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<Youth Main

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Daniel Zinna: All The World Is His Screen
Daniel Zinna is like any other American kid, except that when he is not in school, or obsessing with fast cars, he is emoting in front of the camera. This 12-year old Indo-American boy who lives with his parents Irfan and Maria in Fremont, California has acted in all of 15 films within a span of three years. After playing challenging roles in Spanish and English films, Daniel now has his eyes set on faraway Bollywood.
In an interview with, Daniel talks about his passion for acting, his inborn entrepreneurial abilities, and his dreams of making it in Bollywood.

"I have always been fascinated with Indian films. The combination of song, dance and a story all in one piece of artistic display is quite unique in films.”

Fifteen films at 12-years is incredible. At what age did you discover your acting talents? 
I started acting at the age of 9. My non-academic career began when I built a Web site to sell hand paintings from India. That entrepreneurial (sales) experience was excellent. It got me exposure to the press and buyers of my products. I then realized I was very comfortable talking to reporters and enjoyed being in front of the camera. 

How did you get film roles? Neither parent is Hispanic. How then did Spanish films happen? 
A film Director heard about me and recommended me to a Director who was looking for a boy actor, then one film led to another. 
My mom's family comes from Spain. I learnt Spanish from my grandparents, my mom and my nanny. 

What is your role in your 15th film about? How did the lead role in this film land on your lap? What was it like working with a hotshot director like Antonio Torres? 
The film is about a boy (Jorge, played by me) who comes from a dysfunctional family and is abandoned by his father. He is raised by his mother who is a lady of the night. Jorge meets a girl who becomes his best friend. However, after a while the girl has to leave town. This devastates Jorge and his life takes a turn...... It is a film in which I had to display extreme emotions.
Antonio and I met at an event. Working with him was really great. His entire crew was very kind. He made acting very easy for me. He was always encouraging. When the filming was over, I was actually sad. After spending so many months working with him and the rest of the crew and actors, I felt as though they were part of my family. I really didn’t want it to end. 

Why Hindi films and TV. Working in Bollywood would involve extensive traveling. Wouldn't this interfere with your studies, and a normal life? 
I have always been fascinated with Indian films. The combination of song, dance and a story all in one piece of artistic display is quite unique in films. When a story is beautifully combined with song and dance to enhance the actors’ emotions, it is very powerful. 
Regarding travel. Yes, there will be travel, but most of the time I will be able to study. Besides, the producers arrange for traveling teachers like they did for me in ‘Navegar’. There are a lot of child actors that have been able to successfully combine school and a non-academic career at the same time. 

What kind of roles are you looking for? What genre of acting are you most comfortable with? 
I am very comfortable in pretty much any role. Having acted in English and Spanish language films, I would welcome the opportunity to act in Hindi language films, TV shows and commercials. 

You have to be a natural actor. But are you receiving any training to be more effective as an actor? 
I received my initial training at school. In addition, I will be attending acting lessons this year. The "on the job" training from the directors has been very educational.
I have watched videos and read books regarding the subject. I have started doing different accents as well. Also, doing voice overs and commercials have given me more insight and experience.

You say that you speak some Hindi. Are there any efforts at improving your Hindi diction, now that you are looking for roles in Bollywood? 
Yes, In addition to watching Hindi movies, my dad tutors me. Because of this my mom has picked up some Hindi too. We have brought home tapes on "How to Learn Hindi". If I need to study up a few more words or sentences, I can take a crash course. I learnt all of my lines in "sign language" for a film in 2 days! 

How much do you know about Indian culture? Do you watch Bollywood movies? 
My father (Irfan) grew up in Bandra, very close to Palli Hills. Palli Hills is the Beverly Hills of Mumbai. My father was (and still is) a member of Otters Club in Bandra where a lot of the Bollywood folks congregate. 
I have received inquiries to do some acting in India. I am thinking of visiting Mumbai, perhaps this December. I was recently contacted by an Indo- American director, as a result there is a possibility of me doing a film in India.
Regarding Indian culture, I am very exposed to it. I have a lot of Indian friends, and ofcourse, uncles, aunts and cousins that live in the US and in India that visit us frequently. I love Indian food. Tandoori Chicken, Samosas, Vadas, and Pani Poori are my favorite foods. I know what Diwali, Holi and Eid are. 
I have watched movies like ‘Lagaan’, ‘Devdas’, etc. I loved ‘Lagaan’. The music was excellent. I got to see cricket, which I really enjoy playing with my friends. 

In Bollywood, roles don't come on a platter, even for kids. The fact that they have no celeb backing makes is even harder. Are you and your parents prepared for the sweat and toil? 
So far I have been enjoying acting. My parents will continue supporting me as long as I am enjoying it and I am interested in acting and the roles are reasonable and legitimate. I am fortunate to have parents who are willing to go through the gruelling acting schedules. 

What is your life like when you are not facing the camera? 
I like being an entrepreneur. I am constantly thinking of ways to start a business. When I was 8 years old, I wrote and handpublished my own story books and went from house to house selling them. My grandmother was my first customer! 
My other businesses have included picking apples from neighbor’s trees and selling them door-to-door and via my own apple store in front of my house. 
I enjoy business. I am constantly coming up with ideas on how to start a business. 
Because of my exposure to film making and coupled with the fact that I am now attending TV / Film production classes, I have become very interested in TV production and different types of cameras, and photography.
I am fascinated with cars (and motorbikes). I know all the latest models, engine size, horse power, wheels etc. My favorite treat is to attend auto shows and visit dealerships that sell autos like Ferraris, McLarens, Lamborghinis, etc. 
Electronic gadgets are another love of mine. I would love to spend a whole day at an electronics store.

What are your hobbies/favorite pastimes? 
I like to direct and shoot films with my mom's camcorder. I usually have my 8-year-old brother Erik, and my friends act in them. Erik has acted in 3 films so far, so he has a good feel for acting.
I also love to bake. I am most hungry in the mornings and I am an early riser. When I have time, I like to bake biscuits or corn bread. I love making French toast too. 
I love to watch shows on how to build or modify cars and turn them into high performance Nasscar autos. 
I like to ride my bicycle and "go over" my ramp at high speed. I also like to skateboard.

What is your favorite film? Who are your favorite actors? 
"Cheaper by the dozen" it’s really funny and Johnny Depp in "Pirates of the Caribbean".
Johnny English was a great movie too. 

What do you want to be when you grow up? 
I want to be a really successful actor and perhaps direct films. I would like to act in English, Spanish and Hindi films. I have a few ideas for stories. I’d like to act and direct these films. Also I would like to use my business skills and experience to create a business in films and related products. Maybe start a clothesline.

What are your forthcoming films? 
In addition to maybe working on an Indian feature film next year, I will be working on
’Night Fliers’, which is a feature length narrative film currently in pre-production and is scheduled for shooting in the summer of 2005. This will be my second time working with writer and director, Sara St. Martin Lynne. I worked with Sara in ‘A Rock In A Hard Place’ that has screened successfully at film festivals domestically. International screenings are scheduled for the coming months. ‘Night Fliers’ is about a transformative friendship that emerges between a bullied 12-year-old girl and the boy who lives across the street from her in a rural town. It is a story about isolation, emergence, and finding true friends in a sparse environment. 


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