For a director to let go of the reigns and trust a set designer without the nagging impulse to micromanage is a sign of true excellence on the part of the decorator. That’s at least the sentiment expressed by most every director who has worked with seasoned set decorator, Nancy Niksic.
Niksic, owner of a most impressive roster of achievements, just wrapped working alongside acclaimed film director and screenwriter, Azazel Jacobs (“Terri,” “Momma’s Man,” and “The Good Times Kid”) who raved about her invaluable work. “Nancy Niksic worked as my set decorator, and possess an exceptional ability to find unique and fitting set pieces, then decorates the set with a realism that adds to the character development. Nancy has true artistic talent and is an asset to work with. She understands my vision, which is incredibly beneficial to me as a director and to the success of my shoot.”
With 24 years of experience under her tool belt, Nancy has seen a variety of TV, film and commercial sets to visual perfection as set designer and decorator. Niksic’s versatility and adaptability are part and parcel of what has earned her keep amongst the greatest in the entertainment industry — including the Canadian “Amazing Race.” Niksic worked as the art director on the 1st season of the “Amazing Race,” and as production designer on the 2nd and 3rd seasons.
Niksic is the ultimate multitasker on set, with a strong comedy leaning as her niche. “ I look at it as an opportunity to have fun and really expand my creativity” says Niksic about her comedic set decorating sensibilities. “I’ve alway been super passionate about this niche market, especially the quirkiness and how odd some pieces have to be. Being a set decorator is all about contributing, and that takes understanding the joke and the tone and the subtleties of comedy. To make comedy work, there’s a tricky balance, knowing when to be understated and when to go big and in your face.”
Niksic nails the unassuming, keeping the audience unaware of the set decor, but at the same time having the pieces contribute to the comedic tone. “The audience won’t be able to put their finger on why it’s working, but it does. Directors like that I understand this. I love to scour the city for the perfect pieces,” adds Niksic.
Her comedic touch garnered her work on two seasons of “The Jon Dore Television Show” on The Comedy Network, as well as the short film “The Truth About Head” directed by Dale Heslip, which won several awards at Cannes.
Niksic recently worked on content for the comedy webseries by Sarah Silverman, Michael Cera, Tim & Eric, and Reggie Watts called “JASH.” The content produced by cofounder Daniel Kellison (original executive producer for “Jimmy Kimmel Live”), was about three CIA agents living in horrible quarters in Aleppo, Syria, so the set had to look believable. “I had to make it look real, while also finding space to add comedic elements,” said Niksic. “I collaborated with the directors on the nuances of the set, trying to play it so the audience gets a real feel for the environment, while also putting in elements to accent the comedy.”
What sets Niksic apart from her competitors is that she is not limited to the entertainment realm alone. Niksic handled the decor and design as well as the styling of a renowned rock & roll inspired hair salon in Toronto called “Grateful Head” [pictured below]. She truly does it all. Whereas most designers who work in film wouldn’t normally venture in this space, Niksic will not turn down creative work, making her one of the most multifaceted designers in the game.
Nancy Niksic is a set designer extraordinaire, willing to work in any creative environment necessary. She knows what she, the audience and director/client want, and she stops at nothing to get it.
For Niksic, it’s about quickly understanding the director and the direction, and about establishing immediate trust while shouldering some of the weight the director carries. Her evolved sense of humor certainly comes in handy on any kind of set, keeping the list of opportunities running endlessly.
Ashiko Westguard has a lot to be proud of; her hard work as a model has led to international success and recognition, she has made a successful transition into the film industry and she has an inspiring family who encourage and support her.
Westguard’s family remain at the pinnacle of her life and even of her achievements, with the highly sought after model and actress crediting them for her passion, confidence and imaginativeness, arguably the defining traits, aside from her enticingly exotic and raw beauty, of her success in two of today’s most competitive industries. Westguard however, only speaks of the ease with which she wins over the many world-renowned photographers and clientele she has a repertoire with. She has a unique way of cultivating emotional connection and positivity through images, no doubt her enchanting character is a lasting effect of her lakeside upbringing back home in Innisfil, a quaint town in Ontario, Canada.
But don’t let her rural upbringing in mislead you, with a maternal role model like hers, it’s not surprising that Westguard has an awe-inspiring career which has continued to take her across continents modeling in Japan, Hong Kong, Spain, France, South Korea, Denmark and Slovenia. She attributes her strength, determination and courage, which have all helped her earn coveted jobs, like her most recent ad campaign for Dita von Teese Lingerie shot by Albert Sanchez, to her mother, a political refugee who arrived in Canada alone as a teenager from Czechoslovakia.
It takes a certain wild energy and emotional embodiment to command the world’s attention on the cover of a magazine. Westguard is no stranger to these high-paced shoots as she has graced numerous covers including Women Magazine, Femina Magazine, Women’s Fitness, Essentials Magazine, Sweat Equity and Verve Magazine.
Growing up with a father who is a champion hydroplane racer, this wild energy is in no short supply. Westguard called upon her wild women qualities for her recent shoot in Slovenia, where she took on the role of the ultimate wild woman, a Bond Girl, alongside Robbie Williams as James Bond, for the internationally recognizable brand, Café Royal.
While she may share some of the credit for her break into the modeling industry at age 18, with her younger sister who also signed with acclaimed agency Next Models, only her own hard work can account for Westguard’s introduction to the acting scene. Westguard’s modeling career has put her unique capacity for emotional intelligence and confidence on display in a long list of international ad campaigns, and it’s those same traits that have helped Westguard make a name for herself as an actress.
Acting became one of Westguard’s earliest childhood dreams since she first took the stage in the Stephen Lee Cock Theatre’s production of “On The Tip of My Tongue” back home in Canada; and her perseverance and dedication to turning it into a reality has definitely paid off. Training with professionals like David Rotenberg helped Westguard make the challenging transition from modeling into acting, and over the last few years she has successfully evolved from the portrayal of emotions externally to the embodiment of a character’s essence on screen.
Some of the roles she has become best known for over the years are from her portrayal of the riveting and exceedingly complex Eve in the sci-fi feature “A Dark Matter” and Beverly in the Leo Award winning series “Painkiller Jane” where she acted alongside multi-award winning actress Kristanna Loken from the films “Beyond the Game” and “Fighting for Freedom.” She has also guest starred on the series “Kaya,” as well as “The Red Booth.”
In the midst of a bustling schedule and international success,Westguard still finds time to return home to Innisfil, where she enjoys a simpler life, breathing in nature and being with family. With a family full of inspiring role models and a community that knows her more as their neighbour than the glamorous girl from the covers of magazine, it is no wonder that her childhood home is where she choose to return to for grounding and inspiration. Having this base has allowed Westguard to transcend the typical barriers of the fashion and film industry with grace, landing her on the side of blissful success, facilitated by the confidence, passion and self-worth instilled in her by her supportive family.
Even at the start of his career as an editor back home in India, Shayar Bhansali was making innovative contributions to the entertainment industry with his work. The now multi-award winning film editor began his career as the visual media editor for The Big Indian Picture, India’s premiere online cinema magazine. Whereas most of India’s prior entertainment outlets focused on Bollywood fluff, The Big Indian Picture offered audiences a serious look at the world of Indian film; and the videos Bhansali edited for the outlet earned the magazine national attention.
Bhansali recalls, “I worked with the producers to edit interview segments, and these interviews turned out to be so genre-defining that they became the first ever web-produced content to air on national television on NDTV Prime.”
After getting his feet wet as an editor in India, Bhansali moved to Los Angeles to complete his master’s at the world renowned American Film Institute. Once in the states, he dove in with full force creating a reputation for himself as an exponentially talented editor in the narrative film world. Some of his recent work includes Cusi Cram’s award-winning dramatic comedy “Wild & Precious,” which earned the Best Narrative Award from the NYLA International Film Festival, Mattson Tomlin’s family drama “Persuasion” and Stefan Kubicki’s “Against Night.”
In addition to winning awards at the USA Film Festival, Woodstock Film Festival, Ojai Film Festival, as well as being nominated for several more from the American Society of Cinematographers and Guam International Film Festival, Kubicki’s drama “Against Night” also earned Bhansali international recognition for his work. Delicately weaving together the story of a cosmonaut who struggles to deal with the haunting memory of the loss of his wife and young daughter, Bhansali’s work on the film earned the Festival Prize for Best Editing at the Kolkata International Film Festival in India and the June Award for Best Editing from the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards in the US.
For Bhansali, the art of editing is all about striking a balance between the director’s vision and what his creative voice believes is best for the story.
“I find editing to be humbling and empowering at the same time – you’re constantly making decisions about the way in which a story unfolds, but you do this within the context of the director’s vision,” he explains. “This balance of finding my own expression and balancing it with the larger creative arc is what drew me into the world of filmmaking, and editing became a way of life before I knew it.”
One of the many unique aspects of Bhansali’s gift as an editor is his ability to adapt to the needs of a project and use his creativity to solve potential problems in a way that allows the production to flow seamlessly. His work as the editor on Tomlin’s 2014 film “Persuasion” speaks leagues to why these traits are such a vital asset to any production. “Persuasion” focuses on a father’s process of coming to grips with his son’s unnatural gift for controlling people’s behavior with David Kopelev (“The Escort,” “Heritage”) starring as the son and Gregory Linington (“Indigo,” “Dune”) as the father. Early in the developing story there is a scene where Kopelev’s character has a face off with a bear, an event that instills in the father the startling awareness of how truly powerful his son is.
Bhansali recalls, “Mattson was convinced that the only way to portray this scene in a realistic sense would be to shoot it with a real bear. Given that the child actor was only 7 years old, we had to come up with a way to use a motion controlled camera rig to shoot separate plates with the bear and child, and combine them in post production with the help of visual effects supervisor Mike Pappa.”
To ensure that the production captured the two separate shots in a way that would make it possible for Bhansali to seamlessly combine them in post, the visionary editor actually spent quite a bit of time on set during those shoot days providing quick mock-ups to show the team what the scenes would like. When most of us think of a film editor we imagine them tied to their desk spending hours upon hours cutting and sewing footage together; and while that’s mostly true, having an editor like Shayar Bhansali on set can mean the difference between saving time and money or having to go back and do those dreaded reshoots.
“This level of involvement is becoming more common for an editor and when done efficiently, I find it can be an irreplaceable tool for the director and production crew,” admits Bhansali.
Much of what drives Bhansali’s work as an editor is the inherent power that comes with job to change and shape the story; he enjoys the laborious and highly creative process of sifting through hours of fragmented pieces of footage, fusing the perfect shots into fluid scenes and purposefully forming a coherent whole that will impact viewers.
He explains, “I like the process through which we rewrite the story with editing, the power to manipulate and curate the emotions of our audience with every decision we make. I’ve always been drawn to the inner workings of a film, understanding how structure and scene construction influences the way we relate to characters and story – and editing for me gives me the opportunity to do this every day with every project I work on.”
From his work as the editor of the interview series “Tete-a-Tete” broadcast on NDTV to the powerful stories he crafted as the editor of the films “Loveland,” “La Bella,” “Persuasion,” “Against Night,” “Zoya” and “Wild & Precious,” Bhansali has amassed an impressive repertoire of work that spans several mediums and practically every genres.
Up next for Shayar Bhansali is the film “Rene” starring multi-award winning actor Xander Berkeley (“Taken,” “Airforce One,” “Justified”), and the film “Shinje,” which is in preproduction and will be directed by Stefan Kubicki.
The film editor is one of cinema’s true behind the scenes wizards, one who can escalate the intensity of any sequence, deftly manipulating the action and emotion in a way few other production contributors—whether writer, actor or director—are as readily able to match. Russian editor and visual effects supervisor Pavel Khanyutin, known for cutting with surgical precision and an acute sense of pace, is an ideal example of this dynamic, almost alchemical skill.
For more than a decade, Khanyutin has exerted a strong influence on his country’s visual experience, as a film editor and through his influential use of CGI—he made significant impact supervising VFX in Timur Bekmambetov’s popular 2004 fantasy thriller Night Watch and Andrey Kavun’s 2010 war drama Kandagar. He also excels in his other professional capacity, conceiving and directing commercial advertising spots.
Khanyutin’s relish is evident in whatever he takes on, and his 16 years as a creator of television spots for high end prestige clients have been an enjoyable pursuit that has produced many notable achievements, crafting memorable pieces for Google, Coca Cola, Ikea, Pepsi’s Adrenaline Rush, Panasonic, Mars, Nike, cellular network Megafon and many others.
“In advertising the tough deadlines and limited time make the process almost like a competitive sport.” Khanyutin said. “However, there always remain enough possibilities for creative work, in the storytelling and sophisticated editing.”
But it’s working as an editor and visual effects supervisor where he derives the most satisfaction; in Russia, after all, the art of film cutting has a particularly rich heritage, going back to groundbreaking mid-1920’s giants Sergei Eisenstein and Grigor Aleksandrov.
“In editing, the possibilities are nearly unlimited, and it’s almost impossible to overestimate its importance.” Khanyutin said. “It’s a language in which films speak to the viewer’s unconsciousness, and it can deliver every shade of emotion, just as speech does. This is the most interesting, most complicated aspect and is also what allows a film to really get inside a viewer’s head. It’s almost like metaphysics—a visual philosophy.”
“Each project is interesting in its own way.” He said. “Editing documentary films is a very special process, you could almost say that the movie is coming to life in the editing room—getting precise emotions, different shades, from the material is the challenge—to create a great piece of work. I am lucky that I had a lot of documentary experience at the beginning of my career.”
Khanyutin’s personal involvement with every project is intense. “Working on a feature film is a different matter.” Khanyutin said. “To tell a colorful story, it’s very important to really dip down into it, to lead everything through one’s own self, to believe in characters, yet always be sensible. Then every cut will be as conscious and meaningful as sounds in speech. And the time spent in the editing room—it could be one month or one year—becomes part of you. You even see it in dreams.”
That tireless commitment to film gains Khanyutin tremendous professional advantage. “I’ve worked with Pavel as directors and editors always work together—I’ve dropped material off at his door to do with as he pleases, and I’ve sat, lurking over his shoulder, for up to a dozen hours at a time.” Film maker-screenwriter Michael Kupisk said. “In both cases I found Pavel’s instinct and touch to be invaluable in terms of defining the final outcome of the product. He was able to show me angles and methods of delivering a beat or turn that I hadn’t anticipated and is always thinking of how to make the movie better. What I admire most about Pavel is his innate rhythm and instinct. He adds something to the project that is satisfying to both the filmmakers’ vision and the audience’s viewership of the material.”
Khanyutin’s singular grasp on how best to manipulate raw footage is an invaluable asset, and his singular propensity to anticipate and deliver a finished product that really reaches deep down into an audience’s emotions qualifies him as a cinema auteur with illimitable potential. For Khanyutin, his professional goals are simple and straightforward, best summed up in three words:
Much like film, television, novels, and theatre, music and song are also powerful forms of storytelling. In some instances they can stand on their own, while in others they are used as a means of enhancing and completing the expression of a particular story. Talented composer and orchestrator Emily Rice has been telling stories through sound for the past four years. Her framework of experience consists of a long list of accredited success stories, her work ranging from student films to Hollywood blockbusters. Most recently, Rice has been cordially attached to compose a new and exciting project; a documentary film called “100 Faces of Survival,” directed and produced by innovative filmmakers Jared White and Lilit Pilikian.
“100 Faces of Survival” focuses on the Armenian genocide, which had its 100-year anniversary in 2015. The documentary also partially follows the married couple, Pilikian, who is of Armenian descent, and White, as they travel to Armenia to see if they can uncover her family’s past home prior to them fleeing the genocide. “It’s a story of Armenian identity in general, but closely follows Lilit’s relationship with her own identity,” Rice said.
Elaborating on this, White added, “We had long thought about what we could do to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. We didn’t want to just make another genocide documentary, as there are many well-made ones out there already. So, we landed upon our hook into the topic: exploring Armenian identity, and what it means to be Armenian 100 years after the genocide.”
Prior to “100 Faces of Survival,” Rice collaborated with Pilikian and White on two previous films, composing both shorts titled “Clone Counseling” and “Kill Me Now.” The three have been working together for nearly a year now.
With as complex of a score as “100 Faces of Survival” is expected to have in order to help guide its viewers through a range of different tones and emotions, it was important that Pilikian and White selected the right composer for the job. The duo is confident that Rice has what it takes to bring the audience to those depths. “Emily strives to always keep the audience’s experience with the film in mind as she crafts her scores. She immerses herself in the films she scores, always works to help further the story, has a deep understanding of music of all genres and flavors, and adapts to best suit the needs of the project at hand. Her music often acts as a gateway into the emotional journey of the films she works on, so we knew she would be a perfect fit for “100 Faces of Survival,”” stated White.
Originally from Harrow, England, Rice received her Bachelor’s Degree in Music from the University of York in 2008. In 2014, she moved to Los Angeles and completed her Graduate Certificate in Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television at the University of California. “I did my undergraduate degree in music, so I always knew that I wanted my life to revolve around it. I’d spent a lot of time playing in orchestras so was always drawn to that sound, and from my experiences playing in bands I knew that I liked the storytelling aspect of songs. In many ways, film music is the perfect combination of these two things as it helps tell stories through the use of almost any combination of instruments,” Rice commented.
As a composer and an orchestrator, Rice’s responsibilities vary depending on what she is working on, though they always encompass a similar idea: to aid in telling a specific story. When it comes to composing, her main duty is to compose (or in other words, write) all of the music for whatever film it is that she is working on. “Sometimes, I perform on it and either record it or produce the final mixed mock-ups which will be used if live recording isn’t an option,” Rice explained of this task.
For orchestrating, Rice does this while simultaneously writing. “Orchestration is a slightly different and more complex thing to describe, but the two [orchestrating and composing] go hand in hand. Orchestration is about knowing each instrument inside out, whether they are orchestral instruments, synths, guitars, etc., and knowing which combination of instruments to use to achieve a specific sound or effect,” she said. No matter what Rice is working on, whether it be the music in a film or an episode of television, she states, “My role is always to enhance the story and emotion, not to ‘get in the way’ of it – especially of dialogue! It’s also important to me that the music has an opinion, or a ‘point of view.’ Music that blends into the background too much can seem like wallpaper, and I often try and imagine the scores I write to be another character in the story.”
For the score of “100 Faces of Survival,” this is exactly what Rice plans to do. “The consistent thread through the film is the issue of Lilit Pilikian’s identity as someone of Armenian descent,” Rice said. The film correspondingly addresses the different elements that make up ones identity, such as aspects of culture like language, religion, food, and geography. While the composer will be scoring the documentary alone, she is looking forward to working with a number of performers throughout the process in an effort to compose a number of themes based around these topics, as well as a recurring theme for Pilikian herself as audiences follow her journey. “Armenia has a number of indigenous instruments – the duduk has often been used in film scores and so I’m excited to have a legitimate excuse to use it in this score. The Armenian national anthem is also a fun piece of music, so I may weave a number of my own arrangements into the score, too,” she added.
Thus far, Rice has been reviewing rough cuts of the film in preparation for the composition work she will be creating throughout postproduction.
“I think that the score is likely to be very broad, and what I mean by that is I’m expecting there to be a number of themes to write as well as an underscore. It’ll hopefully show my capabilities composing music connected to a specific geographical place despite not being from that place, and as I’m also hoping to use live players, that should enhance the overall quality of the sound of the score,” said Rice.
With a prospective scoring deadline of mid-August, a final release date for “100 Faces of Survival” has yet to be set in stone.
“It’s really a privilege that Jared and Lilit have asked me to score such a personal story that must have so many feelings and emotions mixed in for both of them. I think that my ideas for this film are strong because the filmmakers have a clear vision and the storytelling thread through the film is also strong. I love working with them, and I feel that scoring something with such a cultural/national identity will be a huge challenge, but also a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Armenian music and have the chance to write themes, something I love doing in my scores whenever I can,” Rice stated.
Forthcoming, Rice will be involved in preparing for the scoring process of the renowned composer Brian Tyler’s (“Iron Man 3,” “Thor: The Dark World” and “Fast Five”) upcoming projects. Her work can also be heard on the hit television show “Underground,” where Rice worked with composer Laura Karpman (“The Tournament,” “Carrie” and “Man in the Chair”), playing the cello on several episodes.
When we are moved by a film, or encounter a new television series that sparks our attention and earns our love, few of us consider the long list of people behind the scenes that are responsible for making the project great; and why would we, after all the point of both mediums is to help us get lost in the story.
Regardless of whether we recognize the jaw-dropping level of collaboration that goes into a production or not, it still remains that hundreds of crew members band together to work long hours to bring our favorite projects to the screen, and film electrician and camera operator Ekaterina Doldjeva is one of them.
As the on set electrician, Doldjeva’s work requires her to take on a multitude of responsibilities from communicating with the cinematographer to determine what lighting they want in to order achieve the desired mood in a scene, to setting up the lights and deciding on their placement, as well as cuing the lights at the right time. Each and every one of her decisions has a pivotal effect on the final outcome of a production.
Doldjeva explains, “For me, every time I am lighting a set, it feels like I am painting with light… I have always believed that people tend to remember how a movie made them feel more than anything else. So, understanding and being able to control light is crucial in order to tell any story.”
One thing that makes Doldjeva a special force in the industry is the fact that she is also a skilled camera operator. When it comes to working as a camerawoman on set, Doldjeva’s work entails much more than simply pointing a camera. She has to maintain the composition of the shot and know what camera angles to shoot and when to move, all the while being conscious of the actors and set to ensure that everything that needs to be in the shot is– and that nothing that isn’t supposed to be in the shot accidentally makes it in.
While Doldjeva works grueling hours behind the scenes to bring magical stories to life for the audience to enjoy and rarely gets the recognition she deserves from the public, she doesn’t work in film for the fame, she works in the industry because she loves contributing her creative efforts to visual storytelling; and to her team behind the scenes, she is worth her weight in gold.
Finding a quick, resourceful and energetic electrician that the cinematographer can trust is rare, and that is one of the reasons why Doldjeva is such a sought after gem in the industry.
Serving as the electrician on the Primetime Emmy Award winning and Golden Globe nominated series “Shameless,” the Netflix original series “Sense8,” NBC’s “Chicago Med,” and “Chicago P.D.” starring Sophia Bush (“One Tree Hill,” “Partners”) has kept Ekaterina Doldjeva busy working nonstop for the majority of 2016 so far; and she shows no signs of slowing down.
She is currently working as the electrician on the comedy feature film “Office Christmas Party” starring Golden Globe Award winner Jennifer Aniston (“Friends,” “Horrible Bosses”) and Olivia Munn (“X-Men: Apocalypse,” “Zoolander 2”), the drama film “American Express” starring Oscar Award winner Charlize Theron (“Monster,” “Mad Max: Fury Road”) and the upcoming dramatic series “A.P.B.” starring Ralph Abbas (“Chicago Fire”) and Olivia Bird (“Empire”).
One of the qualities Doldjeva has to her advantage that few others do is the fact that she can easily transition across various roles in the field. While she works most consistently as an electrician on set, she has paid her dues and honed her skills as a grip and cinematographer as well. She was the grip on the romantic biographical feature film “Southside with You,” which earned a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, as well as the cinematographer and editor on the film “Heirloom.”
To find out what it takes to work as an on set electrician and camera operator in the highly competitive film world, make sure to check out our interview with Ekaterina Doldjeva below!
Hey Ekaterina, thanks for joining us! Can you start of by telling us where you are from?
ED: Absolutely! I am from a small town called Panagyurishte in Bulgaria. It is a patriotic town with a significant historical value. I lived there as a kid, then, I transferred for high school to the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia. Being thirteen years old, I had to learn to live by myself, which helped me grow and form as a person at an early age.
What was it like growing up their?
ED: Growing up in Bulgaria was a happy adventure. Many kids would gather daily and play soccer, tennis, basketball, volleyball, etc, until the sun goes down. We would go on trips and walk or bike around historical monuments in the woods. The nature is gorgeous everywhere in Bulgaria. There are various forests, lakes, rivers, caves and national parks all around the country. Hiking was another common thing to do either with groups of people or with family. We studied Bulgarian history along with international history and geography. This made me decide to study abroad, and travel as much as I can, so I can see different parts of the world and learn their culture and history.
When did you first realize you wanted to work in the film industry?
ED: I would say when I was in high school. My major had a main focus on computer science, math, and physics with an emphasis on English language. But I was interested in visual effects and animation and graphic design primarily at the time. I would look at the lighting style of a certain painting and try to create an image thinking about how to light it on the computer and make it seem real and alive for whatever project I was working on. Right after high school, I enrolled in a college in Los Angeles and started taking editing, camera operating, lighting and film history classes. My interests in visual storytelling became clearer, pointing me to the career path I chose to do today.
What was the first job you landed in the industry?
ED: One of my first jobs on a professional level was “Chicago Fire” TV series, but I did numerous short films, independent features and events before that as well. I started working on big productions my last year of college which was a huge accomplishment for me.
What was it like working on that production?
ED: “Chicago Fire” and other projects like “Betrayal,” “Chicago PD,” “The Other One,” “Empire,” “Shameless” and “Sense8,” were productions where I used all the knowledge I learned in college. At the same time, there was etiquette, which is crucially important behind the scenes. It is breathtaking to see how a certain scene is done especially on a show like “Chicago Fire.” Most scenes include lighting buildings on fire and heavy stunt work, but helping and contributing to create those scenes and afterwards see it on TV when the episode comes out, it repays for all the hard work I have done. I feel grateful that I am able to be apart of the crew at such a high level. Another interesting factor on working on this production as well every other one is that some of my bosses are Academy Award winners. They have done so many great movies and TV shows and working with them, seeing the decisions they make for a certain scene or a shot is always the most amazing part of my job.
What came first for you, working as a camera operator or electrician?
ED: I think that both jobs are equally important, but the reason I thrive to be a better and better electrician is to eventually become a cinematographer. Lighting is a crucial part of telling a visual story. For me, every time I am lighting a set, it feels like I am painting with light. However, being a camera operator is a true passion of mine. In order to be a cinematographer you have to be able to translate words from the script into visuals. There is way more into it, but I would say that one couldn’t work without the other.
How did one lead to the other?
ED: I realized that you couldn’t just point a camera and shoot something and expect it to look on a professional level. I started to research different lighting styles and how to create a certain look, mood and the atmosphere in a scene. I have always believed that people tend to remember how a movie made them feel more than anything else. So, understanding and being able to control light is crucial in order to tell any story.
Can you break down an average day for you when you’re working on set as a camera operator?
ED: Working as a camera operator involves constant communication with the cinematographer and the actors. The camera operator has to be cautious of the actors’ rehearsals, camera movements, lights and flares and anything else that may help or ruin the shot. Often, I have to fix problems and find solutions on the go. For example, it’s my responsibility to see if the shot comes out sharp. Also, I have to look for any unwanted equipment or props in the shot. Another important factor is talking to the actors either about their position in front of the camera or even anyone looking straight into the lens. This may seem insignificant, but scenes with more actors and extras requires that extra attention of detail. In other words, I am the eyes and ears of the cinematographer. I would say that communication and teamwork is essential throughout the day.
How about as an electrician?
ED: When I work as an electrician I see the shots and the scenes in a different way. Once the camera is set, then lighting begins. I often think ahead what the next set up will be in terms of lights, power and equipment. It’s very important to be quick, safe and efficient when you are lighting a scene. Every time we use big sources of light, you don’t want to blind anyone or set a light in an unsafe position. Weather condition is a key when we are shooting on location, so it would be my responsibility to make everything work in any circumstances. Teamwork is essential for an electrician. We often have to separate what we do, so we stay more efficient and productive.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your position during a production? How did you overcome them?
ED: I think the most common challenge I face with most days is doing lighting cues. It could be as simple as a character entering a room and flipping a switch to turn on or off the light to flickering lights and thunderstorm effects, flashlights, TV screen effect, fire etc. It’s not uncommon to do a movement or an effect in a shot that is not in the script, so when this happens, I have to improvise and come up with a quick solution and see how as a team we can make it work, so we don’t slow down the production. This makes our crew look good in front of our bosses and especially the producers. I would say that I learned to overcome those challenges easily within every production that I have worked on since I meet different crews and bosses that have different ways of doing their job. This absolutely helps expand my knowledge and builds up my skill set.
Can you tell us about some of the productions you’ve worked on and what job you were doing?
ED: The past year I did a few very interesting projects such as the films “Office Christmas Party” and “American Express,” as well as the television series “The Exorcist,” “Shameless” and “Empire.”
“Office Christmas Party” is a comedy starring Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman and Kate McKinnon. The story is about a branch manager who throws an epic Christmas party in order to land a big client, so his branch doesn’t get shut down. Some of the scenes were shot in downtown Chicago and we had a pretty big crew, more than usual. Throughout the day, we experiences short blizzards, rain and clear skies, all within 30 mins. A rapid weather change like this is never good for a lighting set up. So, at times, I had to separate from the crew and follow the weather every 10 mins, so I can tell the gaffer if there will be a lighting change. We had lights on every intersection around the square we were shooting at, inside buildings, along trees etc. so I had to be close to a certain section and decrease or increase the amount of light on all lights every time the sun changes and let everyone know, so they can tell production. This was crucial for lighting continuity within every shot and scene.
Another project I did was called “American Express” starring Academy Award winner Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried and Joel Edgerton. On this project, I had the chance to work with a female cinematographer for the first time. She was specific in her choices of light and camera composition. Every time I had to set up a light whether on a ceiling or hidden around wall, most of the time it was my choice of placement. Because of my choices with the amount of light and shaping the light every time we set up, I got to be the photo stills gaffer for the feature film. In other words, we had photo sessions where I was in charge of the lighting set ups. A similar thing happened on the Fox pilot “The Exorcist” starring Academy Award winner Geena Davis. Since this series is a thriller, we had various lighting effects every day. I did all of the lighting cues at almost every location we shot at. For example, I had to simulate power going down on construction workers inside a church at a specific moment when the actors were passing by. Every time, timing was crucial especially when I had to repeat the same effect a couple of times in a row.
But, the Golden Globe nominated series “Shameless” and “Empire” were absolutely different from the three projects I just mentioned. “Shameless” has minimal lighting when the production comes to shoot in Chicago. I usually have to set up one or two lights but I have to avoid making them look artificial. “Empire” is absolutely the opposite of “Shameless” and maybe everything else I have ever done, because this is a drama TV series that has musical performances. So, I often had to navigate a spotlight and follow the singer across the stage. We had to set up lights for the shot but also, for the stage. Sometimes there will be a long shot where the performance might get interrupted; the singer would go off stage, or dance etc. A small mistake on a giant production like this could be inexcusable. I was electrician on all of these projects and it was important for me to be focused and quick in every decision I made.
What has been your favorite project so far?
ED: This is a hard question to answer because I’ve enjoyed all of the projects I have done. However, if I had to pick one to be my favorite it would be “Sense8.” It is a Netflix original made by Lilly and Lana Wachowski. Some of their work include “Matrix trilogy,” “V for Vendetta,” “Speed Racer,” “Cloud Atlas” and “Jupiter Ascending.”
On “Sense8,” I had the chance to work with Academy Award winner cinematographer John Toll, whose credits include “Braveheart,” “The Last Samurai,” “Iron Man 3,” “The Thin Red Line,” “Almost Famous,” “Vanilla Sky” and “Legends of the Fall.” He is one of my favorite cinematographers, I even studied his work while I was in college. I see him as a mentor and someone to look up to in terms of telling a visual story and becoming a better cinematographer. Having the chance to be apart of his crew and work directly for him is something I never thought would happen. Some of the techniques he used on set, whether setting up a shot or solving a lighting problem, even the way he communicated with the crew, was something I hadn’t encountered on set before. I think what I loved most about this project was the pace and the way the directors and the cinematographer perceived each scene and communicated to the actors.
What would you say your strongest qualities are in your field?
ED: Some of the strongest qualities I have are problem solving, I am quick and efficient, but safe, creative and absolutely reliable, and I am a team player. Working in the lighting department requires me to not only be knowledgeable of the equipment we use along with all the new updates and what new technology has to offer, but also, being able to use it properly. I think that those qualities helped me understand the professionalism behind the scenes and quickly establish my career path.
Can you tell us about the different types of lighting that you use for a scene to create a certain mood or atmosphere?
ED: Well, this really depends on the story, the director and the cinematographer. Some cinematographers prefer big sources of light that can be cut, diffused and shaped once set and others the smallest possible use of light possible. In the same way, I have worked with cinematographers who love the use of LEDs. An important factor of creating a certain mood or atmosphere in a scene is what the project is about. The contrast ratio defines the feel or the mood of the scene. For example, comedies tend to use a 2:1 ratio where if we look at the shadows in a certain shot they are almost non-existent. However, in thrillers there is lots of harsh lighting with deep, dark shadows that create a spooky feeling to enhance the surprise moment. On the other hand, in the case of a low light, high contrast ratio scenario or the other way around, the choice of the certain lights comes with the preferences of the cinematographer and the gaffer.
Earlier this year you were invited to judge the 2016 Fandependent Film Festival in Chicago, what was it like judging the festival?
ED: It was an interesting experience to judge versus having my movie being the one judged. Also, my comments had to be on point since this would help decide the winner of the festival. I can say that this was an overwhelming experience since I had a lot of responsibility on my shoulders but at the same time, I enjoyed giving an in-depth evaluation about each project.
What were some of the things you looked for when judging the films that screened at the festival?
ED: I would always start from the overall story whether or not it works or the plot makes sense. Next, I would focus on the acting and how each character carries the dialog or the story itself. Of course, I would focus on my field looking at the cinematography and lighting of the film and how everything relates to the story.
Can you tell us about some of the projects you are currently working on and what you are doing?
ED: Currently, I am working on “Sense8.” We have been shooting in various location houses where one of my main responsibility is to link all the LED panels we set to a dimmer board, so the gaffer would be able to quickly control the levels on each light throughout the shots. There are many issues that can come up doing this; so troubleshooting has been a major responsibility during this show.
At the end of the day, what is it that you love about your job?
ED: It encompasses creativity, technical knowledge and etiquette. Collaborating with so many people and various departments in order to create the final product repays at the end of the day especially when you see your name in the credits in the theatre or on TV later on. I wouldn’t change what I do for any other job.
What do you hope to achieve in your career?
ED: I would say my long-term goal is to work as a cinematographer and shoot feature films at an Academy level. For now, I am glad that I am able to work on such high profile productions and expand my knowledge with each project that I do.
Brazil’s Samar Kauss has proven herself to be a filmmaker to watch, as any project she is attached to gains immeasurable success. Hailing from Brazil, Kauss has established herself as an internationally recognized editor, lending her services to some of her home country’s most distinguished productions over the past decade.
Native Brazilians may recognize her for her sustained work on the highly popular television show GNT Fashion, the Brazilian equivalent of E! News, which examines all things fashion, pop culture, and celebrity gossip. Since 2001, Kauss worked as an editor for GNT Fashion for several years, working alongside some of the country’s most notable celebrities, directors, and creatives across the entertainment industry. The show, distributed on Brazil’s leading network TV Globo, one of the country’s largest broadcast stations, reaches over 180 million homes in Brazil, rivaling that of even some of the most popular American productions.
Kauss does not let the bar lie with only one immensely popular television show, however. She has also worked as an editor for the highly popular series Mesa Para Dois, (Table For Two), a culinary series hosted by the renowned Brazilian celebrity chefs Flavia Quaresma and Alex Atala. The two chefs are nationally famous for their entertaining, yet informative series in which Kauss’ job is to propagate the show’s energetic pacing, and to support the comedic timing of the two chefs as they dive through local community’s in search for the most rich and flavorful recipes around Brazil and internationally. As a longstanding editor on the program, Kauss ran a tight ship, and was able to understand, envision, and articulate through her cuts exactly what the directors and producers of the show had in mind for the final visual product. The show’s executive producer, Alessandra Casado, had this to say: “Thanks to the tight, polished editing skills demonstrated by Samar, Mesa Para Dois was received tremendously well and garnered a substantial viewership of up to 183 million Brazilians.”
In addition to her work as an editor, Kauss also has worked hand-in-hand with the Australian government’s Department of Health as a leading Director of Photography for their government-funded educational documentary, aimed to raise international awareness and pledge support to a large and thriving aboriginal tribe known as the Wadeye Community, who live in the rural Northern Territory of Australia. The documentary has had a significant impact on the aboriginal tribes of Australia, and was hailed for its significant cultural impact across the community.
Whether it’s landing leading roles on Brazil’s leading television networks or extending her talents to a noble, humanitarian cause for Australia’s Department of Health, Editor and Director of Photography Kauss has certainly taken the international entertainment film and television industry by storm.
International Entertainment, and the Talents that Leave us Buzzing….