Photographer Alejandra Sierra brings artistry to everything she shoots

For as long as Alejandra Sierra can remember, she has always been holding a camera in her hands. There was never a moment of doubt about what she wanted to do with her life; she always knew that photography would make her happy. But what makes her luckier than most is that not only does she love what she does, she is extraordinarily good at it.

While being recognized around the world for her talents as a photographer, Sierra has seen tremendous success. She has over 22 thousand followers on Instagram, and her first individual exhibition, “Metalmorphosis” went on to be featured in the leading contemporary art museum, MURA, in her hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico. Her photographs have been seen by hundreds of thousands of readers of various Mexican magazines, and contributed to making the magazine Cream the success it is today. This trend continues in regards to her work with national companies.

“I love photography and I really enjoy product shots, and shooting for national companies allows me to do both,” said Sierra.

Sierra’s work has helped boost many corporations such as La Tequila, Le Garraf, Marisa Pasteleria, Café Barra Café, California Wings and Beer, Cortez, Gaspar, Osaka, Olio Bistro, La Bocha, Ambiderm, Marianka, and Kuu, to name only a few. She was instrumental in providing them with widespread social media exposure, as well as drawing in a growth in sales.

“It makes me really proud to have such big enterprises to like my work, know about it and want their products shot by me,” she said.

One of her more substantial jobs was for the restaurant De La Rosa, and Sierra helped the company revamp their image with her work. For Sierra, the chance to work with a company that gives so many jobs to the people in her country was invaluable.

“It was a humbling experience to know that I was responsible for the pictures of this iconic brand. I shot products I grew up buying as a kid and then portrayed what they represent through a picture,” said Sierra.

Rocío Gómez Michel, the Marketing Manager for De la Rosa, was extremely impressed with Sierra’s work with her brand. She attributes Sierra’s work to the success of the restaurant’s social media, allowing for consumers to feel closer to the brand they grew up with, and they saw a sizable increase in sales as a direct result from Sierra’s photos.

“Given my history as a brand analyst, I know the importance of a good photographer in campaigning and branding an organization. Alejandra’s experience as a photographer, as well as her achievements through her career made her a clear choice to help in the continued success of De la Rosa. Her expertise is an invaluable asset toward the overall success and growth of any organization she becomes involved with, and I can confirm from personal experience that she is largely responsible for much of the success,” said Michel.

Sierra’s work has impacted not only the sales of companies, but also the awareness of many social cause organizations across Mexico. She uses her art to help improve the lives of others in her native country, something that is not only rewarding, but important.

“Telling a story, bringing a cause to life, being able to make a difference is one of the best feelings in the world,” said Sierra. “It makes me really proud. I feel useful and that I´m making a difference through my passion and career. Being able to help doing what I love the most is amazing.”

Of the various social causes she has helped, what was perhaps the most substantial was Sierra’s work with Mi Gran Esperanza (MGE), a widely renowned association dedicated to the eradication and treatment of cancer. Mi Gran Esperanza is a civil association founded 22 years ago that helps to treat and attempt to cure children with cancer. More than 3,000 children and their families, have been helped by the association, and they are one of the most important associations of our kind in Mexico. Mi Gran Esperanza helps with physical, emotional and spiritual health and recovery of low income patients and their families. Each year, they treat around 400 kids mostly from the western side of our country, helping them to overcome their battles.

“Working with MGE was Bittersweet. It was sad, because you never want kids to get cancer, but being able to know that my work was going to help their lives being a little bit better was great. It was an honor to shoot this brave kids and their families,” said Sierra.

Sierra’s photos were featured in the annual calendar that the organization puts out every year to fundraise and provide as a thank you for their donors. The calendar showcases the patients, the installations, the families and what they do. Estela de la Alba Rulfo the CEO of Mi Gran Esperanza, says that they chose Sierra for this project based on her previous work and reputation as an outstanding photographer.

“Alejandra’s leading role as the photographer for our calendar was instrumental in raising money for our organization, and that we required a top tier photographer to complete this task. After working with Alejandra, I am confident that we made the right choice. Thanks to Alejandra’s preeminent skills as a leading photographer, as well as her patience and ability to complete shoots timely, the people felt comfortable, happy and familiar in each shoot. The results were amazing pictures and a truly beautiful calendar. The closeness was such that Alejandra even became a sponsor for one of the girls she felt the most connected with. This encapsulated the desired tone of the calendar, and showcased the impact that the donations have on many of our patients and families. I am wholly grateful to have worked alongside her throughout this project,” said Rulfo.

The calendar has unparalleled success, and sold nearly 10,000 copies. Because of such tremendous success, MGE presented Sierra with a recognition as a thank you for all the work done and the positive results.

“It was great being able to help them and put a smile on their faces,” said Sierra.

Sierra chose the uplifting theme of gratitude for her photos, and showcased the reflection of this emotion from the families, whose medical expenses are entirely covered by donations. After choosing the theme, she had to coordinate the photo shoots. This resulted in a month of organizing and shooting, and dividing what our services include, what did we do with the donations and how the families were thankful for them. Sierra shot the patients, their families and the events, and was ultimately responsible for the majority of the calendar.

“This project has been one of my most valuable lessons in life. Seeing the kids so positive, so brave, and so happy was really inspiring,” she concluded.

“From Sydney With Love” Star Karan Sagoo in the Upcoming Film “Followed”

Karan Sagoo
Karan Sagoo shot by Toranj Kayvon

Indian-born actor Karan Sagoo recently wrapped production on the upcoming horror film “Followed,” which also stars Satellite Award Winner John Savage from the seven-time Oscar nominated film “The Godfather: Part III” and the five-time Oscar Award winning film “The Deer Hunter,” Blanca Blanco (“Bullet,” “American Romance”) and Kelsey Griswold from the two-time Golden Globe Award winning series “American Crime Story.”

Expected for release later this year, the film is depicted through a series of video blog posts made by an unseen vlogger whose interest in the macabre leads him to take his show, and a crew of three friends, to a famous Los Angeles hotel with a reportedly haunted past. As the group traverses the hotel in search of answers, they soon find themselves getting more than what they bargained for when they encounter an evil entity with malicious intentions. And that is where Karan first comes into play.

A key character and driving force in the plot, Karan seamlessly embodies the masked demonic character using his body movements to elicit fear within the amateur film crew in “Followed.” His spot-on performance is definitely a key element behind the film’s suspense.

Oddly enough, Karan was initially cast in the role of an aggressive and mentally unstable drug dealer who goes after the crew as they document the hauntings (a critical role which he plays in the film as well) however, after the film’s director, Antoine Le (“Bar Union”), saw Karan’s extraordinary command over his movements and body language, he immediately cast him to play the lead role as the film’s main antagonist.

“Karan is an incredibly talented actor. After watching the way he used his body as the deranged drug dealer in my film, I asked him to try to embody the evil demon for the film and he nailed it. I cast him for the second role right away. He was able to bring both characters to life, from their mannerisms to their body language, perfectly. Having him in the film has definitely been a huge asset,” says Le.

It will come as no surprise to those that have followed Karan’s career to date that his mastery over his body caught the attention of “Followed” director Antoine Le. Prior to embarking on his acting career, Karan Sagoo carved out a prominent position for himself in the fashion and advertising industries as a model, a field of work he continues to be sought after for today.

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Karan Sagoo shot by Casey Moore

Over the course of his career Karan has been featured in some of the world’s most popular magazines, including Elle magazine, DNA, Yuva Youth magazine, Rolling Stone magazine, Man’s World, Society magazine and more. His charisma, good looks and ability to transform himself and embody different looks and personalities (which has been a huge asset in his acting career as well) has led him to be featured in ads for a diverse list of global companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Toyota, UK Trade and Investment, Videocon, Liril Soap, Max Lifestyle, Union bank, Focus T-shirts, E-Zone, Ernst and Young and others.

Having been on billboards and inside the pages of countless magazines, Karan Sagoo is probably one of the most recognizable male models in the eyes of viewers across India; but what he’s achieved as an actor has made his name known on a global scale. Karan first hit the big time when he played one of the lead bachelor’s in the hit series “The Bachelorette India,” which aired on India’s major TV network Life OK. While his role on the series several years ago made him a major heartthrob in the eyes of women across India, his dynamic talent as an actor is what has kept him on everyone’s mind.

In 2012 Karan starred in the hit romantic comedy film “From Sydney With Love,” which follows Meghaa, a small town girl from West Bengal, India, who is in for a major culture shock when she travels to Sydney, Australia for college.

Starring alongside some of India’s most sought after actors, including Bidita Bag (“X: Past is Present,” “Icche”) who plays Meghaa, as well as Ronjini Chakraborty (“Man’s World,” “At The End of it All”) and Evelyn Sharma (“Gadaar: The Traitor,” “Kuch Kuch Locha Hai”), Karan takes on the lead role of Suhail Syed in the film. A narcissist from an extremely wealthy family, Karan’s character Suhail becomes the film’s major antagonist through his relationship with Meghaa, who he sees as a challenge, which leads him to pursue her romantically.

Karan’s performance as Suhail is definitely one of the highlights in “From Sydney With Love,” as he easily embodies the attractive, but overly egotistical character in a way that makes him easy to hate.

Directed by Prateek Chakravorty, who produced the hit series “Born Stylish” and the films “Jomer Raja Dilo Bor”and “Tujhya Vin Mar Javaan,” “From Sydney with Love” premiered in Sydney, Australia and was screened across the globe in the U.S., Australia, Canada, England and India. The film was produced by Pramod Films, one of the most recognizable names in Bollywood cinema as the production company behind major hits such as “Deedar,” “Barood,” “Jagir,” “Azad” and others.  

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From Sydney With Love film poster

In addition to “From Sydney With Love,” Karan is known for his lead roles as Professor Drew in the docu-drama series “Cry Wolfe,” Mukul Sinha in the crime series “Khotey Sikkey,” as well as the series “Rishta.com” and the multi-award winning film “Band Baaja Baaraat.”

Karan took on the lead role of Vikram in the romantic comedy “Band Baaja Baaraat,” which won the coveted Aspara Award, Filmfare Award and many more. Directed by Maneesh Sharma (“Fan,” “Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl”),  “Band Baaja Baaraat” follows two wedding planners, Shruti played by Zee Cine Award winner Anushka Sharma (“Sultan,” “PK,” “Nh10”) and Bittoo played by BIG Star Entertainment Award winner Ranveer Singh (“Finding Fanny”), tasked with planning the weddings of three very different and demanding couples.

One of the couples is Vikram, played by Karan, and his fiance Preity, played by Kanksha (“Paranoia”). Due to Vikram’s family wealth and status, he has the means to give Preity the wedding she always dreamed of, even if it means bringing in India’s biggest star to perform at the wedding. A key character in the film, Karan’s memorable and magnetic performance as Vikram in the critically acclaimed film “Band Baaja Baaraat” definitely earned the actor quite a bit of attention both in India and abroad.

Aside from playing two lead roles in the upcoming horror film “Followed,” Karan is currently featured in a commercial for TagFi, a popular new social networking app that allows users to connect and find groups of people with common interests and passions, and easily make plans. In the commercial Karan plays Neil, an on-the-go business professional who is unable to meet and make connections with people due to his busy lifestyle, but thanks to TagFi, Neil’s social life is buzzing.

“The ad has been featured on app download services worldwide such as iTunes and the Apple App Store, and has been viewed millions of time. Karan is super professional and dedicated to his craft. He has a very natural charisma and gravitas as an actor that really comes across on screen. He has played a lead role in endearing Tagfi to millions around the globe,” says award-winning director Cole Mueller, who directed the Tagfi commercial.

In the commercial world, Karan is also known for being the face of major ads for Mother Dairy ice cream, Samsung, Raymonds suits, Ariel detergent, Lipton iced tea, Sompo insurance, Lux soap, Fiama Di Wills body wash, Volkswagen and more.

From his lead roles in several highly acclaimed films to his illustrious career as an international model, it’s easy to call Karan Sagoo one of India’s hottest exports– and he’s definitely one you should keep your eyes out for!

 

Editing Genius Rudy Vermorel Engages Millennials with his Work

At the heart of every production, whether it’s an advertisement or an epic drama, is a story with a purpose. The writers, cinematographers and director are all critical to a project’s creation, but it’s at the editor’s desk where it becomes more than just raw footage and words on a script. It’s up to the editor to see the forest through the trees — to know the story that’s being told, and to be able to put the right scenes together in the right places like so many puzzle pieces, to create the final product that movie theater audiences and home viewers will ultimately see.

The job of an editor can be grueling, but for Rudy Vermorel it’s all a labor of love. Painstakingly parsing through hundreds of hours of footage, one second at a time, is just the beginning of Vermorel’s zenlike process. He cuts, splices and rearranges scenes with a methodical efficiency and confidence honed by experience, breathing life into the story with every move.

“Once I have the footage I start to watch it to get an idea of the general tone,” Vermorel said. “If there is music in the background of the video I listen to the song to feel all the emotions and adapt the song to the footage. Then, I start cutting and I create my magic.”

In 2016, Taco Bell hired Vermorel as the lead editor for the company’s web series “Taco Tales,” an innovative marketing campaign geared toward the millennial demographic. In each episode, actors reenact Taco Bell-related stories found online at sites like Facebook and Reddit. Lighthearted and at times zany, editing the web series gave Vermorel the chance to showcase his talent for comedic timing. Moreover, the decision by such a massive company to hire Vermorel for a major social media marketing campaign speaks volumes about his talent.

Vermorel worked hard to earn his reputation as a leading figure in the field, a reputation which in turn earned him the trust of a wide array of high-profile clients internationally. Among countless other productions he’s served as the lead editor on advertisements for Ford, music videos for artists including MTV Video Music Award winner Demi Lovato, and in 2016 he expanded his repertoire with a venture into the rapidly growing market of mobile gaming.

Supercell – the group behind the runaway hit game “Clash of Clans” on iPhone and Android smartphones – has relied heavily on its strategy of widespread marketing to entice players into joining, to great effect. When the company released “Clash Royale” in 2016, it began preparing for a massive advertising blitz and Vermorel was recruited as the campaign’s editor.

“I am not a big game player so… at first I was apprehensive about how to edit it,” he said. “I figured out that the best way to work on it was to start playing the game, and I enjoyed it a lot. After that, I had so many ideas for how to highlight ‘Clash Royale,’ and all the fun, strategy and entertainment that make up the game.”

Initially the campaign was challenging for Vermorel, but he quickly adapted and before long the campaign had produced 20 videos publicizing “Clash Royale.” The videos racked up more than 120 million views, and the game became the top downloaded and highest-earning app on the iOS App Store overnight.

“I was very attached to the characters. I attributed to them a very different style, which allowed me to vary the editing techniques,” he said. “I wanted to showcase the funny side of the characters. For that we worked on their design to make them endearing, then I opted for modern dynamic editing in order to attract the interest of a large audience.”

The campaign was such a wild success that Vermorel was asked to continue editing the game’s ad campaigns for the next three years, the first of which will begin development this year.

Very few people involved in a production can ever be as intimately familiar with the project as the editor. A dedicated editor can spend days or weeks poring through every scene countless times. They can spend years perfecting the ability to bring the narrative together using the timing, cadence, and music of each scene. An editor’s job is to build order from chaos, to understand the director’s vision for a project and to bring that vision to life. A production is only as good as its editor, and Rudy Vermorel is the best there is.

Catch Actor Toby Levins in “Murder, She Baked: Just Desserts” Airing March 26 on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries!

 

Toby Levins
Actor Toby Levins

Some actors just have the kind of face audiences can’t help but love and Australian actor Toby Levins is definitely one of them. Besides being naturally good looking, Levins’ has an amiable and magnetic on screen presence that makes him an easy fan favorite– so it comes as no surprise that he was cast to take on the lead role of Deputy Bill Todd in the first five TV movies in Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ on going “Murder, She Baked” series.

You can catch Levins reprising his role as Deputy Bill Todd in the series fifth film, “Murder, She Baked: Just Desserts,” which premieres Sunday March 26 at 9:00 p.m./8:00c on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries!

Based on the cozy mystery novel series written by Joanne Fluke, the films follow Hannah Swensen, played by Daytime Emmy Award winner Alison Sweeney (“Days of Our Lives”), a small-town baker who starts splitting her time as an amateur sleuth after her delivery driver is found murdered behind her bake shop in the series’ first film “Murder, She Baked: A Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery” released in 2015.

Levins’ character Bill Todd, Hannah Swensen’s brother-in-law, is the town deputy, who works closely with series’ lead Cameron Mathison (“All My Children”), who plays Detective Mike Kingston.

While Levins is widely known throughout the industry for his recurring roles in several action heavy dramas such as the Primetime Emmy Award nominated post-apocalyptic drama series “The 100,” ABC Freeform’s Saturn Award nominated fantasy drama “Beyond” and the Leo Award nominated crime series “Rogue,” his character in the “Murder, She Baked” franchise is the polar opposite of most of his other roles. As Deputy Bill Todd, Levins effortlessly brings the films’ comic relief, further proving his dynamic range as an actor.

Levins’ says, “In one of the earlier films I was joking With Alison Sweeney, who plays Hannah in the franchise, that Bill should be based on Yosemite Sam. So now before a scene I just think ‘What would Yosemite Sam Do?’ How can you not have fun at work when that is your mindset!”

The on-screen chemistry between Levins and Mathison is immediately evident, and their relationship is definitely critical to the popular movie series as Bill is always at the scene of the crime doing his duty to enforce the law as Detective Kinston and Hannah try to solve the case.

About working with Levins, Mathison (who is also a lead reporter for “Entertainment Tonight”) says, “He is a riot on set. All of our procedural police scenes are together, and Toby and I always have a blast when we work together.”

Despite the mystery murder concept that runs through the “Murder, She Baked” series, there is definitely a romcom element, especially as things begin to heat up between Hannah and Detective Kingston over the course of the films; and with Levins’ character Deputy Todd married to Hannah’s sister Andrea, played by Lisa Durupt (“Preggoland”)– Hannah, Kingston and the Todd’s might just become one big happy family. But you’ll just have to keep watching the on going series to find out!

Since “Murder, She Baked: A Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery,” Levins has starred in the series’ follow up films “Murder, She Baked: A Plum Pudding Mystery,” “Murder, She Baked: A Peach Cobbler Mystery,” “Murder, She Baked: A Deadly Recipe,” and most recently, “Murder, She Baked: Just Desserts.”

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Film Poster for “Murder, She Baked: A Deadly Recipe” released in 2016

The “Murder, She Baked: A Deadly Recipe” film will air on Sunday at 7:00 p.m./6:00c on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, just before the most recent film in the franchise premieres.

In “Murder, She Baked: A Deadly Recipe” Levins takes center stage when his character Bill Todd runs for town sheriff. Up until then, Levins’ character has been a staple in the series representing the honest, good-natured energy of small town law enforcement. However, when the current sheriff, the one Bill is running against in the upcoming election, is found murdered, he becomes the prime suspect. The film offers quite a drastically divergent plot line from the previous films, one that gives way for a lot more character development on Levins’ part, which he nails as usual. To find out whether the lovable Deputy Bill Todd is actually a cold-blooded murder who’s been disguising his evil ways all along, you’ll have to catch the movie when it airs on Sunday.

Out of all five films, Levins admits that his favorite one to work on so far has been “Murder she Baked, Just Desserts.” “I had a lot of police procedural scenes with Cameron Mathison (Mike), who is a lot of fun to work with. We have an ongoing battle to make each other laugh during a take. I am kicking his ass,” explains Levins.

Over the last few years Toby Levins has been one incredibly busy actor who continues to be in high demand for a number of lead roles. Since shooting the first five films in the “Murder She Baked” series between 2014 and 2016, he’s also played an impressive list of critical recurring roles on some of the most-watched TV series in the U.S. and Canada.

His lead role of Lieutenant Carl Emerson on season 2 and 3 of the “The 100” really gives audiences an opportunity to see Levins’ capacity for playing intense, dark and action-packed characters.

The series follows a group of 100 teens from the Ark Space Station who return to earth 97 years after a nuclear disaster to see if earth is inhabitable. There they find that a few groups had survived the disaster, but the surviving groups are caught in an intense power struggle, with the Mountain Men having the dominant upper hand.

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Marie Avgeropoulos (left) & Toby Levins (right) in “The 100” Season 2 Ep.11 ‘Coup de Grace’

Levins’ character Lt. Emerson, the right hand man of the Mountain Men president, comes onto the scene in season 2 when he tries to kill members of the Ark, but is captured instead. He becomes a key piece in the Ark’s unfolding plan to gain the upperhand when they send him back to the Mountain Men with a message: “We’re coming for you.” Towards the end of season 2 Emerson becomes the only surviving Mountain Man after Mount Weather, the Mountain Men’s headquarters, self-destructs killing everyone but him. Despite being on the antagonist side of the story, Levins’ portrayal of Lt. Emerson easily made him a fan favorite in the show.

While Levins look has made him an easy cast for authoritative, law enforcement roles, the stark contrast between the characters he plays has revealed him to be an incredibly dynamic actor.

What makes a performance interesting, and I am speaking for myself here, is truth. There is nothing duller than watching an actor working extremely hard in order to show the audience how amazing an actor they are,” explains Levins. “What is mesmerizing is watching an actor and forgetting they are an actor. What leads to this, I think, is twofold; making the truth of both the scene and the character the highest priority, and not allowing one’s ego (which is usually a very loud voice in an actor’s head) to have skin in the game.”

Up next for Toby Levins is the highly-anticipated scripted comedy series “Loudermilk,” which is being developed for AT&T Audience Network by Peter Farrelly and former “Colbert” Report writer Bobby Mort. The 10-episode series centers on Sam Loudermilk, played by Golden Globe nominee Ron Livingston (“Swingers”), a recovering alcoholic and substance abuse counselor with a bad attitude.

Levins will play a key recurring role as Carl, the boyfriend of series’ lead Allison, played by Laura Mennell (“Alphas,” “Watchmen”). “In playing Carl I was afforded the opportunity to improvise with Ron take after take, a luxury so rare and rewarding. ‘Loudermilk’ is a show that I would watch if I wasn’t in it – that is a very nice thing to be a part of,” says Levins.

Stay tuned for updates on the release date for the upcoming series “Loudermilk,” and make sure to catch actor Toby Levins in the premiere of  “Murder, She Baked: Just Desserts” Sunday, March 26 at 9:00 p.m./8:00c on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.

 

Graphic Designer Joy Sun does noir film poster for “Blake Chandler: Psychic Investigator”

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Film poster for Blake Chandler: Psychic Investigator

While growing up in Tainan city, Taiwan, Joy Sun always loved drawing. She knew quickly that she had to be involved with art in her future, but she didn’t immediately know how. Failure wouldn’t get in her way, and after teaching herself storyboarding and working on business cards, she wanted to be both a storyboard artist and graphic designer. Now, she is recognized internationally for her talents as both.

As a storyboard artist, Sun has worked with some of the world’s largest companies, such as LG when she did the storyboard’s for their commercial Bring the Aurora to Life with Power of Perfect Black. As a graphic designer, Sun designed both a website and logo for Bruber Media Partners, as well as business cards for the famous transgender advocate Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen. She has an extensive resume, but she would consider the highlight of her career working on the posters for the film Blake Chandler: Psychic Investigator, a project that truly combined both her graphic design and storyboard artist talents into one.

Blake Chandler: Psychic Investigator was a very fun and special project since a lot of movie posters nowadays are made with photographs and are heavily Photoshopped. It was a rare chance to get to take a more minimalist approach in terms of style and execution of a movie poster, and I enjoyed having the opportunity to do so,” said Sun.

Blake Chandler: Psychic Investigator is a critically acclaimed and highly successful feature film. It is a science-fiction comedy about a psychic investigator who tries to seek revenge on the ghost of his former crime fighting partner. The film was written, directed, and produced by Elran Ofir, who describes Sun’s work as immensely vital to the production as she was the lead graphic designer for the film, therefore creating the overall image that was most accessible to the public eye.

“There are very few people in the industry with the level of extraordinary talent and ability as Joy Sun and she has earned her lead roles on some of the most widely distributed productions for some of the biggest production companies in the industry. I feel extremely honored to have worked with Joy Sun throughout the production of Blake Chandler: Psychic Investigator and know that she will only continue to create commercially successful and critically acclaimed productions, which is why Joy is an excellent addition to the graphic design industry,” said Ofir. “I personally commissioned Joy for this lead role because she is the only graphic designer in the industry able to recreate the classic style of noir films. Joy’s illustrative and graphic design abilities are undoubtedly distinguished within her field. In addition, I wanted someone that could visualize my direction clearly and the result was an extraordinary film poster that neither me or the rest of the production crew could have expected.”

When the director Ofir approached Sun, he had very clear vision of what he wanted, but still gave Sun the space to be creative. Through his words, Sun says she found myself in a world of fonts. He specifically stated that he wanted the main character holding a flashlight with a cigar in his mouth and with the ghost smoking out of the cigar. Sun immediately wanted to make it her own. She started researching what noir films posters look like and tried to bring that vision onto the paper. She used her knowledge of colors and her digital drawing skills to mimic what Ofir had in mind, and made something he wanted and still from her own creation.

“It is always good to work with someone knows what they are doing as a leader. Elran is a great director and producer with an artistic vision that demands attention, I wanted to work with him for this reason. He is a succinct and clear individual whom is easily approachable, which I respect within business relations,” said Sun. “Also, Noir film has an amazing and deep history and the production of Blake Chandler: Psychic Investigator set out to revive the style. Beyond that, the crew I worked with was magnificent and made the process very enjoyable and interesting. Moreover, who wouldn’t want to work on a film about taking revenge on a ghost?”

The film has seen an enormous amount of success, having been selected for HollyShorts 2015 Official Selection, Fargo Film Festival 2016 Official Selection, SOCAL Film Fest 2016 Official Selection, and the Festival De Cannes 2015 Short Film Corner. For Sun, going to Cannes was an overwhelming experience, as she knows the prestige the film festival has. Not only would the film be showing, but people from all over the world would see her one-of-a-kind poster.

“I am so honored to be part of this process and had the pleasure to have my work out there to share with people,” Sun concluded.

Cinematographer Jon Keng feels lucky to be doing what he loves every day

No matter how many awards he wins, festivals he attends, or film sets he works on, Jon Keng remains humble. For him, it isn’t about the recognition or the praise, for him, it is just about doing what he loves. He knows how fortunate he is. Keng is from Singapore, where people rarely get to pursue their true passions in life as they get forced to conform with societal norms. Despite all that he has accomplished, he just feels to be able to make a living out of being a cinematographer.

Keng started out wanting to be a photographer, but as he grew so did his dreams, and he turned to cinematography. His understanding of how to beautifully frame a still image greatly contributed to his talents as a cinematographer when he began, and now he has worked around the world on a variety of award-winning films and television shows. He previously worked on award-winning LGBT themed films Cocoon and The Stairs.  He recently shot the TV pilot Pineapple, which was selected for Sundance Film Festival 2017. His film Fata Morgana won a prestigious Golden Rooster Awards last year, China’s equivalent of the Academy Awards. There is no shortage of achievements for this cinematographer.

I enjoy my work a lot. Every film presents a different work environment, so I never get bored of what I do,” said Keng.

Working on the 2013 film Tadpoles, Keng began experiencing his enormous success. The film screened at over nine festivals, including the Vladivostok in Russia, Jogja-NETPAC in South East Asia, and the Singapore Short Cuts. He was also the first Singaporean to win the Jury Prize at Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland for his work on the film, the world’s longest running film festival, which is widely considered to be one of the top film festivals.

Tadpoles was, by far, the toughest film set I had ever worked on,” said Keng. “Being forced to tackle extreme challenges with a team of people is my favorite aspect of filmmaking. I feel that it really bonds the crew and gives us so many great memories to look back on.”

Keng was involved with the film right from the beginning of the screenwriting process, and was able to give his feedback to each new draft as it came along. He worked alongside his childhood friend Ivan Tan, the writer and director of the film. The two of them always had a shared interest in filmmaking, and became a compatible team.

“Jon is a great pillar of support on set. Even when things get stressful, he is always on point and calm with his decision making. This is very reassuring to the crew,” said Tan. “Jon never tries to impose a particular style onto a film. Instead, he digs deep into the core of the story and together, we find a unique look for every film we work on.”

Tadpoles follows two families who are forced to stay indoors and confront their fractured relationships as an unusual monsoon threatens to flood the eastern part of Singapore. There had been a series of floods in Singapore prior to the film, which became the inspiration.

“It feels great to be able to share this uniquely Singaporean story with the rest of the world,” said Keng.

After the triumph of Tadpoles, it became clear to not only Singapore, but the rest of the world, that Keng has extraordinary talent as a cinematographer. In 2015, he worked on the film Home, which became the first Chinese film to win at Best International Film at Raindance International Film Festival.

Home is a unique project because it started right from the ground up. We threw around some themes that we wanted to explore, being migrant stories in China, but we never really had a specific story in mind,” said Keng. “One day when we were on location scouts, we came across an abandoned hotel resort with a gigantic water lily pond. We spoke to the old caretaker of the resort, a migrant worker that had been left behind by the construction company many years ago after the construction had fallen through. inspired by this unique location and character, we decided to write an entire story around it.”

Home tells the story of Lao Tian, an elderly migrant caretaker of an abandoned construction site. On his last day of work, he encounters a five-year-old city girl who has run away from home. Bie Pu explores the concept of homelessness across the social classes of modern day Beijing.

“Shooting on real locations with real people cast in many of the acting roles was a great pleasure for me. It showed me that there is a multitude of stories out there in the real world left to be explored,” said Keng.  “I enjoy this organic style of working, to find a location first before writing the script. This brings a level of realism to the film, something that cannot be achieved with set builds. Once the location was found, the script was completed in less than a week and we were shooting within two weeks once the actors were cast.”

The film had its premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2015, an Oscar qualifying festival and one of the premier festivals in Los Angeles. It then went on to not only be screened at 13 international festivals, but win the HBO Films Competition Award at the Savannah Film Festival, and the Director’s Choice Award at the Miami Film Festival.

“Working with Jon Keng is the epitome of a professional working experience. Jon’s expertise in cinematography is only matched by his great demeanor and ability to remain calm under high pressure situations. Jon has made a name for himself as being the reliable artist and technician you want on set,” said the producer of Home, Edmond Yang. “J on is good at what he does because he approaches every job and every collaboration from a place of respect. His interactions with coworkers are based on a foundation of trust and professionalism surpassing any of his peers. He is able to keep focus on the overarching needs of a production while never forgetting the micro details which make up each successes. Jon illustrates why creativity fused with technical precision make an artist, but more importantly he reminds us why interpersonal communication is key to our discipline. This is why people want him on every set we have – because he is as talented as he is humble and that’s a combination we want to surround ourselves with in order to achieve our best on film sets.”

It seems that Keng does not work on a project that does not have outstanding results. His meticulous eye and passion for what he does justifies why he is such a celebrated cinematographer. With skills like his, there is no doubt his name will continue to appear on both the big and small screen.

Actor Wadih Dona’s Menace and Magnetism Earns International Renown

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Australian actor Wadih Dona’s career has been marked by an impressively steady progression of accomplishments. His natural cache of talent and classic theatrical training has earned him two decades of sustained professional success, not only on stage but also with numerous television and film jobs. Dona’s gift for creating fully realized, believable characterizations have landed him several very high-profile recurring roles on Australia’s top TV shows, but those successes are just a minor aspect of the driven actor’s ambition.

“I am interested in telling stories that resonate on a larger scale,” Dona said. “I have been in TV, film and theatre for many years in Australia, and I am interested in opening up avenues for international work. The US is a market that actors naturally gravitate to, and given my long list of credits, I felt ready to take it on.”

It didn’t take long for Dona to reach this goal. His portrayals utilize an impressive mixture of instinct, stagecraft and soulful, emotional intensity; Dona draws viewers in close, building an emotional bond which he deftly exploits for a powerful artistic impact. It was precisely this quality which led him to his first US film, 2016’s Septembers of Shiraz, playing alongside two of America’s biggest movie stars, Oscar winner Adrien Brody and the acclaimed lead actress Salma Hayek.

The film, a thriller set in 1979 Iran, was somewhat of a passion project for the two stars—both also served as producers—and it combines taut suspense and raw emotion into a compelling whole.

Septembers of Shiraz is an art house film, it’s an intimate family story, not an action blockbuster,” Dona said. “The film is an adaptation of the novel by Dalia Sofer, and is based on real life. It centers on a Jewish-Iranian family, played by Brody and Hayek, who are suddenly faced with persecution when the Iranian Revolution unfolds in 1979. Brody’s character is arrested, tortured and humiliated, and the film closely follows his ordeal and the fortitude he had to have to get through it.”

Dona’s personal background—the actor grew up in numerous European and Middle Eastern countries—and formidable resume of successful performances served him well when it came to Septembers of Shiraz.

“I knew Wayne Blair, the director, as we had worked together in a production of Othello for the most eminent Shakespeare company in Australia,” Dona said. “We had history, were good friends, so he trusted me and my work methodology—and vice versa.”

“He sent me the script, asked me to screen test and told me that the project would be cast out of the US, with Salma Hayek and Adrien Brody attached. Obviously, I did well because I got the part, but Wayne had no final say in the casting so it was good to know that I achieved it on my own merit.”

This was indeed the case, as executive producer Heidi Jo Markel said: “We were looking for an actor with gravitas, who could portray the menace of the Iranian Revolution. We knew we had our guy when we saw his fantastic screen test. Wadih is talented actor with incredible screen presence and the icing on the cake was that he was a pleasure to work with on the shoot.”

To develop his character (Rostam, a member of the infamous Revolutionary Guard) Dona focused on Markel’s watchword: “Menace. Rostam symbolizes the forces of chaos and anarchy within the Revolution,” Dona said. “I was cast because I can access those dark emotions quite easily. As a child I was exposed to civil wars and I knew those kind of men, I saw them—young men who suddenly had power, and they could do what they pleased with that power. When we were on set, carrying weapons and with the period uniforms, I was scared when I saw my own reflection in the mirror!”

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“Adrien Brody and Salma Hayek were both very personally invested in this story,” Dona said. “I had scenes with both, and each was a pleasure to work alongside, but I had more to do, plot wise, with Salma. In one scene, Rostam loots her house and there is an obvious sexual threat as well as one of underlying violence. We rehearsed this scene a few times and kept going deeper emotionally. She went into that dark emotionally territory with me so openly, we built rapport very quickly because of this. She was fantastic to work with—open, accessible and an absolutely gorgeous human being.”

When the film debuted at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival, Dona said, “It premiered there in the biggest cinema in Toronto, the Roy Thompson theatre, with 2,630 people watching. It was massive. I had never seen a cinema that size.”

A complex, thoughtful piece of filmmaking, Septembers of Shiraz was aptly described, by one critic, as “a germane and intelligent observation of the current global political climate in which the world’s ‘have-nots’ are rebelling against the party-political status quo.”

For Dona, it had even more significance. “It was a fantastic, enriching experience,” he said. “Personally, I think we made something quite beautiful and life affirming. And it has helped me leverage myself professionally to do more work. It’s a calling card of sorts for me now—people sit up and listen when I tell what I have done in this film. And, if I had to be selfish, I would say also that shooting a film with one of your friends directing and acting alongside Oscar award winning stars, well, that’s too not bad, either, is it?”

AN AWARD-WINNING FILM ABOUT A MAN WHO NEEDS NO AWARDS: I HEARD THE FLOWERS BLOOMING WHEN I WAS 80

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How do you create a film about an eighty-year old man transporting a piano across town to perform a solo concert? Well, besides having all the creative professionals involved…you hire the amazing producer like Huang Zhe (aka Gigi). With a variety of different types of productions (film, commercials, etc.), Gigi quite simply knows how to maneuver every piece into its perfect place so that the artists can get along with the job of being artists. The most classic of automobiles need the proper propellant to deliver performance and so does every classic production. When director Zhen Pan started off with a rough test shoot, he reached out to Huang and enlisted her help to put the film on track. After reading the script and conferring with Pan (whom she had worked with previously on other productions), Gigi decided to sign on and bring new life to the film. It was a well contrived decision as I Heard the Flowers Blooming When I Was 80 won Best Screenplay in 4th Golden Panda International Short Film Festival and was a finalist in the IndustryBoost Competition. Huang’s ability to reset the course for this production and empower it to such great success is a testament to the fact that a great producer is paramount for filmmakers to achieve their vision.

Writer/director Zhen Pan is often referred to as China’s Wes Anderson. Within his decade long career, he has amassed numerous lauded productions. It was highly important to him that I Heard the Flowers Blooming When I Was 80, matched up to those in his impressive resume. He recalls, “We had a rough testing shoot and it didn’t quite go well. A lot of things went wrong and we just couldn’t figure out a way to make things work the way we needed them to. It was not until Huang Zhe stepped in to become our new producer that we were able to re-start the  project. Not only did she manage to find all the locations that we needed, but she also re-grouped the entire team and kept everyone energetic and focused on creating something that we would be proud of. I couldn’t thank her enough for being the production leader and making everything happen. This film would have been impossible to make and receive the recognition it has been given without Gigi.” Huang is quick to admit that she was able to make use of some prior work, essentially retaining about a third of previous footage. New schedule shoots and permits required quick and accurate designing to get the film in on time and within budget. The film required a consummate professional like Huang to guide it into a proper “landing.”

While the film focuses on one main character, the cast numbers more than thirty and required a sizeable crew. I heard the Flowers Blooming When I was 80 is a heartwarming story of recalling and achieving your dreams. On his 80th birthday, a lonely old man named Larry (played by John S. Boles) meets two children who are doing a school survey on the street. The little boy asks Larry:” What was your dream when you were my age?” This reminds Larry of when he was a little boy and wanted to hold a piano concert. Everyone dissuaded him from the idea as his parents believed his older sister to be a better pianist and more deserving of attention. Everyone ignored the boyhood Larry’s feelings. With the gradual growth of age, little Larry became old and eventually forgot his dream. On his eightieth birthday, Larry spent time alone, as he usually does while his children made excuses to avoid their father’s birthday. Larry suddenly remembers the question that the little boy asked him in the morning,” What was your dream at my age?” and decides to pick up his dream again. Moving his piano from the garage to the center of the small town, he interrupts the lives of the town’s commuters, but he finally achieves his dream of holding a piano concert…in spite of having no audience. The film gives wings to the idea that our dreams are for ourselves and not simply to be pursued for the appreciation of others. The very idea itself is a perfect description of a successful producer’s role. It’s a concept which Huang has thoroughly embraced. Gigi confirms, “The most important thing for me is seeing the stories that I like and love to produce. I was attracted to this production by only seeing the film title, and stepped in as soon as I read the script. I knew the problem was that the film didn’t have a proper plan and schedule. It was also highly important to have a crew which can work well with each other. A talented crew is so important, but the most important thing is keeping a happy filming environment.  Everyone should enjoy what he or she is doing. I decided to regroup the crew for this film, meaning that I found a totally new crew for this production. I started the pre-production earlier this time. Since I prepared early and had good communication with the city, we got the street closure for free…nobody was unhappy about that.”

A seemingly “doomed” production that couldn’t quite get off the ground, I Hear the Flowers Blooming When I was 80 went on to be an award-winning film because Gigi Huang recognized the potential of the story, cast, and crew. Investing her talents with those of this production, it went on to gain the type of notoriety that all its participants hoped for. Gigi comments, “To be honest, I was really happy and felt honored that we won the ‘Best Screenplay’. It might not have gained notoriety or prestige for my career personally but that’s not why I’m a producer. I’m perfectly happy to sit back and know that I was able to achieve exactly what I set out to do and that allowed Zhen Pan and everyone involved to be the artists that they are.” …which is exactly what I heard the Flowers Blooming When I was 80 is all about.

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Xiaoyuan Xiao on how to Manifest a Masterful Solo

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Solo may refer to a musical statement which announces mastery and emotion. It may also refer to piloting a course by one’s self. Both of these definitions find their union in director David R. Liu’s film of the same title. Known for his New York Jazz Film Festival award-winning film Bebop, Liu’s enlistment of “Ivy” Xiaoyuan Xiao (at the behest of producer Xin Li) to help him manifest the story testifies to the renown this Chinese born producer has amassed throughout the Indie film community. Solo’s status as an Official Selection at festivals including CAAMFest, the FARCUME International Film Festival of Faro, the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, and numerous others confirms his trust was well placed. Solo is as moody and ethereal as the Jazz music which serves as the backdrop for the journey of the young boy who is so central to its plot. His interaction resonates with dissonant harmony against his father, while his challenging situation is the moving picture personification of the beautiful awkwardness of Thelonious Monk or tempered uncomfortability of Charles Mingus. This film is as much for Jazz lovers as those who understand nothing of the genre but appreciate emotional struggle.

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Max Tepper stars as Jeffrey, a teenage saxophonist who is adjusting to life after his parents’ separation and impending divorce. His troubled father Alex (played by George Tsai of the FX series Mayans and Netflix’s two-time Golden Globe Winning original series The Kominsky Method starring Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin) is at a point of crisis, having lost both his marriage and his job. The comfort Alex feels with the presence of his son is counterbalanced by Jeffery’s musical desires; a nagging reminder of his soon to be ex-wife’s imprint on their offspring.

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 Solo offers no huge effects or complex production numbers; which is precisely what stands out about this film. The producers, director, crew, and cast have cohesively created a mood of gravitas that permeates the entire story. The intensity of life’s uncomfortable relationships and moments are to be channeled into Jeffery’s artistic expression. It’s a fitting parallel to that of the artists who created this production. In the same way that “Birth of the Cool” featured Miles Davis rejecting the template of jazz of that era for a slow moving artistic statement, Solo echoes this tempered language with a fictional tale of a present day aspiring horn player. It’s not so much a jazz story as a human story. Ivy confirms that you don’t need to be a music aficionado to connect with Solo, stating, “I am actually the opposite of Jeffrey if I have to make a connection. My parents bought me piano when I was interested in learning but the passion only lasted a short time. I had so many interests learning an instrument growing up but unfortunately, nothing lasted. Solo reminded me how lucky I am to have open-minded parents and opportunities to explore. That’s the essence of our film and why I wanted to be involved in telling it.”

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“FADED IMAGE REVEALS A VULNERABLE & GIVING TROY GREENWOOD

Troy Greenwood has many talents; producer, writer, actor, etc. While he may not truly accept it, poet and artist should be mentioned in the same breath. His film Faded Image is as vulnerable, heart-wrenching, and inspiring as any of the great poems of literature. The film seeks to reveal, relate, and give respite to those who experience or come into contact with those who experience depression. The public’s understanding and acceptance of the validity and presence of mental health has grown considerably in the last decade, often as a benefit of the work of artists like Greenwood who help others to peer into the invisible “virus” that effects and overwhelms our fellow citizens and family members, often directly in front of us. Faded Image was an official selection at the Covellite Film Festival as well as the Bare Bones festival 2017. As someone who has dealt with the challenges in his personal life like clinical depression and leukemia, Troy is able to communicate the internal perspective that so many silent individuals struggle with on a daily basis. Because he is a lauded and respected member of the film community, Greenwood is able to present these feelings in a way that makes them palpable to a wide audience. Good films allow us to “see” the emotions on the screen, great ones allow us to “feel” them; and Faded Image is a great film. The two drastically different scenes relate the mental state and the ability of all individuals to choose which of these to gravitate towards. As the dialogue of Faded Image states, “Find shelter in the simplest of things that bring us joy. Dance, cry, sing, laugh…even when it hurts and know that you are never alone.” Poetry. Hope. Art.

To suggest that Faded Image is a life-long endeavor is completely accurate. The writing of the script has been a decades long process for Greenwood. While the majority of those who battle depression avoid the help that could be given them due to some antiquated sense of inferiority or shame, it takes an artist like Troy to run headfirst into the fray and reveal the most personal and vulnerable parts of himself. This is partly due to a desire to help and inform others and also as a self-enacted form of therapy. Therapy happens in stages and can sometimes take a lifetime to achieve the progress necessary to cope. Greenwood began creating the script for Faded Image two decades ago. He reveals, “I wrote the first half of the script during my teens when I was first diagnosed with chronic depression. Battling through dark times and dark thoughts it can almost feel like you’re detached from yourself, unable to feel, and the dialogue of the first half of the script came out of a piece I wrote talking to myself as an outsider about the way it feels to be at the end of your rope – suicidal. I then thought about what I might say to myself in those darkest of moments to get myself through, and that formed the first incarnation of the script, nearly 20 years ago. I returned to the piece at numerous points throughout my career, tinkering with the script, mostly updating or revising the second half of the script, and how my thoughts had changed about what I might choose to say to myself to get through. It wasn’t until I started collaborating with Film Acting Fight Club that the idea came back in earnest to film this project. It had been several years since I looked at the script but I brought it in to the group for a reading. The feedback I got from the group was great, and I went about rewriting a draft of the script.” The first half of the film, which was written in Troy’s teen years, takes place in a bathroom. It depicts a teen contemplating, and to some point, attempting his own suicide. It is painful to watch. The lack of color translates the lack of interest and stimulation that someone suffering from depression receives from the world. This myopic outlook is unavoidable in the same way that someone dealing with pneumonia cannot resist a cough. The second half of the film depicts the same person, now an adult who has persevered and now possesses the wisdom and ability to speak to his younger self about the trials he has faced. The man’s age has also taught him the ability to do that most difficult thing, take one’s own advice. The setting for this second half of the film is a summer’s day surrounded by color and light…and hope. A young girl plays in the park, alluding to the hope that blooms in the future.

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If writing this script was the act of writing a speech, filming and releasing it was the equivalent of reading the speech aloud at the city square. Troy confirms that the technical part of filming came with its challenges as well. He notes, “I knew the constraints of an enclosed space [bathroom scenes] would make it nearly impossible to get the angles I needed to bring my vision to life, so we built a set and shot the first half of the project during the winter. After finishing the first half, the second portion was much easier as it just required waiting for the weather to clear in order to shoot in the summer. The sunny park and the winter indoors are obvious metaphors for the winter and summer of our lives and proved incredibly apt. The finished piece has been very well received. It is my desire to donate the film to health and support groups as an educational and/or promotional tool for discussing the issue of depression. Too often, we struggle in silence, and I would hope this film might shed some light on that and at least open up some conversation about an issue that I think affects a lot more of us then we admit.”

The entire film is a voice over monologue, which lends itself to the idea of the viewer being inside the mental perspective of Faded Image’s main character. This facet also makes the cinematography more vital than normal. Troy is adamant that the talent of his DP Chris Bragg helped him to so accurately portray what depression (and the release from it) feels like. Bragg comments, “Faded Image was a unique and interesting project to work on. It was clear that Troy had spent a long time with the idea and script to know exactly what was needed. The bathroom set was painstakingly built to allow for specific angles and it really opened up possibilities for me as the cinematographer, like the tight close-up over the sink, or the slow move up and around his shoulder. The final piece is a raw and engaging piece that grips you and leaves you pondering it well after viewing.”

Faded Image contains many possible motives. It can entertain, inspire, inform, help…the specific reasons are not completely obvious. This is an unexpectedly endearing quality for a film. Void of outcome attachment, the audience is able to take something personal from the production. Greenwood relates, “Inspiring people can drive people to create change in the world (that is a help), and films that help are often sources of inspiration for people. If anything, I’d say in all of my work my aim is get people to see things from different perspectives, to offer insight perhaps into why someone acts a certain way or question what ‘equality’ or ‘justice’ or ‘truth’ means and in doing so get my audience to investigate their own views on various subjects. I guess the best way to put that would be to say, my goal in all my work is to investigate and illuminate humanity.”

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