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Cinematographer Shuntian Jiang works alongside one of China’s biggest stars for new Descente commercial

When Shuntian Jiang decided he wanted to make movies, he considered being a director. However, he discovered quickly that directing is often more managing and hustling than it is creating. Jiang knew that lifestyle wasn’t for him; he is an artist. He quickly fell in love with cinematography, because the only thing that makes him happy is to tell a good story with emotional images.

Throughout his career, Jiang has shown the world why he is such a celebrated cinematographer in China. His contributions to countless productions, including La Pieta, Path to Salvation, and No Home for Young Man, have impressed the masses, with his passion and determination shining through in every shot.

“When I was growing up, I never felt like I could work a regular office job. Just the thought of it killed me. I think I’m very blessed to become a working cameraman. I love to wake up each morning and go to a strange location and make it look nice. I also love the vibe of a production, people with the same passion making movie magic happen,” he said.

One of Jiang’s more recent projects is a commercial for the Japanese sports clothing and accessories company Descente. The purpose of the commercial series is to promote the 2019 spring/summer apparel, featuring international movie and TV star Daniel Wu.

As the cinematographer, Jiang worked closely with the client and director as well as the still photographer to come up with the look to best showcase their product and the charisma of super star Daniel Wu, best known for the Netflix series Into the Badlands. Wu is a legend in Hong Kong cinema, and Jiang was honored to work with such an icon and create a series of commercials for a famed brand like Descente, which was formed in 1935.

“Descente is a good combination of fashion and function. The quality is very good, the fabric texture is very hi-tech, which is great for extremely close up shots. The designer has included many details in the clothing, so I can get a lot of different close ups for different looks. Basically, there are a lot of options for how I can show the products,” said Jiang.

Descente bts with star Daniel Wu gaffer Guoqing FuThe commercial features Wu participating in a variety of sports in different Descente outfits to showcase the function of the product through his charisma. There were eight different looks, and they had to shoot everything in a singular day, which was an enormous challenge but one Jiang looked forward to. It was a daylight shoot, so he didn’t use any lights. He had a grip team just to hold all of the equipment to follow the star so he could move quickly without sacrificing quality. In a shoot with such a short time frame, this approach was essential to the commercial’s success. Jiang had everything planned perfectly during pre production to ensure a smooth shoot. He scouted the location and took photographs of each possible frame beforehand to show the director. His work ethic was outstanding.

“I liked the working style of this commercial; it is a little different than other shoots, but it was still a very interesting experience. We really needed to focus to make sure there were no mistakes, but once a look was completed, we relaxed a bit while we planned out the next one. This made it feel more like 30 minutes of intense work here and there rather than an exhausting 12-hour day,” described Jiang. “Another thing I really liked was working with Daniel, he is such a big star but he is very humble and professional.”

The Descente commercial was distributed on the WeChat page. WeChat is the most popular Chinese chatting/social media app and has more than 1 billion users. The commercial is also displayed on the front page of Descente’s official Chinese website. All the site visitors see it immediately, where it links directly to the products.

“Even though everyone was expecting this project to be a success, because it’s a very well-known brand with a very well-known star, I’m still really happy when my friends and family see the commercial. They just see it randomly on WeChat, without me sharing it to them. It’s such a great feeling,” he concluded.

By John Michaels

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China’s Yihan Xu animates for sold out European concert tour

As an internationally sought-after motion designer, Xu combines her passions of animation and illustration to bring captivating and artistic graphics to various projects all over the world. She specializes in two-dimensional character animation, which involves bringing small characters to life on every project she embarks on. She begins by taking a script or basic description of the character and plays with lines, shapes, and color until she eventually has created an all new being. It is truly magical.

Xu had worked as an animator with many high-profile design and animation studios for countless renowned clients, including Apple, Samsung, T-Mobile, HBO, AirBnB, and more. However, one thing she loves about her job is that in addition to working on television shows, movies, commercials, and videos, she also gets to work on concerts for some of the world’s biggest stars.

Pop music has always been one of my interests. I am a sucker for almost all the mainstream music. I love listening to music and I am usually stuck in one to two hours of traffic every day, so I pass the time by doing car karaoke while driving. It is exciting to get to work with well-known pop stars on their music videos and graphics projects,” she said.

Xu worked with Possible Inc., a leading design company, as one of the lead animators/compositors on the project. She worked closely with Creative Director Michael Figge to design, shoot, animate, and edit together 27 custom full-song scenics for artist Chris Brown’s European tour. The concept was to use different graphics elements and textures for each song to convey different moods to the fans at the concerts.

Each artist was assigned five songs and needed to create visual elements for the music videos first and combine those elements into After Effects software for compositing. Xu was responsible for “Don’t Judge Me”, “New Flame”, “Five More Hours”, “Ayo” and “Loyal”, some of Brown’s biggest hits. She combined visual elements for the songs and put them together onto one screen, making sure that all those elements were part of the same scene and matched with the themes of the music videos.

“I like Chris Brown’s music. It is thrilling to get to work on some animation and compositing for something you listen to every day. Also, I like doing composting work for music videos. It is amazing to see how visual elements synchronize with the beats, tempo, and the whole style of the music. For example, in the song “New Flame”, we created lots of different shapes and forms of flames for the song. It was fun to composite different shapes of fire to get the best result for the music videos,” said Xu.

Xu’s graphics were played in 15 different cities in Europe during the “One Hell of a Night Tour” including Munich, Paris, Hamburg, Oslo, and more. The tour and its animation received a lot of public attention and they delivered a successful sold out tour to the fans. For Xu, knowing so many around Europe saw her beautiful artwork is reward enough, because she simply loves doing what she does.


By John Michaels

Hair/Makeup Artist Zuleikha Stevens brings in the morning with Australia’s number one breakfast show

ZulheikaAs an industry leading hair and makeup artist in Australia, Zuleikha Stevens does not simply apply some makeup and style hair, she transforms people. Every day, she makes people feel like the best version of themselves, enhancing one’s natural beauty and allowing them to feel good on the inside as well as out.

“You can really change someone’s day or moment in their life. As a makeup artist, there is a beautiful trust that your client enlists in you to transform their face,” she said.

From sporting events like Big Bash and Supercars to renowned channels including MTV and Network 7, Stevens has conquered the beauty world in Australian television. She loves the versatility of her chosen career, with something different to look forward to on every new project.

“You can be a part of so many different and exciting things from red carpet, to live music, sports, advertising, editorial, news, TV drama, breakfast shows, etc. You can take your makeup skills anywhere in the world,” said Stevens.

Stevens mentioned breakfast shows because of her work with Sunrise, Australia’s number one morning show. As one of the main makeup artists for the breakfast show, she is a pivotal part of the team to make sure the looks are current, appropriate and on trend and that everyone gets to air on time and ready for a three and a half hour long live show.

“I love working on Sunrise and have for years; the challenge of live TV is exciting. It’s the number one rated breakfast show on Australian TV. The show covers everything from news, sports, the days hot topics, entertainment and current affairs to everyone right across the country,” said Stevens.

Stevens personally takes care of Entertainment Main Host Edwina Bartholomew, Sport Host Mark Beretta and Co-Host David Koch every day, as well as a variety of guests. The guests vary every day, and can be famous musicians, celebrities, doctors, journalists, specialists, politicians and more.

“It’s people telling their story. I love the variety of people we meet and get to do hair and makeup on.  I learn a lot from everyone that sits in my chair and knowing everyone’s story brings so much more to my life. It is so nice to have someone in my chair and watch them transform with makeup. This is vital for them to feel confident and good when going on screen,” said Stevens.

Stevens thoroughly enjoys working on Sunrise as she gets to use her hair and makeup skills, and get the talent looking and feeling good. She makes decisions with the hair and makeup depending on what the hosts are wearing, what their look may be, what they are talking about and basically the overall feeling of the day. She even sometimes utilizes her fashion stylist/wardrobe skills if anything needs to be steamed, changed, or mended. To do all of this, Stevens always has to stay on top of trends and work quickly. Working with the talent and wardrobe department in regard to looks and trends is extremely important for a live morning show. All of the hosts need to look good together. On top of this, Stevens and her team start work very early every morning and are often some of the first people the hosts see, so they need to be energetic and ready for anything live TV can throw at them.

“It is so nice to be part of such an ongoing successful show, seeing your makeup work up on the screen day after day and showcased all over the country.  Seeing something that I do that I am passionate about every day is so great, it makes getting up in the middle of the night worth it, especially when the hosts are happy, and you meet so many amazing and talented guests and make them feel good. Being part of a team that brings so many stories and news to everyone’s lives is a great feeling,” she said.

Sunrise is on Network 7 every day at 5:30 a.m. Be sure to give it a watch to see the touching stories and Stevens’ beautiful work.

 

By John Michaels

Alex Stewart composes island themed music for ‘Temptation Island’

As a musician, Alex Stewart knew that performing never intrigued him. Instead, it was the avenues of music that didn’t involve a stage. With a passion for television and the movies, he found himself drawn to the power of a score and its ability to alter the emotions of a scene. He realized at only 16 years old that he wanted to be a part of the aspect of movie magic and has never looked back. He is now a celebrated composer with countless esteemed projects on his decorated resume, and as the masses enjoy his work, he knows this is what he was destined to be doing.

Stewart has made quite a name for himself in his home of Australia and in the United States, composing for hit shows like Paradise Hotel, The Contender, and The Curse of Civil War Gold, and films like Cosmic Fling. He knows how to entertain through his music, and how to tell a story. Composing for reality television requires a unique touch, as it is real people’s lives you are conveying through each note. He executes such a large task with perfection with every project he takes on.

“I believe that a piece of music is only as good as its fundamental idea. If your melody, chord progression, or original idea is bad, then there is no way the piece can be good. I often spend the most time working on just the idea because it’s easy to build the piece if the idea is good. Badly written music can easily ruin a project,” said Stewart.

Music is an essential part of the experience when watching any film or television show, and Stewart knows this well. On Fox’s acclaimed reboot of the reality show Temptation Island, Stewart knew that his score was of the utmost importance to keep audiences engaged.

In this social experiment, four couples at a crossroad in their relationship put their love to the test by giving “single life” a try. On the Hawaiian island of Maui, they’ll take a break from each other while living in separate houses with sexy singles to discover if there is another partner with whom they are more compatible. In the end, will the couples leave together? Will they leave with one of the island’s “tempters”? Or will they break up and go home alone? Whatever the outcome, there is plenty of drama along the way.

“As we watch the events and drama that unfolds, it raises questions that many people might not normally ask themselves about their own relationships, both intimate and not intimate. Some of the people in this show rediscover a love and value in their partner, and others realize that maybe they’re better off taking different paths. It’s important for us to question why we choose to have certain people in our lives so we, as individuals, can thrive and not let others stand in the way of us getting to where we want to be,” said Stewart.

Stewart works with the immensely popular music production company Burnett Music Group on the show, who constantly reach out to the composer for contract work, knowing he is one of the best. Burnett was looking for a modern pop style sound with elements of tropical music that underscored the drama. This presented a fun challenge for Stewart, as these are two styles of music that do not typically go together. Therefore, a lot of the music he wrote for the show is electronic, but with instruments that make one think of the beach, like ukulele, steel pan, bongos, and conch shell. They were also looking for a vast range of emotions, everything from deep sadness, to upbeat dancing music, and Stewart delivered. His music captured the show very well, letting the audience be taken away with the cast to the tropical island through the sound, and also amplifying the emotions in each scene.

“I liked the challenge of combining modern pop with tropical/island sounds in various emotions and energy levels. But outside of that, I really liked working with the other people on the project. Everyone involved was an awesome person and easy to work with. I thought it was a fantastic opportunity to get better at writing quickly. Sometimes I struggle with getting things done fast, so I used this project to practice getting music written and mixed within a day. I always enjoy challenging myself,” he said.

Temptation Island premiered on the USA Network on January 15th, 2019. It was a weekly episodic show that ran for 11 episodes, with extremely high ratings. For Stewart, that success is secondary, as he just likes to make music that audiences enjoy listening to.

“It feels nice to know that I was able to be a part of a show that so many people enjoy. It was a great project to contribute to. Seeing all the ads and hearing people talk about it online has been awesome and I’m certainly happy that most of the reviews and talk around this show has been positive. I look forward to the chance to work on another season,” he concluded.

 

By John Michaels

Canada’s Michael Shlafman talks importance of music in documentaries

Always a musician, Canada’s Michael Shlafman found himself drawn into the world of composing and orchestrating for film and television because of its limitless possibilities. There are almost no creative boundaries when working in the medium outside of what is dictated by the needs of the project. He can go from working on a score that features a jazz trio one day to a symphony orchestra the next, and that is what excites him; he simply aims to make authentic and sincere music, with endless flexibility and an eagerness and willingness to always be learning and growing.

“I like to think that my style of composing is whatever it needs to be for a given project – after all, that’s what I love so much about working in this medium in the first place. Though I really love to write music that combines traditional acoustic instruments with electronic elements such as recorded and manipulated sound effects, synthesizers, etc. into a hybrid sound that blends sound design with more traditional styles of music,” he said.

Throughout his esteemed career, Shlafman has become an internationally sought-after composer and orchestrator. Millions around the world have heard his work, whether in the multi-million dollar movie Pet Sematary (orchestrator) or the television shows LARPs: The Series (composer) and Best. Worst. Weekend. Ever. (additional music). He has also worked on several acclaimed documentaries, like La Guerra, My Indiana Muse, Botero, and more, knowing just how music can enhance the genre though it needs to be done with a little more care and respect than may be required for a fictional story.

“I think there’s a really interesting distinction to be made between working on documentaries versus working in fiction, especially regarding the music. For starters, documentaries are real. They’re about real people/events, and as such they require a slightly different treatment that is perhaps more careful and respectful. When you’re working on a movie based on a fictional story, of course you still need to be tasteful and respectful, but the characters in the film are never going to watch it. I feel that there’s a lot of pressure to do right by the subjects of a documentary, as there should be. You can’t just throw any music over some painful moment of someone’s life that was caught on camera as though it were a soap opera, it needs to be handled delicately,” said Shlafman.

Music can be a very manipulative tool in documentaries if not used responsibly, and Shlafman always makes sure to do the film’s subject justice when he works. Music changes how an audience reacts emotionally to a piece of film, and for a documentary, where the filmmaker’s job is to present fact and truth as cleanly as possible, music can sometimes be too leading. Shlafman makes sure not to taint the story through the music and does his best to help the director present a perspective as unbiased as possible.

“Music can also really help with the pacing of documentaries. No matter how interesting the subject is, sitting through over an hour of interviews or ‘talking heads’ can get tiresome, and music can help make it feel faster,” he said

David Bertok’s score for Botero, which Shlafman orchestrated,is a perfect example of how a score can set the pace of a documentary. The film is a poetic documentary profile of Colombian artist Fernando Botero and provides a behind-the-scenes chronicle of the life and art of this painter and sculptor – the world’s most recognized living artist.

“I wanted to work on Botero because it’s a very engaging and thrilling story about a world-renowned artist, Fernando Botero. I think it’s important to share these stories so that they’re not forgotten and so that their legacy lives on,” he said.

As an orchestrator on the film, Shlafman played a pivotal role in the post-production process. When a composer creates a mockup on a computer, it is designed to sound as convincing and realistic as possible. The issue then lies in translating that data to a piece of paper that a musician can perform from and achieving a better version of the intended sound through the use of professional musicians with decades of experience. That translation is at the crux of what an orchestrator does, and his role with this project was to help take the data from the mockups and create scores that could be read by the musicians, fulfilling the composer’s vision of the score. In the end, they had a live string orchestra, and with Shlafman’s dedicated work, it turned out beautifully.

These thoughts were echoed by critics, as Botero went on to win several awards at festivals all around the world. Shlafman is proud to have been part of the film, especially one that tells the story of such an iconic artist.

“It’s always a good feeling to know that something you worked on was successful, and even more so when you really believe in the importance of the story. I think it’s important to honor great artists, and this is an excellent way to help preserve Botero’s legacy,” he concluded.

 

By John Michaels
Photo by Erin Ramirez

Cinematographer Omer Lotan recalls creating award-winning drama ‘Remains’

Omer headshot
Omer Lotan

When Omer Lotan first began pursuing filmmaking, he thought he wanted to be a director. At the time, he was new to the industry and was not aware of the many positions, so directing seemed like the obvious choice. However, he soon discovered a love for cinematography, and he knew that was his destiny.

“I learned to understand that from all the positions on a film set, this would be the most interesting, challenging and rewarding one, since the look and feel of the film is truly in your hands. I found out how much I could learn about original cinematic ideas from working together with a range of talented directors,” he said.

Lotan was right to trust his instincts and pursue cinematography, and he is now at the forefront of his industry in his home country of Israel. Having worked on many acclaimed projects, from the films Thunder From the Sea and Last Round, to the hit music videos “Time to Wake Up” by Hadag Nahash and “Childhood and the Big City” by Ivri Lider, to the viral commercial for Viber, Lotan has shown audiences everywhere that he is a master at his craft on whatever the platform.

One of Lotan’s first taste of international success came back in 2013 with the film Remains, which tells the story of Itamar and Thomas, who share a bed, walls, an apartment and electricity bills. Thomas commands, manages, and criticizes; Itamar is silent and listens. In the face of the couple’s confinement and the abysmal feeling of suffocation, and in the face of the power struggle that permeates their daily conversations, Itamar is forced to take action – an action that briefly allows him to feel things through the body, through the concrete world. The story was influenced by Writer and Director Yotam Ben-David’s personal experiences.

“Power, domination and oppression are in the heart of the story, and I found it very interesting to understand how to translate these topics into a cinematic language. I think the film has elements, which everyone can relate to and be moved by, and since I personally know Yotam well, it was even more interesting for me to take part in his very personal and emotional film,” said Lotan.

When working on Remains, Lotan knew he had to come up with creative ideas and search for original ways to bring his and the director’s vision to life. The director wanted the intimate film to have an epic ambience, which is why they decided to have a lot of wide shots, as well as many camera movements. The camera work and the lighting, with the long wide shots, the dark and contrasted interiors, as well as the quiet urban night shots, enhance the main emotions of the film. Lotan used the architecture of the urban areas and the apartment’s spaces to tell the story and describe the character’s feelings, feelings that create a tension and sometimes might even be uncomfortable to watch.

“Both Yotam and I share similar aesthetic visions, and our previous collaborations led to a deep creative dialogue throughout our work together. He is very clever and original with his cinematic approach, which always encourages me to bring creative ideas to the table as well,” said Lotan.

Remains had an impressive festival run. It was screened and competed at various film festivals in Israel and around the world and won the Best Short Film Award at the Evolution Mallorca International Film Festival, as well as Best Short Narrative Film Prize at the Jerusalem Film Festival, none of which could have been achieved without Lotan behind the camera.

“After screenings of the film I received a lot of positive feedback about the visual impression left by my work. It is always exciting to be complimented for your work, especially when these kind words are coming from a variety of audiences from around the world,” said Lotan.

So, what’s next for Lotan? The upcoming documentary Homeboys is set to premiere next year. He travelled to Uganda to film the musical-documentary that follows Samuel and Isaac, South-Sudanese teenagers deported from Israel who dream about being musicians. Be sure to keep an eye out for it.

 

By John Michaels

Samuel Lam captures heartbreak and comedy through song in new film

There is no greater feeling in the world for Samuel Lam than to hear his music played by other musicians. As a film composer, this is something he gets to experience on a regular basis, and why he loves what he does so much. Every musician adds their own personality into his music and interprets it differently in their own ways, and he believes that is the true artistry to his role, and every day he gets to work with musicians from all over the world.

Throughout his esteemed career, Lam has shown why he is such a renowned composer and orchestrator in China. With celebrated projects like Crazy Alien, Who Lives My Life?, Delay of Game, and more under his belt, he has continuously shown the world what he is capable of, and he has many more plans to keep doing so. He is currently working on several exciting new projects, including Paramount’s Playing with Fire, starring John Cena, Judy Greer and Keegan-Michael Key.

Lam’s new film My Ex-Girlfriend is a Shovel will be having its official world premiere later this month at the Palm Springs International Shortfest on June 21st, 2019. It is also an Official Selection in numerous film festivals, such as the Montana Film Festival, Calgary International Film Festival, Reel Shorts Film Festival, Creative Artist Agency Moebius 3, and the Bogotá Short Film Festival so far, with many more expected to come later this year.

“I am really glad that this film can reach out to so many audiences. It is a truly unique story, and I hope the audience will not only have a good laugh, but also be moved by the story. That is the real reward,” said Lam.

My Ex-Girlfriend Is a Shovel tells the compelling story of a woman named Coral after her girlfriend of three years breaks up with her. Coral soon realizes that her ex wasn’t actually a person, but was in fact a shovel. Ultimately, Coral must confront her shovel ex- girlfriend to be able to move on.

After Lam read the script, he was immediately interested and touched by it. The heart of the story is very relatable, and the director had his own unique way to tell the story.

“It is a story about a woman who is in love with a shovel, but the more honest answer is this is a film about the way we remember our exes, and the way we objectify the people who we loved and who have hurt us. So even though it is a comedy, it has an emotionally relatable side as well,” said Lam.

My Ex-Girlfriend is a Shovel obviously tells a very unique story, using an extreme and comedic way to portray the hardship of getting over a devastating breakup. The choice of music greatly affected the emotion and meaning conveyed by different scenes.

Dezi Gallegos, the director, had a very clear voice in his mind. Together, Lam and Gallegos spotted the film, which had already been filled with temporary music. They discussed the concept behind the film, and Lam pushed for the music to have a serious tone, even for the comedic parts, and maintain an indie feel within the score. For example, during a comedic montage sequence in the project, which is showing the memories of the main character with her girlfriend “Shovel”, instead of scoring the scene with comedy music, Lam took this scene very seriously, and scored the montage with a beautiful piano solo. As a result, not only do audiences have a good laugh during the screening because of the contrast, but they also have a bittersweet feeling from the momentous scene.

“Nothing makes me happier than writing music for an interesting story. It is a very fun collaboration, and the director gave me a lot of freedom on the music. My favorite part is seeing the reaction of the audience during the screening,” said Lam.

My Ex-Girlfriend is a Shovel perfectly captures what Lam is capable of as a composer, and is a can’t miss.

 

By Annabelle Lee