China’s Ranran Meng uses VFX to take audiences to dystopian future in ‘Fahrenheit 451’

When Ranran Meng was just a young, artistic child growing up in China, she became enthralled by the possibilities of the movies. She would sit in front of the screen in awe, blown away by the infinite possibilities that the medium offered, taking audiences to different places in time, and making the impossible, possible. The more films she watched, the more she began to wonder just how every element was made, and she found herself intrigued by the idea of creating something that wasn’t there during shooting and making it very real for viewers.

“The world has no limit, we can produce an image from the past or from the future, from down the road or other galaxies. Films present these worlds that are so real to us and show us something we would not experience in our day-to-day, or even our lifetime. I told myself as a child that I would one day be a part of creating these new worlds,” said Meng.

Meng now is living her childhood dream. As a compositor, Meng uses advanced visual effects techniques to create the impossible, which she has done for revolutionary projects like The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them VR Experience, making the world of Harry Potter accessible to fans through virtual reality. She has also vastly contributed to the success of many award-winning and critically acclaimed productions, from HBO’s hit show The Deuce to Showtime’s Golden Globe winning mini-series Escape at Dannemora.

Another career highlight for Meng was working on the award-winning film Fahrenheit 451. Starring Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon, the film is based off the dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury, a story that Meng was a big fan of before the film was even announced.In a terrifying care-free future, a young man, Guy Montag, whose job as a fireman is to burn all books, questions his actions after meeting a young woman, and begins to rebel against society.

“The story talks about a future American society where books are outlawed and ‘firemen’ burn any that are found, focusing on the historical role of book burning in suppressing dissenting ideas. I like this story because it satirizes the society that tries to control and restrain people’s minds. This society phenomena actually still exists in our world, and it is important to present this to the audience and make them think and do something,” said Meng.

Fahrenheit 451 premiered at the world-renowned Cannes Film Festival in 2018 and aired on HBO on May 19th, 2018. Not only did it captivate audiences, but it wildly impressed critics, and went on to receive several award nominations, including five Emmy nominations. Such success makes Meng very proud, who worked tirelessly to make the film the success it became.

Rather than using VFX to create the impossible, for Fahrenheit 451, Meng used various software to refine every shot, creating an immersive experience for the audience. For this work, the goal is for viewers to not even realize she touched up a scene at all, removing background images that would take away from a shot or inserting important elements into the background to maintain consistency. For example, for the full view of the city shots, there were a lot of lighting boards on the top of the buildings; Meng removed the boards and created new building tops. Also, they shot the film during Christmas time, but that is not when the actual story takes place. Therefore, Meng had to go through every shot and eliminate any Christmas decoration or element that would imply it was the holiday season. It takes a refined eye to catch every detail, but Meng was more than up for the task.

“I like stories that are based in the future and have a science-fiction theme. This is new to me, as it was my first time working in the genre. The images are different and fun to watch or work on. They have a lot of effects in it,” said Meng. “I like the creative work in this project, I needed to change the environment from Christmas period to just a regular time of year, so I used elements in the footage to erase or fill out the scene. It was interesting for me, kind of like creating a whole new environment.”

Meng’s work for Fahrenheit 451 allowed audiences to travel from modern day to the future, just what she envisioned doing when she was a little girl. Creating a clean and complete environment for the film was pivotal to its success, and Meng was more than happy to be a part of such a moving and inspiring cinematic work of art.

“I am very happy to see this film presented to the audiences. To show this satirical story to more people and introduce such a good novel to a larger audience, it’s great. Maybe it can make people think about how knowledge is important. I think this movie is a good influence on the world and shows people what a free world should be. I am proud that I could be a part of it,” she concluded.

 

Written by Sean Desouza

Australia’s George Zach: Playing the Obvious Villain and Those Not So Obvious

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The most successful art is that which is universal and international in its nature. That which needs no translation and has an appeal that transcends the local identity. The same can be true for the artists which present said art; when we see something of ourselves in them, we are more welcoming. This is an apt description of actor George Zach who seemingly always appears as the character but in a way that doesn’t seem foreign. It’s a benevolent part of this actor’s career which has spanned theatre to film, Australia to numerous other parts of the world. From his Logie nominated role as Michael in Loulla to the metaphysically mysterious priest in Six Steps to Eternal Death, Zach has always found a way to perfectly fit in. There’s an element from his early childhood which contributed to this template and blossomed into a highly successful career.

Australians know George Zach well from his appearance in the iconic 90’s comedy film Nirvana Street Murder. Zach starred with other well-known Aussie actors such as Golden Globe nominated actor Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Dark Knight Rises) and Mark Little depicted the culture clash of Greek immigrants and Australians in the country at the time. As a first generation son of Greek immigrants himself, George’s preparation for this role was literally a lifetime in the making. His own lineage has blended ideally with a number of productions in which he has been cast. These range from comedy to drama to…well, something altogether different. As someone who grew up with and rejected stereotypes, George was happy to take part in the SBS TV production English at Work. This ground breaking series dealt with issues relevant to people of non-English speaking backgrounds in work place environments. Presented in a dramatic documentary format, it afforded Zach the opportunity to portray an immensely diverse set of characters. He informs, “It was a really important and revealing program. Facets like the Australian sense of humor was explored. A joke in one person’s language can easily be an insult in another person’s culture. Hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time. The propensity to be misunderstand is enormous. I did enjoy this series. It reminded me of how difficult it must have been for my parents and other immigrants who faced challenges which I can only imagine.”

Completely contrasting this very real world type of subject matter; George appeared in Peter T Nathan’s (known for the award winning Australian TV series Shortland Street and Home and Away) Six Steps to Eternal Death. Selected an Official Selection of the Celtic Mystery Short Film Festival, nominated for Best Supernatural Film at the New Hope Film Festival, and a recipient of awards from the Bucharest Shortcut Cinefest and others, this highly stylized and does not lend itself to a logical interpretation. Zach appears as a priest in an Alternative Universe where a Mother is forced to accept she is dead and move on. The actor notes that the power priests held over parishioners in his youth gave him insight into the role.

Equally fantastic and much more menacing is Zach’s appearance as King Oleander in Michael Loder and Charles Terrier’s fantasy/war film A Little Resistance. Driven to madness over the death of his wife, King Oleander embarks on a campaign of obliteration that ultimately results in his own daughter taking up arms against him. The personification of evil in its extremist form, George relates that he found the experiences quite enjoyable. For the affable actor, the role seems to have been a catharsis. Actors often take the painful circumstances of others and live through them, coming out wiser in the end. For George Zach, there are infinite more experiences awaiting him and his admirers.

Coomes in Bye Bye Blue: a Thoughtful Portrait of Mental Illness

Bye Bye Blue

Kasia Kowalczyk’s film Bye Bye Blue is receiving a great deal of buzz as it prepares to debut on the film festival circuit; actress Sarah Coomes is a major part of this. Sarah’s moving performance as Flora breaks down a number of walls around two subjects about which the public feels great unease; homelessness and mental illness. Though they’ve been displayed numerous times, the performance Coomes delivers in this particular production draws a very clear line that communicates her circumstances in a very relatable way. A great actor is not only someone who is believable in the role but who enables the audience to see something of themselves in the character; something Coomes resoundingly achieves in Bye Bye Blue.

Clever is a word which might imply someone with dual intent, perhaps even duplicitous. While Sarah’s presentation of Flora is most certainly clever, there is no ill intent or deception involved; at least not by design. The remarkability of both actress and film in Bye Bye Blue is that we not only discover more about this person whom we are quick to judge, but also come to understand our own inclinations of labeling others in difficult situations. Flora is a woman afflicted with a mental illness brought about by physical circumstances. Describing her iteration of the character, Sarah describes, “I didn’t want her to be presented as a ‘mad person’ or typical person that we’ve seen so often in film. I did a lot of research about people with mental illness and how their minds become fragmented. They become dissociated with reality and are forced to construct new ones. Honestly, it’s a way of investigating the amazing human mind and what it can do to protect itself. That’s vastly different than someone screaming and pulling their own hair out. I researched everything from schizophrenia to imaginary friends. There’s a huge spectrum out there.” As recipient of awards from the Jerwood Foundation, RC Sherriff Trust, and winner of the Westminster Prize Soho Theater, Coomes is known throughout the industry for her dedication to detail in constructing her characters.

This Kasia Kowalczyk directed film is the depiction of a young woman living on the streets who has collapsed outside her tent. While it is clear that she is suffering from some mental illness, hearing disembodied voices and only tolerating clothes which are blue, it’s evident how dire her situation is once she is taken to the hospital. While the doctors attempt to explain to Flora that her brain tumor is killing her and increasing her mental symptoms, she is unable to accurately process this. When Sarah (as Flora) flees the hospital in a panic, her desperation is palpable. It’s at this point when the film becomes surreal and points to Flora’s end. Her imaginary friend “Blue” leads her to the beach where they play. Flora is confronted with the notion that she must either say goodbye to Blue or die.

What both the filmmakers and the actress have done in Bye Bye Blue is to personalize, justify, and place a very real face on those who live on the streets. Coomes in particular manifests layer upon layer of a young woman dealing with the most sobering of circumstances while being void of a support system. Her personification of this character is deeply moving and altering. What could have been a gross over simplification bordering on a trope was instead crafted into a person of which many of us might state, “That could be me!” With so many films that cover the same events, it’s often the actors like Sarah Coomes who captivate us and make these films unique. Bye Bye Blue serves to erase any demarcation between “regular” members of society.

 

The Producer Working Outside the Box: Elliot David Hawker on Disney, Cruises, & Live Entertainment

Producers are usually understood to be the money-wranglers for feature films, or those people who talk a lot on the phone while on set. Elliot Hawker is a different kind of producer.

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Award-nominated producer Elliot Hawker photographed at his home in London.

It is one thing to be a part of producing events for Disney. Knowing your event will be judged by Simon Cowell is a whole other story. It takes someone who has experience in all realms of entertainment to pull off an event that will fulfil the magic of Disney and appease the scrutinizing eye of one of reality television’s toughest judges. Thankfully Elliot David Hawker has proven he is up to the challenge through his production feats with Disney, Royal Caribbean International, and PITT London, to name just a few.

Hailing from the UK, Hawker began his career as a dancer, receiving a prestigious 2:1 honors degree from Central School of Ballet. He spent the following six years at sea, gracing the stages of various cruise ships with Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Lines. Those aboard quickly noticed his commitment to a guest’s overall experience. His passion drove him in directions unlike those of his fellow cast members. Hawker took on additional roles in his company including Production Show Wardrobe, Events Producer, and Crew Welfare Representative. By pursuing more than what he was initially hired for, he was offered a coveted management position and became a notable leader on board.

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Royal Caribbean (their AquaTheatre pictured) are well-known in live events and theatre circles for producing shows of incredible grandeur, all at sea. 

“For me, putting on live events and experiences is all about creating magic. Creating moments that engage with people on a different level and allowing them to experience something special,” Elliot says with a smile.

“My passion for entertainment started from a young age, and after an amazing career being on stage, it felt so natural for me to transition into producing, and being able to channel my creativity and knowledge into making memorable and unique experiences of my own.”

This change in direction brought immense success to the productions, with respect to the uniqueness of their creative execution, and would only be the beginning for Hawker as his career as a producer took off.  

Following his years at sea, Hawker uses his cultivated understanding for production to create memorable experiences for the Walt Disney Company and its millions of customers. He continues to take on a variety of roles, each of which rooted in his business savvy and understanding of guest experience. As such, Hawker is a standalone example of a millennial who has carved out a specialty by becoming an innovative multi-hyphenate (a few prestigious awards along the way for his career accomplishments haven’t hurt).

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Elliot celebrating Minnie’s influence in Fashion & Beauty on National Polka Dot Day. An event produced by Elliot and the Disney Events team in London and hosted at Duck & Dry, London

“Working with Disney has been an absolute pleasure, and I have had the opportunity to travel all over Europe coordinating character events, which has included  everything from Set Dressing, Photoshoots, TV direction & Film premiers. I love that we’re truly creating magical and memorable moments, whether it’s a 4 year old meeting Mickey Mouse for the first time, or a grown adult meeting interacting with a  Stormtrooper on the red carpet. These are the moments that are really fulfilling.

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Hawker with Disney Marketing Project Manager Clare Moores in Dublin Ireland for Mickey’s 90th Anniversary, celebrating with children & families from Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin’

 

From On Set Character Director of The Voice Kids Germany 2019 to Photography Director of the Mickey & Minnie Iconic Landmarks Photoshoot, Hawker brings his creativity and invaluable experience in live entertainment to many different kinds of events. The most reputable of these being those held for charitable causes.

One of Hawker’s most recent achievements took place in November of last year. Disney partnered with Myriad & Co Theatre Company & Together for Short Lives and Charity Patron Simon Cowell for The Nutcracker & The Four Realms Immersive Charity Gala.

“It was a spectacular night, full of Disney magic and storytelling all in aid of raising awareness and donations that will enable the charity to support and help families make the most of every moment together” (The Walt Disney Company, 2018).

When asked about what made Elliot so remarkable as a producer, Co-Founder of Myriad Theatre company Simon Evans pointed to how Elliot attracts universal praise.

“Everyone at Myriad & Co. was thrilled with his creativity and adaptive skills, and the project benefited hugely from his ability to create compelling choreography and staging with our dancers and actors within a sometimes challenging venue.”

Hawker produced various choreographed acts which immersed guests into “The Kingdom of the Four Realms” giving them a chance to interact and witness their personalities up close as the dining room magically transported guests through the realm of flowers, sweets, snowflakes and amusement.

Creating an intricate piece of immersive theatre in such a unique venue would seem an impossible task, and was a first for Disney, but Hawker was able to delicately choreograph and direct his cast of dancers, bringing the story to life in a magical experience of Disney’s latest rendition of the classic tale. Hawker’s striking blend of choreography and special effects were instrumental in the overall success of the charity event. The awestruck audience of A-List celebrities left the emotional evening having raised over £350,000 for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

“Choreographing for this event was a humbling opportunity to be involved in something bigger than myself,” Elliot modestly exclaimed.

“Our aim was to take the guests on a magical journey, telling a fantastical tale, whilst be able to shed light on the difficult lives of these children and their families.”

This event has been one of many you may see Hawker in action, alongside his award-nominated production of An Evening with Celine Dion Starring Tracey Shield and his work as Creative Director of hawker & travis, his own digital design agency in which he produces digital content including websites, logos & brand imagery, videography & motion graphics.

Since the start of his own company, the established producer was nominated for the 2018 WIX Stunning Design Award and continues to secure his prominence in live entertainment production that brings together his expertise and understanding of choreography, visual marketing, presentation and performance.

For those reading who are spoilt for choice when it comes to their career prospects, or feel like they need to pigeon-hole themselves to one role, Hawker’s accomplishments exemplify how one can create a career that blends a wide-range of passions under one roof. His producing career, now turning to the US to work with Spark Cooperative, has become one rooted in a passion for the arts and catalyzed by a dedication to creating fulfilling and imaginative experiences.

TV star Zara Michales on the Past, Present and Future

TV star Zara Michales has been a staple on Aussie screens for nearly a decade.

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Acclaimed actress Zara Michales, as photographed by Marnya Rothe

“I feel incredibly lucky to have been given the opportunities I’ve had,” she says with a humble smile.

Most recently in the acclaimed fan-favourite Doctor Doctor, Zara made a huge impact in the developments of the season’s storyline, and managed to perfectly balance the comedic-drama tone for which the show has become known to Australian, European and US audiences via Amazon.

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Zara made yet another appearance on Aussie TV recently, this time on Channel Nine hit drama, Doctor Doctor. 

“With the role of Thomasina I was allowed to do what I wanted, character-wise, which was great because my character wasn’t your typical lawyer stereotype,” Zara offered.

Despite the fact she made only an appearance in one episode, Zara made quite the impact.

Indeed, Zara guides one of the leads Ajax (played by Matt Castley in the series) to change the course of his fate and ultimately help his family for the greater good.

Zara’s biting appearance in Doctor Doctor is just one TV appearance in a career of many.

The down-to-earth attitude with which she speaks to our editors would have any reader surprised that she’s a fan favourite amongst loyal Australian TV watchers, notorious for being reticent to embrace new talent.

Zara’s captivating screen presence however, most notably captured in her gripping performance as Steph Green on the hugely popular Home and Away, was undeniable to the fickle Australian public, and she’s been working on different genres ever since.

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Zara attracted mainstream attention for her role as antagonist ‘Steph Green’ in the award-winning favourite, Home and Away.

The character I played on Home and Away was a very controversial one that audiences did not forget.”

Zara played the very mischievous and rebellious nurse, Steph Green, who pushed boundaries in the world of ‘Summer Bay’ (where the show is set) and for the award-winning series itself.

During her time on the iconic series, Zara’s character befriended Dex and got up to no good with him at the hospital. After beginning as friends, bond turned into a volatile relationship that escalated into a series a dramatic plot-lines for which Home and Away has become best known.

“My character broke a couple of rules at the hospital – eventually she was confronted to clean up her behaviour and Dex broke up with because of it. She then spirals out of control and pushes boundaries to a breaking point which eventually sees her getting fired from Summer Bay Hospital and fleeing Summer Bay itself.”

Clearly, Zara’s time on the show was indispensably linked to the ups-and-downs of the town in which the show takes place, and without her characters’ antagonistic nature, the series wouldn’t have been forgiven by the audience. It goes without saying that, were it not for Zara, Home and Away would’ve been pretty boring.

“I just feel lucky I got to make such a fondly remembered contribution to Australia’s most loved show,” Zara adds.

No doubt Zara’s time on set was made even more memorable given she got to work alongside Matrix: Revolutions actor, and star of Oscar-winner Russell Crowe’s movie The Water Diviner, Robert Mammone.

“Robert is such an experienced actor was wonderful to work with – because of the fights our characters got in, you get really heated and worked up and invested in the scenes. So it goes without saying my experience on set was pretty miserable – in the best way possible!”

Of her many roles on Australian TV though, Zara’s quick to attest to the machine-like professionalism of Home and Away and how well everything worked together.

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Home and Away is well-known for capturing Australia’s beautiful scenery and iconic Australian citizens. Zara’s edgy performances and Greek heritage was therefore all the more noticeable and helped change the show’s tone for the better, which audiences have been relishing more than ever in the years since her appearance.

“Working on Home and Away was like being in a whole different world completely. The cast and crew worked like a family. Ray who plays Alf (who the longest running character in Home and Away) is an absolute gentleman.”

The other iconic Australian series in which Zara has also played an indisputably important character is Underbelly, the famed series chronicling the criminal life of Australian history. 

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Zara was featured front-and-centre as a part of the marketing and billboard campaign promoting Underbelly: Badness, further cementing her relationship with Channel Nine and her high-profile in Australia.

During her time on set, Zara shared screentime with Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow actor, Matt Nable.

“Matt Nable was very focused and committed actor on set,” Zara is quick to proclaim.

“I enjoy working with people like that who are focused and passionate. It just makes my job easy.”

What was perhaps less easy was the pressure Zara faced in playing such an important role in a high-profile show.

Indeed, the series hinged on Zara, who played Pippa, and Aaron Jeffery, who played her partner Frank, as Frank was the only person the police had to connect them to the killer at the centre of the season.

 

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Zara and her on-screen husband, played by Aaron Jeffery in a still from Underbelly.

Though reluctant at first to help the police, the safety of Pippa’s family is put first and Frank sides with the police.

Across a series of gripping and award-winning episodes, Zara’s performance and scenes with her family brought much of the humour and lightness to the show, as well as its emotional heart. One only has to watch a few key scenes to chuckle at the realistic portrayal Zara and Aaron brought to their characters’ marriage and how they’d bicker but love each other at the same time.

The acclaimed finale, which was written in last minute, closed in on the family Pippa and Frank always wanted in the pursuit of escaping the crime world.

In Zara’s words, it was a very memorable and beautiful closing scene with which to end the season, further cementing her place at the centre of Aussie TV.

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Zara, shown here at the premiere for Thor: Ragnarok, has been cast in a project shooting in the US. Readers will have to stay tuned for details. Photo: Getty Images.

So what’s the future to hold for this character actress-turned-household name? Zara’s tight-lipped, but was able to reveal she’s been cast in a US feature, to be shot in America.

“I’m very excited – stay tuned.”

French Celebrity Trainer Nancy Marie-Claire Helps Eva Green and Matt Dillon Hit Their Mark for Upcoming Film “Proxima”

Celebrity trainer Nancy Marie-Claire
Celebrity trainer Nancy Marie-Claire

French celebrity trainer and professional dancer Nancy Marie-Claire understands that the human body is a complex machine, and it is her job to assist in challenging, strengthening, toning, and preparing each individual physically in order to maximize their success in the entertainment industry– and in life.

A native of the Caribbean, Marie-Claire entered the artistic world as a dancer, where she learned, intrinsically, the patterns of the human body in space and in motion.

She explains, “This allows me to approach my training sessions with originality and playful side ensuring that each session is always different, varied and diversified.”

But her training doesn’t end there. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in athletic training, she is a certified Level 3 pilates instructor, and an internationally trained dancer, having studied under Dominique Lisette in Japan, England, Sweden, and the United States. There is no doubt that Marie-Claire possesses willpower, determination, organization and structure the likes of which most people can only dream of.

While Marie-Claire’s impressive resume undoubtedly helps her land countless celebrity training jobs, it is her compassion, adaptability, and charisma that set her apart from the rest, ensuring a long list of referrals and returning clients. Marie-Claire is most recently celebrated for her outstanding work on the film Proxima, which is expected to be released later this year.

Marie-Claire’s integral contribution to the film coaching star Eva Green (Penny Dreadful, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) can be seen through Green’s physical stamina on set. In the film, Green portrays an astronaut who is preparing to leave on an excursion to the moon, with the film following her character as she evolves, trains, and prepares for the arduous journey.

“I had to learn about astronaut training methods, which turned out to be very interesting and so rewarding,” Marie-Claire says.

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Celebrity trainer Nancy Marie-Claire

Once she grasped completely what this training should look like, Marie-Claire made the important decision to couple Green’s physical training with a nutritional program as well.

“Because Eva’s goals for this film included weight loss with upper-body mass gain especially on the arms and shoulders we worked primarily on endurance, speed, and force, allied with a carefully planned nutritional program,” explains Marie-Claire.

Marie-Claire worked with Green for three months leading up to the beginning of the shoot.

“In working with Eva, I challenged her with bodybuilding techniques, pilates, and electrostimulation, which has become one of our favorite practices, despite the effort and concentration that it requires.”

Electrostimulation is the application of electric current to stimulate bone or muscle tissue for therapeutic purposes, such as facilitation of muscle activation and muscle strengthening, and is a technique Green found incredibly helpful.

Actress Eva Green explains, “With Nancy’s electro-muscular-stimulation training, she was able to help me gain added strength in a shorter time frame and, above all, meet the needs of the director who insisted we follow a training program as strict as that of the astronauts.”

With her cross-training in electrostimulation, Marie-Claire is able to set up actors for success in a much different way than the average trainer.

Academy Award nominee Matt Dillon (Crash, There’s Something About Mary) also benefited greatly from Marie-Claire’s training and nutritional expertise during the filming of Proxima.

“My main focus with Matt involved staging different movements and exercises,” says Marie-Claire. “For example, there was a particularly fun and challenging scene involving a treadmill. Matt had to get on the treadmill and run for a significant amount of time while shooting. I helped train him to focus on his stamina and posture, so that the performance would be believable and genuine.”

While it is important to get the physical aspect of the job done safely and correctly, it is also critical to be understanding and patient as the trainee works to achieve their goals. Marie-Claire shines in this category as well, and celebrities are not shy in singing her praise.

“What’s great about Nancy is her natural empathy, her generosity and her ability to push you out of your comfort zone, getting you to trust her and yourself, completely,” says Eva Green. “Nancy is a person who listens to you, advises, takes the time to know your schedule, to adapt, gives you the best of herself and consequently makes you want to dig down and give the very best of yourself.”

Another trainer perhaps less focused on the individualized aspects of the job could inadvertently discourage an actor, which could lead to poor performance, or even giving up and failing entirely.

It is often said that an actor’s body is the most important tool in their toolbox, and Nancy Marie-Claire’s unrivaled skill, dedication, creative, safe, and effective techniques are instrumental in the maintaining and betterment of this tool.

Eva Green sums it up the best, “As an actor, I need to keep my body in tip top condition, ready to meet the demands of any role, and now that I’ve found Nancy, I know that I can call on her any time, for any project and she will help in my preparation, and accompany me throughout the film, and that is priceless!”

Canada’s Chandra Michaels and Myke Bakich talk upcoming film ‘Nail Bait’

One of the most beautiful and complex relationships in this world is that of a mother and her daughter. This theme has been explored throughout time through art and literature, and Canadian filmmaking power couple Chandra Michaels and Myke Bakich have now contributed to that extensive and distinguished list with their upcoming film Nail Bait, which takes a unique and compelling look at the bond between a mother and her daughter.

Nail Bait, written by Michaels and Bakich, tells the story of Emma and her mother Carol, who head to a nail appointment only to discover the salon is a front for a rub & tug massage parlor. It doesn’t take long for Emma to discover that Carol has ulterior motives for their day. Emma is baited and dragged into infiltrating the underbelly of the salon with her mother to prove her father is a paying client there. After stumbling on some “hard evidence” but no sign of Dad, the women confront their issues and discover other illegal and dangerous enterprises. Before they can sneak out, they are caught, cornered and threatened, discovering they would do anything to protect one another, surprising both themselves and each other.

“We wanted to portray an honest mother-daughter relationship, that despite its challenges, when put to the test reveals how unbreakable that bond can be. We like that we’re breaking new territory exploring a location with weight and stakes we haven’t ever seen before in a mother-daughter buddy story. The story straddles a few genres; drama, comedy, action which was tricky to execute but rewarding to do,” said Michaels.

Michaels acts as writer, producer, and leading actress in the film, playing the role of Emma. When writing Nail Bait, she was inspired by visits to the spa with her own mother, questioning its integrity and wondering what could be going on behind closed doors. She and Bakich were interested in creating a film that delves into the often-ignored occurrences at such spas, while diving into the dynamics of the mother-daughter relationship and internal and external facades.

“Chandra is an incredible filmmaking partner. It’s amazing that she was able to balance the demands of playing Emma with producing the film. She was very aware of the needs of our cast and crew, managing schedules and taking care of our production while balancing her demands as a lead performer. Chandra’s got a great instinct for performance and was very involved in the editing process and finding the authenticity. She’s a great talent, shined bright throughout the entire production and was crucial in bringing this film to fruition,” said Bakich.

Bakich’s approach to the story while directing was to embrace the uncomfortable. He wanted to tell a different type of mother daughter story, one that takes place in an unexpected location and situation and see where that would go. He wanted to play into the discomfort of the bizarre juxtaposition of a rub & tug parlor. This would also allow for a project with two dynamic leading female roles, something important for both Bakich and Michaels.

Finding the ideal location was one of the biggest challenges that Bakich and Michaels faced while making Nail Bait. They required a hallway long and wide enough with many different doors to actual rooms. Bakich wanted to create distinct difference between the upstairs reception and the underbelly of the salon. The upstairs being drab, mundane, slice of life, and the massage parlour below being colorful, intense, and almost surreal.

They found a warehouse space, that was previously a grow-op, with the required hallway. However, it was only half as long as they needed. They decided to embark on an ambitious set build for the downstairs hallway and adjacent doors in the film. With a talented art department team that was diligent, the build was achieved within days. Though, even with the build, the doors and rooms still needed to be reused and connected in ways that they weren’t naturally available. The night before, Bakich plotted it all out and did his best to convey the logistics to the team. They successfully turned one hallway into two, connecting many different rooms and doorways that were in different directions and ends of the location, with changing lighting and color schemes as well. Such execution is a real testament to Myke’s strength as a visual problem solver and storyteller.

image2“Part of what attracted me to shooting Nail Baitwas creating the two worlds that the characters inhabit. I liked Myke and Chandra’s energy and commitment as well. It’s always a challenge to elevate visuals on lower budget projects, but thanks to the generosity of Panavision Canada and John Lindsay I was able to utilize some great camera tools. Shout out to the amazing crew as well who worked hard to make it all happen,” said Gregory Bennett, Director of Photography.

Bakich’s favorite scene in the film came when shooting a tracking shot down a flight of two dozen stairs. It was no easy task, but the director was up for the challenge. Filming into the early hours of the morning, he and Bennett did five takes with a heavy steadi-cam rig and totally nailed the shot. Only once it was perfected did they discover that a key prop was missing, and they had no choice but to reshoot.Bennett leapt up the stairs, willing and ready to do it again and they all followed his charge. They shot another five takes, and the end result is mesmerizing.

“Toni Ellwand who played the mother Carol, grounded her in reality, while bringing a comedic spontaneity to the role. She balanced both the serious and ridiculous nature of the situation in spectacular fashion,” said Bakich, who co-wrote and directed the film.

Ellwand is a Toronto based actress who is known for a series of popular projects, including Blindness, Murdoch Mysteries and the Emmy-award winning The Handmaid’s Tale. She had previously worked with Michaels years prior on a commercial for Ontario’s health care cards, so they were happy to reunite as mother and daughter on this exciting new project.

“Myke and Chandra are a dream team, I would work with them in a heartbeat. They both love what they do so much and are generous and enthusiastic. Chandra is an absolute dream to work with as both an actor and as a producer. Working is her happy place and it shows in everything she does when we’re on set. Myke is quietly determined. He’s gentle but he knows what he needs, and he patiently works until he gets it,” said Ellwand.

Nail Bait premieres at the Toronto Shorts International Film Festival on Saturday March 2nd, 2019. From there, the film is expected to make its way to several more festivals, seen on international screens. They are also exploring the possibility of expanding it into a series, as this film is part of a bigger mother and daughter story.

“It’s an honor to premiere at the Toronto Shorts International Film Festival where our local cast, crew, colleagues, friends and family can share in the experience,” said Michaels.

Toronto Shorts has a special place in Michaels’ and Bakich’s hearts, as their first film, Busy Bee, had its world premiere at the festival back in 2015 and ended up winning the Best of Canada award. Here’s hoping for similar success on their latest venture.

“We love making films and we love doing so together. Creating our own projects is empowering and liberating. We really learned so much making this film and look forward to applying that knowledge to future projects. Filmmaking is really a team sport and we had an amazing team on this project,” they concluded.

Torontonians should check out Nail Bait this Saturday at 7 p.m. at Carlton Cinema. In the meantime, watch the trailer here.