All posts by lgreenbaulm

Speaking Visually: Cinematographer Andrea Gonzalez Mereles

Andrea Mereles Gonzalez
Director Roberto Escamilla & Cinematographer Andrea Mereles Gonzalez

For the past five years cinematographer Andrea Gonzalez Mereles has been using her unparalleled skill behind the lens to create captivating visual stories for a plethora of films and television series.

Originally from Mexico City, Mereles has made a name for herself both at home, as well as in the U.S., due to her powerful work as the cinematographer behind films such as Roberto Escamilla’s (The One Who Couldn’t Love, Passion and Power) 2016 drama Changes, Bo-You Niou’s (Manners of Dying) drama The 12th Stare starring Christine Kellogg-Darrin (Shameless, The Neighbours) and many more.

Mereles recently wrapped production on Camilo Collazos’ riveting 2017 drama Flesh & Blood starring multi-award winning actor Jorge A. Jimenez (Hermoso Silencio, Machete Kills), L.J. Batinas (Hawaii Five-O, Black Jesus) and Mariana Novak (Rose Colored, The Moleskin Diary).

Flesh & Blood revolves largely around the life of Rodrigo, played by Jimenez, an inmate who makes a deal to testify against a dangerous prisoner named Luis in exchange for early release via deportation.

While the deal includes an offer of witness protection for Rodrigo’s estranged daughter Laura, as she would most likely be targeted after Luis and his men on the outside find out what her father’s done, she’s far from a willing participant. Her reluctance puts Rodrigo in a tricky situation where he must try to convince a daughter he barely knows to give up her normal life in order to save them both before Luis finds out the extent of Rodrigo’s betrayal.

As the cinematographer of the film, Mereles’ brilliant use of lighting,  camera placement and methodical lens choices were tantamount to drawing audiences into the film and driving home the emotional aspects of Rodrigo’s story.

Flesh and Blood
Poster for the film “Flesh & Blood”

“We decided that we wanted the film to feel very personal and close to Rodrigo. This was his story and we were determined to capture this in the numerous visual aspects,” explains Mereles.

“Given that this was Rodrigo’s story I wanted the spectator to feel he was seeing the world through his eyes. This required a careful planning around camera placement, deliberated camera movement motivated by the main character’s internal and external motion and the use of anamorphic lenses.”

Through her lighting choices alone it’s easy to see that Mereles is an incredibly skilled cinematographer who knows exactly how to create a visual story that touches viewers on multiple levels and heightens the impact of the narrative unfolding on the screen. Using darker lighting to portray the gloomy nature of Rodrigo’s life in prison, and then using natural sunlight to brighten up the scenes and visually express the hope Rodrigo feels where his daughter Laura appears, Mereles juxtaposition of light and dark within the film emphasizes the dichotomy between Rodrigo’s current experience and the possibility of a brighter future.

“[Andrea’s] acute sensibilities with the film medium facilitate the understanding of the point of view and solidify the lives of the characters by enhancing the atmosphere around their universe or emphasizing their intentions,” explains Flesh & Blood director Camilo Collazos.

“She is a DP who is always prepared and is very accurate when reading the intentions of the voice guiding the storytelling. Her vision carries a charismatic, distinctive signature that allows the viewer to be in with the story and its world.”

The film, which premiered at the Mexican Embassy in Los Angeles as part of the Mexican Filmmakers Showcase on July 20th, 2017, was shot primarily at the Sybil Brand Institute in Los Angeles, the same location used for other hits films such as Blow, 21 Grams, Legally Blonde and Malcolm X.

Andrea Gonzalez Mereles
Cinematographer Andrea Gonzalez Mereles

Mereles, whose name was already well-known back home in Mexico by the time she moved to the U.S., has made extraordinary strides in Hollywood over the last few years thanks to her inimitable skill behind the lens and her unique creative vision. While she knew early on in life that she would go on to work in the film industry, what sparked her career as a cinematographer was when she was on set for the first time working as a camera assistant.

“I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. My intention was to become a director and a screenwriter, but the first time I was on a movie set I realized that what I wanted to tell a story visually,” explains Mereles.

“For me cinematography means telling stories as a whole but also with every image. I’m passionate about constructing stories through lighting, composition and movement and creating emotions within the spectator. Cinematography is a journey I started a long time ago. It is a journey to tell stories but it’s also a journey to find answers; trying to understand what it means to be human.”

After the firm realization that cinematography was the one field that would fulfill her creative passions and utilize her wide range of talents, Mereles went to work honing her skills in the artform at some of the world’s most prestigious schools. Shortly after completing Maine Media Workshops’ cinematography residency, Mereles went on to complete her master’s degree in cinematography at the American Film Institute, a highly competitive conservatory program that boasts an impressive alumni list including filmmakers such as three-time Oscar nominee John Cassavetes, four-time Golden Globe Award nominee David Lynch, Oscar nominee Darren Aronofsky and many more household names. In 2014 Mereles was selected as a Fullbright Scholar, an international merit-based scholarship program that gives a limited number of individuals the opportunity to study abroad.

While Mereles’ training definitely boosted her technical skill as a cinematographer, it’s her innate creative vision that has led her to become a sought after figure in her field internationally.

Another one of Mereles notable film works as a cinematographer in 2017 was multi-award winning director Christopher de las Alas’ (For Ofelia, Coffee Run) adventure film Great Again, which premiered during the LA Film Festival’s Project Involve Showcase. Starring Jonah Aimz (Awaken, Instacurity), Tasha Dixon (NCIS, Guiding Light) and Jeff Hoffmaster (True Blood, I’m With the Band), Great Again follows Frank (Jeff Hoffmaster), a homeless main on a mission for vengeance against a group of people who, immersed in their own selfish problems, refuse to buy him a bottle of mouthwash at a local convenience store. After being mocked and pushed to the brink, Frank decides to play a little prank on those who snuffed him by announcing that he won the lottery and is ready to share his winning with them; but when they find out he’s lying, they don’t take it lightly.

Through her use of specific angles, shot pacing and lighting, Mereles once again nailed the mark with her seasoned skill as the cinematographer of the film to draw viewers into the emotional aspects of the main character’s journey.

She explains, “My main goal was to visually represent the hecticness that Frank undergoes after lying about winning the lottery.  The director wanted to visually make a difference between the before and after of the winning of the lottery. To achieve this, the moment when Frank wins the lottery was shot using a zolly, which is a dolly in combination with a zoom. The before was characterized by a static camera and the after with hectic zooms ins, pans and handheld camera.”

As a cinematographer, Andrea Gonzalez Mereles has carved out a prominent position for herself internationally as an artist behind the lens whose creative capacity and keen vision have given way to both the commercial success and emotional impact of a wide range of films. Up next for Mereles is the thriller film Plain Fiction directed by Cyrus Duff, which is due out in 2018.

From Bollywood to Hollywood: Actress Karishma Bhandari

Karishma Bhandari
Actress Karishma Bhandari shot by John Clark

Born and raised in East London, actress Karishma Bhandari first made her mark in the Bollywood film industry back in 2012 when she landed the starring role of Sita in Southbank Centre Goes Bollywood.

Aside from being a skilled actress with magnetic appeal on screen, Bhandari’s extensive dance training gave her an added edge over the hundreds of other hopefuls vying for the role. Though she was only 19 at the time, Bhandari had already spent several years perfecting her craft at home in London. Her outstanding performance in the film Southbank Centre Goes Bollywood brought her widespread attention and ultimately proved to be the catalyst for the successful career she has today.

Directed by Encounters International Film Festival Award winner Aneil Karia, who also earned  the Grand Jury Prize Award from the Utah Arts Festival for her 2014 film Tag, the comedic adventure film Southbank Centre Goes Bollywood was commissioned for the Alchemy Festival, the UK’s largest festival of South Asian culture. The film followed Bhandari’s character Sita, Sheila played by Gurkiran Kaur (Oxasians, London Kahanis) and Rita played by Roshni Rathore (80’s Vampire Flick, Love Type D), three dance teachers at a local community centre who make it their mission to keep the centre open after a wealthy developer buys the property with the intention of closing it down in order to build a hotel. Chalk full of lively Bollywood dance routines, Southbank Centre Goes Bollywood’s endearing story about three young women battling the odds and fighting for what they believe in was a hit with viewers.

Karishma Bhandari
Still of Karishma Bhandari in pink in “Southbank Centre Goes Bollywood”

The first insight into the dynamic talent actress Karishma Bhandari has become known for, Southbank Centre Goes Bollywood proved Bhandari’s ability to portray a character who was the polar opposite of herself– a necessary skill for any true actor, and one that has undoubtedly led her to land leading roles in a wide range of films since.

Director Aneil Karia says, “Karishma’s passion is one thing that makes her stand out from the crowd, as well as her striking look and her warmth. It was a challenging, nuanced role in the film and she delivered a wonderful performance.” 

In 2016 Bhandari’s international reputation got an even bigger boost when she landed a lead role as Geeta in the Bollywood feature film Club Dancer directed by B. Prasad. The film follows Ria played by Nisha Mavani, an Indian girl who moves to the city where she tells her parents she’s landed a respectable job, however she is really a dancer in a club.

When her parents come for a surprise visit and find a man at her house who they assume is her boyfriend, but is actually a criminal who sought refuge from the police the night before, they immediately want them to get married. The man quickly disappears, but Ria finds another man, Amit, who’s identical to him and negotiates a deal with him to pretend to be her boyfriend in exchange for money, which he needs for his sister’s wedding. Bhandari’s character Geeta comes into play as the man’s soon-to-be-wed sister, a key character in the plot who helps further the love story that eventually develops between Ria and Amit, who’s played by Rajbeer Singh (Who’s There?, Ishq Junoon: The Heat is On).

Karishma Bhandari
Still of Raja (left) and Karishma Bhandari (right) as Geeta in “Club Dancer”

In the film, which Bhandari traveled to India to shoot for several months, she acts alongside notable Bollywood stars such as Filmfare Award winner Shakti Kapoor (Hungama, Musafir, Raja Babu) and Stardust Award nominee Zarina Wahab (Vishwaroopam, My Name is Khan), as well as actress Judith Shekoni (The Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn Part 2, Ice, Ordinary Lies).

Although she was raised in London, Bhandari’s parents are originally from Punjab, India and she grew up speaking Punjabi– something that created a challenge for the actress as Club Dancer was made in Hindi. However, Bhandari trained diligently, learning a new language and adapting her accent for the role, and she seamlessly delivered her performance as if Hindi was her mother tongue.

One of the highlights of Bhandari’s performance as Geeta came towards the end of the film when she performed an intricate Bollywood dance routine, one that few other actresses could have pulled off with the same level of grace and style she brings to the screen.

Bhandari admits, “I had already had Bollywood dance training, but to do it on a massive set in front of a lot of people was challenging… We had rehearsals every day for about two weeks and when it came time for the shoot date I had the heaviest outfit to wear. It was a wedding song and I was literally covered in jewels, which made it difficult to dance, but I pushed through and made sure my movements were seen… the song was definitely the most memorable as it was amazing to see how it was edited together.”

Karishma Bhandari
Sill of Karishma Bhandari (center) surrounded by background actors in “Club Dancer”

Some of the other film credits Bhandari has become known for over the years include BAFTA nominee Jon Jones’ (Da Vinci’s Demons, Cold Feet) 2013 drama Lawless with National Television Award winner Suranne Jones (Doctor Foster), the Empire Award nominated comedy The Inbetweeners 2 with Simon Bird (Drunk History: UK, Friday Night Dinner) and James Buckley (Zapped, White Gold), Asko Pati’s (Love Station, Super Micchua) romantic action film Aashiqui: True Love with Ankush Hazra (Romeo Vs Juliet), the 2016 sci-fi drama The Conversations with Daniella Down (The Wedding Party), and more.

Having already made a name for herself in the UK and Bollywood, actress Karishma Bhandari is currently planning to make her move to the states where she will undoubtedly be in hot demand in Hollywood as well. Bhandari is currently in production with the upcoming series The Corner Shop where she plays the lead role of Maleeka, as well as the series Emergency: LA where she plays Nurse Persis Chadra. A supremely talented actress, we have no doubt that we will be seeing a whole lot more of Karishma Bhandari in the future!

How Dreamstreet Entertainment Leads Projects and A-List Talent to the Top

Story by Alex Jack

Usually it’s famous actors who attract press attention for their high-profile relationships or roles in blockbuster films. In the case of Dreamstreet Entertainment however, their unique approach to producing both feature films and TV shows that have achieved terrific levels of success mark it as a production company worthy of media coverage usually reserved for the A-list talent they employ to feature in their projects. The next year, with an innovative TV series and series of films slated for production and release, is set to be Dreamstreet’s biggest one yet.

Central to the success of Dreamstreet is its board of producers and executives, all of whom have an impressive pedigree in filmmaking to support the company’s standing in the entertainment industry. Tony Eldridge produced Denzel Washington’s “The Equalizer”, also starring Oscar-winner Melissa Leo and A-lister Chloë Grace Moretz, and is currently working on the sequel. Bradley Hirou for instance was notably an executive producer on “Roar: The Jaws of the Lion” from Iconoclast Entertainment, while VP Producer Rocky Yost was a writer of “Lilly’s Thorn,” a drama starring Windy Marshall from “Days of Our Lives” and Joseph D. Durbin (“Rangers: Furies”).

Similar to other production companies that are not necessarily tied to any one major studio, like Cross Creek Pictures (“Black Swan,” “Everest”) or A24 (“Room,” “Moonlight”), Dreamstreet Entertainment has a clear focus and uncompromised vision when it comes to its projects: an ethos of maintaining artistic integrity. This principle has given rise to Dreamstreet’s unique catalogue of distinguished narrative content and association with high-profile acting talent. Indeed, they have developed a reputation as a picture-house capable of producing popcorn fare aimed as mass audiences, as well as stories exploring humanity that attract glowing critical reviews.

“So This is Love”, helmed by now executive producer Gloria Morrison, reflected the company’s capacity for telling quirky stories with an edge before it was the norm with shows like “Love” on Netflix. In this way, it’s not untoward calling Dreamstreet a pioneer of sorts within the entertainment industry.

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Gloria Morrison on set.

Concerning an old-aged in-love couple who bicker much like Lucy and Desi on “I Love Lucy”, “So This is Love” starred Jack Donner and Jody Jarress in the leading roles.
Donner’s casting signified the power of Dreamstreet to easily acquire successful acting talent. In addition to his roles on “General Hospital” and “Cold Case,” Donner is best known for his key role in studio blockbusters “Four Holidays” with Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughan and Clint Eastwood’s “J.Edgar”, where he played Oscar-winner Leonardo Dicaprio’s father. Jarress equally brought heart to the series in the role of Josey, underscoring Dreamstreet’s reputation of bringing humanity and frank humour to their projects with known actors. Jaress, who appeared opposite Oscar-winner Adrien Brody in “Hollywoodland”, is also known for her role as Ruby in “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” and her striking appearance in the Academy-Award-nominated “Charlie Wilson’s War.” While both Donner and Jaress set a high-standard for the casting choices of Dreamstreet Entertainment, they also simply are examples of Dreamstreet’s status as a leader in entertainment.

The company’s future slate reinforces that status. “Last Ride…Ride as If It’s Your Last”, has acquired G-Machine as a distributor as well as cinematographers Steven Kaman (“Hangmen” with Sandra Bullock) and Keith Holland (“Wrong Turn”, with Eliza Dushku) to shoot it. Adding to that impressive line up, the multi-million dollar budgeted sporting-themed feature “The Futboleros” has Misha Segal (“The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Human Centipede III”) on board as the composer. A common theme between all of these projects? No doubt a desire for preserving the integrity of the story and the artists involved.

Alon Juwal’s Sci-Fi Film “Visitors” Keeps Viewers on the Edge of Their Seats

"Visitors" Alon Juwal
Film Poster for Alon Juwal’s Film “Visitors”

Last year director Alon Juwal wrote, directed and produced the riveting dramatic sci-fi film Visitors, which has been gaining traction with audiences and festivals across the U.S. since its release at the tail end of 2016.

Starring Kei’la Ryan (Bad Friends & Family, Kingdom, Night Crawlers) as Kaleigh, Nick Unger (Front Seat Chronicles, Phil of the Future) as her brother Cole, and Tim Juliano as their father, Visitors follows two siblings who return home to their estranged father’s house after a long absence, only to find their home being invaded by a group of uninvited visitors from another world as the night progresses.

Garnering extensive attention across the country, Visitors earned Juwal the Best Director of a Sci-Fi Short Award at New York City International Film Festival, as well as the Honorable Mention Award from the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival. Visitors was also nominated for awards at several festivals including the USA Film Festival, Vail Film Festival, Phoenix Comic-Con and Newport Beach Film Festival, and was chosen as an Official Selection at the New Hope Film Festival.

“Working with Alon has been an amazing experience… he doesn’t like to waste time, he knows when he has the shot which makes him a great decisive director. Alon is good at what he does because he knows that preparation is key, and you can see it in the way he put the project together,” explains Tom Edwards, Visitors’ aerial cinematographer and behind the scenes videographer.

“Before principle photography he made the time to meet up with his actors and crew members to make sure everyone was comfortable and on the same page. To have a good friend like Alon who is just as passionate as you are, working together to make stories come to life is a real charm.”

 

Visitors film Alon Juwal
Egor Povolotskiy (left), Alon Juwal & Nick Unger (right) on set of “Visitors” by Majid Alkhatib

Through the powerful combination of the film’s score, specific angles, lighting and purposeful pacing, Juwal does an impeccable job of building the suspense within the story in a way that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.

The long shots of the brother and sister running through the trees at night trying to make it to safety, while neither the characters nor the viewers really know what they are running from, the bright lights beaming down from above creating eerie silhouettes in the forest, but still leaving us unsure of where the light is coming from, and sporadic sounds of their father’s dog barking in distress, are a few of the cinematic devices Juwal employs to heighten the tension within the film.

While all of this was tantamount to nailing the thrilling, otherworldly sci-fi elements, what really makes Visitors such a unique film is the burdensome relationships Juwal paints between the siblings and their father. As the director of the film Juwal remarkably captures the palpable feeling of emotional discontent that exists between Kaleigh, Cole and their father, revealing the years of turmoil that persists within the family with a subtlety that allows the audience to draw their own conclusions. Visitors is proof that Juwal’s style is one that shows rather than tells, a mark of a truly talented and thoughtful filmmaker.

"Visitors" Alon Juwa
(left to right) Kei’la Ryan, Nick Unger, Alon Juwal & Braden Pruss on set of “Visitors” by Polina Krasovicka

Like the work of most directors, Juwal’s personal life experiences have had a strong impact on the stories he chooses to bring to life on screen. Originally from Tel Aviv, Israel, Juwal’s parents separated early on in his childhood; and it is clear to see how his first-hand experience growing up with divorced parents gave him the insight necessary to accurately portray the strained relationship that exists between the children and their father in the film Visitors.

“I spent the majority of time with my mother as I was growing up. Even though I saw my father quite often, we were always pretty distant from one another. The first thing they teach you in film school is to write about what you know, so I always tried to channel these experiences to my work,” explains Juwal.

Juwal’s approach to Visitors is uniquely powerful in that the film includes all of the elements necessary for an entertainingly suspenseful sci-fi film, while also portraying a moving emotional story that touches audiences on a deeper level.

“First and foremost, good cinema must be entertaining. Cinema is a way of escaping from reality, so when we go to the movies, we basically want a break from our boring, every-day lives. We want to be entertained,” admits Juwal. “Personally, when I go to the movies I’m looking for more than that. I want to be moved. A good movie can often stay with me for an entire day, even more.”

A beautifully shot film with a heartfelt message, it’s not at all surprising that director Alon Juwal has received such far-reaching acclaim for Visitors, and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

 

 

Director/Producer Richard Kenyon Embarks on Several New Projects

Richard Kenyon
Director/producer Richard Kenyon shot by Jill Marie Robinson

Some creatives seem to have their hands in so many different projects that we can’t help but wonder if they’ve been blessed with a superhuman gift or discovered a mysterious way to create more hours in the day. The collective work of director/producer Richard Kenyon, which spans the gamut and includes award-winning films, PSAs and high profile theatre productions, is one that begs the question: How does one man accomplish so much?

Earlier this year Kenyon produced, directed and co-wrote the film A Girl’s Guide to Drowning starring Young Artist Award nominee Alexis Rosinsky from the films My Best Friend and The Archer, as well as the Golden Globe Award winning series Modern Family.

A Girl’s Guide to Drowning brings to the screen a story about the drastic manner in which a young woman tries to cope after a painful breakup with her boyfriend. Based on the character of Ophelia from William Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet,” who is as tragic as she is iconic, Kenyon’s newest film is a modern take on a classic play, which he says is, “proof positive that Shakespeare is relevant in the 21st Century.”

The film, which is expected to screen at festivals around the world later this year, is one that Kenyon has wanted to make for many years, but only came to full fruition after a chance meeting with Alexis Rosinsky, who plays the lead character in the film.

Kenyon recalls, “My wife and I were at a dinner party and Alexis performed a monologue from Ophelia and it blew us away. She was 13 years old at the time and I have never witnessed a more natural talent than the way she spoke Shakespearean text. So my wife and I went home and wrote ‘A Girl’s Guide To Drowning’ for Alexis.”

Considering his long-standing passion for Shakespeare’s work, and his ability to craft a story that hits home with modern audiences, A Girl’s Guide to Drowning was the perfect film for Kenyon to direct.

Richard Kenyon
Director Richard Kenyon & Alexis Rosinsky on set of “A Girls Guide to Drowning” photo by Maynrad Brenes

A highly sought after director, Kenyon is also in pre-production with the film Measure for Measure, a feature based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name, which he will be producing and directing. The storyline for the film revolves around a nun who’s propositioned by a high-ranking official and faced with the decision to lose her virginity in order to save the life her brother, or do nothing and keep her chastity intact. With Kenyon behind the wheel, there’s no doubt that Measure for Measure will do justice to Shakespeare’s original play, while also appealing to the palettes of modern audiences.

“To say this film is my opus is really an understatement. I have been around this play for my entire adult life. I saw a production of it at Stratford Canada in 1992 and it hasn’t left my mind. It starred the amazing Colm Feore and a young actress by the name of Elizabeth Marvel-who now both appear in ‘House of Cards’,” explains Kenyon. “Since that day I have directed the play twice and have been in it so I know the power it has in for an audience.”

In addition to Measure for Measure, Kenyon is also busy laying the groundwork for the upcoming film Some Day, a biographical tale about the struggles he personally faced as a child when he and his family moved from England to Canada, which is slated to begin shooting in Canada at the end of the year. If his plate wasn’t full enough already, he will also be directing the upcoming horror film Branded, as well as the film Ice Cream.

A film about the penal system, which focuses on the way seemingly simple decisions are overwhelmingly difficult for prisoners as they try to assimilate back into society after being released from the system, Ice Cream is expected to begin shooting in Barcelona at the end of summer.

“It is unlike anything that I have ever been offered before which was the real attraction. I love being challenged by my work otherwise why do it,” says the director about the upcoming film.

Kenyon’s directing career, which stretches back over the past three decades, first began back home in Canada in the late ‘80s when he directed “The Actor’s Nightmare” performed at the Alberta One Act Play Festival. His love for the theatre and his unparalleled talent as a director eventually lead Kenyon to serve as the artistic director and co-founder of several prestigious theatre companies, including The Shakespeare Company (TSC), Shakespeare in the Mountains and Knights in Waiting.

Over the years Kenyon has directed innumerable iconic plays including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which was performed to sold out audiences during TSC’s inaugural summer season, “Richard the Third,” which received rave reviews for its ingenuity, “Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmond Rostand, and more.

He says, “There is something very unique and exciting when an actor steps onstage and performs. A bond is made with the audience and they aren’t afraid to tell you how they feel. That is thrilling.”

While he’s achieved extensive success as a producer and director in the film world, with his first film Insomniac winning the award for Best Overall Score at the AMPIA Rosie Award as well as being nominated for the Best Editing, Best Cinematography and Best Drama Awards, the theatre is something Kenyon says, “never leaves you.”

This summer he will be directing the production of “Hamlet” produced by the Lovers and Madmen company, which will be performed at several venues throughout Pasadena. He is also directing and producing the upcoming production of  “The Curious Mind of Will Shakespeare,” an immersion show that will take audiences into the exciting world of Shakespeare and is slated to run at the Shakespeare Club Villa of Pasadena on October 26, 27 and 29.

Maynard Brenes, who served as the director of photography on A Girl’s Guide to Drowning, says, “Richard’s theatre background is probably his most valuable asset to directing that he brings to the table day in and day out. Part of the creative puzzle is being able to communicate with talent and having that background is invaluable. His work speaks for itself.”

In addition to his film and theatre work, Richard Kenyon has also made a huge mark in the entertainment industry as the producer and director of several riveting PSAs, such as The Keys, which earned an AMPIA Rosie Award Nomination for Best PSA in 2015, as well as the “Pason Systems” PSA, which earned him an AMPIA Rosie Award Nomination for Best Producer in 2008.

Beyond all this, Kenyon is the creator and radio host of “The Director’s Cut with Rich Kenyon,” an informative series that airs on Kaotic Radio and sheds light on all areas of the film industry.

Driven to create new and enticing work at every turn, Kenyon says “Stagnation is the death of art.”  

Anyone who’s had a glimpse of Kenyon’s work over the years would easily conclude that he is definitely one creative genius who’s never stagnated, and with four new films in the works, it’s doubtable that he ever will!

In Pursuit of a Dream: Esteemed Film Composer Michael-Alexander Brandstetter

Michael-Alexander Brandstetter
Austrian Film Composer Michael-Alexander Brandstetter

Composer Michael-Alexander Brandstetter, 24, first discovered his love for film scores as a young boy at home in Eggenburg, Austria. Brandstetter, who recently composed the scores for the films The Path, Gnossienne and The Pamoja Project, began his musical journey by learning to play classical music on the piano, but for him, becoming a classical pianist was never the goal. He set his sights on becoming a film composer from the start and he wasn’t going to let anything stop him from reaching the top.

“I remember that it started when I was around seven or eight years old. I actually developed an interest in film music right from the get go. I guess, since classical music is sort of all around you in Austria, I didn’t take particular interest in it. Film music however was something different… You couldn’t just listen to it on the radio, and it wasn’t performed anywhere, so you had to either go to the movies to listen to it or buy the score album,” recalls Brandstetter.

While his contemporaries at the time were more preoccupied with listening to mainstream bands such as Slipknot and Green Day, because that was the cool thing to do, Brandstetter was busy familiarizing himself with the work of great composers like Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, Franz Schubert, Michael Kamen and other pivotal artists who would come to influence his future career as a film composer.

Within months of taking his first piano class he was already moving outside of the box and creating his own compositions, a telling sign of what the future would hold for the then budding 9 year old.

“I started playing my own tunes instead of practicing. I always hated to practice, or even to play what was written on the sheet. To me it felt like it was limiting my creativity. I would much rather take musical phrases out of the composition I was supposed to play, and improvise on it,” explains Brandstetter.

In 2004, only three years after he took his first piano lesson, Brandstetter composed the score for the sci-fi feature film U.V.O  directed by his older brother Wolfgang Brandstetter, who has become known throughout Austria for his work as the screenwriter behind the films Medcrimes – Nebenwirkung Mord, Tod in den Bergen, Wer hat Angst vorm schwarzen Mann?, Die geerbte Familie and others. In 2006, at the age of 14, Brandstetter composed the score for Wolfgang’s dramatic feature film Winter. To compose such elaborate scores for two lengthy feature films at such a young age definitely put Brandstetter in the spotlight, earning him rightful recognition as a musical prodigy in Austria.

“My parents bought me a casio keyboard and a mini disc player and I put together my musical tracks and recorded them either all together or separately… The whole thing ended up being a true art project, and it worked. I still wear a Casio digital watch today to remind me of that time when I started, with nothing more than one keyboard,” admits Brandstetter.

At the age of 14 Brandstetter discovered renowned composer Hans Zimmer’s company Remote Control Productions (RCP), which is based in Southern California and has been responsible for some of the most epic scores of our time, including those for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Iron Man, Gladiator, Mission: Impossible 2, The Last Samurai, Transformers, Kingdom of Heaven, The Da Vinci Code, Inception, Sherlock Holmes and more. Floored by the powerful work of the company, Brandstetter’s sights were set on becoming a part of RCP from that point on.

With steadfast dedication to making his dream of becoming a film composer a reality, he laid a strong foundation for himself by studying audio engineering and musicology in college in Austria, and then moving stateside where he attended USC’s screen scoring program, which is regarded as the number one school in the world for film scoring. While at USC Brandstetter was awarded the annual mentorship program with composer James Newton Howard, as well as the the Betty Rose Collaboration Award, which is determined by faculty and student votes.

Earning quite a bit of attention for his ingenious talent, his time at USC was beyond fruitful; and shortly after graduation he was tapped by Adam Michael Schiff to join Bleeding Fingers Music, a joint venture between RCP and Extreme Music as an additional music composer and junior music producer.

A defining moment in his career, being asked to join a world renowned company such as RCP was proof that Brandstetter’s hard work paid off– he had made it to the top.

“It is where I’ve always wanted to be, and I think this is what makes my story unique, that I had a goal, I made a plan, and sticked to it as much as possible and simply tried to circumvent any and all obstacles,” says Brandstetter about joining RCP.

Within a year, Brandstetter has written, arranged and orchestrated several original musical compositions for projects such as Starz Global’s Insomnia, Sony’s Snatch and Discovery Channel’s Alaskan Bush People.

As a film composer Brandstetter’s unique compositions have been integral to driving the emotions and stories of a great many films in recent years. In 2015 he composed the score for Abhijit Gajwani’s (Wabi Sabi, Mangata, Tapori) dramatic film Gnossienne, which revolves around Jeremy, a man who disconnects from the outside world after the loss of his wife.

With the difficult emotions dealt with in the story, and the fact that most of the film centers on a dialogue between Jeremy and his maid, who tries to help him move past his grief, the music for Gnossienne had to be delicate, emotive and give space for the conversation for the two main characters to unfold– something Brandstetter nailed perfectly.

He explains, “I really tweaked all the instruments I used in the score. Reversed piano sounds, distorted strings, ambient long and ominous pads, every sound was essentially custom made… I then brought in a solo violinist and recorded her on top of the rest of the music, which really brought it to life.”

Starring Manuela Osmont (Bite Me), Paula Bellamy-Franklin (I Got the Hook Up) and Matthew Michael Collins (Thin Lines) Gnossienne had an altogether positive reception on the film festival circuit taking home the Honorable Mention Award at the International Film Awards Berlin and the Certificate of Excellence Award at the Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival, as well as screening at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival Court Metrage and many more.

About working with Brandstetter on the film, director Abhijit Gajwani explains, “Before composing, he sat down and talked the tone of the story… Michael’s ability to understand the story, the characters and their conflicts sets him apart from other composers. His music feels pure and true to them… I was trying to do the impossible with this film and Michael actually pushed me further and helped me make a better film.”

The Pamoja Project
Film Poster for the “The Pamoja Project”

Brandstetter also recently composed the score for The Pamoja Project, a touching documentary from director Audrey Emerson that follows three Tanzanian women trying to uplift their community and create a change when it comes to dealing with global poverty. The word “pamoja” means “together” in Swahili, and much of the film is about how when we unite and work towards a common goal, we can overcome difficult obstacles and achieve what once seemed to be impossible.

As the composer of The Pamoja Project Brandstetter did a brilliant job of helping to set the pace of the film with his original score. His strategic use of certain musical devices were essential to both heightening the inspirational energy and driving the deeply emotional aspects within the film’s key scenes.

“I first set out to create a ‘Pamoja Theme,’ something that incorporates the essential thought that great things can only happen together. Once I had that, I created three different, but closely related soundscapes for the three women the documentary follows,” explains Brandstetter.

Released in 2016, The Pamoja Project has been praised for it’s uplifting story and has been viewed by international audiences as an Official Selection of the Chicago International Social Change Film Festival, Sunscreen Film Festival West, Rhode Island International Film Festival, Yonkers Film Festival, Massachusetts Independent Film Festival and more.

Director Audrey Emerson explains, “Michael stood out from the beginning as the obvious choice as a composer. He was not just talented, but kind, hard-working and dedicated… I felt that Michael really cared about the story and his score reflected that.”

Over the last few years Michael-Alexander Brandstetter also composed the scores for a long list of other films including Eric Baird’s (Injection) sci-fi film Time to Leave, Tiffany Danielle Brooks’ Sharing Day, the animated film Disappearance, the 2016 drama The Path starring Raleigh Cain from the series Longmire, and many more.

While Brandstetter has clearly become a highly sought after film composer in recent years, his genius compositions are definitely strong enough to stand alone– in fact, come September 16 some of his original compositions are set to be performed during the highly anticipated “Welcome Home: Walter Arlen in Concert” at the Vienna Konzerthaus, where the Vienna Symphony and the Vienna Philharmonic also perform, in Vienna, Austria.

The “Welcome Home: Walter Arlen in Concert” is a pivotal event that will welcome home composer Walter Arlen, a 96-year-old exiled artist and Holocaust survivor, whose music will be performed in Austria for the first time.

Michael-Alexander Brandstetter
Michael-Alexander Brandstetter (left) & Walter Arlen (right) at the LA Opera

Brandstetter, who organized the concert with the help of his father, a minister in the Austrian government, explains, “I met Walter at the Residence of the Austrian Consulate General when I was studying at USC… He told me that his last wish would be that his only orchestral work, ‘The Song of Songs’ would be performed in Vienna.”

Thanks to Brandstetter’s diligent efforts, Alren’s “The Song of Songs” will be performed for the first time in Vienna by musicians from  the world renowned Wiener Symphoniker orchestra, and the concert will also feature Franz Schubert’s Symphony No.5, as well as Brandstetter’s original composition “Righteous Among The Nations.”

“This piece is especially important to him since it is based on the Jewish poem ‘The Song of Songs’… He started to work on it to prove himself, and that he and his culture are not ‘inferior,’ to put it mildly, as the Nazis suggested. Working on this piece gave him strength in difficult times. So, it is an emotional homecoming,” explains Brandstetter about Arlen’s piece.

From playing a key role in Hans Zimmer’s company RCP and composing powerful film scores that touch audiences on an emotional level and effortlessly drive the visual story as it unfolds on the screen, to having his original compositions performed by one of the most notable orchestras in the world, composer Michael-Alexander Brandstetter has made more of an impact as an international composer than most will in an entire lifetime.

Brandstetter is also currently working as a composer for Extreme Music from his hometown, Vienna, where his skills in musical composition, arranging, orchestration and music editing are undoubtedly being put to good use. With an impressive library that boasts music from artists and composers such as Quincy Jones, Hans Zimmer, George Martin, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, and Junkie XL, Extreme Music is the production arm of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, which creates and licenses music for television, film, advertising and online media.

 

Korean Actor Yohan Lee Shines in the U.S.

Yohan Lee
Actor Yohan Lee

Originally from Seoul, South Korea, actor Yohan Lee is one exuberantly talented, not to mention stunning, Asian actor who’s made quite an impact in the American film industry over the last few years. From his recurring role in the comedy series Raymond & Lane starring Matt Cullen from the series CollegeHumor Originals and Skye of the Damned, to his key roles in films such as Jim Towns’ (House of Bad) 2016 horror film State of Desolation, the crime thriller Runaway Dream, the dramatic comedy Clippings and the historical horror film Comfort Girls, Yohan Lee has created a remarkable reputation for himself as an actor who is able to ease into virtually any genre and breathe life into an impressive range of characters with seamless precision.

Last year Lee took on the starring role of Jay in the award-winning film Trippin’ with the Folks directed by Meghan Weinstein (Terms and Conditions, My Delivery Guy). The film follows Kenny, a stoner artist who finds himself in an awkward situation after taking LSD with his girlfriend and unexpectedly coming face to face with his parents. When Kenny’s parents come into town for an unannounced visit he is forced to try and hide the fact that he is tripping, however things get progressively more tricky when his parents accidentally pop a few MDMA pills from Kenny’s stash.

Trippin' with the Folks
Bobby Reed (left), Kevin Ferris, Yohan Lee, & Carla Wynn (right) in “Trippin’ with the Folks”

In this hilarious comedy film Yohan Lee’s character Jay comes onto the scene as Kenny’s lovable roommate, an integral character in the story. Kenny’s only saving grace in the face of his parents, Jay goes out of his way to entertain the folks at dinner and keep the conversation flowing in order to deter them from noticing their son’s peculiar behaviour.

Trippin’ with the Folks did incredibly well on the film festival circuit taking home the Best Narrative Film Award from the CannaBus Culture Film Festival, the third place award at the New York City Cannabis Film Festival and screening as an Official Selection at the Portland Comedy Film Festival, the Hollywood Comedy Shorts Film Festival, Ha! Fest, Cinebis Film Festival and more. In Trippin’ with the Folks Lee stars alongside Chrissy Conway (The O.C., Reno 911), Kevin Ferris (Six Degrees of Everything), Bobby Reed (2 Broke Girls, Parenthood) and award-winning actress Paula Soveral (Celia, The Petal Pushers, Amor Secreto).

trippin with the folks
“Trippin’ with the Folks” film poster

Proving his versatility in terms of genre and the characters he takes on, last year Lee also starred in the horror film Dollz from director Rob Lee. In the film Lee gave a knockout performance in the lead role of Min, a Korean actor who moves to the U.S. with his girlfriend Yuni to pursue an acting career. After renting a space in a low-budget apartment that’s seems too good to be true, Min hits the pavement going on audition after audition.

About playing Min, Yohan Lee explains, “My character is very selfish, I had to be the meanest boyfriend ever… I moved to the U.S. with my girlfriend but I’m ready to abandon her at any time if I can succeed…Min is the complete opposite of me so it was a great experience for me to play that kind of character.”

Dead set on pursuing his dream of being a big star in America, Lee’s character Min might be ready to abandon his girlfriend, but making it big in Hollywood is not in the cards for him as things take an unexpected turn for the worse. When Yuni, who spends most of her time at home alone, finds a mysterious doll hidden in a cabinet within the house a malicious ghost with a vengeance is released, and the aftermath is not pretty.

In the film Dollz Lee stars alongside multi-award winning actor Klement Tinaj from the Golden Globe Award nominated film Furious 7 and WEAPONiZED starring Tom Sizemore (Natural Born Killers), Summer Rose Ly from the film 6 Love Stories, which earned multiple awards at the Williamsburg Independent Film Festival, and Natalie K. Grace from the 2017 film Cross Wars starring Danny Trejo (Machete) and Brian Austin Green (Beverly Hills 90210, Anger Management).

One of the unique aspects of the film Dollz that, aside from his unparalleled talent, made Yohan Lee the perfect actor to take on the starring role of Min in the film, was the fact that the film’s director intended to make the film in both English and Korean.

Dolllz director Rob Lee explains, “I would not have been able to make this film without Yohan. Every crew was amazed by how hard he worked on set. And also hi fluency in both Korean and English… He had to do every single scene in different languages but he always brought a great performance.”

In addition to the films Trippin’ with the Folks and Dollz, actor Yohan Lee also recently wrapped production on T.J. Choi’s (Quicksand, Palpitations) thriller film Plight of the Korean Mother with Greena Park (The Devil, Lunch Special, Lawyers), the dramatic action film Untamed with Leann Van Mol (My Crazy Ex, It’s Dark Here) and the upcoming sci-fi series Black Dossier with Laura Owens (Rizzoli & Isles) and Ryan Groves (Westworld, Dominion).