Americans are not the only ones who can find an interesting take on other cultures. Brothers Callum Rory Mitchell and Lewis Mitchell are sons of famed Australian actor Mark Mitchell (star of Banff Award and Logie Award-Winning television series Round the Twist) and TV creators in their own right. The siblings are bringing their own funny and somewhat dark take on Hollywood in the series American Eggs. They’ve included some substantial Aussie talent in the role of Cordelia, thanks to actress Hannah Ryan. The series depicts what LA thinks it wants to be versus what it really is. It’s an ideal and entertaining presentation of a microcosm of the American state of mind in a very unsteady environment. Ryan presents Cordelia as someone starkly different than the California dream girl one might envision. There’s plenty of depth and substance to Cordelia; so much so that it’s difficult to think of anyone else than Hannah Ryan filling this role.
There are more than enough films and television productions which profess to the glamour and excitement of Los Angeles & Hollywood; American Eggs is not one of these. The story begins with Pony (the protagonist) face down in the street after being robbed. He’s just one of a host of characters who skirt the borderline of decay and decadence in an attempt to simply get by in Southern California. Pony doesn’t long for fame but rather just to be a part of the action in this fickle and somewhat precarious city. The story follows him as he rubs elbows with the almost famous, the semi-influential, and those with potential; refusing in spite of his experiences to realize that LA is not the place he dreamt it would be.
Cordelia [Hannah] sees herself as a an up and coming skin care entrepreneur. In reality, she might be the most frightening person in the entire series. In order to avoid going to jail, Cordelia has locked a group of women in her own house after an unfortunate turn of events. At best, she’s made a major mistake; at worst, she’s unhinged and breaking from reality. No aspect presents this better than when Cordelia moves out of town to work at a donut shop in an attempt to hide out from the repercussions of her actions. She’s entitled and lacking the normal borders that construct ethical actions. The cast (which includes Rhys Mitchell of The Happy Worker with Thomas Haden Church) is given ample latitude by the director to explore a spectrum of mesmerizing and at times disturbing character motivations. Ryan relates, “I take it as a complement that the Mitchell brothers who are the creators contacted me and asked me to play the part. I’d previously acted with their bother Rhys Mitchell (cast in Oscar-winning director David Lynch’s upcoming film) and they felt I was ideal for Cordelia. She’s a desperate girl who is a hermit, lonely and trying to figure a way out of her predicament. She certainly provided me with a lot of great ideas as an actress.”
Cinematographer Carl Nenzén Lovén’s sterling professional reputation is distinguished by his signature mix of gorgeously captured visuals, encyclopedic knowledge of camera equipment and his unflagging zeal on location—no matter how challenging the setting may be. In just a few years’ time, the Swedish-born Lovén has emerged as an international force, one whose quickly growing resume of professional achievements reflects his generosity of spirit.
Whether it’s a music video, short or feature Lovén delivers spectacular results, working not just as lead cinematographer but also, when a project appeals, serving in innumerable capacities in the camera department, sometimes as assistant cameraman or working the crucial on set function of focus puller.
Lovén’s expertise proved invaluable on his most recent assignment, ‘Go Back to China,’ the forthcoming dramedy feature from noted producer-director Emily Ting.
“I loved the script when I read it,” Lovén said. “The story follows Sasha, a trust fund baby who will lose her fortune unless she returns to China to work for her father’s toy company. It explores the complex relationship between a neglectful father and a daughter who’s been brought up in a wildly different culture, so it’s a really interesting combination of elements.”
“I was first assistant camera for the Hong Kong, and China portions of the movie,” Lovén said. “I was the only one flown in from the US as camera crew, to oversee, and act as connection between our DP (director of photography) Josh Silfen and the local crew. Since I’d spent roughly four years of my life there, studying Specialty Cinematic Arts at Hong Kong City University, I was well equipped to interact with the locals—far better than someone who had just arrived.”
While he could navigate the cultural landscape with ease, Lovén was presented with a different challenge—limited technical resources.
“I helped in the pre-production picking camera body for the China portion, as well as advising [on] lenses,” Lovén said “When presented with a new project I usually go through my mental library and evaluate why I would select a certain camera or a certain lens, consider why we would shoot on film, or why shooting digital would be the better choice. For ‘Go Back to China,’ it wasn’t so much choice, but more based on the rental house’s existing equipment, I got us the best gear we needed for the job.”
The cinematographer routinely mixes art and science, and Lovén also served as de facto trouble-shooter. “As first assistant my main job is to save time, and make my DP’s job easier,” he said. “That means advising on maybe how to make a shot different, or foresee things that have to be taken care of later. Apart from being second in command for camera crew, and head of gear, I was also focus puller.”
’Pulling focus’ is the act of changing a lens’ focus in correspondence to a moving subject’s distance from the focal plane, to maintain a sharp, consistent image. It’s a subtle but critical element: if an actor moves away within a shot, the focus puller will change the distance setting on the lens in precise relation to his changing position, or shift focus from one subject to another within the frame, as dictated by what the shot requires. Thus the focus puller/cinematographer is hands-on steward of a film’s entire visual narrative, and Loven’s technical skill and intimate knowledge of cinematographic and optical theory is second to none.
”Carl was an essential member of the team on Go Back to China,” DP Silfen said “He always rolled with the punches, navigating the challenges of working with local crew in a foreign country, and his focus pulling was spot on.”
Lovén always impresses with his characteristic blend of involvement, energy, technical knowledge and distinct knack for dynamic visuals. Not surprisingly, director Ting tasked him with some additional follow up.
“When the Asia portion of the movie wrapped up, I was called back to Los Angeles to do the pickup shots as well,” Lovén said, “It will premiere at SXSW this year, will be screened at the San Jose Film Festival and they are securing more festivals each day.”`
“It was a great experience, and I am really excited to see how the film turned out.”
It’s difficult to make a film about the wrongs that have been done by the people of one culture to another, while still making something unusually fascinating and enjoyable. Quentin Tarantino did this with Django Unchained in recent times. It’s a delicate balance that is precarious in its manifestation. Good Friend from the West evokes shades of this, juggling the cultures of White settlers, Native Americans, and Chinese railworkers in the Old West. Late nineteenth-century United States is a vibrant petri dish for exhibiting this trio of vastly different cultures and their perceptions of each, as well as their confrontations. Executive Producer Yuanhao Du is more than a talented filmmaker; he has the perspective to bring essential elements to this film. A native of China who has made films in the US and throughout the world, Yuanhao was void of the template of manifesting this era of US history even though he was well aware of it. Lacking a pre-imposed idea of “how” a story set in the Western US Frontier “should” be told, this EP and his cast & crew created an immensely unique modern Western film. With some obvious nods to martial arts filmmaking techniques, there’s even a bit of whimsy to this story which is most certainly dark in its lesson.
Good Friend from the West takes place in 1873 as a Chinese railworker (played by Zhan Wang) makes a hasty escape from his indentured servitude on the expanding westward rail system construction. During his journey, he encounters a wounded cowboy (played by Dan Rutkowski) who is himself avoiding capture by Native American soldiers. When these Native Americans descend upon the duo, one of the most satisfying, surprising, and unintuitive scenes is presented. The film integrates 70’s Kung Fu film stylings as the railworker fights off the Native Americans. Not since films like Shaun of the Dead have we seen such an unusual and positive complementing mish-mash of genres. Producer Yuanhao relates, “This story combined three cool elements for me; a Western, a physical film, and Chinese and American sensibilities. At one time, films about Chinese and American people working together were very hot; like those Jackie Chen movies. But now, people barely can see these kind of movies. Filming has magic that can influence people’s minds. If we want to reduce the misunderstanding between these two big countries with two different cultures, then as filmmakers we need to make more of these films. We have a lot of films to show how American and Chinese people are different but more importantly, we should find out what we share in common. If we want to survive, we need to know each other and work together.”
Shot in the desert on 35 MM Film, the production costs were ample. A blending of traditional Western meets Kung Fu action is also not the most obvious and easy concept to sell to investors. Yuanhao turned to crowdfunding to ensure sufficient funds for the film. While it has the obvious result of raising the necessary capital, Yuanhao reinforces that he saw this approach as being an added source of advertisement which greatly benefited the production as well. More than most, the concept of the film was a gamble. The physical and creative efforts of the cast and crew are obvious in the truly cinematic presentation of grand vistas and cultural clashes that are visible on-screen. The film’s cultural appeal and resonance is vetted by its status as an Official Selection at important events including the Hong Kong Film Art International Film Festival, Miami Independent Film Festival, Los Angeles Film & Script Festival, and awards from WordFest-Houston International Film & Video Festival (Gold Remi Award), International Independent Film Awards, European Cinematography AWARDS, and numerous others. For Yuanhao, it’s more about the reception he sees in the audience as he states, “It always feels good when I see that people like my films because I know deep down in their hearts, they agree with the philosophy of my films. I believe that this will eventually be the foundation of reducing the misunderstanding between different cultures.”
You’ve seen him a million times before but you may not even know it. Here, Casey Wright gives insight into being Australia’s hardest working anonymous performer, as mascot for the big leagues and stunt double to the stars.
Stunt doubles and mascot performers occupy an interesting space in the entertainment industry. Rarely known unlike their acting colleagues, but oftentimes working more consistently, a performer like Casey Wright has had his fair share of set-time with A-listers than any Oscar-winner, but a regular movie goer or sport lover couldn’t be faulted for not knowing his name.
And that’s just the way Casey likes it. As he claims, he didn’t get into this business to become famous, but instead always wanted to make sincere contributions to an industry that he loved.
“I always loved movies growing up, and now more than ever I enjoy the creative process – I have found though that I love spending time on set and having conversations with stunt coordinators, directors and producers about that process.”
The result of his steadfast pursuit for the past decade in his field as a performer who dabbles in many areas of film and live event work, is a fascinating study of how someone can be working at the top of their field and yet walk down the street without someone knowing their name.
“I ultimately just really love helping make a film or TV production the best that it can be – it’s so fun to be on set, and to speak with everyone who’s a part of the creative process, but not to have to shoulder the marketing spin like regular actors do.”
Nothing is perhaps more obvious a high-profile but anonymous gig on Casey’s resume than his work on the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean film. In that production, Wright had to shoulder the safety responsibilities of stunt actors during a particularly tense filming sequence, while also completing stunt acting in a believable way so as to allow the audience to suspend their disbelief.
“On Pirates, roles like mine were essential to the production. During the big scenes, there were sometimes over 250 extras running around on set. That meant then when action was called, it was mayhem. It was up to the stunties to position ourselves closer to the action, and shield the extras from danger.”
Casey’s frequent mention of safety regulations reveal a key aspect of his character clear to anyone who meets him – he’s willing to sacrifice his ego for the benefit of the whole project, a clear reasoning for why he was drawn to the more anonymous but equally challenging work as a stunt and mascot performer than a screen actor.
“If you saw a sword-fight in the film, with people running closer to the swinging blades, that was myself and other stunt performers working as blockers to keep the production safe.
It was also essential to showcase the enormity of the action on screen.”
“[H]earing the call of “Action!”, and then watching a team of men on horseback drag a building through the streets does make you wonder how the hell you ended up here. I love that part of the job.”
Casey’s excitement about the filming process isn’t complete without an expression of his gratitude, as he discusses how well the stunt performers were treated.
“Dressing gowns and hand warmers when it was cold, freshly made juices when we wanted, access to food whenever we were hungry – boy, were we spoilt!”
When watching the movie on a second viewing, the impressive significance of Casey’s contributions are clear. In one scene, a giant building rumbling through the street needed people diving out of the way to create an exciting visual, and Casey was one of the few stunt performers who helped create that visual that became a cornerstone to the film’s marketing and social media campaign around the world, an impressive real-action sequence that did not rely on CGI and helped the movie attract a franchise best of critical appraisal.
For instance, one review referred to the opening sequence and how “visually interesting it was”, and that “even the brief slapstick elements [are] far more creative than they have any right to be. The first sequence, in which Jack and his crew attempt to steal a bank vault, is an absolute delight.” (Denofgeek) –
Of course, a discussion about Pirates can’t be had without mention of its leading man, Johnny Depp, for whom Casey worked beside his stunt doubles.
“…when Depp came in for his scene, it was was awesome. From the moment he stepped on set, he was Captain Jack Sparrow. Even when the scene was finished, he walked back to his trailer, chatting with the extras and stunt performers, still in character.”
Casey’s meaningful experience with A-listers is not limited however, as his role on action blockbuster disaster movie San Andreas with Oscar-nominee Paul Giamatti and movie-star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson showcases.
Paul, Casey says “was an incredibly nice guy, and willing to get in and get his hands dirty too, which is not something you see from a lot of actors of his level.”
“[My role on that movie involved] performing challenging actions in character. Stepping outside of that would break the suspension of disbelief from the audience, and once that happens, it’s hard to get back into it. If you see a boom mike in the middle of a Gladiator movie, you’re taken out of it. It’s the same thing with [San Andreas].”
Casey also had to ensure not only his safety, but the safety of another performer – not another stunt performer, but a nine year old actress, with no prior stunt training.
“We had a good chat with the young actress, explaining all the risks involved. She was 100% fine with everything – asking questions, making sure we all had her covered. I know performers that don’t ask as many questions as she did.” Casey added with a grin.
When seeing the movie, any viewer would be entertained by the marvel of the overall story. But after having spoken with Casey and rewatching the particular scenes he was involved with, the great extent of how dangerous his job is and how important his contributions are to the movie are very apparent.
The actress was suspended on wires, and thrown towards Casey, who had to catch her and then safely cradle her to the concrete floor below. Being able to rise to the challenges put in front of Casey, and executing it successfully, helped ensure the actress stayed safe, and the expensive shoot was not disrupted.
“We put safety pads on her, and rehearsed the sequence several times. Just before we shot it, I gave her a big hug and told her that I’ve got her. She looked me right in the eyes and said, “I know”.
It was incredibly intense, but we were able to get through it safely. “
And it’s details like that for why Casey’s effortless but hardworking contributions have earned him a glowing reputation within the industry, not outside of it.
“I’d rather just my colleagues know me as a great stunt actor or mascot performer.”
Casey adds with a laugh: “I compare stunts to magic . You have much more fun if you don’t think about how the rabbit got in the hat.”
While great storytellers can relate any tale in a gripping manner, it’s always best when they have some direct personal attachment to it. The film All That Glitters is a story of female perseverance and empowerment; a poignant topic these days perhaps more than ever in the world. Director and writer Lincheng Yang had a strong attachment to the story (more about that later) as did first assistant director for the film Liv Li. Gender does not usurp talent but we also find ourselves in an era where thankfully it is also not prohibitive. The plot of this film is made more authentic by both the talent and experiences of these incredible women who created it.
The female experience permeates nearly every aspect of All That Glitters. Madison Greenlund appears as Helen Noah, a talented copywriter in her twenties who has not come into her own professionally. As a young girl, Helen (played by Sierra Anne Murphy of Paramount Pictures distributed Bumblebee) was diagnosed with scoliosis. The ridicule she received in her teen years destroyed her self-esteem and has held her back in her profession now as an adult. Her work partner [Jerry] is a charismatic handsome writer who is more than eager to take credit for Helen’s exceptional work. Judy is Helen’s feisty and well-intentioned boss who makes it her mission to challenge this young female writer to rightfully claim her recognition for her talent.
All That Glitters is based on Lincheng Yang’s own personal experience. Present day finds her as an acclaimed and respected film director in a primarily male dominated field. Placing Liv in the first assistant director role further ensured that the production process flowed smoothly, safely, and exceptionally at the hands of yet another female filmmaking professional. Li confirms that she has found herself in scenarios that called for a woman to step up and command the same treatment and respect that male counterparts are given. She affirms, “I think in this male-dominated industry, it’s very hard for woman to break through. Even today, we have to force ourselves to speak up in this industry. If you want to straighten a rusty and distorted pipe, the force you use to do it will always be harder than the initial power that’s placed upon it. I’m glad to see that the most powerful unions, like the DGA, are putting more attention and strength in actively helping women empowerment in this industry and other minorities of the society, like LGBTQ community and minor ethnic groups.” Juggling the logistics, preparing daily call sheets, checking cast and crew, and maintaining order on the set, Liv’s skill, talent, and determination are unquestionable. Her work and that of the entire production received numerous recognitions including Best Narrative Short Film at CineCina, Best Director & Best Short film at NXT UP, Best Cinematography at the Los Angeles Film Awards, and Official Selection of the Elijah Wells iGen Film Festival and The Film Collective.
The fact that female filmmakers are the creative forces behind such exceptional productions is important to state and yet the fact that it must be reiterated seems somewhat defeating. Lincheng Yang, Liv Li, and countless other female filmmakers will increasingly be recognized as leading voices in the field. While their part in the continuing exposure of their art demands long hours and difficult situations, ours responsibility as the audience is as simple as sitting back and enjoying what they have created for us.
Ricky Cruz found his way into producing in an unconventional way. Rather than spending his early years dreaming of working behind the camera, he did the exact opposite. It was his love of acting that led him into the film industry, starring in the popular 2010 South African film Spud alongside John Cleese and Troye Sivan. It was one of the more celebrated local films and an incredible experience to be a part of. Cruz loved every second of it; he believed acting was where he could best help people, by becoming a character the audience could project themselves onto.
After Spud, Cruz found himself working in local commercial campaigns, practical joke television series and National Geographic documentary specials. It was the rewarding experience of seeing something he was a part of come together as a final product that ultimately hooked him and helped him decide that he wanted to pursue a career in entertainment and filmmaking, however, the more exposure he had to film sets, the more he realized his true passion: producing. Since that time, he has become an in-demand producer in both his home country and abroad, with a passion for what he does that translates directly into every project he takes on.
Known for films such as the documentary Improv a Saving Grace and the romance Mixed Orders, Cruz is an extremely versatile producer. Branching into the comedy genre, Cruz has another hit on his hands with the flick The Neighbor. The film tells the story of an offbeat and strange character who tries to befriend a new neighbor before finding a friend just like him. It explores friendship and the importance of being you.
“The Neighbor is very much my signature tone of a quirky character in an honest situation comedy, but the deeper level of the character actually being considered an outlier by other inhabitants of the immediate world, gave the film a subtle nuance of real loneliness and rejection, which are two very powerful and very well understood emotions. The Neighbor is a comedy sketch yearning to have its message received via unconventional comedy,” said Cruz.
Currently on the festival circuit, The Neighbor has already won an Award of Merit at The indieFEST 2018, an Honorable Mention at The London International Comedy Film Festival and took part in The Battle of the Sketches 2018. It was an Official Selection at Battle of the Sketches, Portland Comedy Film Festival and Rock and Roll Film Festival Kenya. With the onscreen comedy chops of Willem van der Vegt (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and writer Zain Ashar, the comedy short has proven its appeal. It was also one of two projects produced by Cruz that was accepted and won an Award of Merit at the indieFEST 2018.
“The fact that The Neighbor has been such a success makes me consider all the other original and creative characters that have originated from things like off-screen improv comedy or jokes between friends. I think the origin of these sorts of characters has a lot to do with their ability to resonate so profoundly with people. They are an exaggerated but honest piece of someone’s personality and because of the respective truth involved in their creation, people tend to relate very strongly to the character. There are so many other interesting character creations that similarly explore different parts of our personality and with The Neighbor’s success, it makes me seriously consider the prospect of utilizing these empathetic and exaggerated characters in their own respective short films or one that explores many of the mentioned characters in an ensemble driven piece,” said Cruz.
Cruz was ready to produce such a unique comedy. As he started in acting, he has vast experience with improv, making him the ideal producer for this film, knowing just how to embrace elements of improv for a familiar character. He knew what parts of the character needed to be showcased best to get audiences to relate and support such an absurd creation as well as where the character would need to be further developed.
“The project really is a showcase to display the type of message I want to spread with the type of characters and humor I want to use. It’s an example of a stage sketch and improv character that translates really well onto screen and acts as evidence that material discovered or created off screen should be mined and explored and adapted if possible because, such comedically conflicted characters are excellent vessels to relay important information and messages in a way that people can easily understand and enjoy. This film offers the ability to escape and comfort simultaneously and those have always been my favorite kinds of films because it is effortless therapy and can help like-minded audience members through turbulent times without them even realizing it,” he concluded.
In her teenage years, China’s Mozhi (Leila) Li was obsessed with Broadway shows and historical films. She was transfixed by what she saw on screen, with characters in elaborate costumes reflecting their personalities. Li instantly was fascinated by how fashion could be presented through the screen and on stage, and she knew she was meant to pursue a career in costume design.
“I use my gift and knowledge to help my clients pull their characters from the script to reality. Through communications and understanding of the story, I also use my aesthetic gift along with design principles to work as a team member with other visual departments, together to create a perfect frame in film. It’s more of a team job than individual success but that’s what makes me so determined with my job,” she said.
Throughout her career, Li has proven time and time again why she is such an in-demand costume designer and wardrobe stylist. Millions have seen her work in music videos for Jason Zhang and Yitai Wang and the films Zero, Under Heart, and Where Dreams Rest. The last of which is one of the highlights of Li’s esteemed career.
Where Dreams Restfollows a young Chinese woman who crosses the US-Mexico border to chase after her American dream. It was an Official Selection at the Lady Filmmakers Festival, where many connected with the timely and dramatic story.
“The film talks about a strong feminine figure, who has this devoted love to her partner, which is touching. There are other immigrants with different races and characters in this film. Even though some of them are non-speaking roles, I love the details of the story given for each character, it gave some vulnerable feelings when I went through these supporting roles,” said Li.
Li was touched by the script and knew instantly she wanted to be a part of the film. The story is based on a working-class background. This created a unique challenge with choosing and aging costumes for the main character, while still ensuring her presentation would work well on cameras with all the colors balanced with the scene.
“Costumes can reflect large amount of details and stories behind each character. Especially for this project, the background is very realistic. It’s important to deliver the real-life texture to each costume by distressing and aging them professionally,” Li described.
The best part of the experience for the costume designer was the team she worked with. She thought the director was thoughtful and gifted, and the actors were passionate. She enjoyed her interactions with the art department, discussing ideas of color and fabrications.
“The story was touching, and all the characters have colorful personalities. I really enjoyed exchanging ideas and thoughts when I first met the director and production designer, they are talented and passionate young filmmakers. Everybody is devoted and played a great part in a team, that’s always the project you look forward to working with. All these factors made me feel it would be a project worth my time,” Li concluded.
Written by Annabelle Lee
International Entertainment, and the Talents that Leave us Buzzing….