All posts by Scott Prewitt

Ingenious Production Designer Yihong Ding Wraps Production on “Mira”

Yihong Ding
Production Designer Yihong Ding

The striking talent of Yihong Ding as a production designer and art director is literally visible in every project she has touched. She moves seamlessly through the worlds of film, television and advertising; not an easy feat when one considers that the approach a person must take when designing the ambiance of a feature film to match a director’s vision is vastly different from their approach to creating the backdrop of a commercial meant to persuade an audience of consumers.

Originally from Shanghai, Ding studied in London and eventually got her master’s in production design at the world-renowned American Film Institute in Los Angeles. Since then, she has been hard at work on an ever-growing list of projects. To ensure each film, show or commercial conveys the right mood and feeling, she works closely with the director of the production to capture and physically recreate their vision. From color schemes to lighting, props to set design, she is responsible for turning the conceptual into the living, breathing worlds we see on film.

Ding has worked on projects ranging from The Birthday Boys starring Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Mr. Show) to Mandala, the winner of the 2015 Los Angeles International Film Festival award for Best Foreign Film. She’s done several commercials for Diomany high-end lingerie and served as art director of an advertisement for the Microsoft Outlook app. It’s her work on films like Mira however that really showcases her incredible talent for production design and her awe-inspiring ability to create a self-contained world on the screen.

Working on director Amanda Tasse’s Mira, currently in post-production, Ding was given a dual-challenge. First was creating a marine biology research laboratory complete with the appropriate scientific equipment and actual jellyfish tanks. Second, she had to design an intricate “memory wall” which the title character uses to keep a log of her life.

“I had a lot of fun doing the research for this project,” said Ding, who studies every project’s background meticulously to ensure the environment seen on camera is authentic and accurate. “We ended up filming at an empty lab on Catalina Island, and dressing the lab into the jellyfish lab for the story.”

Vanessa Patel as Mira in the lab created by Yihong Ding in "Mira"
Vanessa Patel as Mira in the lab created by Yihong Ding in “Mira”

Filming on an island presented its own challenges. Ding had to personally pack all of the glass tubes and prop equipment by hand, and shipping all of the fragile items to Catalina was expensive and required her to closely observe weight restrictions and eliminate any waste in the budget while maintaining the realistic integrity of the set.

“Finding the jellyfish tank was another challenge. They were all costume-made and very expensive,” she said. “I almost had to build them myself, but luckily we found a person that was willing to rent three to us for a really great deal.”

The experience tested and proved Ding’s invaluable ability to balance the creative and financial sides of production design with aplomb. The laboratory she created is so authentic and convincing it’s absolutely indistinguishable from a research facility one might see at a university. While the lab provides the backdrop, the “memory wall” Ding created gives the viewer a personal connection to Mira’s title character.

The character of Mira suffers from a form of epilepsy that causes intense seizures and short-term memory loss of the hours preceding each attack. Mira dedicates herself to studying a species of jellyfish which may hold a cure for her disease, but her condition poses a huge challenge and she has to find a way to overcome the amnesia. So Ding helped design a “memory wall,” which becomes Mira’s method of constantly reminding herself of what’s happened before each seizure.

“She would take a picture right before she knew she was going to have a seizure… and then she would map out all the pictures on her bedroom wall,” Ding described. “It was a very complicated visual graphic to create, and I wanted to make sure that it looked real… and for the very first time I sat down and considered myself as Mira… I started to think like Mira, which was really amazing, because I found myself digging deeper into the design than I normally do.”

Yihong Ding has what many specialists lack: a multifaceted skillset combined with extensive experience in every level of design and the ability to work within any range of budget without ever compromising the quality of the project. From envisioning the conceptual to building the practical, from dressing sets to arranging the details and minutia for the perfect shot, she is a one-woman creative army.

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Producer Richard Moore Makes His Mark Across Platforms

Richard Moore
                                                      Producer Richard Moore shot by Charlie Hyams


Producer Richard Moore has been responsible for some of the most thought-provoking films, powerful documentaries and successful advertising campaigns of our time. He got his start while still in high school, has spearheaded hugely profitable production companies, and has worked with award-winning directors and multi-billion dollar corporations. Through all of it, he has maintained a level of professionalism and natural talent, which have allowed him to maintain stringent standards when choosing all of his projects.

The roots of Moore’s drive and determination can be seen in the beginnings of his career, when at just 19 he personally organized the funding of a full-scale Universal Records music video production for all-girl band The Saturdays. In addition to overseeing budgeting and set building, Moore was tasked with hiring and managing more than 70 cast and crew members.

“This was my real introduction to what it to took to be a producer,” Moore said. “With managing pressure, dealing with a lot of people in different positions and different environments, while simultaneously supporting your director and helping him or her to achieve their creative vision.”

Moore served as the senior producer at Big Balls Films, the company behind the wildly popular Copa90 YouTube channel. Funded through an investment by Google, Copa90 quickly became the most successful sports YouTube channel in Europe, in no small part because of Moore’s prowess as its head of production. Geared toward the much sought-after 12-to-30 year old audience, Moore was in charge of courting advertisers for the channel, which received a hefty annual operating budget from Google.

“For Copa90, I was responsible for the launch and channel management, with an annual budget of $3 million to spend on programming,” said Moore, describing his critical role in the project.

“I, alongside the creative team at the channel, was key in pitching, selling and executing brand-integrated shows while also building our original slate of programs, which we would then sell to third party platforms.”

Among Moore’s other notable advertising productions are campaigns for clients including the financial services group HSBC and Mexican tequila giant el Jimador.

Working with the cross-platform production company Unit9, Moore produced the #ispossible campaign for HSBC, a London-based international banking and financial services company. The campaign consisted of three commercials, each of which follows a young entrepreneur who found success through the backing and guidance of HSBC.

“The campaign documents [the entrepreneurs] as they reveal the people that helped them realize their ambitions and explain how to achieve yours through inspiration and mentorship,” he said.

Also while working with Unit9, Moore produced the “Mexology” campaign for el Jimador tequila. Moore, who admits that a huge factor for him in choosing a project has to do with his impression of the director, was personally requested by the director of the “Mexology” campaign, Martin Stirling. Moore had previously worked with Stirling on the Most Shocking Second A Day campaign for the Save the Children Fund, so when Moore was contacted by Stirling for the “Mexology” campaign, he promptly accepted.

“I worked with the recent Cannes Gold Lion-winning director Martin Stirling, who specifically requested me on the project due to my background and experience in documentary-style films and as someone who has the ability to manage global clients in a very high-pressured and time-sensitive environment,” Moore said.

The campaign took an innovative approach through its examination of Mexican culture in America, which ultimately promoted el Jimador’s trademark laid-back appeal to youthful consumers, which comprise the company’s target audience.

Mexology was a commercial campaign for el Jimador tequila about four artists who were challenged to collaborate on the creation of an event that embraced the Mexican spirit of enjoying life,” Moore said. “They were tasked with re-imagining the legendary Michigan Building, an abandoned theatre in Detroit, without a script, storyline and within 48 hours.”

As a major player in the production field, Moore’s name drew the attention of Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson himself. When Sir Branson’s mother Eve began a project to assist women in North Africa, Branson reached out to Moore to produce a film about the charitable endeavor on behalf of Virgin Unite.

“When we arrived at Eve’s house, she asked us within the first 10 minutes of our meeting if we wanted to help her ship a herd of cashmere goats from England to North Africa to help bring stability to women in the region through creating jobs in the textile trade, specifically in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco,” recalled Moore. “It sounded so far-fetched and bizarre that we had to do it, and two weeks later we were filming with her and her beloved goats in Africa.”

With such a wide array of projects, encompassing everything from advertising and sports media to music videos and charitable works – not to mention his extensive work as a producer for film and television – Moore has shown himself to be a leader in an incredibly competitive field, and we look forward to what he has in store for us next.

Canadian Heartthrob Evan Williams Shines on Screen!

Evan Williams
                                                           Evan Williams shot by Elodie Cabrera

Canadian actor Evan Williams has become a hit with audiences in film, television and stage. He got his start as a performer as an actor in musical theatre, which led him to pursue a career on screen. Working on projects produced by industry giants including HBO, Disney, MTV and ABC, he’s portrayed roles in everything from the wildly popular teen drama series Degrassi: The Next Generation to the feature film Lloyd the Conqueror, a college comedy with a twist of fantasy.

His wide dramatic range sets him apart from his peers, and was a decisive factor in the decision to cast him as a lead in the sophisticated new French drama Versailles.

Versailles is the highly anticipated upcoming series from Canal+ and SuperChannel, and is the highest-budgeted French television program ever produced. Williams plays the role of Chevalier, a cunning and unscrupulous noble in Louis XIV’s 17th century court based on the real life Chevalier de Lorraine. With Machiavellian efficiency, he works his way into the higher echelons of French royalty, making no effort to conceal his affair with the king’s brother Phillipe.

“He was a ruthless schemer, a guileless manipulator and an imperious presence in the court of the king… It was fun to dive into the real man beneath all the layers,” Williams said. “This position made him very dangerous and very much in danger, and that type of complicated tightrope walk is a dream for an actor to dig into.”

Following in the footsteps of The Tudors and The Borgias, the series is set for release later this year, and producers are pushing for the risque, political intrigue-driven Versailles to compete with American shows like Game of Thrones and House of Cards. By filming in English, Canal+ and SuperChannel will undoubtedly court international audiences with the enticing and addictive tale of French royalty in a country on the brink of revolution. The highly ambitious Versailles is slated to begin its captivating hold over television audiences on the French Canal+ channel in the fall.

Constantly showcasing his cross-genre talent, Williams previously played the lead role in Lloyd the Conqueror. The film centers around the subculture of “LARPing,” or live-action role playing. Popularized in the film Role Models, it is a real world version of fantasy games complete with knights, kings, dragons and plenty of props. Williams’ titular character Lloyd is on a mission to dethrone a dark wizard ruling over the group.

A hilarious film crossing college humor with a nerdy edge, Lloyd the Conqueror won the Alberta Media Production Industries (AMPIA) Award for Best Dramatic Feature and Best Original Score.

Williams plays the lead role of Ben in director Carolyn Cavallero’s upcoming drama Paradise Club, about the San Francisco’s cultural renaissance in the 1960’s. The film stars award-winning actors Elizabeth Rice (From Within, My Dog Skip, Mad Men) and Eric Roberts (Runaway Train, The Dark Knight, The Expendables) as members of the counterculture. Williams’ character Ben finds himself falling for Catherine, played by Rice, but they soon find that the cold reality of real life may destroy their utopian fantasies.

“I play a disgruntled alcoholic rock star named Ben, who has hit the peak of his fame and wants out, as he navigates a twisting and turning relationship with a young student named Catherine who is moonlighting as an exotic dancer,” Williams said. “It’s a very elemental story told through the freaked-out lens of the period.”

Paradise Club will begin its tour of the festival circuit in October.

An avid devotee of all things music, Williams got his start singing in choir before he began performing in musical theatre productions. It was those roots which motivated him to write and record one of his songs, “I’m Not Waiting,” for the film Ride, which was selected and requested personally by director and Academy Award-winner Helen Hunt (As Good As it Gets, Mad About You).

As if that array of new projects were not enough, fans of Williams can also catch him in the fifth season of MTV’s Awkward beginning August 31, where he will be appearing in the lead role of Luke.

Leading Guitarist Proves his Diversity Across Platforms

DSC_6849
                                                           Guitarist Daniel Raijman shot by Fernando Stein

Film composer and guitarist Daniel Raijman got his start playing music across Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he grew up. His expertise in composition and arrangement for film has made him a mainstay in the industry, but it’s his lifelong fascination with the study and performance of string instruments, which has led him to his rewarding career in the field.

Raijman toured with his first group, Orquesta Kef, for four years between 2006 and 2009. The band puts a modern twist on the traditional eastern European Klezmer style, a genre with long ties to Jewish culture in the region. As a guitarist for Orquesta Kef, Raijman toured venues throughout Argentina and Uruguay.

The band combines the classic sounds of Klezmer music with contemporary Latin American influences.

According to the band’s website, “It all began at the end of the year 2000, near Chanukah, when a group of young musicians wanted to express and share their talents with the community. Shortly after the premiere, Kef found its own unique musical style. Kef is the number one Klezmer Band in Argentina and one of the biggest in Latin America.”

Beginning in 2007 Raijman also toured with Quinta Estacion (Fifth Season), a group that he founded alongside award-winning pianist and composer Sebastian Kauderer. A contemporary jazz quartet, Quinta Estacion was a hit at venues in Argentina and took an inspired approach in its performance of modern jazz and funk.

“We wanted to achieve that sound similar to our influences such as Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau. The challenge was to write complex harmonies and fit them into beautiful melodies,” Raijman said. “We played in some of the best jazz clubs in Buenos Aires and recorded our album in 2008.”

Heavily influenced by his years playing with Quinta Estacion, Raijman’s next band, Pentafono, was a jazz quintet, which drew an eclectic sound from its Latin American and jazz roots.

“I composed most of the songs based on odd meters and rhythms from Latin America and I wrote challenging harmonies and melodies that were fun to play,” Raijman said. “I wrote some of the songs while I was studying jazz composition with New York-based composer Guillermo Klein.”

Pentafono regularly played and toured around Buenos Aires, and in 2012 recorded their self-titled debut album.

Most recently, Raijman played guitar for the soundtrack for Triggerfish. The film, which is set for release later year, follows the fictional, eponymous punk band Triggerfish as they embark on a night of debauchery and unhinged excitement.

“I was working for Megan Cavallari when she scored this film. She asked me to record guitars for this film and I totally enjoyed it,” Raijman said. “I had to record music ranging from punk to hard rock to blues – all kind of different styles.”

With such a diverse background of influences, and years on the road and in the studio, Raijman’s seasoned expertise has made him a go-to guitarist and composer in a highly competitive field. In addition to Triggerfish, Raijman has lent his extraordinary talents as a composer to the scores of the films An Opening to Closure, Monster Hunters USA and Day Care Center, Love, the documentary 8 Seconds: Humane Decision Making of the IDF and many more. Raijman is also slated to play guitars on the upcoming film Jay Rocco.

Born to Be a Star: Australian Triple Threat Jessica Waters

Jessica Waters
Actress Jessica Waters

Born into a family of entertainers, actress Jessica Waters has been in the spotlight her entire life. Together with her four siblings and her father, the lead singer of a local band, she was playing music, dancing and acting beginning at just five years old. By the time she was eight she had her heart set on acting professionally, and in the years since she has grown from one of the most promising young Australian talents into an international powerhouse of the screen.

In 2014, Waters joined the cast of The War That Changed Us, a four-part documentary drama series recounting the stories of real-life Australians who fought in World War I. Waters played a nurse traveling with soldiers on the front lines, and said she fell in love with the role.

“This has to be one of my favorite TV shows I have worked on,” Waters said. “I loved the costumes, and dressing in all the lovely clothes they wore really made me feel like I was back in that time, and I had to do some nurse training for the role.”

The War That Changed Us aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2014 to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Australia’s entry into the war.

Recently, Waters acted alongside Sam Worthington (Avatar, Terminator: Salvation, Clash of the Titans) in Paper Planes. The film tells the story of a young boy who, after suffering the loss of his mother, finds solace and hope in a competition to design the ultimate paper airplane. Filmed in her hometown of Perth, Waters played the mother of one of the children competing in the whimsical tournament and said it was a fun project to be a part of. The film received nominations at both the Australian Directors’ Guild Awards and the Berlin International Film Festival.

In her latest television role, she plays an American reporter in the SyFy Channel adaptation of the Arthur C. Clarke classic novel Childhood’s End. As an Australian, the role was a unique challenge for her, and required a great deal of intensive voice training to master the accent required for the part.

“I’ve been training my American accent for a year,” she said. “They loved my accent, and I got the part on the spot.”

Childhood’s End is the first screen adaptation of the science fiction masterpiece. Following the arrival on Earth by a race of mysterious but benevolent aliens, the human race begins to thrive and prosper; however, almost immediately suspicions begin to grow among people about their new isolationist neighbors. As a reporter, Waters is on the scene to cover their arrival. The series airs on SyFy later in 2015.

Waters played a reporter once before in The Great Mint Swindle, the true story of a massive 1982 Australian heist where more than $2 million in gold bars were stolen from the Perth Mint. The crime remains unsolved, adding to the mystery and making it one of Western Australia’s greatest and most famous true crime stories.

“I love being in true stories,” Waters said. “The set was very Australian, and I enjoyed being a news reporter because if I didn’t decide to be an actor, I was going to be a TV reporter.”

Not limited to film and television, Waters’ experience as a performer shines in her work onstage as well.

“I have spent three years working with the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Western Australia,” Waters said. “I was not only an actor, but I was also the dance choreographer and a singer.”

In her time with the Shakespeare Theatre Company, she’s worked on iconic Shakespearean plays including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest and Comedy of Errors.

Audiences can catch Jessica Waters in her upcoming feature film Reality, a satirical comedy in which Waters plays the lead.

“I just know it’s going to be a fantastic film. The script is amazing,” she said. “I have a lead role and it’s a film that kind of makes fun of reality TV shows.”

Reality is currently in the process of filming so eager fans will have to wait to learn more about the project. However, it’s guaranteed to be a fresh look at a genre, which provides a goldmine of comedic fodder.

For Actress Alli McLaren, Performing Runs in Her Blood

Alli McLaren
                                              Actress Alli McLaren shot by David Lee

The vast array of roles masterfully portrayed by Alli McLaren are a testament to the striking technique she’s spent her entire life honing, both onstage and in front of the camera. Following in both her mother and grandmother’s footsteps, the Australian dynamo is a third generation actor in whom the art of performance is deeply engrained.

McLaren’s unique talents stem from so much more than the impressive combination of her inherited genetics, for her upbringing in the theatre and her years of rigorous and dedicated training have put her far above the rest. One of her strongest and most valuable assets is something too many actors lack – real-life experience.

In addition to her acting prowess, McLaren is also a talented and accomplished writer for the screen. McLaren wrote the upcoming film My Year of Silence based on her own experiences. The film follows McLaren as she plays Callie, a role that shines a spotlight on the painful reality of those who cope daily with mental illness and depression.

For years, McLaren fought tirelessly to overcome long and difficult battles with illness and depression. Through that struggle, she gained an intimate and personal understanding of the peaks and depths of human emotion and an insight into the human psyche that is clearly displayed in every part she’s played. From the masterful way that she has transformed herself into the mind and body of every character she has taken on, audiences can expect yet another dazzling performance from the actress as Callie in the upcoming film My Year of Silence, which is being produced by White Night Films.

Though her dramatic flair is impeccable, her recent role in A Writer’s Block, also produced by White Night Films, gave her a chance to show off both her action and comedic chops. The project centers around two writers as the plot of their latest film begins to come to life. McLaren’s character Sophie, one of the characters in the two writers’ script, is kidnapped, and the ensuing rescue mission her older brother embarks on to save her forms the backbone of the film. The quick-action, fights and shootouts were a far cry from her other more cerebral and introspective roles, but in no time she mastered the dance-like combat moves with grace and professionalism — and a little bit of fun, too.

“There was a lot of stage fighting choreography involved in this shoot, which was new to me,” said McLaren. “But I felt like a ninja doing it, which kind of rocked.”

In one of her most powerful roles, McLaren played the lead in Infidelity, directed by Emmy Award-winning actress Blanche Baker. Based on a French script, the film centers around an experiment meant to study the faithfulness of men versus women in committed relationships.

McLaren’s character, Gretchen, is the person responsible for conducting the experiment, and as such, she holds complete control over its success. “Gretchen was really the female power in this film,” McLaren said. “It felt great to play a character with so much power and so much control.”

An exceptional actress by anyone’s standards, McLaren’s upcoming projects include the 2016 release of My Year of Silence as well as a likely sequel to follow, in addition to a planned sequel to A Writer’s Block. The young starlet will no doubt continue to raise the bar for fellow actors across the industry as a whole; and as audiences flock to My Year of Silence, they’ll no doubt witness the internationally sought after talent set new standards for dramatic writing as well.

A Knockout from the Theatre to the Screen!

Alex Luukkonen
Alex Luukkonen in “Ravenscroft” shot by Julio J. Vargas

The incredible stage and screen talents of Scandinavian actor Alex Luukkonen have moved audiences to laughs and tears on three continents, and his latest projects are without a doubt some of his most ambitious to date. A native of Finland, he’s also worked throughout Europe, Asia and the U.S., which has taught him the intricate nature of the human condition, the common denominators of mankind beyond any cultural differences.

Luukkonen, in one of his many theatre roles, joined Academy Award winner Milton Justice’s (Down and Out in America) cast in a production of Clifford Odets’ classic Waiting for Lefty. Set in the years before World War II, the play consists of a series of vignettes, which tie together to address the prominent issues of the impending war, the struggle of workers in the Great Depression, the fear of growing communist sympathies and love trying to survive the desperate times.

In his role as Miller, a chemist with a moral quandary and one of the leading characters, Luukkonen worked closely with the esteemed Justice to perfect his performance. Miller, a lab assistant, is told by his boss that he will be given a raise and promotion but that he must now work under a chemist tasked with developing chemical weapons. An argument erupts between Miller and his boss, and in one of the more dramatic events in the play, Miller angrily refuses the job after punching his boss.

In addition to his role in Waiting for Lefty, as well as the productions of other iconic plays such as Much Ado About Nothing and Grease, Luukkonen is also a seasoned actor on the silver screen where his innate skill and charm complemented by his worldly experience make all of his performances something to write home about.

One of Luukkonen’s latest projects, Pastry, is slated for release this year. The film examines the pressure that society places on women to conform to preconceived standards of body image and sexuality. Directed by Eduardo Barreto, Luukkonen acts alongside Maureen Younger who plays Caroline in the film, a young woman who falls in love with a waitress and lets go of her obsession with dieting. Pastry is a delectably sweet work of powerful social critique that showcases Luukkonen’s acting prowess.

Luukkonen, whose character bears witness to the gradual process of Caroline’s enlightenment, admits that it was an incredible experience working with the British cast of the film.

“Theater is the king in London,” said Luukkonen. “So you get a lot more theater trained and talented people overall per capita.”

Recently, he played the inquisitive son of a detective in Outsider, an exciting pilot starring Luukkonen and Dean Bruggeman. In it, Luukkonen’s character discovers a startling video of a man being held captive by a psycho in clown makeup. He brings it to his father, played by Bruggeman (Don’t Pass Me By, The Time Capsule), who digs into the case. It all leads up to a shocking cliffhanger, which is sure to leave viewers on the edge of their seats.

In every role that he’s played to date Luukkonen’s passion for his craft shines through so clearly that it is almost tangible. That kind of performance, delivery and dedication comes only from love, and it is obvious in everything that he’s done that Luukkonen truly loves his art.

“I chose acting because I love it, and fortunately, I had the opportunity to pursue it,” he said. “I wish more people had the chance to pursue their dreams.”