PRODUCING LOVE’S 2ND CHANCES: MING QIU

(By Winston Scott)

Leo Johnson - on set

Like many of us, Ming Qiu is fascinated by the complexity of relationships. Her secret superpower which separates her from most mortals is that, as a film producer, she has the power to give life to the stories of relationships which she finds interesting. Making a film is part discovery, part catharsis, and a whole lot of work. The diversity of the films she produces mirrors the vast array of relationships and their emotional toll that each of us can experience in our lives. This is what filmmakers do, they present stories that makes us laugh, inspire us, and hopefully help us to understand each other and ourselves. One day Qiu is making certain that furniture is burning properly (wait for it, you’ll find out) and the next she is reverse engineering the weather…it’s all a part of movie making and the wild ride that draws creative personalities such as Ming into an industry that gives something to the world.

Evan Bluestein gave Ming the script for his film “Leo Johnson” and she immediately knew that it was too good to not be a part of. The genre was comedy and romance but it was the deeper meaning that cinched the deal for this producer. At its core, “Leo Johnson” is about fear in a relationship and what we are willing to face. It’s an idea that Qiu would like more people to believe in, the notion that we would not only reject the fear which makes relationships so hard but that we would also face our personal fears down for those we love and cherish. Her way to promote this sensibility was to produce this film which espouses such notions.

Leo Johnson - location scout 1

Director Evan Bluestein wanted Qiu to produce because, in addition to witnessing her consummate professionalism on previous projects, her dark humor and fearlessness reminded him of the female lead in the film. He notes, “It’s always tricky to find the balance between humor and heart, and I was fortunate to work with Ming because she is such a collaborative, creative, and a passionate producer. From the beginning of our development process, Ming was an advocate for the love story and for making it the central dynamic from which the plot would grow. What I truly appreciated about working with Ming is her passion for the possibilities of the medium. She has a unique point of view that I’m sure I cannot sum up, but I know it has to do with dry humor and love and seeing the best in people. And that is something that makes its way into all of her films and is the mark of an artist.”

Leo Johnson - location scout 2

Qiu’s determination was challenged at several stages by factors which sought to impede or stop the film’s creation. The usual expected schedule conflicts, rental break downs, and even the Director of Photography leaving near the completion of film could not hamper the film and its producers resolve, in fact…it may have reaffirmed this determination. As sometimes occurs, the characters in the film itself were a metaphor for the cast and crew in so far as love kept them from giving up on their shared goal. In “Leo Johnson” the male lead (Ben) is extremely afraid of fire but he distracts his friend by setting her couch on fire so that his girlfriend Donna can escape during their ring-stealing crime scene; extreme limits for love, just as Ming wished. Being able to keep a cool and positive head during challenging times is made easier by a sense of humor. Qiu boldly states, “I can’t imagine a producer who isn’t able to be funny during these challenging moments. It’s a quality that keeps you and your team healthy during all the production headaches. In fact, all great producers I know are funny people. Film producers who are not funny probably have all pivoted to other careers.”

 

Rosita Lama Muvdi (Director of “Till I See You Again”) echoes that statement proclaiming, “Ming’s amazing sense of humor, coupled with her dedicated abilities as a talented producer, made working with her on ‘Till I See You Again’ an unforgettable experience. Her intoxicating personality made anyone on the production team excited to be around her, which, in turn, made the set a fun and productive environment to be in. With all the demands during production, Ming was always there to make sure production ran smoothly, ensuring both the cinematographer’s and my vision were able to come to life.”

“Till I See You Again” is a benevolent tale about time travel. While most time travel tales are about riches or crime (and end up with karma serving justice), this tale focuses on a father who simply wants to take care of his daughter. An older man (James) calls his daughter but is ignored. He is given a chance to travel back and have a younger version of himself shower his daughter with gifts and love. Through the experience we see that father and daughter in present day have a warm and full relationship.

Till I See You Again - film festival

What was so unusual and challenging for the filmmakers of “Till I See You Again” was that there was essentially no dialogue in this story. Qiu admits that she is fond of dialogue in her productions and this was new territory for her. What was also unique was the writer’s determination to film one particular scene that communicated the time travel effectively to the audience. Ming describes the scene and how it was created, “Rather than use VFX, We shot the scene with everything moving in reverse direction with the rain from a rain tower. Our actor had to rehearse quite a few times to make sure his walking backwards looked 100% like walking forward when the footage was rewound. The visuals turned out amazing. Looking back at our night in/next to cold rain, all of us felt that having certain constraints actually pushed our creativity to a new level.”

There are many attributes which make Ming such a fine producer: an understanding of the workings of each department of the production team, extraordinary communication and organizational skills, insight into story development, and others…but it’s her curiosity which she feels makes her most important. The desire to find a creative solution to a shared goal is one she shares with the characters in these films. For another film she currently produced titled “My Zombie Club” the Art Department was having difficulty discovering a means to attach vines growing around the main characters derriere (a curse given him by a zombie lord). A diligent producer, Qiu researched until she found the perfect wardrobe piece that would serve both the art department, VFX department, and still allow the actor to retain some modesty. While it’s an unusual and humorous example, this is the challenge of any relationship…finding a solution that we can all live with. Ming Qiu is an living/professional model of the ideas illustrated in her films.

 

Advertisements

Profile: Leading Actor Giselle van der Wiel

Leading Australian actress Giselle van der Wiel, who has just been cast in two series shooting in the United States, is not as intimidating in person as one might expect. In a career that spans different mediums (TV shows like “Hendrix” with “Neighbours” actor Chelsea Jones) and characters (and Spanish exchange student in “In the Land Farthest From”), Giselle has built a reputation as a powerful presence in camera that would lead one to assume she’s overawing in person. In the best possible way, Giselle retains her strength upon our meeting but also possesses an incredibly personable nature that makes it no surprise her acting career continues to go from strength-to-strength.

We’re sitting down with Giselle to discuss two feature films in which she appears in critical roles, “On Halloween,” a new feature film with “2:22” actor Ezekiel Simat and “Reaching Distance,” with “Unbroken” actress Morgan Griffin. It’s the night after a glitzy film premiere and Giselle has just walked the red carpet with fellow Aussie A-listers. “All part of the routine of being an actor,” she says humbly, with a laugh. It could be easy to get distracted by talking about the behind-the-scenes glamour of a blockbuster premiere, but Giselle likes to focus on the work. So we resume our conversation about her upcoming projects and how she has achieved such great things in her eclectic career.

“I’m constantly working at growing as a person – I feel that unless I really know myself, and if I don’t experience life and meet new people, I can’t really grow as an actor.”

Giselle van der Wiel
Giselle van der Wiel on the red carpet for a film premiere.

When contacted about Giselle’s performance, “On Halloween” director didn’t need to be prodded to heap praise on Australia’s answer to Kristen Stewart. “Giselle has a crazy unique ability to own every frame she’s in,” Timothy Boyle enthusiastically explained.” There are moments where an actor gives more than you, as the writer and director, ever intended. It’s in these moments that the film takes on an extra level of depth. It’s what good actors do. It’s what Giselle did for me every day of the shoot.” Timothy, whose feature “The Half Dead” starred “Lord of the Rings” star John Rhys-Davies, clearly speaks from a position of authority. He goes on to compare Giselle’s unique appeal to that of other mega-star Australians Yvonne Strahovski (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) and “Avatar” star Sam Worthington.

While we lose focus laughing about the ironically funny moments that come with shooting a horror film, we briefly touch on her key character in “Reaching Distance,” from award-winning director David Fairhurst. In the role of “Chell,” Giselle shares the screen with BAFTA-nominated actress Tara Morice, best known for her work opposite twice-Oscar-nominated Emily Watson and her part in Baz Luhrmann’s “Strictly Ballroom.” Giselle explains “the beautiful thing about this industry is that it’s really collaborative, so everyone’s connected and everyone knows each other. It helps everyone lift their game.”

On the topic of those two TV shows Giselle is due to start filming in the US, she has to stay quite mum. “Unfortunately I’m not able to go into too much detail about my characters, but I can say that my character’s name in “Masculinity in Crisis” season 2 is Joanna.” “Masculinity” series is an award-winning co-production between Joseph Gordon Levitt’s production company HitREcord and successful outfit Nix Film, and is distributed by Amazon Studios. Series creator and lead actor Alex Cubis (“Dear White People”) explains that Giselle was cast because there was no other actor who could play her role. “The character was specifically written to possess the ability to perform in Australian and American accents, and speak Spanish. Aside from her X-factor, Giselle was the only girl who auditioned who could play the role.”

When asked about her character in “Dipsticks,” Giselle laughs. “That project is going to be fun because it’s a comedy; I don’t want to reveal too much about that. But I’m really happy to have a chance to play a lead in a comedy series.” That series also stars NBC “Community” actor Dominik Musiol, so it’s safe to say that Giselle is in fine company when it comes to her career.

“I feel really lucky that I get to continue working in different countries and in different styles – that was always my goal when I started acting. I’m very grateful.”

Producer Mickey Liu brings music and drama together in acclaimed film ‘Nocturne in Black’

Growing up, Mickey Liu always found himself stuck between two different pathways as a child. He studied business, but he loved the arts. However, as a teenager, he realized he could combine both these passions and become a professional producer. A producer is a leader, a problem-solver, a caretaker, a doer, a negotiator, a storyteller and an artist. Liu aims to be all of them, and he has achieved his goal, becoming one of China’s leading producers.

“The lack of professional producers is one of the biggest problems in the film industry of my home country. I feel the responsibility and urgency to become one. It’s very challenging, but also very rewarding,” said Liu.

Liu’s work in Chinese film is renowned. His movies such as Sail the Summer Wind, An Ill-Fitting Coat and Tear of the Peony exemplify Liu’s determination to transform the Chinese film industry and allow for more professional producers to take lead. However, one of the highlights of his career comes from his work on the 2016 film Nocturne in Black, which is actually in Arabic.

“I wanted to work on this project because of its powerful script with a musical element of the story. It was one of those rare cases where I immediately knew I would regret not being part of this. It was definitely a very ambitious and challenging project, but if we could pull that off, we would send a powerful message,” he said.

Nocturne in Black takes place in a war-ravaged Middle Eastern neighborhood, where a musician struggles to rebuild his piano after it is destroyed by terrorists. The film premiered and was an Official Selection at the 2016 Telluride Film Festival in Colorado along with Liu’s film Tear of the Peony. From there it was an Official Selection at the Los Angeles Shorts International Film Festival, won Best Director at NDU International Film Festival, The Marion Carter Green Award at the 2016 National Board of Review, Gold Circle Award Grant Winner at the 2016 Caucus Foundation, and Best Short Film Narrative at the Long Beach International Film Festival. What was the most exciting for Liu, however, was when he received the news that Nocturne in Black was shortlisted for Best Live Action Short for the 89th Academy Awards.

“It was definitely the highlight of my career. I remember receiving an email from Producer Felecia Hunter with the subject line “JESUS CHRIST” and a link to the Hollywood Reporter article in it. I was literally shaking while scrolling down the list and found out that we were shortlisted. I had no idea it could go that far, and I still feel very honored and blessed to be a part of it” said Liu.

When putting together a team for the film, Producer Felecia Hunter approached Liu, knowing what an asset he could be as a co-producer. The two had worked together in the past, and she knew he had great experience putting together and designing posters. Once he was approached, Liu read the script and immediately decided to jump on board. He then created the pitch book and designed posters when the film was just a script, which ended up being essential in the success of their Kickstarter campaign, and he also designed the look of the Kickstarter page. Half of the film was financed by the crowdfunding campaign. Liu also contributed editing notes in post-production.

NIB at LA Shorts Fest with producer Felecia Hunter
Mickey Liu and Felecia Hunter at the LA Shorts Fest

Hunter and Liu attended several film festivals and awards to help promote the film. During the film’s festival run, he helped with coordinating the transportation of the film’s DCP copy and created promotional postcards for Nocturne in Black. Liu played a critical role in financing and marketing of Nocturne in Black, and that is exactly why Hunter approached him to begin with.

Mickey is organized, thorough, and possesses a very keen eye for details. He knows how to communicate with department heads quickly and effectively, ensuring a productive working environment on set and throughout post-production. Mickey is an asset on any project or event he works on. He always goes the extra mile by working long hours; triple checking details; and doing much more than is required of his job description. Through our work together, I had the delight of experiencing his extraordinary talent shine from pre-production to having films he produced screen at the Telluride Film Festival and other notable festivals worldwide. Mickey Liu is a gifted artist, but also a skilled professional and invaluable collaborator. His writing, producer’s vision, and narrative insights have always been revelatory – the sign of a mature and talented film producer – and add an unforgettable quality to any project he takes on,” said Hunter.

The story is set in Syria, but for safety reasons due to the civil war in the country, the production took place in the director’s home country Lebanon. Liu was working long hours just to put together a good pitch book; he did a lot of the research and exchanged notes with the Director, Jimmy Keyrouz, to ensure the look of the pitch book matched Keyrouz’s artistic vision. He then worked on the typography and details of the book for days, and this was only the first step.

“Everyone on the team pushed themselves to a whole new level because we wanted to have the best possible version of the film. It was really a labor of love and I could feel it when I was working on it,” Liu described.

The team was one of the best parts about working on Nocturne in Black for Liu. He was extremely impressed with everyone’s commitment to the story and with the professionalism on set. Everyone was at the top of their game, and they were having fun. More than anything, however, Liu was most inspired by the story they were telling. He knows the importance it has and encourages audiences to see it.

“It’s imperative to remind people about what is happening in the forgotten parts of the world – murderously effective, half-ton barrel bombs are constantly dropped on innocent civilians. It’s a story about human spirit standing up to oppression, evil, and terrorism. In the story, playing music is the protagonist’s ultimate act of defiance in a world where music is banned. I think it sends out a powerful message. Our director once said, “Art is a mighty tool that helps us fight extremism and terrorism.” In some way, making this film is our way to join the fight,” he said.

Be sure to check out Nocturne in Black so you too can join the fight.

 

Top photo by Lingyun Zheng

Filmmaker & Journalist Liliya Anisimova Reveals Her Fashionista Side on TheSTYLEtti

Journalist Liliya Anisimova
Journalist Liliya Anisimova

From her time as a news anchor for local Moscow news stations Doverie and Teleinform, to working as the host of several hit TV programs on the popular Russian Travel Guide (RTG), journalist and filmmaker Liliya Anisimova has spent a lot of time in front of the camera, and she always looks stunning. Granted, she’s a natural beauty, but her keen eye for fashion truly makes her stand out.

My mom likes to tell this story all the time of how when I was about three putting clothes on for daycare. I put my yellow track suit on, I remember that suit, it was chic yellow with colorful stars, a Juicy Couture style tracksuit. And my mom gave me pink socks,” Liliya recalls with a smile. “I looked at her and said, ‘I’m not going anywhere in a yellow suit and pink socks. I need yellow socks’… I wouldn’t go anywhere until my mom found me yellow socks. She always tells this story saying, ‘who told you about matching colors, nobody taught you how to pair colors’.”

As a journalist and filmmaker, Liliya Anisimova’s accomplishments are beyond impressive– to the point of making of us wonder if she has some super human power giving her the ability to accomplish more in a day than most. As the writer and director of the films “From Real to Reel,” “Magic of the Underground,” which earned the Best Experimental Film Award at the 2013 Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival, and the poignant documentary “Love is the Highest Law,” which screened internationally and earned numerous awards including the Award of Merit from the 2015 IndieFEST Film Awards, she’s made a strong name for herself as a talented storyteller.

Ironically though, it was Liliya’s chic style, not her seemingly endless accolades, that first caught the attention of The STYLEtti Editor-In-Chief Janea Mastrandrea. Janea recounts on TheSTYLEtti blog, “I was shooting street style in New York one day when I came upon this woman with fabulous shoes. I met filmmaker and shoe-lover Liliya Anisimova. And the next day, we began collaborating.”

Charline De Luca black and white heels
Liliya’s Charline De Luca black and white heels

Wearing her Charline De Luca black and white heels, black skinny jeans and a light pink-beige soft wool cardigan jacket, Liliya was rushing to meet a friend in midtown NYC when she was approached by Janea, who ironically had no idea that she was already a celebrated journalist. 

“[Janea] was a very beautiful classy lady, one of those editor-in-chief looks. She asked about my shoes and complimented my style, and that’s how I met Janea.. and that’s how I started writing for The Styletti. It was such a privilege and joy to start writing column regularly in a fashionable glossy magazine style,” recalls Liliya.

“I’ve since written around a hundred articles about traveling, attending events, meeting outstanding people and of course, fashion.”

Since that fated encounter three years ago, which is proof that you never know who you’re going to meet out there in the world so you might as well opt for looking your best, Anisimova has continued to be a lead fashion columnist on the site.

Janea adds, “[Liliya’s] posts are among our most read.”

Growing up in Volgograd, former Stalingrad, Russia, Liliya’s love for fashion and the desire to express herself through her own unique style was something she developed early on in her youth.

She recalls, “When I was growing up it was the time when the USSR had just crashed and we didn’t have a big clothing or shoe selection in stores. So everyone pretty much looked the same, and I hated it, so I would come up with my own ideas and ask my grandmother to sew and knit me different pieces. I remember she did a knitted 100% light wool sweater and matching knitted sweatpants which I loved!”

It was only a few years later, at the age of 13, that Liliya first began working as a contributing journalist to local newspapers such as the Russian national newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda’s Volgograd regional edition, Volgogradskaya Pravda and Vecherniy Volgograd aka Evening Volgograd.

She admits, “I’ve loved to write since I was a little girl. I used to ‘publish’ my home-made magazine, I published multiple school papers while in high school, and collaborated with some local papers in my hometown before I started my undergrad in broadcast journalism.”

Liliya went on to earn her Bachelor’s in journalism, another Bachelor’s in translation in professional communications and her MFA in Journalism from Moscow State University before relocating to the states where she earned another MFA in Social Documentary Filmmaking from New York’s School of Visual Arts.

As a local news anchor in Russia Liliya covered a wide range of subjects. Occasionally those subjects intersected with her love for fashion, such as covering Moscow Fashion Week; but The STYLEtti has given her a platform to reveal her fashionista side in a different way.

Liliya explains, “For me, writing a column is very much a get away from my daily video work, I write it once a month, sometimes two if the schedule permits. I love attending events, art gallery openings, fashion shows of course, meeting photographers, designers, artists, models and other interesting people. It’s genuinely very inspiring.”

From her articles covering NYFW where she’s interviewed international designers and covered the runway, to those about attending gallery openings, such as Karim Rashid’s exhibit featuring his new design collaborations in Manhattan last Spring, Liliya writes about fashion in a way that makes the reader feel like they’re one of her close pals.

Karim Rashid
Karim Rashid and Liliya Anisimova at Rashid’s Exhibit in NYC

Dressed to impress, Liliya wore her sensible, but classy black peep-toe Gucci flats, a red Kate Spade knee length coat (featured in another post you can check out here) and her white boatneck sleeveless Raoul dress to Karim Rashid’s exhibit. With over 300 awards under his belt, Karim Rashid is considered one of the world’s most famous industrial designers; and, with the images of Liliya looking chic and stylish at the opening being featured on The STYLEtti site, the post became highly popular and offered readers insight on how to dress one’s best in such a high profile environment.

She often does #OOTD and #OOTN posts as well, which show her personal style for everyday and nightly outings, and serve as a great source of inspiration for those looking to making their wardrobe more fashion forward.

“I like to write about every day simple events, something that anyone can relate to…. I normally get more inspired to find beauty in everyday life in regular people… I think it is my background in journalism and filmmaking that makes me have the same approach to that column.”

On a personal level, Liliya’s natural style is simple, but classy, which makes sense considering her fashion icon is Audrey Hepburn. A little black dress, which she says is ‘as old as time,’ classic nude heels, which work with everything, a silk pastel colored blouse,  ajean shirt and black skinny jeans are among the basic selection of items she says are ‘must haves’ for any fashion forward female reader.

While she’s made a name for herself covering hard-hitting news and travel stories, as well as through her work as a documentary filmmaker, where she primarily focuses on human interest stories relevant to present times, fashion has been a part of Liliya Anisimova’s life all along. So, having her own fashion column is not only the perfect grounds for her talent and personal interests to intersect, but it also continues to draw readers to The STYLEtti site.

Janea says, “Liliya’s sense of humor and understanding of what interests our audience has helped grow our exposure and keeps readers coming back for her influence and entertainment.”

Production Designer Laura Santoyo talks new film ‘Falling’

Learning about various aspects of humanity is a passion of Colombia’s Laura Santoyo Dangond. Originally from Colombia, she has also lived in Peru and Canada, and loves to travel to experience different cultures and learn new languages, fluent in Spanish, English, French, German, and Portuguese. This desire to learn about the world and its people is part of what led her into filmmaking. With every new project she embarks on, she gets to tell a different story and learn something new about history, society, the human mind, and more. Beyond the stories, she works with people from all over the world that have different backgrounds and ways of seeing life, and together they share and experience their differences through their art. As a production designer, Santoyo takes everything she has seen and practiced and channels that into creating visually stunning and captivating sets and props that fully transport audiences into what they are watching.

“I make an effort to stay true to the story and what the characters are. I do a lot of research on the characters and the environment where they live. I also try to have many exchanges with the director where we discuss characters and share research and inspiration images, etc. to understand their vision and the direction they are taking the story to. I like to play with colors and used them to imply aspects of the story that are not explicitly spoken by the characters,” she said.

Santoyo is known for her work on award-winning films such as Lockdown and Tim of the Jungle, both of which made their way to several of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. Last year, her film The Plague premiered, reminding audiences of what she is capable of, as Santoyo created a dystopian world. Her most recent film premiered just last month at the Slamdance Festival, and once again Santoyo shows she is unrivaled as a production designer.

Falling set_2
Bill Bowles, Laura Santoyo Dangond and Ewen Wright on the set of Falling, photo by Sam Shaib

“As soon as I finished reading the script I felt like I had to be part of the project. It is one of the most original scripts I have read, very intelligent and I thought that it was a story that had to be told and that I wanted to tell it,” she said. “The script of this film describes a number of absurd situations and uses humor to address subjects that are affecting our society. It was very important that the design of the movie supported the comedic tone without ridiculing the situations.”

The film tells the story of a potentially psychosomatic white man, a woman stuck in a vortex of mansplaining, and a young black man confronted by the racial disconnect of society, each trying to make sense of their lives as their worlds are set on an inevitable collision course in this surrealist comedy.

It was important for Santoyo and the rest of the team to differentiate the three storylines that run parallel to each other and to show the absurdity of the situations without being too over the top. Therefore, they assigned one color to each character.

The first story, about a man who can’t walk, represents the feeling of impotence that someone watching the news at night can feel when they see injustices with no way to help. This character takes the “sickness” he feels to the extreme. Therefore, they decided to use the color blue with him, which is very clinical.

The second story, about a woman who’s caught in male-dominated conversations turmoil, was assigned the color red. She is often angry and frustrated, and all the men that she’s with see her and other women as objects. Santoyo felt red reflected these feelings.

The third story is about a black man, who in the most absurd situation, ends up being shot by the police. The filmmakers gave him the color green, because he’s young and innocent at the beginning and at the end it is his case that makes the man in the first story sick.

“As a society, we are still fighting against racism, social injustice and women’s equality and this film raises awareness on these subjects in a comedic tone. I believe that it is very important to have films like this one because we can start generating discussions that could eventually lead to change,” said Santoyo.

Working on Falling has been one of the most fun experiences Santoyo has had throughout her career. From the first time she read the script, she knew it was going to be challenging because there were many locations with three different stories that at the end become one. Each story had elements of magical realism that could also be difficult to achieve in production design. Santoyo wanted to enhance the experiences of the character through the set, but not overdo it to a point that the messages behind each scene were lost. She managed to find the perfect balance, always keeping in mind the color palette they had decided for each character early on in production.

“I think many things make Laura an excellent designer, collaborator, and professional. The first thing that comes to mind is passion. She’s clearly passionate about what she does – she made it clear that she seeks out work that she connects with on a personal and aesthetic level. Once she’s onboard, she’s obviously all-in. That shows at every phase of a project when you see her initial ideas, the hours she’s putting in, the attitude she brings to every meeting and production day, and the diligence with which she executes. Beyond that, she’s a professional with outstanding training, instincts, and experience. She knows how to present her ideas clearly – both verbally and visually, she has leadership skills, she remains calm under pressure, she knows how to prioritize, stay organized, and keep others motivated to work at a high standard,” said Ewen Wright, Director.

Wright was looking through portfolios and films for a costume designer when Santoyo’s work caught his eye. He asked the costume designer who the production designer was that possessed such talent. He immediately reached out to Santoyo, who was extremely responsive and receptive to the idea of the film. They immediately began a strong partnership and shared ideas about the film.

Falling Set
Ewen Wright, Laura Santoyo Dangond and Yonit Olsen, photo by Sam Shaib

“Laura has a creative voice, and in a key role on a collaboration that can’t be undervalued. She brings her lifelong sense of design, studied theory, and just pure instinct to her work in a way that gives her work a through-line. I really enjoyed developing a shorthand with her. Lastly, she has a phenomenal attitude and work ethic. She went above and beyond for our production – and even when things went wrong, or the hours ran long, Laura was a reliable source of positivity and joy. As a leader on the team, she set a tone for those around her that I know contributed to all of us doing better. When I was stressed or needed a moment, I always knew I could rely on Laura for a laugh – just as the rest of the time I relied on her for her eye on the image,” Wright continued.

Working with such a committed team was one of Santoyo’s favorite parts about filming Falling. She found everyone came together to tell such an intricate story, and she was constantly inspired by those she worked alongside. However, it was the message behind the film that truly made the experience for the production designer.

“I am so proud to have been a part of this film. I think it’s a story that captures the feeling that something is wrong in the world and the willingness to change it, but not knowing how to go about doing so. I think many people feel that now. I’m thrilled to know that it’s being watched by many people and it can maybe inspire some change in our society,” she said.

Now that Falling has begun its film festival run, Santoyo is looking forward to her next project. Undoubtedly, she has a very bright future ahead of her, and audiences can continue to look for her name rolling past their eyes in movie credits for years to come.

“I want to keep exploring and finding new stories to tell and more talented people to work with. I am looking forward to creating more worlds where magic is possible. I want my work to reach even larger audiences and present stories to the public that entertain them and that touches them. I have a couple of projects in line for this year that hopefully will help me accomplish this,” she concluded.

 

Top photo by Jesper Duelund

SALLY KINGSFORD IS HAPPY TO BE THE HEAVY IN THE AWARD-WINNING “STAMP”

Headshot 3Australia’s Sally Kingsford in known for playing comedic roles. She’s good at it and both peers and public know this. Being funny on camera is an inherent trait for some actors and it most certainly applies to Kingsford…she understands this. As Ashely in the award-winning and commercial hit Australian television comedy series “Summer Heights High”, Sally became an instantly recognizable comedic personality in her homeland, Europe (BBC 3), the US (HBO and Netflix) and other parts (such as the Comedy Channel in Canada). Numerous other productions have made use of the actress’s propensity for comedic moments but it was award-winning director Lukas Menitjes who wanted to flip that concept. He asked Kingsford to appear as the heavy, known as “The Suit” in his film “Stamp.” More known for being the always positive and often abused well natured character, Sally’s portrayal of “The Suit” in “Stamp” is that type of person we all love to hate, or at least strongly dislike. The actress was eager to show a greater breadth of range to her abilities in this film. While she has been often praised for the performances she’s given in a host of beloved productions, “Stamp” allowed her to show how she can bring a darkness to comedy as well.

Lukas Menitjes wanted to create an absurd comedy in “STAMP” and he felt that Kingsford would be the perfect villain for his story. As “The Suit” Sally appears as an obnoxious, self-involved, self-important professional with an over-inflated ego demanding others cater to her demands and condescending attitude. There’s plenty of comedy, based on reality in events of one Monday morning in a coffee shop. Rebecca (the barista) is hounded by a customer (Andrew) to get a free coffee after she refuses to give him an extra stamp on his coffee rewards card. Andrew tries various disguises to trick Rebecca into serving him. Rebecca eventually relents but takes solace in making Andrew the wrong coffee. “The Suit” adds to the chaos of the film (and Rebecca’s stress) by making her life at work a living hell with her demands. In a passive aggressive display, she complains on the phone to her friend about the barista right in front of her. “The Suit” serves to contribute a strong sense of reality by providing a more realistic character for Rebecca (the barista) to interact with in contrast to Andrew’s over-the-top characterisation and actions.

STAMP #2

Ask a director and they’ll likely tell you that the actors they choose for their villains are the ones who present them with a sense of humanity and relatability rather than one dimensional and cartoonish. In spite of her character’s exhibited negativity and rudeness, Sally sees her as very sensitive and donning a harsh defensive exterior to avoid being hurt. Meintjes confirms that it’s the actress’s ability to go deep into a character that caused him to approach Kingsford for the role. He professes, “Sally is an incredibly talented and diligent performer. In STAMP she delivered an excitingly bold and magnetic performance as ‘The Suit.’ The best actors have an insatiable inquisitiveness; this obsession enables them to create memorable performances. I can’t think of a more fitting description for Sally. Her passion is quite unlike the motivation I’ve seen in other actors. She is determined, honest, and possesses unequivocal integrity.”

Kingsford describes her preparation for roles as detective work but perhaps not in the traditional manner followed by most actors. Rather than delving deep into her own character first, Sally prefers a holistic sense of story, viewing the characters and actions from different angles/perspectives and then honing in on her place in the “big picture.” When she finally began focusing on her role in “STAMP” she looked outward. She communicates, “I did a lot of people watching. There is a street in Melbourne called Collins Street and the top end of it is known as the ‘Paris end’; it’s where all the most expensive designer stores are and where the most elite businesses and firms have their offices. This was the kind of place I imagined ‘The Suit’ going to work. I loitered around and watched people going to work in the morning paying particular attention to their physicality and imagined the kind of lives they lived. I knew that Andrew’s actions in the film were going to be over the top so I approached ‘The Suit’ in a very natural manner. I really enjoyed this role that was really a dramatic character in a comedy. I’ve done a lot of work in comedies being the funny one and it was nice to switch that around in this film.”

STAMP #3

Not only was “STAMP” embraced by the public but the short film received three nominations and a win at Australia’s Martini Awards. While the film industry peers who voted for the it appreciated Kingsford and her fellow cast and crew’s talent, the general audience recognized a part of their own lives that was delivered in a way that somehow made a common & difficult occurrence entertaining and enjoyable. Beyond the experience of working with the talented production members of “STAMP”, the woman in “The Suit” notes that there are some valuable life lessons to be taken from the film: 1) Don’t try and cheat the system, it won’t work, 2) Hard work and determination doesn’t always pay off, & 3) Don’t work as a barista…the customers are either incredibly rude or crazy.

 

Ask an Expert: Executive Producer Ed Egan provides insight and advice

I’m Executive Producer Ed Egan, and for over 15 years I have worked in the television industry, becoming recognized as one of the leading game show producers in the world. As Executive Producer, I am responsible for leading teams who produce great television shows, but I am also tasked with developing new ideas to create formats which have the potential to sell all around the world. I have worked on many leading gameshow formats around the world, in the US, UK and Australia, for networks such as NBC, ABC, BBC, ITV, Network Ten among others.

Gameshow formats are notoriously difficult to crack and small, seemingly insignificant tweaks can have profound repercussions if they are not discovered through intensive gameplay testing. The last thing you want is to discover a flaw whilst filming a show, as there can be millions of dollars at stake. This is why an experienced Executive Producer, who can put together a strong team, is vital in the production of any new format. I have become well known for working on pilots and first seasons for my ability to tweak gameplay and iron out any potential problems that could arise.

I believe the most important role of an Executive Producer is to lead a team in a way that ensures every member provides their best possible work on a production and feels valued in what they are making.

Here are my quick tips to leading a production team to produce the best shows possible:

Choose the right team

It all comes from having a great team. Not only does it make your life as an Exec easier, it also makes the best product. Meet lots of people and spend time interviewing them. Some people give great interviews, and some don’t, but it’s important to make a distinction between those that can talk well and those that can actually do the job! Make sure to always check as many references as possible. Personality is also important though, as the people you are employing are going to be a team and will need to work well together. Finding a good, balanced mix with strong abilities is the key.

Stay in contact with people you’ve worked with.

It’s important to know what the availability is of people you like that you’ve worked with previously so that you can plan for when productions begin. Sometimes it can take weeks to get a full team on board and the more aware you are of who is and isn’t available at all times, the better prepared you will be.

Note down ideas

Keep notes in your phone when you see something you like or that inspires you. A film, another television show or even the design of a restaurant you happen to be in – if there’s something visual you like it may be useful in a show at some point. Commercials are often very useful starting points when trying to explain your vision of a project to people for the first time. Also, keep notes on possible talent that you see, whether this be TV, film or theatre, as you might want to use them in the future.

Enjoy it

We’re very fortunate to work in a creative industry that often affords us the chance to go to exciting places, meet interesting people and we get to be creative. Enjoy it, encourage it in others and aim to inspire those who you are working with. They will be running teams in the not so distant future, so try to set a good example.

Believe in yourself

Like so many other Execs, we question ourselves and our abilities all the time and that’s not a bad thing. But, you are at the level you’re at for a reason, so make those decisions and stick to them. It’s important to remember that at times, especially when the going gets tough.

And finally…

Work hard and be nice to people!