Alina Smolyar to star in upcoming horror ‘Skeleton in the Closet’

photo Valery Sobol
Alina Smolyar, photo by Valery Sobol

Growing up in Odessa, Ukraine, Alina Smolyar always believed she would be a painter. She had been drawing since the age of three and gained recognition for her work around the world. However, at twelve-years-old, she quit it. Even at that age, she knew she did not have the inspiration or the drive to become a visual artist; this was her parents dream, not her own. She knew she had another passion to explore, one that excited her beyond anything else, and that was acting.

As a childhood pastime, Smolyar would put together small plays or sketches with other kids in her neighborhood. They invited audiences of their parents and neighbors, and every time Smolyar would perform she felt an energy that was unparalleled with anything else she had ever experienced.

“When it came to that point when I had to choose my future job I totally knew what I wanted to do. The only problem was that I had to convince my parents that I could do it. They didn’t want me to become a professional actress. They are not related with show business at all,” said Smolyar.

Now, Smolyar has indeed shown not only her parents, but also the entire world just what she is capable of as an actress. She starred in her own filmMolehill, taking home several awards for Best Actress for her performance from many prestigious film festivals around the world. She has been in several national commercials and acclaimed television series. She has worked alongside Hollywood’s elite, like Denise Richards, Val Kilmer, and William Baldwin in the upcoming comedy 1stBorn.

Smolyar’s latest film is the action/thriller feature Skeleton in the Closet. The film tells the story of Jason, 20-something slacker and computer savant who, on a dare, hacks the White House computer servers. He covers his digital tracks, but a hacker buddy boasts of Jason’s exploits online. The FBI tracks down the friend – then breaks down Jason’s door. The events that follow are a race against time, a battle of wits, and a fight to the death for two young computer prodigies pitted against a group of armed, determined criminals who will stop at nothing. In the end, the difference between life and death rests solely upon superior intelligence – and willingness to trust, but as things spiral further and further out of control, the question for us is: will they make it?

Valery Sobol
Alina Smolyar, photo by Valery Sobol

“It’s so fresh right now audiences will love it. It’s going to be a Ukrainian-American project, a thriller with some action elements. I won’t give you details about the story but it’s very hot and new for this particular time. It’s a thriller, you will see a lot of action and of course everything is based on love. You’ll see some drama, elements of comedy. David Ransil is a script writer, you will enjoy it for sure. He definitely knows what he does,” said Smolyar.

In the film, Smolyar plays a pivotal role. At first, her character appears to be very nice and helpful, but she is also very deceiving. She aims to benefit herself in every move she makes. She also is pivotal to the climax of the story, helping audiences better understand every characters’ motives.

Smolyar is very excited to be working on such a unique film. Not only does she like the story, but she loves the team she will be working alongside. Shooting will begin in September, with an expected release date of next year.

“It’s very important to have a great team. I like the script, the idea, my character and the place where we are going to shoot it. It’s a huge mansion with an amazing lake. I am really looking forward to it,” she said.

Smolyar has quite the year ahead with Skeleton in the Closet and1stBorn. With so much going on, she still remembers being a young girl in Ukraine with a dream that her family didn’t support, and now, for others that may be facing the same challenge, she offers the following advice.

“Think wisely before choosing this career. You always have to be prepared to hear no and just move on. The best phrase for that if you can see yourself doing something else besides acting, do it, don’t start an acting career. But if you decide to take this road you have to understand that it takes so much commitment, inside power, taste and knowing what you’re selling. You are a product, know your brand,” she advised.

To stay up-to-date with Skeleton in the Closet, check out the film’s website here.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

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Editor Yun Huang introduces China to rest of the world in compelling docuseries

When Yun Huang was just a young child, growing up in China, her passion for film was born. Her grandmother was a movie projectionist and would share stories of her job with her granddaughter. She encouraged Huang to not only watch films, but to appreciate them. Since then, film has been an important part of Huang’s life, and she knew it was more than a hobby. Now, as a seasoned editor, Huang works in filmmaking every day, living her childhood dream.

Having worked on several successful projects, Huang is an internationally sought-after editor. Earlier this year, her commercial “Choice” amassed millions of views online, and her work on the film Stardust led the project to many awards at several prestigious international film festivals, including Huang herself being honored with Best Editing at Festigious International Film Festival.

It’s important as an editor not to have one specific style. Your job is to help the director to create their own style. You can provide different editing styles that you think can be used, but you must respect the director’s thoughts. That is what makes a great editor,” said Huang.

One of Huang’s ongoing projects is Unveil China Outside China, a documentary series that allows her to share her country with the rest of the world. The series is distributed on people.cn, a large-scale news platform built by The People’s Daily. The People’s Daily is the biggest newspaper group in China. The paper is an official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, published worldwide with a circulation of 3 million.

“Yun was our video editor when we were doing the post-production of this documentary series. I have known her for a couple of years and always like her work. Yun works effectively and always has a good attitude for communicating with the crew. I believe her talent in editing will bring even more fancy artwork to the world,” said Leiqi Lin of The Oriental Vision, Inc.

While making the series, Huang and her team have conducted many interviews with foreigners, from American politicians to ordinary people in the streets of San Francisco, from the founder of international think tanks to the engineers of Silicon Valley. The idea of this, from an overseas perspective, is to let them tell the story of China. What kind of role does China play in today’s world? How does the world see the development of China? What is the expectation of the future of China? Through their narration, the audience can find different answers.

“The documentary series include aspects of Chinese achievements, innovation in China, ‘Made in China’, Chinese diplomacy, China’s economic globalization, important meetings of the Chinese government, reform and opening-up, and so on. We interviewed many foreigners who told stories of China in overseas perspectives. I like to know more about China in different angles. I’m so proud that I can introduce China to the world by editing this series,” said Huang.

Having had previous documentary experience, Huang knew she was up for the task of creating and launching Unveil China Outside China. The monthly series involves a lot of work, and when Huang receives the footage, she only has a few days to turnout a compelling installment. At first, she found this to be a challenge, but now she finds it exhilarating.

“I only have three or four days to finish an episode, which was a challenge for me in the beginning, because I also have to work on the stock footages and special effects, find the background music, and more. However, after I had edited two episodes, I knew that I enjoyed such high intensity work. It let me have a sense of accomplishment. I believe resilience is a skill that all editors should possess,” she said.

The first episode premiered in October of 2017 and was published on both people.cn and People’s daily app. The premiere received over 810 thousand views in its initial month of being live, and Huang knew then and there that they were making something special. Now, they have ten episodes, each more successful than the last.

Unveil China Outside China is just one of the many projects that exemplify what a versatile and talented editor Huang is. She knows that the most fundamental aspect of her job is storytelling, and she encourages all editors that are looking to follow in her footsteps to make sure they know just how to do so.

“Try to learn more things rather than simply editing, such as fine art, music, literature and so on. These are extremely important skills and knowledge while you are editing videos with various subjects,” she advised.

You can watch one of Huang’s most recent episodes of the series, Unveil China Outside China: Riding on a bullet train is fabulous, here.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

Art Director Cman Wong works with award-winning film composer on captivating video

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Cman Wong

Always interested in all things art and design, Cman Wong was, in a way, destined to be an art director. Although she did not always expect to express her passions in the form of advertising, she found it a way to explore her creativity in a way she never thought possible. When creating dynamic visuals for the world’s largest brands, she feels a thrill.

“It’s a fancy job title with the responsibility beyond the job title. As an Art Director, you’re basically responsible for all visual elements of a product or campaign, from the presentation deck to the overall look and feel. You have to provide a visual direction that not only is eye catching, but also relates to your target audience and divert the message through it,” said Cman.

As an in-demand Art Director, Cman is consistently impressive. She has worked on projects for Marvel, Ferrari, and Undercover to name a few. She is always stimulated by her work and finds that although it may seem like she simply works in marketing, she is truly an artist.

Cman has also had the opportunity to work with acclaimed artists and filmmakers throughout her career. In December of 2016, the Art Director collaborated with Tan Dun, an Academy Award and BAFTA Award winning film composer and conductor. This experience was one of Cman’s highlights of her career.

“It was such a great honor to collaborate with such a prestigious composer like Tan Dun. It is one of my favorite experiences in my career and my life as a whole. Cross discipline collaboration has expanded the possibility and audiences of my work. It was another example to prove the boundless and flexible art I could make,” said Cman.

The project in question was that of the Modern Media National Spirit Achievers Awards 2016. The National Spirit Achievers Awards was first issued in 2007. It is a pioneering work of the Modern Communication Group to carry out “Everything Monthly” sincerity for the eternal moments of the times. It aims to recognize Chinese leaders who have achieved excellence in various fields and created an era. Eighty-one creators, including IM Pei, Fan Jin-shi, Xu Bing, Tan Dun, Ye Jintian, Zhang Yimou, Mao Yuchen, Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi, Ding Lei, Jia Zhangke, Chen Qigang, Huang Yongsong, and Lang Lang, were honored with awards in fields such as art, music, film, architecture, business, education and more. Nowadays, the National Spirit Achievers Awards has become an award with outstanding influence. Each awards ceremony has also become a glorious moment for elite leaders from all walks of life to meet.

For the ceremony, Cman provided the art direction on the video content for the main performance, setting the overall artistic style and visual image. In doing so, she developed key frame content that transformed the audience’s experience, adding another level of entertainment and layer of enjoyment to the performance. Rather than simply listening to the music, they had a visual spectacle created by an artist like Cman.

The video visualized the rhythm of the music in a poetic way. It was inspired by the music and culture of Tibet and Chinese traditional performance. In the breathtaking opening scene, dust begins moving, followed by a cinematic Chinese opera theme form in the 13th century during the Song Dynasty and digital ink Chinese painting scene. It reformed the best image of traditional Chinese Art in a modern way.

The response for the video was tremendous, and Cman personally received not only great feedback from the client, but also the audience who were completely immersed in her creation.

“I like it most because it’s a live performance to see the actual reaction and feedback from the audiences. It’s such a great lesson and inspiration to work at such a high level of international standard performance,” she concluded.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

Mariana Mendez on helping open discussions about important issues

Now, more than ever in society, it is acceptable to take important world issues and start meaningful conversations about them. With topics ranging from mental health and sexual assault, to human rights, education, and everything in between, individuals are feeling increasingly comfortable debating the moral and ethical conducts underlying each category. One of those individuals is film producer, Mariana Mendez. For as long as she can remember, Mendez has been passionate about starting conversations before the eyes of her audiences and doing so in such a way that allows the conversation to carry on beyond the screen. Ultimately, she wants to help contribute to a society that speaks freely about change while she freely changes society through the quality content she produces before her audiences. This mentality has made her a highly sought commodity in the film industry; however, she remains simply humbled by the fact that she gets to live out her dream every day and call it a job.

In 2017, esteemed director, Luis Téllez set out to complete a stop motion animation film that tells the story of a black pawn who watches the chessboard around him crumble when a game ends due to the battles it has been subjected to. This, in turn, creates a new opportunity for both sides in a “game” that gathers new dimensions. The character that Téllez was looking to portray was one he had had in mind for the better part of seven years. His issue was the he couldn’t seem to make the character fit anywhere. It wasn’t until he and Mendez began discussing the feelings that human beings undergo when something undesirable happens to them. They determined that the true signs of character show in the way in which an individual reacts to these situations and from there, Mendez and Téllez knew that they had to bring this character, and these realities, to life before their audiences. What followed ended up shaping one of the best experiences of Mendez’ career.

“After we decided where we wanted to go with the script, it was fascinating to watch crew members of all different ages, from all different walks of life, come together. I am a fan of animation, but it definitely amounted to a very significant learning process. In many ways, I learned to appreciate animators and the work that they do in ways I hadn’t previously understood. Animation sets are so different than live-action sets. There are issues that arise from the puppets or software that you wouldn’t otherwise encounter on a live set. This had a large impact on the day-to-day decisions we made and I’m so glad I got to be a part of it,” she described.

For the film, Mendez proved herself to be invaluable as she handled regular production duties that had to do with scheduling, organization, and more; however, she also managed to attract investors to the project and have them help fund she and Téllez’ dream for the script. Her philosophy, as a producer, is to always lead by example and set a precedent for everyone around her. She remains respectful and welcoming, always ensuring that she fosters an environment of open communication, hard work, and dedication. She also aims to hire people based on both their abilities, as well as their personalities. Above all else, however, she prioritizes the selection of projects that reflect what is going on in society and to help spread awareness of major and minor issues alike.

Mendez, being a very detail-oriented individual, gained a new-found appreciation for the level of detail that goes into producing a stop-motion animation. She dedicated herself to learning how to shoot a stop-motion scene properly and planned her timelines and budgets accordingly. Ultimately, what she loved most about the project, was the fact that every day on set served as a reminder that we have the technology and resources available to tell just about any story out there and given her passion for storytelling, she can’t think of anything more exciting.

“Production-wise, it was an honor to be able to immerse myself in the world of animation and I gained a new-found respect for all the animators, designers, and visual effects people working in the industry. Story-wise, I loved to be able to tell such a crude and real story via such an innocent art form. I’m a very detail-oriented person and I was impressed by the amount of detail that went into it. In general, I was reminded that due to technological advances and the software we used, our own imagination is the limit, which pretty much instilled in me that I could potentially tell any kind of story in the future,” told Mendez.

When Viva el Rey premiered at Sitges Film Festival in 2017, audiences were drawn to its relatable storyline and expert animations. It later screened at other film festivals around the world and is still completing a festival circuit today. Mendez’s success with the film is the reason that she was asked to work with the same team again for their latest project, Inzomnia. She is eager to learn how audiences will receive the new film and hopes it will be just as great as the result of their work on Viva el Rey. Keep an eye out when it premieres in festivals near you.

 

Written by Joyce Cameron

Cinematographer Yang Shao personally connects to award-winning film ‘Once More’

Growing up in Changzhou, a small town in the Eastern part of China, Yang Shao found himself drawn towards filmmaking. As a child, he would pick up his family’s handy-cam and experiment, filming everything he considered interesting. In such a way, he was destined to be a cinematographer. He always had a good eye for photography and frame composition, and when the average person would just see tall buildings while walking in the city, Shao saw letters, signs, magic. He spent his youth thinking of what angle every image he took in would look the best, and he still applies this mentality now, years later, as a celebrated cinematographer.

Shao has put his artistic touch on many film and television ventures. Projects such as A Better World, Life is Horrible, Under and The Great Guys have gone on to see international success with the help of his talents. Audiences can soon expect the same from his upcoming features: Need, In the Middle of the Night, and Excel on the Highway.

The highlight of his career, however, came just last year when Shao worked on the film Once More. It perfectly showcased his talent and passion for cinematography, as the Director and Producer were eager to let him explore his creativity. He was also eager to share the story with the world.

“I was really moved by the story this movie tells. I believe in the importance of telling good-hearted stories and this one is a perfect example of that kind of story. Also, we had an amazing team who was working on the project and working with those folks was really a pleasure,” said Shao.

Once More explores the tale of a psychologically collapsed dancer who failed in a renowned competition and broke his left leg. As the remedy to this life, he intends to commit suicide, but he is accidentally saved by a neighbor girl he was in secret love with. This subtlety encourages him to get back to the stage by dancing with the bum leg.

“At the present time with the #TimesUp movement showing the toxic environment in the film industry that was exposed in the recent year, I think there’s still a lot of room for masculine vulnerability. In fact, that kind of trait in men actually gives me hope in our future. And this movie is a good example of bright and pure emotions that are left in men’s souls. I believe in importance of bringing up the stories that have to be heard but at the same time I know that good-hearted and kind stories is what will make this world a better place,” said Shao.

Once More premiered in March 2017 at the Hollywood International Moving Pictures where it was a semi-finalist on the festival program. From there, it saw great success at many international film festivals, and Shao himself was recognized at many of them, winning Best Cinematography at the American Movie Awards, the Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, Top Shorts!, Festigious International Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Awards, and more. In total, the film brought Shao seven awards for cinematography, and also numerous awards for Best Film, Best Director and Best Producer. Such acclaim could never have been possible without Shao’s artistic eye.

“I always knew that Yang is a talented cinematographer and always wanted to work with him. He brought his outstanding skill-set to the project. I’m looking forward to working more with Yang,” said Kees Van Oostrum, Executive Producer of Once More.

It was Van Oostrum that approached Shao to be a part of the film. He knew Shao’s cinematography style and that he would be vital to the production. As the cinematographer, Shao chose to use more of the natural light because the story is very elevated by itself and a lot of artificial light would only have hurt the picture in his opinion. A large portion of the movie takes place in a theater, and he made a decision to use abstract lighting to highlight the emotional state of the character and emphasize the stress that the protagonist was going through.

Coming from the East, Shao shot the story with an Asian flavor, bringing the best traditions of the eastern cinematography combined with his extensive experience working in the film industry. This allowed him to obtain angles many would not have, and this tactic was fully supported by the Director, Rachel Zhou and main actor, Jaeme Velez.

“I think we found something very precious there on set. When people’s energies start to bounce around and more importantly play in the same key, that’s when the real magic happens,” said Shao.

Above all else, however, Once More was special for Shao because of the story. He saw himself in the main character, connecting to the protagonist’s artistic journey. It provided a beacon of hope during a difficult time for the cinematographer, and he will never forget what it gave him.

“His passion and will resonated with me on a deeper level. His struggle and obstacles that were on his way to his dream are similar to mine in a way, and to most of the artists’ paths. There was a time in my life where the only thing that was left was hope and big desire to create something larger than myself. And actually, this film came along right around that time. It was like a big sign telling me to keep going, and I think in the end it paid off really well,” he concluded.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

All eyes on Producer Sherry Du for acclaimed new film

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Sherry Du

From a young age, Xiangrong (Sherry) Du always enjoyed watching film. Sitting in front of the screen, she felt the ability to transport into a whole other world. As a child in Heilongjiang, China, it was her favorite past time, and as she grew, this love for the art form did not falter. Despite such a passion, she never thought of it as a career path. It wasn’t until she was a teenager that she realized she had to pursue her passion and decided to become a producer. She wanted to have the power to change the Chinese film industry and producing was just the way to do that.

Du has since made quite a name for herself as an industry leader. Having worked on several acclaimed films like Front Door and August, she aims to tell impactful stories that resonate with worldwide audiences.

“Filmmaking is a form of art exploration; they express a feeling they want to say to an audience; they form a connection in that moment,” she said.

Earlier this year, Du’s latest film Eyes on You premiered at the Oniros Film Awards where it took home the top prize. It tells the story of a lawyer named Gilbert. He knows that his wife is dating another man, but he does not hate his wife at all. Rather, he still loves her so much, even though he is a control freak guy. He has already decided to murder a man named Duke, as he thinks that this is the only way that he can keep his wife with him. Gilbert plans to meet with Duke as another identity, so that he can have him comes to his house. Unfortunately, Gilbert kills his wife before Duke comes to meet him. Somehow, Duke manages to survive.

“Even though it’s hard to finish the film, it was definitely worth it. Every time I complete a project, it just encourages me to keep doing more,” said Du.

Du had previously worked with the Director of Eyes on You, Guoqiang Sheng, on the film August back in 2017. Sheng was instantly impressed with the producer’s work ethic and asked her to take part in his independent film.

“Guoqiang is a really hard-working person, the exact type of director I like teaming up with. The moment he asked me to join his project, I said yes,” said Du.

When it came to filming, Du found it to be one of her favorite experiences of her career. Everything went smoothly on set, and one of the easiest ones she has worked on. The crew had worked together previously, and a certain chemistry existed that was unparalleled.

The one challenge was the location. Finding the ideal place, the shoot provided some obstacles that Du was quick to overcome. Her vast experience producing allowed her to get the permits she needed.

“Once we had the location all set, I didn’t need to worry about too many things since the crew knew each other. Once I got them fed each day, everything went perfectly,” she joked.

Growing up, Du could only dream of having the career that she does now. Producing is where her heart lies, and she encourages other children in China to never give up on the same dream if that is their passion.

“Make sure you love your job otherwise it’s a waste of your time. Producers need patience and need to know how to work under stressful conditions. Work hard but don’t give up your own story,” she advised.

 

Written by Sara Fowler