Cinematographer Ernesto Pletsch travels to home country of Brazil for new show “Desterro”

DESTERRO, 2016. Dhruv Lapsia (1stAC) and me
Dhruv Lapsia and Ernesto Pletsch on the set of Desterro

Ernesto Pletsch is one of the lucky few. Not only does he get to do what he loves every day, he is exceptionally good at it, and isn’t that the dream?

Originally from Porto Alegre, Brazil, Pletsch has seen success both domestically and abroad. Just last year, he worked on the pilot for the television series Desterro, a show in Florianópolis, Brazil. The series follows the investigations of two detectives in a witchery island located in southern Brazil.

Desterro is a thriller and crime story. My favorite genre to watch. I was very excited about the whole project and the ambition of it,” said Pletsch. “Looking back, I think that was my best experience as a cinematographer. I had a great team, working with people I already trust and felt confident with. In Brazil, I ended up meeting more awesome and talented people that were essential for this to work. Every day was a different challenge and learning to me, making Desterro a very special experience.”

Desterro was inspired in folkloric tales of the island Florianópolis. These folkloric tales were written, drawn and sculpted by a famous artist called Franklin Cascaes. A blend of witchery, mystery and gothic, creating great inspiration for Pletsch and the rest of the team.

“I loved shooting Desterro because everyone was putting their souls into the project. Everyone was doing their best. We had our moments of tension, but we also had those moments of euphoria, and when we called it a wrap and you could just see smiling faces around,” he said.

The pilot was shot during a five day time period in Santa Catarina. The people in the area had not had the opportunity to see a film production before, as the island is somewhat secluded. Pletsch and his team were viewed as true Hollywood guests, and the best treatment was offered.

DESTERRO, 2016. Mayanna Neiva (lead actress, star), Chico Caprario (actor), Dhruv Lapsia (1stAC) and me
Mayanna Neiva, Chico Caprario, Dhruv Lapsia, and Ernesto Pletsch on the set of Desterro

“Shooting in Brazil, as expected, had completely different rules, as in no rules,” Pletsch joked. “We had the freedom to do whatever we wanted to, shoot anywhere at any time. This was very exciting.”

While shooting, Pletsch was presented with the challenge of overcoming an obstacle he had no control over: the weather. Certain scenes would be completely prepared, and when it came time to shoot, it would become windy and rainy. Low tides made it difficult to carry boats to desired locations. Equipment would have to be moved and plans would have to change, but for Pletsch, a seasoned cinematographer, he says that is all part of the experience.

“It will always feel frustrating and disappointing at the time because you have a certain idea in mind, but it happens. You move on, and sometimes it comes out better than you originally thought,” he said.

According to Pletsch, shooting Desterro was different than a usual television show, saying it was shot like a movie. They had four days for twenty pages of script, which gave them a reasonable time for each scene. They took our time and made it day by day.

“Usually television shows would require more efficiency from the crew. On a film, we record five to seven pages of the script a day. For a television episode, it tends to go over ten pages. This can get pretty hectic, and sometimes you prioritize delivery over creativity. That’s how usually goes. In any production, you have to pick at least two sides of the triangle: price, quality and time. If they want something delivered fast, they better have money to accelerate the process. If you don’t have money, you may take time to do something good. But if you don’t have either money or time, you’ll probably end up with something of poorer quality,” he advised.

Despite the great success he saw on the show as the Director of Photography, Pletsch was first signed into this project as a gaffer. When he first became aware of the project, there was already an American cinematographer on board. Wanting to work in his native country, he took on the role of lighting technician, and offered to help the cinematographer understand Brazilian practices and translate for the Brazilian crew. However, three weeks before they were scheduled to shoot, the director, Mariana Má Thomé, approached Pletsch to take on the role of cinematographer, as the previous cinematographer could no longer do the role for personal reasons. Having already worked with Má Thomé before, and getting to truly work as a cinematographer in his home country, it all felt like destiny.

“I always like working with Ernesto because we combine the best of our abilities to make the perfect visual for the film. We get together references and break them down in visual palettes, styles and movement.
On set, our work is smooth. Most of it was already planned ahead, and I know I can trust him with his work. Ernesto loves what he does, and this can clearly be seen on screen. He is always striving for the best, and will work with all department heads to achieve the best picture. His work with light is spectacular, and for me, as a director, is lovely to see your vision on screen,” said Má Thomé.

The pilot premiered at Florianópolis, Brazil, on September 11, 2016. From there, they had two more public screenings, and had a lot of success with rave reviews from both locals and critics. Desterro is currently being negotiated with Brazilian and international networks.

Mike Goral’s narration of docuseries “Polar Bear Town” captivates audiences

Mike Goral has built his career in acting without the “lights, camera, action” experience. Instead, he works alone, in a small sound-proofed room, with only a microphone as his partner. Goral is a voice actor, and has narrated projects appreciated by millions, both in his home country of Canada and the United States.

While working in the industry for over twenty years, Goral has worked on promos and imaging products for some of the world’s most recognized companies, narrated television shows for some of the largest networks, and voiced segments for local radio stations that thousands listen to every single day. He is extremely versatile, and has genuine passion for what he does. While working for the television show Polar Bear Town for the Smithsonian Channel, Goral is able to do what he loves while continuously learning about something he knew nothing about, making each day completely different.

“I thought Polar Bear Town was a really cool story. I loved the script and the story. It’s always fun to work on a production that is well-planned. The production team was awesome and I was drawn to the project immediately. Nothing beats working with great people,” said Goral.

Polar Bear Town is a documentary series about a community of people in Churchill and Northern Manitoba, Canada that reside in a part of the continent where polar bears dwell at certain times of the year. People from all over the world travel to this remote community to get a close-up, in-person look at the mighty polar bear.

“I’ve heard stories about Churchill for years. It’s one of the most remote communities in Canada. I grew up in Southern Ontario, nowhere near Northern Manitoba, and the polar bear stories were legendary. I always heard that some people carried guns up there because of the imminent danger of bear attacks. I always thought it would be a cool place to visit, but haven’t made my way up there just yet,” said Goral. “I’ve learned so much about Churchill, Manitoba because of this show. I’ve experienced a different culture within my own native country. I found the people’s stories fascinating: people who make a living out of being tour guides for seeing polar bears, up-close in their natural habitat. I didn’t even know such careers existed. “

As the narrator for the show, Goral has what he describes as the unique privilege of telling a great story to a large audience of viewers. Each episode shows a different element to the story, and there are different tones in the episodes. There are parts where there is imminent danger, and Goral has to deliver his narration with a certain intensity. Then, there are parts where two of the cast members are arguing, which requires different cadence to his deliveries. The narration is key to the show’s success.

“The story takes a lot of different turns, and I have to use all that I have learned over the years to help make those make transitions when I am telling the story. It was a lot of fun, and it’s what I love to do,” he said.

Goral has now voiced the first season of Polar Bear Town, and he worked with director Jeff Newman on this most recent season. The two have a great sense of teamwork, as Goral describes the director as awesome, and a consummate professional.

“Jeff is very focused and would walk into our sessions knowing exactly what he needed done. He gave very clear direction, and was a lot of fun to work with. We shared a lot of laughs while working together too. The process was relaxed and enjoyable. I really hope to work with him again. Nothing beats good chemistry,” described Goral.

Newman agrees, and says working with Goral is fantastic and a lot of fun. As the director, he knows the importance of a voice actor, especially for a documentary type of show. Narration is pivotal to the telling of the story.

“Mike’s easy to work with, consistent, and has a great delivery. He takes direction really well and was able to give me exactly what I needed really fast,” said Newman. “This series has a wide range of reads to it, from scientific and informational, to intense adventure, to balls out fun. Mike was able to cover all the bases and provide the right tone in every scene.”

Despite discussing polar bears so frequently, Goral has found he is more scared of them than he once was, becoming more aware of how dangerous the bears are.

“There was one segment of the series that described the vicious attack of a local woman. She almost lost her life. I couldn’t imagine experiencing something like that. I think going through something like that can change a person forever,” said Goral.

While his subject matter might be harsh, the experience is a great one for Goral. Working on Polar Bear Town allows him to do what he loves on a regular basis, and although he is not featured on the screen, but rather through the speakers, fans appreciate the value that he adds to each episode.

 “I really enjoy it. When you are part of something you like, it’s a lot of fun. You get to be a part of something great. I just loved the way the series was produced. It was an awesome production team. They were true professionals, and that’s what made it such a pleasure,” he concluded.

You can watch full episodes of Polar Bear Town here.

Chinese Producer Yuxiao Wang Solidifies her Name in Hollywood

Producer Yuxiao Wang
Producer Yuxiao Wang

As international partnerships between China and the U.S. continue to rise, filmmakers in Hollywood are in need of more Chinese producers who are able to liaise between the differing audiences within the U.S. and China.

“Chinese film history has evolved very differently from Hollywood. If you want to make films for the Chinese market, you need to understand that history as well as the different genres and aesthetics that work in China. What works in terms of narrative with Chinese audiences is not always the same as works in other markets. It’s essential if you want to make a film for the Chinese market to have somebody that really understands the Chinese film world, culture, aesthetics and censorship in China. So it makes perfect sense to have a Chinese producer on board,” explains Michael Berry, Professor of Contemporary Chinese Cultural Studies at UCLA and the author of Speaking in Images: Interviews with Contemporary Chinese Filmmakers, and Boiling the Sea: Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Memories of Shadows and Light.

One such producer who has been sought after by productions within China, the U.S. and co-productions between the two, is Yuxiao Wang. Over the past few years, Wang has produced an impressive list of films, television series and commercials that have aired in both countries.

Wang has become known throughout the industry for her work as the producer of the films “Harmonica,” “Locked,” “She Gives Me Sight,” “Wasteland Walker,” “Dustin & Toilet,” “Successor of the Southern Star,” “Los Angeles Kidnapping” and more. She also produced the series “West Journey,” which was shot in the U.S. but is geared towards a predominantly Asian audience. The series takes viewers around Los Angeles and across the country on Route 66 with featured guests such as NBA star Shaquille O’Neal and Metta World Peace.

“Since most of the crew traveled from China, I was the only local person who helped them with shooting. It was tough persuading different location owners to agree to let us shoot, but I managed to make it happen,” explains Wang about producing the series “West Journey.”

It’s clear to see through her past work as a producer that Wang knows how to pick award winning projects. The war drama “Harmonica” took home the Grand Prize from the Carnegie Mellon Film Festival and was awarded at the Los Angeles International Underground Film Festival, the dramatic crime film “Locked” earned several awards from the Los Angeles International Underground Film Festival, including two Best Actor awards, the Best Film Award and the award for Best Narrative Short, and the film “She Gives Me Sight” garnered several awards at Hollywood Boulevard Film Festival, Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, Direct Short Online Film Festival and the LA Underground Film Festival.

In addition to her cross-cultural experience, Wang’s extraordinary ability to find the perfect people to head each department on a production, find locations that fit both the story and budget, and pitch the project in a way that effectively gets each production the funding it needs to not only be completed, but gain distribution on an international scale, have made her a highly sought after Chinese producer in the Hollywood film industry today.  

The story of what led Yuxiao Wang to become a producer is both ironic, and telling as to the kind of tools she brings to the table. As a transfer student in Japan, before she became a producer herself, Wang was involved in the production of a film where a mishap with one of the grips happened on set, and what followed was a little out of the ordinary.

Wang recalls “The Japanese mafia came and threatened to destroy our camera, the producer, at that time, went up and tried to settle things and find a solution to the problem. That was the first time I noticed the importance of a producer, they are always ready to solve any problem.”

Like any producer, Wang has undoubtedly encountered her share of problems on the productions she’s produced, however her quick problem solving skills and ability to think outside of the box have come in handy every step of the way.

Talentik
Film Poster for Talentik

Sky Culture Entertainment hired Wang last year as a producer on the new sci-fi feature film “Talentik” starring California Women’s Film Festival Award winner Lee Chen (“Veep,” “Girl Meets World,” “Before I Got Famous”), Nick Culbertson (“Ahimsa,” “Julie and Her Friends”), Edward L. Green (“Savageland,” “First Timers”) and Jessica Treska (“Broken Pines,” “Silver Lining”). The film, which was released in China in February through the popular internet platform Sohu, quickly gained traction with audiences and garnered upwards of nine million views. While working on “Talentik” Wang was also busy producing the upcoming sci-fi feature film “Rift” from One All Entertainment.

“Rift” is yet another film that Wang was heavily involved with from the beginning of production, which was shot in the U.S., but made for Chinese audiences. The film, which is slated to be released in China within the next few months, includes a cast of both American and Chinese actors and revolves around a Chinese astrophysicist who is caught between two parallel universes. The film stars Asians On Film Festival Award winner Jack Yang from the films “Seven Pounds” starring two-time Oscar Award nominee Will Smith and “American Ultra” starring Oscar Award nominee Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, Greg Depetro from the Platinum Reel Award winning film “For All That We Are” and the IIFC Award winning film “Abducted.” and award-winning actor Allen Theosky Rowe from the series “Hawaii Five-0” and “Far Cry 4: Fallen Country.”

Wang’s skill at creating a bridge of communication where language and cultural differences were concerned, as well as raising funding and solidifying shooting locations across Los Angeles were all integral to turning the film “Rift” into a reality– as they have been for all of the projects she’s produced to date.

As the film industries between China and the U.S. continue to join forces, having multi-talented producers like Yuxiao Wang who are well-versed in both cultures has become increasingly important.

 

MACBETH’S MODERN COOL LOOK, COURTESY OF AWARD-WINNER JANE JOHNSTON

Only the brave (sometimes the foolish) fear to tread upon the hallowed ground known as Shakespeare. For centuries the works of the playwright have been treated as gospel for actors and all those involved in their production. Their rhythm and essence of these storylines have been the base and inspiration for much of modern cinema and theater. While the stories have been retold in their basic original form in film, on seldom occasion they have been reimagined. Such was the case with Geoffrey Wright’s Macbeth starring Sam Worthington in the title role, produced exactly 400 years (to the year) from what is considered the play’s original premier. Set in modern day Melbourne, this Australian production of Macbeth is a gangland interpretation. In a congruent fashion, Worthington (as Macbeth) is convinced by his drug addled wife to seize his destiny and assume power by killing his close friend Duncan, setting into play a domino effect of tragic events. This modern interpretation of a classic called for slick cars and suits while also wanting to give a nod to Scottish themes and touches of a more historic Macbeth. The film’s design has pops of color throughout the tones of greys and blacks. Once he became King, Macbeth owns his look donning color and texture. By the end of the film he is battling for his life in a more military garb. When a tale is as well-known and loved as Macbeth, the audience knows what to expect, just not the accent it will be presented with. It was paramount for this presentation of Macbeth to visually be set apart and above all others. To great means this was achieved through the talent and artistry of costume designer Jane Johnston. She readily admits to being terrified going into the production but her plan was to bite off small chunks and manage these bite sized pieces. The plan worked to the delight of Johnston, the filmmakers, the audience, and critics. The film’s director Geoffrey Wright professes, “I very purposefully sought out Jane Johnston to create the costumes and look of Macbeth. Her resulting vision of combining old world styles with modern fabrics was instrumental to its themes and moods. From a visual-textural point of view it remains the richest and most complex film I’ve directed and I was thrilled by Johnston’s planning, communication, and execution of craft. Johnston’s work was especially impressive in enhancing the character portrayed by the star, Sam Worthington, whose next film was as the lead in the biggest budgeted and most profitable film (up to that time) ever made – ‘Avatar’ by legendary director, James Cameron. Cameron’s company was impressed by Worthington’s impact in Macbeth and Johnston’s work was a critical part of the reason for that assessment. Worthington had never previously looked as good as he did in Macbeth. His elevation to an international star was made certain and Johnston received an AFI award, the highest Australian accolade possible, for her accomplishment.”

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Jane’s very tried and true process involves reading and dissecting the script and coming up with tear-sheets to piece together her thoughts for looks. Meetings with producers, the director, etc. follows as a cohesive form evolves for each character. It’s essential to have conversations with the hair and makeup departments to see what they are thinking. Taking advantage of the city’s location itself, Johnston notes, “Melbourne has some interesting public art and some great locations which I think that added to the production design value but as far as costumes were concerned I think the fact that we were shooting in winter definitely added to the look. Needless to say, we would have made a very different film had we shot in Sydney. Melbourne is also known for its fashion and I tried to use interesting Melbourne designers whenever I could and mix them up with pieces of vintage clothing. There was one particular men’s label called Calibre who were incredibly helpful. I also found some really obscure independent fashion and jewelry makers whose products I incorporated into the designs.” She continues, “I remember sitting in my car outside a bar in Sydney with Sam Worthington ‘doing my pitch’ and hoping that he could see it too. Thankfully he was totally on board and excited by the character. I think it was one of those times that the look and clothes helped the actor feel grounded, and helped them see who they were. I started having fittings and our ideas evolved. Once we felt we had our character, I could develop it further and add certain touches or details to the point where I knew it was right.”

This Film Finance production of Macbeth received six nominations and two wins, one of which was Johnston’s Australian Film Institute (AFI) Award for Best Costume Design. The AFI Award is the highest honor in Australia and a massive achievement for anyone involved in the film industry. Describing the experience, Johnston recalls, “The event went over two nights with the first night being the technicians’ awards, which was our night. The second night was the more glamorous red carpet event where the actors turned up. The experience itself was quite surreal. A lot of people around me felt quite confident for the production designer and myself but you never know. David’s award (David McKay won Best Production Design for Macbeth) was called out first and he made his speech and then costumes were announced and I think I really stopped hearing anything in that moment! I gave my speech and thanked my fabulous team and met David out the back to have our photos taken. Then of course we celebrated! I think that the film overall had a strong impact; it was visual, had a great soundtrack, and it really hadn’t been attempted on this sort of budget before. The production design and the costumes worked really well together and I believe that helps for a film to receive recognition. I put Sam Worthington in a suit and that hadn’t been done before! I also put him in a kilt. I think it was a stylish looking film and it happened to stand out amongst the other films of that year.” Proof that with talent and quality material, you can excite and expose different generations to the most classical of stories.

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Actor Varick Addler: One Talented German on Everyone’s Radar

Varick Addler
Actor Varick Addler shot by Chris Janik

Germany has a lot of claims to fame. The country has produced innovative scientists, ground-breaking philosophers, brilliant artists and composers, not to mention some of the best beers in the world; and with award-winning actor Varick Addler on the list, they can count captivating screen talent among their many notable attributes.

In 2012 Varick Addler took home the Audience Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role at the Nuremberg Human Rights Film Festival (NIHRFF) for his remarkable performance in the film “Mimikry – Upside Down.” Early on in his career Addler honed his skills at some of the most recognizable acting school across the globe, including the NYFA New York Film Academy in Los Angeles, the William Esper School in New York, the Munich Film Academy and more.

With a plethora of lead roles in film and television projects that span virtually every genre, Addler’s brilliant repertoire of work reveals him as an actor with impressive range, one who easily inhabits his characters and seamlessly brings them to life on screen.

One of Addler’s first professional roles on screen came nearly a decade ago when he played a key Soldier in the 2008 action film “The German,” which took home the Nando Award from the Novara Cine Festival. Directed by Nick Ryan, whose 2012 documentary “The Summit” was awarded at the Sundance Film Festival and earned the Irish Film and Television Award for Best Documentary and Best Feature Documentary, as well as the Boulder International Film Festival’s BIFF Award for Best Adventure Film, “The German” gave viewers the first taste of Varick Addler’s unparalleled skill in the action genre– an area of his craft that he’s become increasingly well-known for on an international level in years since.

Since his debut action role in “The German,” Addler has gone on to give memorable performances in a pretty impressive list of well-known action-packed films and series including the 2010 Golden Globe nominated film “Red” starring Golden Globe Winner Bruce Willis (“Die Hard”) and Oscar Award winner Helen Mirren (“The Queen”), CBS’s two-time Primetime Emmy Award winning series “CSI: Miami” and the Primetime Emmy nominated crime series “NCIS: Los Angeles” starring Golden Globe nominee Chris O’Donnell (“Batman & Robin”), “Law & Order: LA” and Germany’s long-running cop drama “Tatort,” which has earned over 96 award including seven Bambi Awards and six Adolf Grimme Awards, one of the most prestigious awards presented in German television.

Varick Addler
Actor Varick Addler

While Addler’s appeal as an action star is undeniable, his magnetism on-screen is by no means limited to the fast-paced, heart-pumping genre alone.

German audiences will immediately recognize Addler for his recurring lead role as Johnas Schneller on the hit romantic drama series “Verbotene Liebe,” aka “Forbidden Love,” which earned the Golden Rose Award at the Rose d’Or Light Entertainment Festival. The long-running series initially centered on the wealthy Anstetten family and the middle-class Brandner family– specifically on the forbidden love between Jan Bradner and Julia von Anstetten which, although unknown to them, are twins separated at birth.

As the series progressed “Verbotene Liebe” moved away from the drama of Jan and Julia’s love affair and centered instead on a new family, the Lahnsteins, and that’s when viewers really get to see Addler in action. A family with dark and dirty secrets by the plenty, Addler’s character comes onto the show as the unpredictable and abusive father of series star Tanja von Lahnstein, played by Miriam Lahnstein (“The Peppercorns”).

Over the course of the series Addler reveals his ability to go from charismatic to manipulative and downright scathing. Addler breathes such vile life into Johnas Schneller that he easily became the show’s character everyone loved to hate. Out of all his atrocious acts though, the worst and most defining comes when Schneller who, in the middle of beating his daughter Tanja, pushes his son Thomas down the stairs to his death. To make matters worse, Schneller blames the murder on Tanja, a key plot points that sends Tanja into a mental institution for several years after her brother’s death.

It was a very challenging role, since it is not easy to deal properly with the issue of child abuse. I am now father myself of two little boys and the thought that something could happen to my children makes me very sad and angry. More incomprehensible how a father can torment his own child in such a way,” Addler admits.

“I don’t have much in common with that character, however, as an actor I must be able to getting into the character and understand their motivation. Preparation is more than knowing your lines. It is embodying the life of the character.”

While fans of Tanja’s character were understandably thrilled when Addler’s character was reported to have died as she did time in an institution, Tanja was far from being free of her noxious father. The series brought Schneller back again and again as a ghost returning from the dead to haunt Tanja with repeated attacks, which says a lot about the character, and the actor, as he was clearly too strong of a draw factor for audiences for the show’s creators to let him die out.

With a number of riveting performances in both European and U.S. productions, Varick Addler has established an indelible reputation for himself as a captivating and dynamic performer whose boundary pushing talent allows him to portray characters within every genre.

Up next for Addler is the highly anticipated action film “Out for Vengeance” directed by Angel Film Award winner Salar Zarza.

AFTER 30 YEARS IN THE BIZ ACTRESS NATALIE PAGE STILL CAPTIVATES US

Natalie Page
Actress Natalie Page shot by Andrew Rouse

Since first taking to the stages of Australia in the starring role of Scapin in The Rock Players’ production of “The Scoundrel Scapin” back in 1987 actress Natalie Page has created a marvelous repertoire of work, spanning both the stage and screen, which reveals her as an unstoppable performer capable of taking on any role.

On screen Page has captivated audiences several times over through critical roles in popular crime series such as “Water Rats” and “Australia’s Most Wanted,” where she showcased her ability to play the victim, “Deadly Women” where she took on the starring role of Marie Noe, a villainous murderer, and “White Collar Blue” where she played a key role as a judge.

Aside from being an undeniably gifted actress, one of the aspects of Page’s career that makes her unique is the way she has managed to steadily maintain her success over the course of 30 years. Many may ask how she’s accomplished such a feat in an industry where the competition is exponentially higher than virtually any other, and everyone seems to be looking for the next hot young star to sell their project to viewers. The answer is diversity. Page’s unparalleled ability to embody an astonishingly diverse range of characters, coupled with her magnetic on screen presence, has been key to the sought after actress’ continued success.

Page has accrued an impressive list of film credits including “Hydra,” Donovan Renn’s (“The End”) ‘“They Were the Ones,” “A Sense of Syntex,” David Frtenik’s “Fret Not,” Steve Anthopoulos’ (“The 21 Conspiracy,” “Farid in the West”) “How Long Can You Hold Your Breath” and Caleb Shaffer’s (“One Word”) hard hitting thriller “Finding Polish” where she acts alongside Javed Khan from the BAFTA Award nominated series “Coming Up.” Out of all of her film work though, the one that substantially sticks out and shines a light on her innate talent is undoubtedly the riveting feature film “Nude Study.”

Directed by Stefan Popescu, who won the Best Director Award at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival for his film “Rosebery 7470” and the Monster Jury Award at Monster Fest for the film “Vixen Velvet’s Zombie Massacre III,” “Nude Study” takes place in the wild Canadian arctic and follows a young filmmaker who’s desperate to leave the old version of herself behind– and she gets her chance when she meets Sarah, an alluring local girl who will change her life forever.

In the film Natalie Page takes on the lead role of Sarah’s mother Glynnis, an aging woman whose family’s hostility towards one another is causing them to fall apart. Although her health is clearly failing, we see Page’s character Glynnis put on a ‘happy’ face as she pretends that every is okay; and, while she is painfully close to death, her illness does have one positive impact, and that is that it helps bring a broken family closer together.

Page explains,  “She brought a family together that previously shared little to no affection or understanding for each other.”

With a collection of powerful performances already under her belt, it’s not at all surprising that Page managed to deeply immerse herself into such a challenging character and flawlessly portray Glynnis’ slow deterioration, even if the character is the exact opposite of herself.

About the process of getting into her character Page admits, “I needed to remove myself from much of the activity around me… my usual vital energy needed to be contained as I moved closer to filming, as  death and energy was definitely waning.  It was quite a solo experience, one where I imagined reaching the final stages of life, visiting the local graveyard and getting in touch with grief and the inevitable departure of this earthly existence we call life.”

Natalie Page
Behind the scenes of Natalie getting into character for “Nude Study”

In the film Page gives a captivating performance starring alongside Jackie Alixander from the hit Primetime Emmy Award winning series “Xena: Warrior Princess,” the Indie Series Award winning show “Keith Broke His Leg” and “Dark Knight,” and Marty Rhone from the 12-time Logie Award winning series “Neighbours.”

“Nude Study” had its Australian premiere at the popular Revelation Perth International Film Festival and was chosen as an Official Selection of the London Underground Film Festival, Buffalo Niagara Film Festival, the New York International Film Festival and the OutLook Film Festival, as well as screened at the Dawson City International Film Festival.

Natalie Page
Film poster for “Nude Study”

From taking on lead roles in hit crime dramas to portraying a deeply burdened dying mother in “Nude Study,” actress Natalie Page is one of Australia’s best talents, one who will undoubtedly continue to captivate us for years to come.

From Commercials to Film, Director Roberto Escamilla is a Visionary Artist!

Director Roberto Escamilla
Director Roberto Escamilla

Many directors find success directing commercials and/or music videos and choose to stay there throughout their careers; and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that as artists and brands need someone who can direct great commercials and music videos in order to keep their audience engaged. In the same breath though, there are many directors who have chosen to use their experience directing commercials and music videos as a stepping stone into directing narrative films, and Mexican director Roberto Escamilla is one of them.

Since beginning his career many years ago, Escamilla has become known for his work as the director behind a slew of popular commercials and music videos, as well as for his work as the director of the opening sequences for the hit telenovelas “Pasión y Poder” (aka “Passion and Power”) starring Jorge Salinas (“Que Bonito Amor”) and Fernando Colunga (“Soy Tu Dueña”), “Corona De Lágrimas” (aka “Crown of Tears”) starring Victoria Ruffo (“Triunfo del Amor”) and Alejandro Nones (“La Piloto”), and the romantic drama “La Que No Podía Amar” (aka “The One Who Couldn’t Love”) starring Susana González (“La Candidata”) and Anna Brenda Contreras (“Blue Demon”).

Over the years Escamilla’s reputation as a skilled director has spread far beyond Mexico as more and more international audiences have had the opportunity to see his work. In 2015 Escamilla was hired by Mexico-based production company Curiosity Media and award winning advertising agency Y & R to direct the “”Hot Cakes de Película” commercial for leading maple syrup brand Karo. The commercial is modern, funny and so visually enticing that it will make you want to smother your pancakes in Karo’s maple syrup the next chance you get! As the director of the commercial Escamilla definitely nailed the mark.

In 2012 Escamilla gained quite a bit of attention for his work as the director of the promos for the hit Mexican biographical series “El Encanto Del Águila” (aka “The Eagle’s Spell”) starring Carlos Corona from the multi-award winning film “Cantinflas” and Ariel Award nominee Emilio Echevarría from the Oscar Award nominated film “Y Tu Mamá También.” The stunning promotions Escamilla directed for “El Encanto Del Águila” earned the Gold Award of Excellence for Total Package Design at the 2012 PromaxBDA Awards, one of the leading awards events recognizing innovations within the marketing and design industry around the world.

While his work as a commercial and music video director has brought him extensive praise, what drives Escamilla to direct is his passion for delivering stories that touch the audience on an emotional level– those with an impact that lingers longer than what’s possible within the confines of a music video or commercial project, where the end goal is more concerned with sales than delivering a powerful story.

Escamilla admits, “I see cinema as an art medium. Yes people that work on it need to make a living from it, but we need to always remember that this is a profession that allows us to express ourselves and also to deliver a message.”

Even from Escamilla’s early work as a commercial director it’s easy to see his flare for narrative storytelling, so it will come as no surprise to those who know his work that he has progressively moved into directing more and more film projects.

Film poster for "Changes"
Film poster for Roberto Escamilla’s film “Changes”

“Changes,” Escamilla’s latest film, is a coming of age dramedy starring Joshua Furtado from the upcoming film “Charlie, Charlie” (starring Golden Globe nominee Tom Sizemore), Jade Lorna Sullivan (“Simple Lives,” “Camelot”), Chaz Kao (“Lucifer,” “Fall Into Me”) and Danny Parker-Lopes (“Minority Report,” “King Rikki”). Written and directed by Escamilla, “Changes” portraits one boy’s transition into “manhood” on the eve of his 16th birthday.

“I know how important is for a young man to prove himself in front of his friends…. That’s why I wanted to create a film that reflects this and at the same time I wanted to deliver a message about diversity and acceptance,” explains Escamilla about his inspiration for the film.

Under the heavy influence of peer pressure from his friends, the film’s main character Mitchell (played by Furtado) is taken to a brothel where he loses his virginity to a prostitute named Destiny (played by Sullivan), or at least that’s what his friends think. Filled with twists nobody would expect, “Changes” offers as a beautiful insight into the peer pressures of becoming a man, staying true to oneself and the importance of compassion.

Escamilla’s highly anticipated film “Changes” is slated to have its U.S. premiere at the UCLAxFilmFestival in Los Angeles on May 6 where it has been chosen as an Official Selection. The Mexican Consulate in LA will also be screening “Changes” on May 25th.

About the completed film, Escamilla says, “I feel it’s a big accomplish, it looks great, the casting is perfect and the message of love and acceptance it delivers touches me every time I see it…. and I’ve seen how it moves the audience which is the most important thing.”

While Escamilla has undoubtedly made a name for himself as a sought after director in Mexico, his ability to create powerful narrative film stories has clearly struck a chord with audiences around the world; and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!

Editor Fei Zheng Uses Her Skills to Create Captivating Visual Stories

“Editing is not a technical process. It’s an artistic process. It’s about storytelling. What editors do is the final rewrite of the script.”

                                             -Jack Tucker (editor of “Shogun” and “Winds of War)

From selecting the best shots from hours of footage to creating seamless transitions and deciding the pacing for the story, a film’s editor truly does determine the way a story plays out on screen; and nobody know this better than film editor Fei Zheng.

Zheng explains, “A bad structure will ruin whole story– it will make the story boring, unclear and you will quickly lose the  audience’s attention. The structure is really important to the story because it is the basic element that helps the audience to understand a story.”

Originally from Hangzhou, China, Zheng began her career directing and editing the popular Chinese television series  “Ye You Shen” and “Xiao Yaer,” which aired weekly on the national station Hangzhou Television. After carving out a strong reputation for herself as an exponentially talented and sought after editor in China, Zheng moved to the U.S. where she took her skills to the next level and completed an MFA in Motion Pictures and Television Editing from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, CA.

Ye You Shen
Still from the series “Ye You Shen” edited by Fei Zheng

Zheng’s experience spans the gamut– from working on television series, where she had a little more than three days to deliver the episodes from the first day of shooting, to commercials such as the recently released Alpine Dairy “K-Drama” and “Marble Game”  advertisements, and music videos for Madelaine Minx’ songs ‘Rabbi of Rap,’ ‘Sushi’ and ‘Feminem,’ as well as editing a multitude of narratives, Fei Zheng has clearly done it all. But not all animals are created equal, and some projects are more complicated than others– and that’s where Zheng’s skill stands out.

“In a large crew, the shooting process is very complicated and there are always some oversights. In this case, the editors use some ‘tricks’ to make the scene play out on the screen more smoothly. Sometimes, I prefer to watch the film that I did without sound, and pay attention to it’s feeling for story the first. Then I can figure out the problems concerning sound, and select the right music to match the scene,” explains Zheng.

“I have become more and more familiar with the environment of filmmaking, and the significance of both image and sound since I first began editing. Editing is the second creation of the film, and for me, the interesting part is helping to create a better story, which is based on the script.”

Film Editor Fei Zheng
Film Editor Fei Zheng

Anyone who’s Zheng’s work in the realm of narrative films would be hardpressed to call her anything but a true artist. Her work on the thriller film “She,” which was released last year and chosen as an Official Selection of the QFest New Jersey LGBT Film & Digital Media Festival where it was nominated for an award, is a perfect example of how Zheng is able to come in and rewrite the story with her edits.

“She” director Yuxin Zhang explains, “For ‘She,’ Fei Zheng was both the lead editor and the color corrector on the film. She made quite a lot of changes with edits. She reorganized the footage in a way that made the plot more compact and the overall story more attractive. She definitely drew out and established the anticipatory suspense elements within the film with her edits, and those are important for any thriller film.”

Starring Nika Burnett from the two-time Golden Globe Award winning series “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and the four-time Primetime Emmy nominated series “Castle,” Lissa Keigwin from the series “Wives with Knives” and the film “Love Pyar Whatever,” and Sabrina Ranellucci from the film “The Selected,” Zhang’s film “She” portraits a twisted love story between two young women with one of them harboring a dark secret that may prove to be fatal in the end.

In it’s final cut, the film pulls viewers in from the opening scene and keeps them guessing what is going to happen next; and when it finally comes to a close, audiences are given an ending that few would have expected. But as it is with most productions, the final cut went through several transformations on Zheng’s editing screen before turning into the powerful piece that screened at festivals across the country.

“The problem I met with ‘She’ was that the structure and emotion were not strong in the rough cut, so I changed the order of the scenes, which made the story more meaningful and easy to understand. After I speeded up the pacing, the emotional intensity also became much stronger than before,” explains Zheng.

She adds, “I love editing thriller and suspense films. The challenge is to create suspense and attract the audience’s attention. I am interested in creating puzzles with the story and showing hints but not exposing all the elements… leaving enough space to give audiences a breath to think.”

"She" film poster
“She” film poster

Aside from the actors’ performances, what keeps viewers engaged throughout the film is the way Zheng chose to sequence the shots for each scene, inserting close-ups and slowing down the footage to help us connect to the emotions of the individual characters where necessary, and speeding up the footage when things become intense. Zheng’s work as the editor of the thriller film “She” was paramount to creating the markedly high-paced energy of the story that keeps us on the edge of our seats.

For someone who began their career editing television shows, Fei Zheng has quickly become a strong narrative film editor whose work is creating quite a buzz in the U.S.; and we can’t wait to see what she lends her editing wand to next!

 

Animator and designer Cynthia Larenas talks working with eBay and music legend Egyptian Lover

CynthiaLarenas_1
Designer and Animator Cynthia Larenas

Despite working all around the world, Cynthia Larenas’ upbringing is very important to her. She was born in Quito Ecuador, and moved to Australia at the age of four. Growing up in Adelaide, she still stuck to her Spanish roots and is completely bilingual. Her heritage is something that she wants to keep alive while travelling for her work.

Larenas is a designer and animator, working for large companies and small businesses to create apps, videos, print designs, and much more. Her extreme versatility lends it hands to many mediums, and she has worked with some of the biggest brands in the world, including eBay.

“I wanted to work at eBay because I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn new things, to challenge myself, and experience working at a large company. I wanted to undertake the rebranding projects because I thought it was a fun and exciting opportunity to produce work that would be seen at such a huge scale,” said Larenas.

As only one of two in-house designers for eBay Australia and New Zealand, Larenas’ responsibilities included rebranding Group Deal, Flash Sale and Fashion Gallery creative, and leading the design of eBay’s fashion Gallery brand towards a more Gen Y demographic. She created eDM design and build, was involved in casting, photo and design direction of external agencies, created promotional material for in-house employee engagement campaigns, and did animation work for eBay’s 2013 Christmas Campaign. Her work was featured on the homepage of eBay Australia and New Zealand every day for a year.

“It was great to work at eBay and I got to learn a lot, particularly what is involved to run and maintain the creative on such a big website. It was also fun seeing what you had worked on up on the website and seeing that the hard work you were doing were converting to sales. It’s been the best place where I have been able to get direct results of my creative,” she said.

While working with eBay, Larenas had the ability to measure her work, test mobile placements, pitch ideas, and challenge herself. For the Fashion Gallery rebranding project, the aim was to attract a more Gen Y audience to the gallery. This meant she got to research and create some fun pieces that brought something different to the eBay site, directly contributing to their sales and growth.

“It was really cool to see. I remember I was subscribed to eBay eDMs before I worked there, and shortly after I started, I received an email as I normally did, however this time I saw my work on there being shared out to me. It was a funny and proud moment in my career,” said Larenas.

Larenas’ work continued to impress with the different companies she worked for. While working as an animator with Electric Studios, she helped on campaigns for Bosistos, Old Spice, and Jack Daniels. She also was a Creative Director, Designer, and Animator for Nectar + Co, and Designer at Imano, where she helped shape Ray-Ban’s app “Never Hide” during that time.

“I love that I get to make things look good and have then opportunity to influence the world around me,” said Larenas.

Continuing with this trend, Larenas worked with the American musician, vocalist, producer and DJ, Egyptian Lover. He was an important part of the L.A. dance music and rap scene in the early 1980s. He is widely known as being ‘The King’ of the Roland-TR 808. For the release of his song “Into the Future”, Larenas and Carl Jiorjio were asked to create an animated music video for it. Jiorjio and Larenas have worked together on a few different promotional animations and music videos for artists in the UK and US, but the most notable was for Egyptian Lover last year.

“Cynthia is one of the most dedicated and hardworking individuals I have worked with. For as long as I have known her she has always been working hard on different projects that have been keeping her busy in the creative industry. What I like most about working with Cynthia is her ability to push herself when it comes to a project, often studying to expand her skill set and knowledge for the greater good of the projects she undertakes. I’ve also admired her fearlessness when it comes to design or animation challenges, always pushing to provide creative and powerful solutions. She is motivated by pressure and never turns down a job because it’s too hard. I have witnessed her time and time again take up challenges, learn new programs and techniques that exceed clients’ expectations. Her all-round knowledge and broad range of skills are rare in the design world these days,” said Jiorjio.

“Having worked all around the world has helped her not only to understand different cultures and approaches, but it has also resulted in her applying a professional and easy to work with ethic. I have never seen her become defeated by a job and have recommended her highly throughout my career,” he continued.

Jiorjio served as creative guidance and did the final editing of the clip. As the two of them were fully responsible for the music video, from concepts to storyboards, to animation and final editing, it meant they had complete creative freedom to explore our imaginations as far as they wanted.

“Working on the Egyptian Lover video was rewarding, challenging, fun and one of my favorite projects to date,” said Larenas. “I love collaborating with musicians or other artists because I get to work with really talented creative people that push me to do better.”

Her tasks involved art direction, storyboarding, compositing, 2D and 3D animation and illustration. Although the video was released only a couple of months ago, it has received an extremely positive response. It already has over 8,500 hits on YouTube and was shown on LA television station Link TV which reaches 33.7 million US homes and 6.7 million regular viewers. None of this could have been possible without Larenas’ dedication to the project.

 “Making this clip for Egyptian Lover was also humbling as he is a pioneer in electronic music, with thousands of adoring fans across the world,” said Larenas. “Although it was a massive task, that spanned over a year, it was extremely rewarding when it was finished.”

Larenas’ extraordinary talent is evident to all those that saw the Egyptian Lover music video, and all of her other work. With such innate talent, there is no doubt as to why she is so respected in the industry, and considered one of the best at what she does.

 

Shu Zhang brings authentic historical makeup to film Death in a Day

Born and raised in Hangzhou, China, Shu Zhang brings her heritage into her work as a makeup designer. She has worked and volunteered around the world, lending her skills to completely different projects time and time again, showing both her clients and those that see her work just how innately talented she truly is.

While working on the short film Death in a Day, Shu had a pivotal role as lead makeup artist and hair stylist. She aimed to give the actors authentic, historically accurate makeup, as the film takes place in the early 90s. Shu’s background in art history and period makeup made her integral to the authenticity of the production.

“The hero is the early 90s American immigrant. The look is totally different with the America born Chinese nowadays. I wanted to focus on her 90s traditional Chinese style, but also to show her makeup under the influence of 90s American style. So, I put her major look into the decade which is more nature in tone, a sculpted look with a more idealized face shape,” said Shu.

Death in a Day tells the story of Evan, a young Chinese boy who, after visiting his comatose father in the hospital, witnesses his mother’s struggle and must come to grips with the impending death falling upon their family. Death in a Day, which premiered in June last year, was announced as the Best Narrative Short at San Diego Asian Film Festival in 2016, and was officially selected for a number of film festivals, it received a huge response from there.

“It’s fun to get involved in this original concept movie. I always came with idea of my own, so I know how this is important to a director to make a film,” said Shu.

It took three months of pre-production and many meetings to work out the perfect makeup design. Shu then had to test the makeup on a couple of actors to make final decision.

The mother’s makeup throughout the entire film is very key to its success, and there are many close-up on her face. Her makeup had to look beautiful but also desperate to highlight the soul of story, and Shu was more than up to the task.

“Shu is good at researching and widely knowing the cosmetic market. She always finds the most suitable products based on actors’ situations. She is always the one to meet my requirement accurately and without fault. Shu can really create with makeup. Everyone knows how to put on lots of makeup on, but looking simple is even harder, and she can do that,” said Yuin Zhang, an investor and advisor of the film.

Yuin Zhang was extremely happy Shu’s work on the film, and invited her to join the feature film she is investing in, Venus by Water. She works for the largest film studio in China, Hengdian World Studio, which is often called the Hollywood of China.

The writer and director of the film, Lin Wang, was also extremely impressed with Shu’s work. The two had previously worked together for a photoshoot for the NBA, where Shu was the first ever Chinese makeup artist to do the makeup for NBA players. The two formed a friendship and business relationship from there.

“Lin Wang is creative, young, and talented director. I knew Lin would make an award-winning film. The script was originally written by just herself. I feel we focused on every detail to perfection: makeup, wardrobe, props and the set needed to be completely historically accurate, which led us achieve a higher artistic level. All our efforts have paid off,” said Shu.

Wang will also be directing Venus by Water, which will begin production later this year. Shu is constantly looking for opportunities to keep doing what she loves, because she is a true artist, and all those that view her work know this to be true.

“Makeup is art to me. Faces are perfect canvases. My inspirations come from art history and from fresh makeup products that come out. I love looking at people’s faces from different worlds, and transforming them. It’s always been the biggest part of my life,” she concluded.