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Director John Wate lives childhood dream when making ‘Samurai Warrior Queens’

JW Samurai Warrior Queens
John Wade, Photo by Roberto Vivancos

Growing up in Berlin and Munich, Germany, John Wate found a passion in Manga comics at a young age. He was intrigued by the style of the Japanese graphic novels and began drawing his own at just ten years of age. Even then he knew he was meant to tell stories, but as he began transitioning away from drawing and into filmmaking, his innate drive to be a storyteller never wavered.

Now, Wate is a renowned director in his home country and abroad. Two of his past films, The Sword of the Samurai and The Samurai Bow, made it for 4 years into the top twenty of National Geographic Channel’s worldwide most popular documentaries. He is known for his unwavering dedication to his craft, and his work on projects like Epic Warrior Women, Samurai Headhunters, and Samurai Warrior Queens, projects that reminded him just why he got into filmmaking in the first place.

“One of the first manga stories I ever wrote when I was a teenager was that of a female samurai kicking ass. When I was sitting in the edit room watching Samurai Warrior Queens chasing inslow motion across a bridge towards the enemy with their blades drawn, I felt as though I was having my teenage wishes fulfilled,” said Wate.

The drama documentary Samurai Warrior Queens tells the real-life story of Samurai woman Takeko Nakano who in 1868 fights for her clans’ independence in a final battle that marks the end of the Samurai era. The legends of the Samurai seem to be an all-male affair; but contrary to popular belief, Samurai women stood their ground in countless battles and castle sieges. Takeko Nakano fights for her clans’ independence in a final battle that marks the end of the Samurai era.

“It is almost unknown that female samurai existed, let alone that they stood on the battlefield. Recent DNA from battlefields found that 30 percent of the sampled bones belonged to female fighters. However, for proud male samurai it was regarded as a shame if you had to rely on women to win your battle, so their presence was hardly ever recorded. The film can give them their place in history,” said Wate. “Takeko’s life provided a great arc and was pretty much a metaphor for the end of the samurai era as a whole. The role of female heroes has not received much attention until recent years, especially in Japan, and the story sheds a very different light on what in the West is often perceived as the general submissive and weak, moon gazing Japanese female persona.”

Wate enjoys strong female characters and had already come across different accounts of strong female samurai and wanted to show what their life was like. Their education, their ability to stand up against the more famous samurai in battle, it was all an intriguing topic that Wate wanted to really dig into.

Extensive background research of local folk tales and chronicles eventually led him to choose the life story of Takeko Nakano. She grew up in Aizu, a proud province in northern Japan where education, etiquette and martial arts were held in high esteem. Her father was a commander in a clan that understood itself as the protector of the Shogun. When the Shogun was threatened by other clans, supplied by Western firepower, the Aizu fought their last battles that eventually ended in the end of the samurai era. Takeko was very talented with the Naginata, a polearm or a samurai blade with a meter-long grip at the end. She was an instructor and took it on herself to recruit other female combatants to charge against the enemy but was eventually killed during the assault by a bullet.

To understand how she lived, how she might have seen her daily duties, why she refused to marry and fight instead, Wate traveled to her home province, went to research local archives, see their castle defenses, and really explore what her life would have been like. He then developed the script, cast the film, and got to shooting.

“I loved showing the world of the samurai, their attitude, ideals of honor and courage from a female perspective. In some ways they had to endure more than their male counterparts. Not only because they were often the pawns in the marriage game, but also because they had to fight and stand in for the actions of their husbands, their clan and the Shogun. I also found it fascinating and horrifying at the same time how they were taught to pursue grace even in death. Female samurai carried a dagger with them at all times once they reached womanhood to defend their honor. If they were in danger to be captured and raped, they would often have to commit suicide and were taught already as teenagers to tie their knees together with their belts, so that their legs would still look graceful after their death,” he described.

The film was distributed worldwide and nominated on the short list for the IMPACT Award, losing to the Academy-Award winning film Lincoln. It aired in the United States on the Smithsonian Network in 2015 where it still plays regularly, and is available to stream currently on various platforms, including Amazon and Hulu.

By Sean Desouza

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Actress Elysia Rotaru on breaking into performance capture work

ELYSIA_7439My name is Elysia Rotaru and I have been working as a professional actress since 2008. You may recognize me from the hit show Arrow and the voice of Beatrice Villanova in FIFA 2018, FIFA 2019, and FIFA 2020, as well as countless other films and television series.

In 2010, I also began my voice over career. As a voice artist, I have lent my voice to over 1000 projects, ranging from, commercials, animations, video games, promo spots for TV Networks and selected shows, educational videos, phone systems, A.I technologies and operating systems and many more, working with clients in the USA and Canada on a global scale.

The world of voice over is vast, fast and a ton of fun, and is a great compliment to working on camera, if you can maintain the balance and stay open to the opportunities.

Performance capture work is a great way to expand your skill set as an actor. Remember Avatar? Or Gollum in Lord of the Rings? These performances used performance capture technology to blend real life and animation, allowing you to film someone live and transfer them into computerized form. If you are looking to branch out into this genre of the field, but don’t quite know how to get your foot in the door, I’ve included some helpful tips and insider information below.

How to prep

Well there are now classes you can take to get familiar with all the oddities of the performance capture world, and I recommend pairing that with acting classes and voice over classes, if you’re just starting out in the biz in general. Also any extraordinary skills like martial arts, sword work, stunting, dance etc. are a bonus in my eyes. This area is one of the most challenging ones to break into, so having a great voice and/or on-camera agent who is in-the-know about this work would be great. A voice over demo and video reel showcasing your physical skill sets is a huge step up as well and hopefully gets you through the door to an audition.

During the audition

With performance capture video games, they may not only be looking for “realistic, grounded and engaging ” voice performances, they are also looking to hire you for your aesthetic and physical portrayal of your character(s). This area of the voice over world is a unique blend of theater, on camera and perhaps stunt work. Therefore, the more training you have, especially in specific areas like sword work, dance, firearms etc. might give you an advantage.

When it comes time to audition, one must prepare the script to be off-book. They ask that you also show off as much physicality as possible from the given stage directions and if there are none, time to use your imagination to show off your range, creativity and commitment to the work. Also, wear form fitting clothes, as the casting director will usually have that noted in detail.

It’s important to remember the audition is usually a full-body frame, where all your physical life can be seen. I know they also appreciate facial expressions, as that is a huge element to performance capture.

Now also note: the projects are 99.9% of the time super confidential with strict NDA’s and the material you’re auditioning with may not be the actual script. So, it’s really up to you to do the best you can with your prep and bring it to life, fully articulated in voice and body and have fun!

The job

When you book the job and get on to a performance capture set, it’s a magical experience.

Your preparation must be amazing in regards to having the text memorized/off-book. Depending on the project, you can usually figure out what you’re prep work will entail.

However, you should be able to create character choices that support the story ahead of time and bring in your choices, an also be ready to let go of them too, if new direction is presented on the day.

Be ready to work in a Velcro bodysuit, covered in reflective balls with a tiny camera attached to headgear pointed at your face the whole time and dots marked on your face. This isn’t the on camera glam you can experience on a TV or film set so be ready to feel a little vulnerable and out of your comfort zone, that is until you get in the zone.

You will be working with a large group of people: a dev team, make-up artists, producers, a voice director, cinematic director, the rest of the cast, and more, so be ready to learn new rules that are particular to performance capture, that after repeating a few times, will become second nature in that environment.

The crew usually helps build you a basic set, but most often, your imagination and guidance from the directors are what you play by. In some cases, you might be given new lines to memorize on the day, like a soap opera and with a limited number of takes to execute the scenes.

The work takes place in what is normally called a “volume”, a large space with hundreds of cameras lining the walls and ceiling to capture every single movement the actors in the scenes will perform. From a grand gesture like walking and waving, to the tiniest movement, like a pinky finger twisting and the furrow of a brow. Having a great sense of spatial and physical awareness is a great asset, hence why I see a lot of actors with theater training booking work in the performance capture world. That is not to say you must have that as a background, as anyone with a desire to learn and the passion for the craft of acting and voice work can have great opportunities and a fulfilling career working in performance capture.

A talk with renowned cinematographer Feixue Tang

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 presetWhen Feixue Tang thinks back to growing up in Beijing, China, she recalls her middle school and high school years as being extremely dull and oppressive. The school system only cared about high grades, and students are then rated, ranked, and sorted based on academic performances. As an escape, the young Tang started watching a lot of films in her own time. She felt her life expand through immersing herself in all those different movies around the world.

“When I was in high school, I watched Elephantby Gus Van Sant. I was very impressed by the film as it showed me the great possibilities of what film as an art form could be like. I really loved how Elephantplayed with narrative structure and perspectives to tell the story artfully and creatively and how it utilized the form to serve the best of its content. While watching behind the scenes of the film it fascinated me seeing all these different crafts and creative minds going into the making of a film,” said Tang.

As a young teenager, Tang knew she wanted to one day go on to making movies. She wanted to tell stories and share a part of herself with the world through her work. Now, she has achieved all that and more. She is an award-winning cinematographer, internationally in-demand with a series of decorated projects highlighting her resume.

Throughout her career, Tang has shown what she is capable of as a cinematographer. Earlier this year, she made headlines with the multiple awards she took home for her outstanding cinematography on the film Here & Beyond. The experience of making the film, for Tang, was one of the best of her career, and the awards and recognition are secondary to simply loving what she does.

“I would say the highlights of my career are the moments when as a cinematographer, you meet a director that you can communicate so well with and with whom your collaboration is so spontaneous, fluid, inspiring and creative,” said Tang. “The collaboration with director Colin West on Here & Beyond was definitely one of my highlights. We talked day after day in pre-production discussing how to create the visual world for his film Here & Beyond. That collaboration, the continuously mutual inspiring experience was definitely why I chose and love this job.”

Here & Beyond is just one of Tang’s many success stories. She was also recently nominated for Best Cinematography of a Documentary Short Film at the Asian Cinematography Awards for her work on Lumpkin, GA, which dives into the issues surrounding America’s immigration policies by documenting the stories of a small town with a huge immigration detention center right next to it.

Lumpkin, GA’s praise is hardly Tang’s first success story in the documentary genre. Her film Who We Are, a film that starts in the midst of America’s Opioid Epidemic when a Southern California family searches for meaning in the wake of their son’s death, received critical acclaim at many international film festivals.

Undoubtedly, Tang is a force to be reckoned with as a cinematographer, and she understands the intricacies of the artform more than most. She did not always know this would be her path, but she knows she is just where she is meant to be and worked hard to get there. For those who are pursuing a similar dream, she offers the following advice:

“I think in general to work in film you need to be really passionate about what you do. It’s working long hours, it’s challenging physically and intellectually, and compared to other jobs it has so many turbulences and unknowns. I think feeling that you honestly love the job and enjoy being emerged in it is very important. And then just continue learning and never stop,” she advised.

Be sure to keep an eye out for Tang’s future projects. She is about to begin work on a new feature length documentary, as well as a fictional movie. You can stay up-to-date with her work by checking out her website here.

 

By John Michael

Otavio Rabelo talks passion for graphic design and working with ‘TheWrap’

IMG_0565As an industry-leading Editorial and Marketing Designer with Deadline Hollywood, Otavio Rabelo works with typography, colors, images and other design elements to create unique graphic layouts that are printed or used digitally. He designs conceptual layouts to all sections of a magazine using all the mentioned elements on computer software, and he is responsible for checking and sending final files to printers and making sure that everything is going to be printed correctly. It is a pivotal role in the success of each issue of a magazine he touches, and he knows this well. He remains dedicated to his craft at all times, a true perfectionist.

“Publications are always trending around the most well-known people in all fields. People love to read about who is on top of the world. I work creating printed and digital content to announce nominees and winners. It’s fun to get to know before everybody else what the editorial team is thinking,” said Rabelo.

Prior to his work with Deadline, Rabelo worked with other renowned magazines, including FourTwoNine and TheWrap, the latter of which truly allowed his work to be seen by Hollywood’s elite on a regular basis.

TheWrap is a well-known entertainment magazine in Hollywood/Los Angeles. When the opportunity presented itself to me, I was excited to grow as an Editorial Designer and show my design skills to such a great audience. The magazines that I design are only distributed to the most well-known people in the industry,” he said. “TheWrapis a small company but very well- known in the entertainment industry. Working there I was able to use my own design skills as an outlet for the projects.”

Working at TheWrap presented several new and unique challenges for Rabelo, who had previously never designed for the entertainment industry. It was his first time working with Oscar and Emmy Seasons, and he had no idea how the entertainment world worked. There are always new films and TV shows being released, as well as nominations and awards, the Oscars and Emmys are extremely important and he had no idea how complex the film industry was, with new festivals always coming up that he needed to stay on top of. He loved the challenge and knew understanding the industry was extremely important in knowing the design, as he had to understand his target market. Now, he feels like a seasoned professional, and the learning curve was well worth it.

“Getting to know the inside of the entertainment industry for the first time was very new to me. I got to see the world’s most famous actors, actresses and directors in person. It was the first time that I realized that my work was important and respected by those professionals,” he said.

Rabelo was responsible for designing and creating layouts for different sections of each publication. He was also in charge of checking and sending advertisements with final editorial files to the printer. He made sure to always have a perfect copy, as if something was incorrect after the final approval, there was no way to fix it. During his time at the magazine, there was never a single mistake to be fixed.

“Since it was such a small company, everybody at TheWrap was always very connected with me and my work. People would often ask my opinions about multiple projects based on my skills. Once the magazine was out everybody would be very nice and compliment me a lot about the issues,” he said.

By Annabelle Lee

Producer Gaurang Bhat terrifies audience with horror flick ‘Vengeance’

As a celebrated film producer in his home country of India, for Gaurang Bhat, the most fundamental aspect of his role is simple: storytelling. Every captivating film tells a powerful story, and Bhat never takes on a project unless he believes in the script. He knows that the filmmaking process is a collaboration, and he always makes sure his team has the same goal as he does, to create a great film that entertains the masses, and to tell a great story.

This devotion to his craft is evident on every project he takes on. He has been pivotal to the success of many acclaimed films, including Never Too Late, Sushi Man, Nimbus, and SPARSH: A Leprosy Mission, which has received great praise at many prestigious international film festivals. He also has contributed to popular television shows, including Netflix’s hits Chefs Table Season 6and Street Food Asia as a consultant.

One of Bhat’s first tastes of international success came back in 2015 with his film Vengeance. The horror flick tells the story of four friends who, when a common friend dies in a car accident, decide to go in a house away from the city to film their own eulogies before the funeral. The situation turns dark when a fifth person menaces to kill them.

Vengeance“I always wanted to be part of a horror film. I have been a fan since I was a kid. I wanted to try my hand at a fun slasher movie, but this film has so much more than just gore, blood, and violence. That’s why as soon as Luca Ripamonti completed the script, I knew I was working on the film. This story takes a little bit of a different approach as its more about the creeping human fear of a mysterious masked figure. You rarely see the masked figure in the film. It’s all very grounded and psychological,” said Bhat.

From the moment Bhat began working on Vengeance, everything was smooth sailing. He and his team completed the project with ease. Bhat had a lot of creative inputs on the project. He worked on securing the funds and marketing and was involved in making sure that they completed the film as efficiently as possible, overlooking the whole development and production of the film. Based on the ease of filming, he more than did his job.

“It was a very good experience and it’s always great to work with friends. Luca and I have known each other for the longest time now. We still speak every day discussing films and new projects,” said Bhat.

Bhat’s work in marketing the film made it a tremendous success, as the film was selected for many prestigious film festivals, including Infinity Film Festival, Roma Doc and Visionaria, and the world-renowned Cannes Short Film Corner.

“I am ecstatic that the film was such a success. Not everyone can say that their project has been to Cannes. It’s such an honor. I am delighted beyond words. It’s sure been a long project but we got there, and it was great. It was always a dream to have film at Cannes,” said Bhat.

Needless to say, Bhat is at the top of his game as a producer, constantly creating successful projects that captivate audiences in India and around the world. He spends every day living his dream, and although it wasn’t always an easy road to get to the esteemed point in his career he is at now, he knows that working hard does indeed pay off.

“If you too want to be a producer, just keep working and do whatever odd jobs you get. Keep making connections in the field, keep being productive. You never know when you’ll meet someone who might offer you their next project, sometimes it just depends on luck and being there at the right moment. Also, be nice to everyone and be patient, it’s the most important thing in this industry, I can’t stress enough. When I was young, I might have burned some bridges, but I hope others don’t make the same mistake,” he advised.

 

By John Michaels

Graham Fortin talks passion for editing and working on ‘Roam’

GRAHAM 1
Graham Fortin, photo by Katrin Braga

Growing up in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Graham Fortin enjoyed putting puzzles together from a young age. He felt a rush when he would connect two pieces together, slowly creating a beautiful picture. As a teen, when he was taking a film class in school that required him to make a match cut of someone opening a cupboard door, he was instantly satisfied. He felt the same thrill from when he would make a puzzle, and he knew in that moment he found his passion in life.

Now, Fortin is an internationally sought-after editor, working on many hit films and television shows. Best known for his work on Viceland’s The Wrestlers and Mister Tachyon, Khalid’s Free Spirit, and the award-winning Pour Retourner that premiered at the iconic Tribeca Film Festival, Fortin has had a tremendous career, living his childhood dream.

Fortin enjoys working on many different types of projects, which is evident when you glance at his resume. Whether working on a hit film or unique passion project, he puts his heart and soul into his work. The 2017 drama Roam is a perfect example of this determination.

Telling the story of one dark night on the road to adulthood, where a teenage boy must choose between his friends and his future, Roam is a passion project of Writer/Director Michael Milardo. Milardo had a very clear vision as to what he wanted and Fortin enjoys that as an editor. If he knows what the director is going for ahead of time, it helps him feel incredibly comfortable signing on, knowing he is in good hands.

“I like Michael’s story, that it reminded me of my own youth. It reminded me of moments where I was peer pressured into being part of the group. I think it’s important to reflect on those moments and consider that maybe you’ve got to fight that even as an adult. It’s easy to just go with the flow in life. Sometimes you’ve got to listen to that inner voice and create some conflict to move forward,” said Fortin.

Fortin heavily related to the story, who had similar teenage years and tapped into that. He remembers roaming the streets as a teenager aimlessly with friends. He wasn’t the alpha male of the group, so he related to Jacob, the main character. At the end of the film, Jacob kind of stands up for himself a bit, or is at least on the road to it, and Fortin used his own experiences to hit those emotional beats.

roam_short_film_bobby_shore“I liked the subject matter of the film. I liked the vulnerability of the main character. The project was well thought out look and style wise, and I had a lot of options in terms of footage, so it was a great puzzle to put together. I’m into films that take place during one night, as I find it’s a cool headspace to be in. The role technology plays in our lives is also part of the story. It takes place in the 90s and you forget what it was like to have to rely on landlines,” said Fortin.

Fortin’s connection to the film ended up touching the hearts of its audience. The project was a Vimeo Staff Pick, and for the editor, it was amazing to see all that hard work pay off. He always hopes that his projects will be a success, but seeing that “Staff Pick” sticker on the corner of the video was an amazing feeling.

“I’m happy to get it out there and hear people enjoy it. Having people connect emotionally with the story is the most important thing. I think people related to the main character and cared about his arc. I’m incredibly proud of the story we told and how it turned out. Sometimes you work on projects that don’t quite connect and this one did,” he said.

Watch Roam here and see Fortin’s heartfelt editing.

 

By John Michaels

Editor Shuo Wang tells impactful LGBTQ story in award-winning documentary

Film is a window for audiences to feel emotions and experiences that they may never have the chance to otherwise. The editor plays a fundamental role in the filmmaking process, the storyteller behind-the-scenes. Whenever Shuo Wang sits in the editing room to begin her work, she feels she is in her own space to create a compelling story. It is her time to express her creativity, where she can explore endless possibilities to captivate audiences all around the world.

As a sought-after editor in her home of China and abroad, Wang knows just how to tell a good story. This is evident with her films like A Mistake, Outlander, Mire, 100 Days Under, and more. She uses editing to entertain and educate her audiences on various concepts and loves every moment of it.

“As an editor, I like to try different possibilities and to see different results. Under my editing, I want to make the individual clips into a live and vivid story. The story may have some life experience, suggestions and principles that could share with the audience and give them inspiration. Every time I am editing different narrative films or documentaries, I also meet different characters and real people with their own stories. I want to use my editing ability and thoughts to make every story look more alive,” she said.

Wang strives to tell impactful stories through her work, which is just what she did with her recent documentary Somewhere Between. This true life story is about a Christian living a double life. On one side, she is a devote Christian, and on the other side, she is homosexual. Her life is battled back and forth, and she continues to find the answers of it. The story is about self-identification and finding the balance between two different sides in one person’s life.

“The interviewee Farrahn is not the only person in this situation that has this confusion about her life. There must be a large group of people in similar situations and might have different struggles in their life. This is an ordinary everyday story that could happen to many people around the world. People who see this story will hopefully feel some encouragement and hope to overcome their struggles and difficulties and become who they want to be,” said Wang.

Wang was there during shooting over the course of two months, understanding Farrahn’s life and how to best tell the story when it came to editing. When it came time to create the first cut of editing, she had a good idea of the interviews and the timeline which made for a seamless editing experience. However, after watching the film, she realized there needed to be more information about her life before the documentary started shooting, and wanted to include information about her childhood that Farrahn described as horrible. Therefore, Wang added b-rolls and included more of Farrahn’s internal struggles and changes. B-rolls are the cutaway shots that play an important role in any documentary. After the second cut, she decided to add a scene of the interviewee singing, to allow audiences to truly understand the emotion behind the story. Her editing played a fundamental role in the shaping of the story.

“As the editor in this project, I am the visual storyteller and kind of the second writer to create a live and vivid story. Sometimes, I am more familiar with the footage than the director. Therefore, under most circumstances, I have the accurate ability and observation to make decisions about shot choices. And also, as the editor, I have the ability to find a unique story through all the footage I received and put all useful clips together to create the story in a visual way,” she said.

Somewhere Between premiered early 2019, and has since gone on to win several awards, including Best Documentary Short at the London Independent Film Awards and an Official Selection at the Oceanside International Film Festival. Wang is thrilled for the success of the film, but the greatest reward for the editor comes from sharing such an important story with audiences around the world.

“Although it is a sad and heartbreaking story from the perspective of an outsider, it is also a story that shows how she struggles and tries to find herself from the perspective of the interviewee. As an editor, I consider myself a visual storyteller behind the scenes. Making this documentary is not only about getting awards, but more importantly, this emotional story could have a positive influence on those people who see it,” she concluded.

 

By John Michaels