. I was thinking that when you watch the film, you forget that it is film because it seems so real. Lots of times, when I’m watching a film, I can watch the film and do other things. Not with this film. I was captivated from the beginning. I could hardly break away to do anything else. The music, the dance, and the acting seemed so genuine.
That is awesome! I love hearing that! I love hearing that you were swept away. That’s the ultimate compliment. As a filmmaker, I don’t ever want you to feel like you’re just watching a movie. Or as a director, I don’t want you pulled out of the movie with tricky stuff where you actually notice the trick shot. I’d rather you stay in the story. Sometimes people will say, “I noticed this or that or that jumped out.” If it jumped out, it can be a good thing or I might worry if it disrupted the story. I was hoping the story just kept flowing. That was the goal.
So why did the interview stop? Well, his wife had breakfast on the table–see, he is a real person! And in truth, we had discussed all my questions and more. He was gracious to fill me in on his background (yes, I know, some of you probably have his backstory memorized), his wife’s background, but there was one thing that stood out to me more than anything else. I don’t think I have ever heard “thank you” so many times during an interview. Not that actors and directors aren’t grateful, mind you, but it was thrilling to continue to hear those words of gratitude.
In conclusion, some people may wonder why it is that I am so passionate about certain actors and their works. Sometimes, my twitter page is so full of retweets that visitors are hard-pressed to find an actual tweet from me. Well, let me inform you of what it is. When an entertainer makes the decision to invest time in me–whether it’s in acknowledgement, responses, or in Michael’s case, granting an interview, I cannot tell you just how that touches me. I know just how busy they are, and they do not have to notice me, an amateur writer from Washington state. But when they make the choice to do that, I feel that it is the least I can do to support them. They work so arduously in this business, and there are those days when I’m sure they wonder if all the difficulties and inconveniences associated with their chosen profession is worth it. If I can be that voice that lets them know that it is worth it and encourage them to keep fighting the good fight, it is truly an honor. Michael Damian is decidedly one of the sweethearts of the business, and he and Janeen will continue to have my full and illimitable support no matter what the future may hold.
By the way, do you want to hang out with Michael at a virtual party? Be sure to join him Saturday, May 7, on Facebook and Twitter at 6 P.M. Pacific time, 9 P.M. Eastern time for a party celebrating his film High Strung and with special recognition to his Hallmark fans.
Follow High Strung:
Follow Michael Damian:
Interested in subscribing to all my site's updates? Subscribe below!