Art Director Ji Young is vital to success of new film ‘The Sacred Mushroom Edition’

“There are few films that show how much the art department pays attention to details. In the film Room, the art department team studied the sun’s movement and bleached the part of the wall where the sunlight comes through the shed’s skylight and hits. They believed most of the objects inside the room should have some sort of stories because the five-year-old main character personifies every object. In Danish Girl, the set starts with the gloomy grey bedroom in Copenhagen where the main character couldn’t find his real identity, and then it shifts to a colorful room with beautiful floral pattern wall and Art Nouveau style architecture in Paris where he finds his real identity as a woman and starts blooming. I love art directors who are storytellers, who transfer the words into imagery by conceptualizing, using imagination, and creating the mood with emotion, style, and feeling,” said Young.

When Ji Young Lee talks about what it is to be an art director, one immediately understands that this is someone who not only loves what they do, but someone who appreciates every intricacy of their craft so fully that their passion and commitment are unrivaled. Young wanted to be an art director because she wanted to create a world that affects people who are watching the film; she thought it was fascinating that she could make the background world that helps people believe the story, whether it is real or fantasy. This is exactly what she does, and this vision is evident on every film that features her name in its credits. Director Ryan Betshart says without Young, he would not have the success he does today.

“Ji was my art director for two projects, the first being Paper Chase, a music video that has played Ann Arbor Film festival, which was a highlight of my career. Ji did so well and was so exciting and thoughtful to work with that I hired her for my next short film The Sacred Mushroom Edition,” said Betshart. “Working with Ji helped my career so much so that I intend on hiring her again on all my future projects. Her attention to detail is second to none – no one has an eye for set design like her – meticulous yet on budget and fast, a true professional. Her communication with the other departments, as well as with her own crew is clear and effective in ways I have rarely seen on set. Things get done, and so quickly and quietly one would think magic was being used to make everything perfect. Does this make Ji a magician? Does she have magical powers like a sorcerer? I’d say yes. Everyone on set respects her. The actors love her. She is the first to show up and the last to leave. I wish I had met her sooner, my previous films would all have done much better!”

Such accolades, although flattering, are not what keeps Young going. For her, it is all about her work. The Sacred Mushroom Edition is at the beginning of its festival route, and has already seen tremendous success. It premiered at Portland Underground Film Festival on April 9, followed by the prestigious Mammoth Lakes Film Festival on May 25, the Moviate Underground Film Festival in Pennsylvania on May 28, and internationally at Winnipeg Underground Film Festival in Canada on June 1. None of this could have been possible without Young’s artistic eye, and yet, she remains humble.

“It feels very surreal and exciting to have the film be doing so well. I don’t know much about experimental films, so I had no idea what kind of films our film was going to get chosen with for the festival. I’m just very glad that now I got some experiences in experimental film, which was the world that I never got to explore before and got these great festival opportunities by working with my great friends,” said Young.

The Sacred Mushroom Edition is an ode to the 1978 version of Kenneth Anger’s film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and its peculiar use of Electric Light Orchestra’s album ‘El Dorado’ over images of a ritual orgy between gods. The Sacred Mushroom Edition finds two fallen angels arguing over ELO and their lead singer Jeff Lynne’s affiliated super group The Traveling Wilburys – and his connection to the dark side.

“I watched the original film and loved how stylized the set design was. It was visually stunning and very artistic. Most of the films I’ve worked on wanted the art department team to stick to what’s exactly written in the script in terms of creating the set, but Ryan loved to hear about team members’ interpretation on the script and discuss with them which sometimes led to something unexpected. This film helped me to use more imagination and understand sometimes the filmmaking is less about form or content than it is about context,” said Young.

Although Paper Chase was a music video that focused on more digital manipulation of the video with a minimum set, The Sacred Mushroom Edition was the exact opposite. The film required two different sets, with strong contrasts between the two. The film starts in a backyard, and then it transitions into a darkroom. For the backyard, Young made some colorful choices for the set dressing, because she wanted to create brightness and lightness. For the dark room, she wanted to create some intimate, gruesome and cluttered environment, and therefore put different materials and furniture that had great textures for the set dressing.

“As this film is an experimental film, what it says is very abstract and poetic. The good part is it’s very artistic and unique film, but it could be difficult to understand for the audiences who used to watch the traditional narrative films. Therefore, my job was to provide some sort of device that would allow the audience to connect themselves with the film, so they don’t feel total alienation,” said Young.

There is little doubt as to why Young is considered one of Korea’s best recent art directors, and even less doubt that we will continue to see her name attached to many high-profile l films for years to come.

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Musician Jose Roman captures the feelings of film ‘30 Days with My Brother’ in song

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Jose Roman at the premiere of 30 Days with My Brother

When Jose Roman thinks of his childhood, growing up in Quito, Ecuador, he recalls being exposed to a great variety of different music genres, artists and styles. As far back as he can remember, his dad would play him classical music, from Bach to Chopin. His mother, a self-taught pianist, inspired him to try playing the electric organ in his house. Later, when his parents purchased an acoustic piano, Roman experienced for the first time, the sensation of falling in love. He knew, no matter where life took him, the piano would be his driving force, and now at 27 years old, this remains his truth.

Roman has become an internationally successful musician, gaining fame as a member of the rock band Daphne’s Roots. He has always been a strong composer, writing hit songs and catchy melodies. His keyboard skills are instantly identifiable on a track, and his classical roots are an evident source of inspiration, no matter what genre he is playing.

“As my musical background grew while I aged, I listened to more keyboard driven bands such as Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Queen and Dream Theater, just to name a few, the transition to play the keyboards was a given. My love for music was then solidified,” he said. “But now, I always try bending different flavours in my playing from my classical roots to blues, rock and even some electronic music.”

Despite his success with Daphne’s Roots, Roman’s versatility lends itself to all mediums, from accompanying individual artists, such as Sahandra Sundstrom’s Thinkin’ Out Loud, and even films. The 2016 drama 30 Days with My Brother, features an original song accompanied by Roman, as the producer Omar Mora, had heard the pianist’s previous work and knew he needed him to be a part of the music department.

“Once I heard how the concept of the song related to the movie, I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to make a top quality compelling work as a keyboardist. I realized that the style of the song was right on my ally. I was very inspired the whole time I was working on my keyboards part and I felt very comfortable doing it. I really liked the song so working on it was very pleasing and the keyboard arrangements came to me very naturally,” Roman described.

The song titled “Never Too Late” was written by Andrea Sandoval, the singer. When Roman started working on the track, the melody and basic structure were already taken care of, so his job was to enhance the harmony, write and perform all the keyboard parts. The song was mainly piano and vocals driven with some strings arrangement that Roman also wrote and recorded. It was vital to the film’s story and the film’s success.

“When I first heard about this movie I was immediately fascinated by how original and interesting the plot was. Then when I was asked to be part of the music department and record and arrange the keyboard part for the main song featured in the movie I was very excited. It was a no brainer for me since I love to collaborate with these amazing talents. When I heard the demo of the song and how it relates to the film I knew this was an amazing opportunity to create something memorable,” he said.

With a 92 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes and a 5-star rating on Fandango, 30 Days With my Brother has resonated with audiences. It tells the story of Alexis and Jonathan, two brothers from Puerto Rico that were separated after a terrible family tragedy. After 17 years, Alexis has become a doctor while Jonathan has become entangled with a dangerous group of people. One day, suddenly, Alexis packs up his things and moves to Los Angeles on a mission to reconnect with his long-lost brother. The two brothers meet and are forced to face their past, themselves and try to restore the bonds of brotherhood.

“It’s always satisfying to know that good movies are recognized and well received. It is particular rewarding to be part of such an extraordinary project that is highly celebrated. I always knew from the very beginning that 30 Days with My Brother was going to be a great success, since it has heart and top-quality production. I feel honoured to have been part of this project,” said Roman.

After premiering at the famous American Cinematheque’s historic Egyptian Theaterin Hollywood in April of last year, the film was picked up by AMC for national distribution across the United States. The song was essential for the film, and Roman’s contributions greatly affected the feeling, encapsulating the story and the struggles the brothers were going through. The song is piano driven, with intimate vocals. It has a memorable piano hook at the beginning, and a very sensitive keyboard interlude in the middle of the song.

“I believe that the balance between the vocals and piano accompaniment was essential for the song success within in the film. It is a very simple, but at the same time very touching piano ballad,” said Roman.

Producer and writer Omar Mora could not agree more. When he first heard the song, he was ecstatic, giving Roman the confidence to know that they had accomplished something special. Mora was so impressed, in fact, that he asked Roman to work alongside him once again on future projects.

“Jose is very easy to work with, and he is very professional,” said producer Omar Mora.

The next short film Mora is producing, titled White Orchid, is expected to premiere late this year. Audiences once again will be privy to Roman’s original music while watching that film. It is definitely something to look forward to.

JAMES BARNES TRAVELS THE WORLD TO DO GOOD THINGS…WITH A CAMERA.

Director James Barnes has always felt the need to be inspired about the productions he has worked on. Whether documenting ground breaking artists in Abbey Road Studios, capturing some of today’s most famous and influential artists in informal interview settings, Barnes has been closely tied to music for much of his work. His time at UK’s MTV enabled that and he was compelled to use this to altruistic ends for the TV documentary “Travis McCoy’s Unbeaten Track” which was part of the Staying Alive Foundation. James had the idea for this show and pitched it to the Foundation’s president Georgia Arnold. Barnes explains, “Throughout my time at MTV I had been aware of Staying Alive and seen the annual documentary they would make but I’d never been involved.  Then after my work on the Pete Doherty doc my confidence to develop and to direct had grown so when I heard they were looking for ideas I thought I’d give it a go.  I had the idea of essentially a trip to visit grantees, recording sounds and producing a track. Through a friend at a record label I made contact with Travis McCoy.  He was the final piece of the puzzle, installing him as the figure head of the show.  Although it is hugely enjoyable, sometimes working in entertainment television can feel like you’re in a bubble. I saw this as a way of feeling like something I was working on was doing more for the greater good.”

Staying Alive is the international MTV initiative to promote safe lifestyle choices and at the same time combat the stigma and discrimination of HIV. It is the largest HIV mass awareness campaign in the world. Barnes created and directed “Travis McCoy’s Unbeaten Track”, an MTV documentary featuring McCoy (lead vocalist and songwriter for alternative hip hop band Gym Class Heroes) in his role as Ambassador for the Staying Alive Foundation, traveling with an MTV film crew to South Africa, the Philippines, and India to raise awareness about youth-driven HIV and AIDS prevention initiatives supported by The Staying Alive Foundation. The hour-long program witnesses McCoy’s experiences in Cape Town, Manila, and Mumbai, interacting with some of the grassroots youth-led HIV prevention projects supported by The Staying Alive Foundation. Far from the romantic and hedonistic manner one expects from a rock star, the impoverished areas and the oppressive 100 degree plus temperatures are a contradiction to the graciousness of the local hosts which greet Travis and the crew at each stop.

The three locations exhibited in the special were specifically chosen to show that the effects of this disease on people covers a vastness and is not localized to one region or culture. It also displayed the different work that Staying Alive does across the planet. In Khayelitsha (South Africa) dwellings of corrugated iron with coat hanger cables for power conduits were overshadowed by the smiles and dancing of the children who playfully performed for the camera’s attention. In Manilla, the production recorded a sex education class filmed in a graveyard in which the homeless residents were using the tombs as shelter. Bhubaneswar (India) was well off the tourist path, providing no paved roads and whose residents had never seen Westerners before. While each location provided Barnes with touching moments, it was Bhubaneswar that most poignantly reminded him why he had set this production in motion and wanted to direct this message. He recalls, “Our female grantee had herself tried to take her own life for testing HIV positive and having been rescued was now doing the same for other young girls. Hearing this, even through a translator, was an intense emotional moment for all of us.” The final filming moments had James working with Travis and the world famous Bruno Mars in a Miami studio. Having McCoy as the centerpiece/proxy for the rest of the world to witness the work of Staying Alive was key and a composition involving these two noteworthy artists would add to its attention. Barnes notes, “Having a young, cool, contemporary character as the face and voice of the film was the first way in which we approached this production. We figured that not only would this make people listen to the more educational pieces of information but we also hoped he would take it in and then explain it in the type of language our viewers would understand, rather than a doctor or professor. I would say 90% of this was done in pre-production where we thoroughly researched each project in each location so that we could prepare our talent for every eventuality.  During production it was just a case of ensuring we got the most important touch points of each project across. Travis did an exceptional job and I think his feelings for those he spoke with on camera transferred to our viewers.”

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At the World Media Festival in Hamburg (a global competition dedicated to recognizing excellence in branded content from the areas of information, education and entertainment), “Travis McCoy’s Unbeaten Track” was recognized with an Intermedia-Globe Gold Award in the ‘Documentaries’ category. As both creator and director of this program, it’s appropriate that James is appreciative that his show received accolades. In complete contradiction to this very idea, Barnes states, “It’s interesting to me that Marcus [Liversedge-Series Producer], Benedict [Spence-DOP] and I still cite this as our favorite thing we’ve ever made even though it’s by no means the most high-profile. Experiencing the locations, contributors, and their stories is something that will always connect us. I think the most rewarding part of this production was giving a platform to these young people who were doing such brave and admirable things in the face of adversity. It was always my hope that this would inspire and inform others on the issues.”

DIRECTING THE DIFFERING EXPERIENCES OF A MAN’S LIFE: THOMAS HEFFERON

It’s a requirement for a successful professional in the film industry to be versatile these days. Even so, those who are able to cultivate a sense of personal identity amidst the ability to be eclectic are among the most sought after. Actors, cinematographers, and definitely directors are the current-day elites in their vocations who are the most enduring when they have a style that is malleable to different formats while still retaining an intrinsic thread of personal perspective/self. Director Thomas Hefferon has revealed this trait in a number of films, music videos, and commercial productions. Considering his film work, it’s ironic that while the vast majority of his work (often co-written with T.J. Hundtofte) is female based, some of his most recognized and lauded films have a masculine story and center. Perhaps it’s just a natural byproduct of being male and artistic but the vantage presented in Hefferon’s films attest to his natural ease in conveying the different mental and emotional states from boyhood to manhood. The playfulness and sweet sensitivity is sometimes disrupted by the fear that boys avoid and men deny. Still, it’s apparent that there is a fondness Thomas has for his youth and he is able to take the audience into this treasure time with him via his many films.

In “The Confession”, Hefferon pays homage to the classic films of the 70’s. The production looks and feels authentic to the era. He worked painstakingly with cinematographer Andrew Edger and costume designer Natalie Conaty to authentically create the vibe of this period. Thomas notes, “The right crew really makes your life on a film livable or not. Andrew was wonderful to work with. Besides being very talented, he had just done a period film prior to this so he was in the proper mind state already. I was very lucky to get Natalie as she was working on “The Tudors” at the time and doing such fantastic work, and she of course brought her immense talent to our set.” Even beyond the visual presentation in the film, Hefferon wanted to recreate what the films of the 70’s felt like. He explains, “We definitely wanted the film to not just be set in the 70s but also almost feel like it was shot back then. We achieved this feeling mainly through the pacing of the film and the edit, and how it played out. Current day films have many more fast edits than films of the 70’s. There is almost a lingering quality to the way films were presented back then. We almost wanted to slightly bore the audience in the first half of the film, when they think they’re watching a drama and then…” One of the most enjoyable parts of The Confession is the “bait and switch” con that happens in both the storyline and to the viewer at the end of the film. The final moments of the film are completely unexpected as Thomas and his cast hold their cards close to their chest. Safe to say, the reveal recalls the great teen comedies of the 70’s that inspired this director. His adeptness in delivering this knockout punch awarded him the admiration of his cast and crew (not to mention multiple worldwide screening including the Tribeca Film Festival). The aforementioned Natalie Conaty professes, “I have worked with Thomas for the better part of a decade now and can say without a doubt he is one the most uniquely gifted people I’ve ever met. As a director he brings his vision to you without a hint of ego, eager to hear your thoughts and ideas. his attitude to filmmaking makes for a really creative environment where everyone pushes themselves to do better because they believe in the project. He owes much of his success to his auspicious mix of creative selflessness and dedication – on and off set.”

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A more vulnerable and even frightening part of being a young boy is displayed in Hefferon’s “The Pool.” Most boys have experienced episodes of bullying but that’s not what at the heart of this tale. Academy Award-Nominee Lenny Abrahmson (for the Oscar Award-Winning Film Room) took a great interest in this film and Thomas as the director. Abrahmson remarks, “A film such as this relies on all the factors of film to amplify the tension, and Thomas displayed a masterful command over the collaboration between storytelling, breathtaking cinematography, believable acting and more to heighten the tension of the film, ultimately leading toward a truly powerful and impactful film. Few directors can convey such a command over the production as a whole. Thomas’s work on ‘The Pool’, where he utilized a great many tactics of top tier directors attests to his place among the best.”

“The Pool” seems at first to be a simple story of one boy’s fear of water (Sam) and his friends Charlie and Ben pressuring him to be in a breath holding contest with which he is not comfortable. The added pressure of appearing weak in front of the fairer sex is added when Katie shows up at the pool. Explaining that his fear originates from an experience with an unknown presence during his younger days, Sam stirs his own bravery but what happens next turns potential fear into a life altering experience for all of them.

Thomas reveals that his inspiration for the tension in the story and the film comes from his view of childhood. He notes, “I always felt like there was a window of time from about ages twelve to sixteen or seventeen when you’re growing up outside of adult supervision. You’re figuratively trespassing in this space where there are no rules and if there were, no one is truly able to enforce them. This is the time I experienced my most intense bullying and when I saw other be bullied in ways that changed me. ‘The Pool’, which I co-wrote with T.J. Hundtofte takes that idea of metaphorical trespassing and makes it literal. These kids are literally in a place they’re not supposed to be, at a time where they’re not supposed to be there. No adults. No supervision. So what I tried to do was create a sense of magical realism by having the entire place feel slightly heightened, as if it didn’t really exist in our reality. It’s reality-adjacent, to borrow a phrase.” One of the very effective ways that was done to give this sense of heightened reality on set was by laying down black tarp at the bottom of the pool. On camera this created the sense of no bottom in the pool, only darkness. It’s as if you’re looking into the deep of the ocean.

Following up “The Confession” appearing at the Tribeca Film Festival, “The Pool” was nominated at this prestigious event for the Jury Award Best Narrative Short. While it was a thrill to return with another of his films so soon, Hefferon concedes that seeing the attention the film’s young actors received was even more rewarding.

“The Heist” is the member of this film trio which finally makes the leap into adulthood and presents the type of fast paced, comical, and sometimes adversarial relationships that men can sometimes share. In this film, three would-be bank robbers sit in their car as they prepare to pull off the heist of their lives. But Francis’ minute instructions are quickly overshadowed by the rest of his gang’s petty arguments about anything from the colour of the ski-masks to who gets to be the cool, silent guy with a hair-trigger once inside the bank. Planning is derailed more and more by the crew’s wild tangents until they finally just decide to go for it and make their move. Only to find the bank closes early on Fridays.

What stands out most about this film is that Thomas is able to deliver a compelling and humorous story that is 99% dialogue and takes place entirely inside a car. The description sounds dichotomous to an entertaining experience and yet it proves to be very much so. Pressure can be a powerful motivator and can instill energy into performances and a production. A self-described guerilla production that was expeditiously conducted in the dead of winter outside (with only the cast inside the car), there was a deluge of intensity on set. Thomas relates, “We knew for this to work the pacing had to be lightning fast. Banter depends a lot on good editing, but you also need the right interplay from the actors on the day. Luckily our protagonist Francis, was played by an experienced Irish sketch- and Improv actor who got the tone we were going for right away. We were determined not to be derailed, even when our main actor forgot to put on the handbrake and the car started rolling onto the main road with crew in tow. Luckily no one was around at the time, but it was a bit of a scare.” Both scares and laughter are found in Hefferon’s many films, onscreen and off.

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Making it in Wardrobe: Film Costumer Lisa Sass

Costumer Lisa Sass
Costumer Lisa Sass shot by Veera Ovaska

 

Originally from Hanover, Germany, costumer Lisa Sass is one of the key figures who works tirelessly behind the scenes on film and television productions to ensure that all the actors on screen visually represent their characters down to the most minute detail.

Over the past five years Sass’s vast skill set as a costumer have landed her leading roles on a huge range of high profile productions including the Oscar Award nominated films Star Trek Beyond and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Golden Globe nominated film Furious 7 starring Vin Diesel (xXx) and the feature film War Machine starring Oscar Award winner Brad Pitt (World War Z), which was released last month.

While it hasn’t taken her long to establish a reputation that is strong enough to be sought out by some of the biggest film productions in the world, she definitely paid her dues along the way. The path to becoming a costumer for film and TV was something that actually began for Sass during childhood.

She explains, “I’ve always been a big fan of movies and TV series. I started drawing when I was about 4 years old, started copying cartoon and comic characters at some point and went to more realistic drawings from there. I made up stories and started creating my own characters and their clothes. Going into costume design combined my passion for film and creating characters.”

Sass’ role as a costumer is one that starts long before the cameras begin rolling and finishes long after the director says ‘that’s a wrap.’ While the costume designer ultimately decides what costume each character wears on screen, it’s the costumer’s job to breakdown the script scene by scene and create a look-book for every single character documenting the multitude of costumes they wear over the course of a production. Sass then goes to work compiling a massive wardrobe collection to fit the main characters, as well as everything worn by the background talent. But her job definitely doesn’t end there, if it did, things would be far too easy.

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Lisa Sass shot by  Veera Ovaska

In addition to altering the costumes to fit each cast member perfectly, she is the person who makes sure her department has everything they need to keep the cast comfortable, which can be include everything from a wet suit to be worn under the clothing if the character falls into a cold lake during a scene to heat tech clothing to keep the cast member warm when shooting in frigid temperatures. She is also responsible for aging the costumes and adding desired effects depending what happens to the character in a specific scene and how that carries over into their wardrobe, and much more.

Sass first immersed herself in the industry in 2010 when she joined the the wardrobe department of the hit series Tatort, which has won over 100 awards since it first began in the 1970s and is still airing today! After learning the ropes from seasoned costume designer and German Television Academy Award winner Monika Hinz on the series Tatort, Sass was ready to begin working on her own as a lead costumer.

Immediately after completing her bachelor’s degree in costume design she landed a spot as a costumer on the set of the 26-episode comedy series In Your Dreams, an Australian/German co-production. One of Sass’s major roles once a production begins shooting is monitoring the continuity of each character’s costume throughout every scene, a skill she quickly acquired thanks to the grueling attention to detail required by In Your Dreams.

She recalls, “We were shooting all episodes out of order so it was essential, that you were fit in keeping the continuity of the costumes. A TV series usually shoots a lot more scenes in a day than you would on a film because of time pressure so we sometimes shot 10 scenes out of 10 different episodes a day which means you have to change the casts costumes after every scene and have to make sure it is worn exactly like the scene before or after one that you might have shot a month ago or longer.”

Sass’s early work on the series In Your Dreams, although demanding, served as excellent preparation for the many jobs that flowed in subsequently after, such as the German crimes series Monaco 110 starring Bavarian TV Award winner Monika Baumgartner (The Nasty Girl), the Jupiter Award nominated romcom film Vaterfreuden, the crime film Die reichen Leichen. Ein Starnbergkrimi directed by 10-time Adolf Grimme Award winner Dominik Graf (The Invincibles) and the crime series SOKO 5113 starring Gerd Silberbauer.

In Your Dreams director Ralph Strasser says, “We had quite a large cast on the series, and it was imperative that they always looked immaculate on camera, so the demands on Lisa and her colleagues were often quite intense. The film set is a place where tensions frequently run high, but Lisa was always a friendly and good natured presence, doing what was required calmly and efficiently. Making ‘In Your Dreams’ was a very special experience in my career, largely due to the pleasure of sharing it with people like Lisa.”

After making a name for herself in the German film and television industry, Lisa Sass moved to Dubai where she began costuming for even bigger projects. There she was tapped as a lead costumer on the hit films Furious 7, Star Trek Beyond, Star Wars; The Force Awakens and War Machine.

Besides her unrivaled creativity, attention to detail and extensive wardrobe knowledge, one thing that has made Sass such a sought after costumer in the film industry internationally is the fact that costume designers can trust her to be prepared for any situation, and oftentimes that means having items on hand (that aren’t in the script) to keep the cast comfortable.

“It is not only important to dress the cast, it is also important to maintain comfort for the cast. There’s a lot of empathy and psychology at play but also simple things like providing warming jackets, heating insoles, warm blankets in between takes, umbrellas for rain or sun or fans on shoots in the desert. If the actors are happy, every shoot runs more smoothly and that can even mean a change of shoes in between takes or for a close up where you don’t see the difference,” explains Sass.

“This is all part of the job as a costumer behind the scenes for the things that you will not see on screen but is very important for the progress of the shoot.”

Aside from her key contributions to countless film and television productions, Sass has also been tapped to apply her skill as costumer on a plethora of major commercials for companies such as Nike, Nissan, Ultra Tech Cement, Lamborghini and others.

Earlier this year she was the costumer on the “What will they say about you?” commercial for Nike Middle East, which was geared towards women in the Middle East and created quite a buzz. The powerful and controversial commercial featured women athletes running through the streets, playing sports and being the epitome of strength, all the while wearing traditional Hijabs.

As someone who has made it to the top of the industry as an internationally sought after costumer, Sass is one person aspiring costumers should look to for advice if they are seriously considering making this a career.

Sass says, “The job needs a lot of empathy to work at your best in a team, adapt to the costume designer’s visions and be able to work with different people and personalities constantly. You have to be able to work well under pressure and think quickly on your feet and have a keen eye for details.”

Actor Tim Hildebrand tackles important social issues in powerful film ‘BID’

Originally from the small town of Caronport, Saskatchewan, Tim Hildebrand always knew he wanted to be an actor. He remembers being just six years old, seeing the older children acting in the school play, waiting for his chance to step onto the stage. When he finally got his chance, he put everything he had into that first performance, singing a solo titled “When I Get a Flying Machine.” The applause he received was euphoric, and the rest, as they say, is history. Now, years later, Hildebrand is an internationally sought-after actor, acting coach, and writer.

With an esteemed resume, including roles in the crime series Deep Undercover, the film Embrace, and Lady Labyrinth, Hildebrand has shown the world how exceptional he truly is. He tells every story with a purpose, captivating audiences with his heartfelt performances. This was certainly the case with the film BID, which was released earlier this year. BID is an extremely timely film, addressing the scandal of billions of dollars stolen from the Brazilian government by illegal construction scams, which led to the recent impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff, and criminal investigations of eight ministers, 24 senators and 39 lawmakers in the lower house of Congress.

“This project is of such importance…. it’s a big deal. This film is the first, as far as I know, to really explore that event in a fictional format. It’s a grassroots film bursting with the heart of the Brazilian people who want reform and change,” Hildebrand described.

Hildebrand was the lead actor in this film, shot in Curitiba, Brazil. He played Bernard Leone, an American contractor who travels to Brazil to compete for building projects. He begins the film as a gruff but naïve businessman, but that soon changes as he finds himself caught up in a game he’s not prepared for, against people who will stop at nothing. Bernard’s wife and children are kidnapped, and he has to make frantic choices to secure their release.

To capture such a demanding role, he used Strasberg’s relaxation and visualization techniques to “help warm up his emotions and get them a little closer to the surface.” As cameras were being placed and lit to shoot the scene, he would sequester himself to imagine or remember scenarios that stirred similar emotions to what he would be called on to perform in the film. From there, he used a “Meisner technique” of performing a high-stakes activity (in his case, rebuilding a shredded airline ticket moments in an imagined life-and-death scenario, moments before takeoff), competing against a stopwatch. He timed the exercise to be able to take the resulting emotions straight into filming.

This kind of painstaking craftsmanship fit the urgent importance of the film, which producers called a “battle cry against corruption.” Hildebrand wanted to give the performance of a lifetime.

“It feels sometimes like democracy has become a spectator sport. We gripe and complain from our armchairs, but nobody does anything. This film is a call to action. It’s a protest. It’s a mirror held up by Brazilians to themselves and it asks the questions ‘Is this what we want? Is this the best we can do?’ And I believe it also answers that question,” said Hildebrand. “A lot of crewmembers were emotional on set.  This is real life to them.  Their country is at stake.  And anytime you witness a strong person standing up for what’s right, there’s a domino effect. Courage begets courage.”

After shooting the film in fall of last year, BID premiered at Warner Brothers Studios to great acclaim, and is now being marketed to festivals around the world.  It has so far been accepted to Festigious and the Palm Springs Film Festival, already winning two awards at Festigious. Undoubtedly, it will be accepted to many more. None of this could have been possible without Hildebrand’s honest portrayal of Leone.

“Tim was extremely committed to the character from the beginning. Since we had started working in Los Angeles way before travelling to the location in South America, and he was the only North American actor on a Brazilian movie set, he asked me for visual references from the Brazilian actors that he would be interacting with as family. Photos that he could create backstories with, etc.  He also asked for the contacts of actors playing family members so he could start communicating with them and developing personal bonds. We used real facts, situations and feelings from Tim’s personal history to create several layers for his complex character,” said Raphael Bittencourt, the director of BID.

“Working with Tim is very rewarding. He’s very professional, very dedicated.  He’s an actor in constant search of the truth of his characters…always intense, deeply intuitive, and yet very technical when the situation asks for it.  At the same time, he’s kind and generous as a person. He really was there to help make a film, and not to perform, you know, on a catwalk with spotlights on himself. He was the consummate team player.  I wondered sometimes if the naturalism of his interaction with his onscreen family came from me, as a director, and the efforts I made to create a comfortable working environment, or if it came from him being a truly great actor who simply made my life much easier. Probably more of the second,” Bittencourt continued.

Every person that worked on the film, like Hildebrand, knew the importance of the story they were telling. This led to a unifying rally against the unforeseeable problems that seemed to plague the film early on. At one point, a large shipment of film equipment that was flown to Brazil from Los Angeles was lost by the airline in Sao Paulo, causing shooting to be delayed. Lawyers had to be called in to fight with the airline, whom the producers suspected of confiscating the property for profit. After much back and forth the airline admitted it had indeed confiscated the equipment, claiming it had done so because it suspected the BID team of planning to illegally film the World Cup. The producers had to travel from Curitiba to Sao Paulo to get it all sorted out. Once they had finally had the  equipment, they were informed that the main shooting location for the following two days had suddenly fallen through. While the producers scouted a new location, Hildebrand would not let the time be wasted, and used it to meet his cast-mates and rehearse some scenes that otherwise would have had to be performed cold. In terms of the quality of the performances, he thinks it all ended up actually working out for the best.

“We all had a sense when the film wrapped that we had been a part of something important, that the troubles had come to stop us in some cosmic way, but that we’d beaten them. It really brought everyone together,” he concluded.

Photo: Tim Hildebrand in the film ‘BID’ photo by Priscila Forone.

Speaking Visually: Cinematographer Andrea Gonzalez Mereles

Andrea Mereles Gonzalez
Director Roberto Escamilla & Cinematographer Andrea Mereles Gonzalez

For the past five years cinematographer Andrea Gonzalez Mereles has been using her unparalleled skill behind the lens to create captivating visual stories for a plethora of films and television series.

Originally from Mexico City, Mereles has made a name for herself both at home, as well as in the U.S., due to her powerful work as the cinematographer behind films such as Roberto Escamilla’s (The One Who Couldn’t Love, Passion and Power) 2016 drama Changes, Bo-You Niou’s (Manners of Dying) drama The 12th Stare starring Christine Kellogg-Darrin (Shameless, The Neighbours) and many more.

Mereles recently wrapped production on Camilo Collazos’ riveting 2017 drama Flesh & Blood starring multi-award winning actor Jorge A. Jimenez (Hermoso Silencio, Machete Kills), L.J. Batinas (Hawaii Five-O, Black Jesus) and Mariana Novak (Rose Colored, The Moleskin Diary).

Flesh & Blood revolves largely around the life of Rodrigo, played by Jimenez, an inmate who makes a deal to testify against a dangerous prisoner named Luis in exchange for early release via deportation.

While the deal includes an offer of witness protection for Rodrigo’s estranged daughter Laura, as she would most likely be targeted after Luis and his men on the outside find out what her father’s done, she’s far from a willing participant. Her reluctance puts Rodrigo in a tricky situation where he must try to convince a daughter he barely knows to give up her normal life in order to save them both before Luis finds out the extent of Rodrigo’s betrayal.

As the cinematographer of the film, Mereles’ brilliant use of lighting,  camera placement and methodical lens choices were tantamount to drawing audiences into the film and driving home the emotional aspects of Rodrigo’s story.

Flesh and Blood
Poster for the film “Flesh & Blood”

“We decided that we wanted the film to feel very personal and close to Rodrigo. This was his story and we were determined to capture this in the numerous visual aspects,” explains Mereles.

“Given that this was Rodrigo’s story I wanted the spectator to feel he was seeing the world through his eyes. This required a careful planning around camera placement, deliberated camera movement motivated by the main character’s internal and external motion and the use of anamorphic lenses.”

Through her lighting choices alone it’s easy to see that Mereles is an incredibly skilled cinematographer who knows exactly how to create a visual story that touches viewers on multiple levels and heightens the impact of the narrative unfolding on the screen. Using darker lighting to portray the gloomy nature of Rodrigo’s life in prison, and then using natural sunlight to brighten up the scenes and visually express the hope Rodrigo feels where his daughter Laura appears, Mereles juxtaposition of light and dark within the film emphasizes the dichotomy between Rodrigo’s current experience and the possibility of a brighter future.

“[Andrea’s] acute sensibilities with the film medium facilitate the understanding of the point of view and solidify the lives of the characters by enhancing the atmosphere around their universe or emphasizing their intentions,” explains Flesh & Blood director Camilo Collazos.

“She is a DP who is always prepared and is very accurate when reading the intentions of the voice guiding the storytelling. Her vision carries a charismatic, distinctive signature that allows the viewer to be in with the story and its world.”

The film, which premiered at the Mexican Embassy in Los Angeles as part of the Mexican Filmmakers Showcase on July 20th, 2017, was shot primarily at the Sybil Brand Institute in Los Angeles, the same location used for other hits films such as Blow, 21 Grams, Legally Blonde and Malcolm X.

Andrea Gonzalez Mereles
Cinematographer Andrea Gonzalez Mereles

Mereles, whose name was already well-known back home in Mexico by the time she moved to the U.S., has made extraordinary strides in Hollywood over the last few years thanks to her inimitable skill behind the lens and her unique creative vision. While she knew early on in life that she would go on to work in the film industry, what sparked her career as a cinematographer was when she was on set for the first time working as a camera assistant.

“I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. My intention was to become a director and a screenwriter, but the first time I was on a movie set I realized that what I wanted to tell a story visually,” explains Mereles.

“For me cinematography means telling stories as a whole but also with every image. I’m passionate about constructing stories through lighting, composition and movement and creating emotions within the spectator. Cinematography is a journey I started a long time ago. It is a journey to tell stories but it’s also a journey to find answers; trying to understand what it means to be human.”

After the firm realization that cinematography was the one field that would fulfill her creative passions and utilize her wide range of talents, Mereles went to work honing her skills in the artform at some of the world’s most prestigious schools. Shortly after completing Maine Media Workshops’ cinematography residency, Mereles went on to complete her master’s degree in cinematography at the American Film Institute, a highly competitive conservatory program that boasts an impressive alumni list including filmmakers such as three-time Oscar nominee John Cassavetes, four-time Golden Globe Award nominee David Lynch, Oscar nominee Darren Aronofsky and many more household names. In 2014 Mereles was selected as a Fullbright Scholar, an international merit-based scholarship program that gives a limited number of individuals the opportunity to study abroad.

While Mereles’ training definitely boosted her technical skill as a cinematographer, it’s her innate creative vision that has led her to become a sought after figure in her field internationally.

Another one of Mereles notable film works as a cinematographer in 2017 was multi-award winning director Christopher de las Alas’ (For Ofelia, Coffee Run) adventure film Great Again, which premiered during the LA Film Festival’s Project Involve Showcase. Starring Jonah Aimz (Awaken, Instacurity), Tasha Dixon (NCIS, Guiding Light) and Jeff Hoffmaster (True Blood, I’m With the Band), Great Again follows Frank (Jeff Hoffmaster), a homeless main on a mission for vengeance against a group of people who, immersed in their own selfish problems, refuse to buy him a bottle of mouthwash at a local convenience store. After being mocked and pushed to the brink, Frank decides to play a little prank on those who snuffed him by announcing that he won the lottery and is ready to share his winning with them; but when they find out he’s lying, they don’t take it lightly.

Through her use of specific angles, shot pacing and lighting, Mereles once again nailed the mark with her seasoned skill as the cinematographer of the film to draw viewers into the emotional aspects of the main character’s journey.

She explains, “My main goal was to visually represent the hecticness that Frank undergoes after lying about winning the lottery.  The director wanted to visually make a difference between the before and after of the winning of the lottery. To achieve this, the moment when Frank wins the lottery was shot using a zolly, which is a dolly in combination with a zoom. The before was characterized by a static camera and the after with hectic zooms ins, pans and handheld camera.”

As a cinematographer, Andrea Gonzalez Mereles has carved out a prominent position for herself internationally as an artist behind the lens whose creative capacity and keen vision have given way to both the commercial success and emotional impact of a wide range of films. Up next for Mereles is the thriller film Plain Fiction directed by Cyrus Duff, which is due out in 2018.