Darren W. Conrad - An Officer and a Gentleman - GigSpotting.Net

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Darren W. Conrad - An Officer and a Gentleman

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Darren - Last Call of Duty.JPGDarren has been an officer of the law since 1990  and a participant in the performing arts since the age of five.  First playing drums and piano for talent shows then progressing to theatre for church and school, and eventually the school Jazz Band and a local pop band.

As a youngster he invented film roles for his friends to re-enact with him but put away these thoughts when his father died in an auto accident in 1989.  Then he turned his attention to law enforcement. Only occasionally participating in movies for a couple of decades.  He has been very active in films since 2010 including acting, writing, producing, and working in various crew positions.  It seems to be in his blood; the passion he has for film and performing.

He draws a lot of what he writes about from his police work.  His two latest films are Last Call of Duty and Park Bench.  Last Call of Duty is about an officer and his last day on duty before retirement.  Park Bench is about a fella down on his luck who likes to return to the park because it reminds him of happier times.  Both were inspired by events he experienced or became aware of in his profession.  His next project is already underway;  a TV Series called Partners that he is producing along with Duane A. Sikes and Kimberly B. Davis.

Whatever Darren does you can be sure it will be done with class and dignity.  For that too is in his blood.

Tell me about your career in law enforcement.

Darren: I began my Law Enforcement Career straight out of college in 1990. I had applied with many large departments in the state, and Winston-Salem at the time paid well and had great benefits.

After going through the application process for several months, I was offered a position as Police Cadet in the Academy. After graduating in the top 5% of my class, I was sworn in and began field training for the next 14 weeks. Once I completed my field training, I was released from probationary status and was on my own.

I loved Winston-Salem, and those years there until 1997 were the backbone of my career. I was always partial to working traffic and investigating accidents, so that led me to join the State in 1998, where I have been ever since. I am now a "Master Trooper" with the N.C. State Highway Patrol and assigned to Charlotte. It is the finest organization in the whole state, and being a Trooper is everything to me.

I received my Advanced Law Enforcement Certificate in May 2002, and also graduated from N.C. State's, Masters Public Administration Program in 2010. I am a 7 time, MADD DWI Officer of the Year. I am proud to say I am on the last 10 years of my career before I retire. I have served the citizens of North Carolina with "Loyalty", "Integrity", and "Professionalism".

How does your background in police work shape the films you produce?

Darren: Oh Wow!  Even though as a child I wrote stories and created films and scenes in my mind, police work for the past 23 years plays a major role in my style of writing and storytelling.

As an officer, you experience everything imaginable. You see it all, hear it all, and feel it all. With me also feeling like I carry the burden of other people's suffering, all these raw emotions and feelings come out in me when I write.  Last Call of Duty, though a short film, had over 100 hidden messages in it about my life growing up and also my life as a police officer. Even Park Bench, which was not a police related story, were taken from real events and things I had experienced as an officer.

Now, I am in full pre-production on Partners, which will focus on the life of two officers on patrol. I feel these 7 episodes, when released, will really show people how human police officers really are. My stories of law enforcement are not the typical Hollywood "Shoot em up" situations, but focus more on the person; their life and what they feel.

As a writer, producer, and actor. Which are you drawn to the most?

Darren: Well, this is where one has to be truly honest with himself. As a child to young adult stage actor, now making the transition to film since the early 2000's, I will always love the fact that with every year, every project, every challenging role, I am growing and learning.

I see things I did better as an actor in say Park Bench as compared to Last Call of Duty. I am my own worst critic, and will study my performance over and over and over. I see choices I could make better the next time. Actors continually grow and learn.

As I hit 2013, I feel really good about what I accomplished in 2011 and 2012. I have several challenging roles I am shooting this year, and am very excited about it. And I am sure once 2014 gets here, I will look back on them and see what I could have done better.

I am blessed to have several very experienced veteran Hollywood Actors who mentor me and critique my work. They tell me when it is GREAT, when it is GOOD, and when is was down right BAD!  That is what makes you better. Honest feedback.

On writing and producing. I feel very comfortable with my writing and storytelling. The reason is I write about what I know, not what I think I know. It is such an honor to me for veteran actors to be reading my scripts and say, "I am looking forward to working with you". This is what every writer can hope for.

Producing has been on the smaller level right now with SAG Shorts and SAG New Media projects.  It, like acting, is steps you take to learn how to progress higher. I am associated now with Falling Apple Films in Rhode Island. They have several, multi-million dollar projects on the table. Once we get the first one off the ground with major funding, I will have the opportunity to work with bigger producers and learn the higher level of producing. It just takes time; but I have the time and am willing to go the journey.

You got involved in the performing arts early on, right?

Darren:  Yes Sir. When I was 5 years old. Keep in mind, I did not grow up in an age of computers, Internet, social media, etc.  Film acting to me was all in Hollywood.

I started playing drums and piano at 5, and actually did school and church talent shows. When I figured out I had no fear of the stage or people, I also learned the craft of theatrical stage acting. Growing up in the small southern town of Gastonia, it was only children's theater, school plays, and church plays. The funny thing was, I would invent stories and characters in my head for a film.

I was a very charismatic child. I actually at one time had all the kids in my neighborhood convinced they were characters in my superhero story. We all just played it out everyday. I would even sit down on the piano and ear play the score for a certain scene in my head. All of this took me through high school and college. It was after my father died in a wreck in 1989, that I just somewhere walked away from it. Life to me at that point was not make believe anymore; and thus I became a police officer.

Do your still play piano or Drums?

Darren: I do actually still play my piano. Mainly by ear now. I have not owned a set of drums since 1996; but I can sure still play them. Drums was actually my God given Instrument. I played in the Jazz Band in High School (Since I played Football - Not Marching Band) I won the Jazz Award my Senior Year.

In the Summer of 86, I toured with two very successful Christian rock bands. I also played in a 80's cover band in college, mainly for local gigs and fun. I miss it so much. Music lives inside of me. I actually was the Music Supervisor on both Last Call of Duty and Park Bench. I personally chose each score and placed it exactly where it needed to be in each scene. I actually sample scores online and get certain feelings for scenes in my writing. I have literally been in tears writing scenes in my scripts hearing certain types of score.

In Last Call of Duty it was nice seeing the personal side of Officer Howell. I felt a sense of foreboding for most of the film. What did you want the audience to take away with them after seeing this movie?

Darren:  My whole purpose in this character was for people to see a man who gave his whole life to his career. He wanted so bad to live by the motto, "God", "Family", "Department".

It can be tough in a 33 minute film to give the audience a sense of wondering, but I felt the way I wrote the scenes left something to everyone's imagination. He was a good man, but a man of many guilty feelings. He was a faithful man, but in the scene where he walks out of the Chief's Office and the secretary, Kathryn Jones, stops him; it left some to wonder if he loved her or did she love him. Maybe in a private way, and not a physical way.

Daniel loved his daughter, but felt he never gave her enough time growing up. To give his family a nice home, he had to sacrifice a lot of luxuries. This is so real to life with young police officers who do not make a lot of money in the beginning of their careers.

The situation with the father in the flashback scene was intentionally written to give the audience their own conclusion. Maybe his father did not want him to be a police officer? Maybe he was one himself one time? Obviously, there was some tension there. I think Ted Johnson, who played the role of Darryl Howell, played it absolutely brilliant in the end. All Daniel wanted in his final days of his career was to retire and give his family back what he felt like they missed for many years.

Being a "Method" trained actor, I absolutely lived this guy in my heart and mind. When I watch the film, I do not see myself, I see "Daniel". He makes me sad for him. Daniel wanted to do his job to the very last 15 minutes of his final shift. It cost him his life. Daniel was a real cop. He gave the ultimate sacrifice. The ending of the film is only meant to show there is life after this, and forgiveness is always there if one will just ask for it.

Park Bench is about a fellow whose life has turned sour. Is this something you've witnessed yourself?

Darren: The story of Park Bench has lived in me for many many years. I never personally ever had any children in my life, but there are some similarities between Geoffrey and I. There are some hidden messages in Park Bench that go back to my childhood with situations dealing with my own father.

Park Bench was absolutely not meant to say that Geoffrey was perfect. We all know in a marriage, there are two different sides of a story on any type of divorce situation. Once again, being only a 15 minute film, you have to make each scene give the audience something to make their own conclusion. The scenes need to flow quickly and hit on the correct dialogue. Too little, you lose your audience, too much, your audience starts saying, "Wait a minute...that makes no sense".

The park symbolized everything in Geoffrey's life. His relationship with Cynthia and the birth and raising of his child. For whatever the reason was that Cynthia left Geoffrey, the park will always be the only place he has in his memory of happier times.

As an actor, I gained a ton of weight to play this guy. I wanted to look like a wreck. Everything from a terrible haircut to breakouts on my face. I sunk into a major depression weeks before we filmed, and even several weeks after we wrapped. I think the film shows in the end, Geoffrey will never get over Cynthia, and now his child is being taken away.

However, to end on a positive note, it does show that life is not over and everyone, regardless of their mistakes, deserves a second chance. Andrea Gannon and Kayli Tolleson were simply brilliant in their roles. Emotionally, this was definitely a more tougher role for me than Last Call of Duty.

Park Bench - Andrea Gannon and Darren.jpg

You've been very successful in casting great actors for your films. Is it your charm?

Darren:  Let me say in a very humble way, I have been absolutely blessed to have cast great actors. Once an actor gets to a certain point in their career, they want to be associated with successes. Successes not just in a major pay check, but that of a great story, script, or maybe even a character they have never portrayed on film or one they have always wanted to portray.

Being two short films, the first thing reputable and experienced actors want to know is where is the film going? They want to feel at least it will be good reel for them, festival submissions nationally, and IMDb credit. Now, all that aside, the next thing is "Story" and "Script".

I became close and personal friends with 50 year veteran actor, Marco St. John two years before filming Last Call of Duty. I met Francine Locke, who was staying in Charlotte about a year before filming. Bonnie Johnson and I had also become friends through working on a feature film, The Trial together in 2009.

When I finally wrote the first draft of Last Call of Duty, I shared the script with these three right off the bat. All three loved it, and with the blessing of SAG Signatory and an agreed pay, they accepted the roles. As I had a vision for all the characters in the film, I began personally handpicking the talent. This was not done on a buddy buddy situation, but purely me knowing who was 100% perfect for each role.

On Park Bench, I had been wanting to work one on one with Kayli Tolleson since I was in the same scene with her on Pendulum Swings.  She is an absolute phenomenal young actress. Our chemistry together as a father and daughter was amazing, and I was so blessed her manager loved the script and story. We had a blast filming.

Andrea Gannon and I had worked together as a husband and wife in the very dramatic SAG Film, Chain of Custody. I absolutely love this woman and her talent is out of this world. I am so thrilled to have worked with every single actor in my first two films. They all brought their "A" Game and came ready to work. Now being in pre-production" on Partners, I am so excited to soon cast my lead of "Officer Mandy Kain". Recurring in 2-3 episodes of Partners is LA veteran actor, Thom Gossom Jr., who will be in the role of "Lieutenant Moore".

Last Call of Duty - Darren and Francine Locke.jpg

Tell me about working with Duane Sikes. He seems to be an influential part of making movies here in the southeast.

Darren:  What can I say about Duane A. Sikes??? ABSOLUTELY AMAZING MAN!!!!! I was familiar with Mr. Sikes as a producer. He spent his whole life in what we call, "Old School Hollywood". He has worked with some of the greatest actors here and gone. Duane is one of the most kind and caring people I have ever known in my life.

Duane was very inspired and touched by the stories and characters of Last Call of Duty and Park Bench. He believed in me not only as a person, but a young writer and producer. He wanted to see these films come to life. I assured Duane I would give him my life if I had to,  insuring they were done to the best of my ability. For two short films done strictly for artistic, non-profit purposes, his contribution as the Executive Producer made dreams come true for both me and my crew.

Director Joshua Casher, 1st Asst. Director and Editor, Jessica Floyd, and Cinematographer, Cory McKennan, were all final year students at The Art Institute of Charlotte. All Majoring in Film. This opportunity on both these films having budget gave them a chance to shine in their respective specialties of their film degrees.

The whole two year journey of these two films have been simply amazing thanks to Duane's support. My greatest moment was sharing the final cut product to Duane, and him saying, "I loved it"!. Duane is Executive Producer on Partners, which will begin filming in the Fall of 2013 and finish in the winter and spring of 2014. He has definitely been a blessing in so many young aspiring filmmaker's lives. He is one of my best friend's in this world and I love him like my family.

What films have you seen and enjoyed recently?

Darren:  I am so still stuck somewhere in the 1960's, 70's, and 80's!   I am still watching Netflix Episodes of Dragnet, Adam 12, Miami Vice, and In the Heat of the Night.  I do try to see the modern films as much as possible. There are a few out on the police subject I want to see.

I did truly enjoy J.Edgar when it came out last year with Leo.  Oh...I did see Rampart with Woody Harrelson. I thought that was some very hard core stuff!  But, in the 1990's in LA, that was real to life.

I want to see films that inspire me as a person. I want to see Hollywood actors go back to the roots of playing real and everyday characters. I guess I just have a sensitive heart, and I do not mind pouring tears watching a motion picture.

Park Bench - Kayli and Darren.jpg

What's on your list of things to do for the foreseeable future?

Darren:  This is pretty much my 2013 in a nut shell.  Partners which is my first SAG-AFTRA New Media Web Series I have written and co-producing with Kim Davis (The Box) is in full pre-production.  We will be casting the lead role of "Officer Mandy Kain" in February. I am playing opposite of Mandy in the role of "Officer John Walker". Episodes 1-3 will be filmed this Fall, and 4-7 in Winter 2014.

I am "On Hold" right now for a SAG Project I can not reveal until officially cast. I shoot a supporting role in February on the SAG Feature Film, My Name is Paul". In March, I shoot 4 days on the SAG short film (35 Min Film) ACT II - A Saint of Sin in a Den of Thieves". I have the Supporting Role of "Cowboy".

In September, I am shooting the Lead Role of a father in a SAG Short Film called, Withheld, written and directed by Louis Bekoe. I am also heavily involved as an associate producer with Falling Apple Films in Rhode Island. Those are million dollar budget films which takes time to develop.

Writing wise, I will begin writing my next SAG short film, Just North, which I plan on fully funding myself and shooting in 2014. My first feature length script in the works is called, Over and Over. This one will take some time as my goal for it is seeking  investors and distribution. I am just happy staying busy and seeing what each day holds.

Learn more about Darren at these sites:

Darren on IMDb

Darren on Facebook

Last Call of Duty

Park Bench