Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

The Common Thread of Great Films: Edward Line

Film editor Edward Line made his name editing commercials and music videos, working with award winning directors including Traktor, Matt Lambert, Paul Hunter, Jonas Akerlund and Lucy Tcherniak. A natural collaborator and storyteller it’s not surprising that his talent led him to cutting short films where he has continued to fine tune his craft. It’s a well-rounded career course which Line explains, “From years of cutting commercials and music videos, I have become very disciplined in how to tell stories efficiently and within a set duration. While these skills are transferable, working on short films has relieved me from editing to time restraints and allowed me to approach performances in different ways.  With short films, I’m always thinking of how an edit decision will affect the audience emotionally in a later scene, as character develops and stories unfold. This is true for commercials as well, but of course there is much more breadth in a short film which typically runs for 10-20 minutes, rather than a 30 second commercial.”

Confirming his affinity for narrative editing, Edward’s short film work has been selected and recognized at international film festivals including Tribeca, Sundance, BAFTA and The Academy Awards. Here’s a look at some of his favorite work.

The Counsellor – Hand

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Not strictly a short film, but a notable promo film that showcased Edward’s sensibility for dialogue cutting.  The film was a collaboration with director Johnny Hardstaff and featured actors Michael Fassbender (Prometheus, Hunger) and Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) in a sexually charged scene that takes place in a lingerie store.  Edward subtly edited nuanced looks and dialogue to create a tension filled scene which left the audience asking questions, as intended by the filmmakers. This promo film was used by 20th Century Fox to market the release of Ridley Scott’s film The Counselor in 2013. He communicates, I really enjoyed editing this film. Apart from enjoying the first class performances from Michael and Natalie, the suspenseful and dreamy tone of the film was really appealing.  I enhanced this mood in the edit by paying close attention to the characters subtle eye movements and breathing, then hanging on these moments for longer than comfortable. During the edit, I added the ambient dream like soundtrack which further heightened the tension and atmosphere. When I showed the director my first cut he wasn’t expecting music, but he loved my music choice and it was included in the final film.”

St. Patrick’s Day 

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In 2015 Edward teamed up with director Gary Shore to edit the film St. Patrick’s Day.  The film concerns a teacher who gets pregnant, with her doctor warning her, “we’re not certain with what.” It turns out to be (in a riff on the legend of st. Patrick expelling snakes from Ireland) a reptile, but her maternal love has no limits. The dark comedy was part of the “Holidays” anthology feature film and selected for the Tribeca film festival in 2016. Edwards relates, “I was keen to work with Gary Shore on a film after we had collaborated on two commercials in 2015.  Unlike the commercials, which were action packed and heavy in visual effects, this film is a pure narrative dark comedy. The film had over 12 scenes and included several nods to horror and comedy genres, which were fun to play with in the edit. These included creating a comical 1980s style documentary about the myth of St. Patrick. I edited this in a more literal ‘see-say’ style where the voiceover describes exactly what the images are doing, but in an exaggerated way. In the edit, we added a VHS video effect and traditional Irish music to add authenticity. We were so pleased with the resulting ‘mini-film’ that we used it for the opening scene.”

The Painters

The Painters

In 2016 Edward teamed up with longtime collaborator and director Sam Larsson (of multi award-winning collective Traktor) to edit “The Painters”.  Edward recalls, “Sam and I worked together on my first commercial edit in 2011 and have collaborated numerous times since, so when he wrote his first short film it felt natural that we’d team up again.”

The short film follows four house painters who kill time in a parked van as they philosophize about life and recall anecdotes, revealing a glimpse of who they really are. The editor communicates, “This film was a dark comedy with some serious undertones and an editorial challenge being a pure dialogue piece that takes place in one location, inside a van. The success of the film relied heavily on my edit to keep it entertaining and it took some experimenting before we found the film’s rhythm. During the edit I wasn’t shy to cut lines from Sam’s script that we felt were not helping the story, and Sam was very open to my ideas and choices.  As ever with editing, it was important to cut in order to move the story forwards and for emotion, and this was a perfect film to test that theory.” Larrson notes his affinity for the professional partnership he has experienced with Line as he states, “I have always held held Ed Line in high regards for his professionalism and dedication ever since I started to work with him back in the mid 2000. Ed is a great collaborator and very adept at his craft. His intelligent story-telling and comedic instincts have made him a pleasure to work with on every job we have done together. His skills for sound design and broad musical knowledge are invaluable and elevate the films we have worked on. He has a profound dedication to each project and will often stay involved even after his defined role is complete. He is one of the first editors I turn to when I am crewing up for a project.”

The Painters was selected for L.A. Shorts Festival in 2019 and will continue to be seen on the festival circuit into 2020.

Wale

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Inspired by racial tensions in East London, “Wale” follows the story of an 18-year-old mobile mechanic, who learned his trade whilst serving time in a young offenders institution.  After his release, he attempts to get his business going after being hired by the mysterious character O’Brien.

The ongoing tone that permeates the film the story is one of suspense and masterfully achieved through a blend of the director’s vision and editor’s pacing. Edward’s influence is prominent from the opening montage of Wale in which the footage slows down, causing the image to ‘strobe’ as it repeats frames. This editorial technique helps to convey danger and unpredictability and sets the mood for the rest of the film.  Later, in the scene where Wale [the main character] goes to O’Brien’s house to discuss fixing his car; Edward identifies nuanced moments in the character’s performance and lingers on shots to cultivate an uneasy and mysterious tone. The editing is full of restraint in a key driving scene where Wale wrestles with many emotions as Edward holds the shots longer than one might think possible; allowing the audience to really feel Wale’s emotions and try to understand where his mind might be taking him. Edward magnanimously states, “sometimes not cutting is the best decision an editor can make.”

Director Barnaby Blackburn recalls, “Ed has an extraordinarily natural talent for storytelling. He is able to quickly grasp the vision of the filmmaker and translate it on to screen in addition to his innate understanding of the appropriate tone, pacing, and emotion for every film he works on. Ed is not afraid to experiment beyond the traditional norms of film editing, which continually makes for groundbreaking work that pushes the craft of editing, and filmmaking in a broader sense, forward.”

Wale was very well received and boasts an impressive festival run, winning the prestigious Grand Jury Award at Dances With Films and ‘Best Short Film’ at a further five festivals.  The culmination of its success came in being shortlisted for an Academy Award (Oscar) and subsequently being nominated for a BAFTA in the ‘Best Short Film’ category.

The success of the film points to the strength of the relationship between Director Barnaby Blackburn and Edward who have forged a strong working relationship.  As such, they collaborated again in 2019 and completed another short film Dad Was’. This film follows the story of Mattie, an eight –year-old boy as he gives the eulogy at his father’s funeral. The production reunited many of those who worked on ‘Wale’ and will be submitted to festivals in 2020.

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(Editor Edward Line at work)

 

Jun Li Honestly Sees Son of Wanderer

Son of Wanderer

Movie fans across the world are familiar with the marquee names of actors. Directors and producers like Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Quentin Tarantino have also achieved the king of international notoriety that places them in the celebrity category. For each of these, there are legions of publicly unknown artists whose talent creates the stories that tug at our hearts, unearth laughter, and move us to appreciate the world we live in. Though the public may be unaware of these exceptionally skilled professionals, those who truly understand the storytelling process proclaim their contributions. Three-time Academy Award winning producer and writer Jana Sue Memel has produced more than twenty-five feature films as well as countless live action shorts airing in more than thirty countries. In discussing the film Son of Wanderer (on which she served as screenwriter) Memel points out, “The Camera Man position on a film is truly underappreciated. Jun Li was the camera operator/Steadicam operator for Son of Wanderer and his insightful contributions were a direct part of the recognitions the film has already received.” These recognitions include wins for the film at the London Independent Film Awards, Los Angeles Film awards, Rome Independent Prisma Awards, and others. While the producers, directors, and others are the brain which comprehends the story, professionals like Jun Li are the eyes which allow audiences everywhere to see first-hand the events which unfold on the screen. They are the windows to the movie’s soul. As the camera operator’s motto states “We see it first.”

 

Son of Wanderer is a story that allows us to see that holding back from those closest to us can cause a great divide. Mingzhe Li is a successful artist in the US but originally from China. He appears to have a great life with a beautiful and loving wife but he is estranged from his mother [Li]. When Li shows up unannounced at the couple’s San Francisco home, the motivation for this visit is kept secret. Through flashbacks we learn that Mingzhe’s father was a famous and talented artist in the 1970’s before the Cultural Revolution in China and alcohol led to his downward spiral. The family eventually dissolved and when her teenage son showed an inclination for art, Li quickly snuffed this notion. This planted the seed of resentment which would separate mother and child. In present day, Li finally informs her adult son that she has come to America to inform him of his father’s death. A torrent of emotion, years in the making, erupts and Li leaves for China at once. Only Li’s secret box contains the antidote to their discourse.

 

Director Chi Zhou and cinematographer Nan Li wanted to express the unusual coldness between mother and son in the movie, without the need for exposition. In many of the scenes, there is literally a divide between them. Jun’s skill with the Steadicam was heavily utilized in Son of Wanderer to obtain not only the composition but the feel which was so essential to this film. His carefully calculated movements with tight lock offs and use of negative space for both characters establishes a tone that belies its difficulty to create with a Steadicam. What might appear as dolly and track moves are in reality Jun’s skills operating at an exceptional level. He communicates, “I’m very delighted this film received so many cinematography awards. There are three main points made the look of this film. Because the theme of this story is a modern family drama, we based it in a realism style, emphasizing the saturation from very beginning. Secondly, in order to make each character stand out, we used a wide open lens for the whole shoot. The very shallow depth of field creates a grand cinematic look. Finally, the slow and gentle camera movements run through the entire film and transfer this sense of timing to the audience. All of these components were carefully crafted to help the viewer feel the emotions of our characters.” Camera operator/Steadicam operator Jun Li’s contributions to this production are key in presenting the story and its success. The verification of this is found in both the awards Son of Wanderer garnered as well as the deeply moving experience of watching this acclaimed film.

 

 

Manifesting a Shop of Eternal Life with Dara Zhao

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Creating a mood, an emotional atmosphere; this is the immense contribution of a production designer in the film world. The audience, the actors, and the crew are all required to do less belief suspension when the PD cultivates the world envisioned by the director. Dara Zhao is asked to glimpse the vision of her collaborators through their eyes, whether that be a dark one or one of optimism. It’s something she’s known for doing exceedingly well. She has been sought out by Indie filmmakers and massive production companies, as evidenced by her current work on the live-action version of The Little Mermaid. Her role as PD on Shop of Eternal Life skews to a tale much more about the foreboding and menacing topic of mysticism and the afterlife. Regardless of the subject matter, those who collaborate with an exceptional leader in the film community like Dara are eager for the opportunity because they know that her eyes can see their way to replicating the artists’ imaginings.

 

Many films are about sacrifice but Shop of Eternal Life is an original and cultural take on the specific cost of this. Every culture has its version of Aesop’s Fables, Grimm’s Fairytales, and the like; stories of foibles and redemption. Shop of Eternal Life takes place in the not so distant Twentieth Century and depicts the personal cost of trying to do something to help others. The plot follows a poor man who approaches a pawnshop owner about buying his wedding ring. Explaining that he needs money to pay medical expenses for his sick wife, the man’s offer is countered by a covertly sinister one from the shop’s owner. Rather than a small sum of money for the ring, the pawnshop owner suggests the man sell his soul for more than enough to cover all the hospital bills. When the man returns to the shop many years later, to collect his heart, the events which transpire are both shocking and telling about the potential for danger we all possess. There’s an obvious occult/metaphysical component but this applies aptly to the human character as well.

 

Shop of Eternal Life culminated in a DGA award for director/producer Yizhou Xu, who in turn praised Zhao for her ability to help realize the world he envisioned. The film which stars Award-Winning actor Jesse Wang (of the film God’s Not Dead and CBS series Code Black) as Chaofeng, Allen Theosky Rowe as Mr. Song, and Gengru Liu as Xiao Dong. Taking place in the 1920s and 1950s with nearly all of the action occuring in a pawnshop, the aging of the characters as well as the advancements in technology is subtly visible. Beyond the aesthetic challenges of manifesting this are the budgetary constraints for a smaller Indie production such as this. Dara remarks, “Yes, the most substantial obstacle for a smaller film is always the financial one. Ha. The freedom you experience is what you balance this against. I’m proud that we created two different decades in such an authentic manner. This was a really interesting environment which offered great potential. I wanted to create a narrow and isolated space; one with an unspecified location which seemed very real, especially with a sense of hopelessness at moments. Even thought this was a period piece, it was more like an allegory; a Faustian story. It was hard to combine these fantasy elements into a realism society environment. I used a lot of metaphors to support the storytelling. We used authentic props and set decorations from China but created what we needed when it didn’t exist.” The results are dramatic. Dara’s dedication and skill resulted in the world of Shop of Eternal Life transporting the looming anxiety of its characters directly into the psyche of the audience. The slow impending sense of doom and the constant comfortability one experiences when watching Shop of Eternal Life is a testament to the expertise of Dara Zhao to fully realize the world the film’s director aspired to display. Viewers don’t want to contemplate budget or lighting, or any other facet of the production process. Dara Zhao makes that concept a part of her equation when working on every production. It’s for this reason that you’ll find her working on productions throughout many different countries for quite some time.

 

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Cinematographer Carl Nenzén Lovén Enjoys International Acclaim

carl-1Cinematographer Carl Nenzén Lovén’s sterling professional reputation is distinguished by his signature mix of gorgeously captured visuals, encyclopedic knowledge of camera equipment and his unflagging zeal on location—no matter how challenging the setting may be. In just a few years’ time, the Swedish-born Lovén has emerged as an international force, one whose quickly growing resume of professional achievements reflects his generosity of spirit.

Whether it’s a music video, short or feature Lovén delivers spectacular results, working not just as lead cinematographer but also, when a project appeals, serving in innumerable capacities in the camera department, sometimes as assistant cameraman or working the crucial on set function of focus puller.

Lovén’s expertise proved invaluable on his most recent assignment, ‘Go Back to China,’ the forthcoming dramedy feature from noted producer-director Emily Ting.

“I loved the script when I read it,” Lovén said. “The story follows Sasha, a trust fund baby who will lose her fortune unless she returns to China to work for her father’s toy company. It explores the complex relationship between a neglectful father and a daughter who’s been brought up in a wildly different culture, so it’s a really interesting combination of elements.”

“I was first assistant camera for the Hong Kong, and China portions of the movie,” Lovén said. “I was the only one flown in from the US as camera crew, to oversee, and act as connection between our DP (director of photography) Josh Silfen and the local crew. Since I’d spent roughly four years of my life there, studying Specialty Cinematic Arts at Hong Kong City University, I was well equipped to interact with the locals—far better than someone who had just arrived.”

While he could navigate the cultural landscape with ease, Lovén was presented with a different challenge—limited technical resources.

“I helped in the pre-production picking camera body for the China portion, as well as advising [on] lenses,” Lovén said “When presented with a new project I usually go through my mental library and evaluate why I would select a certain camera or a certain lens, consider why we would shoot on film, or why shooting digital would be the better choice. For ‘Go Back to China,’ it wasn’t so much choice, but more based on the rental house’s existing equipment, I got us the best gear we needed for the job.”

The cinematographer routinely mixes art and science, and Lovén also served as de facto trouble-shooter. “As first assistant my main job is to save time, and make my DP’s job easier,” he said. “That means advising on maybe how to make a shot different, or foresee things that have to be taken care of later. Apart from being second in command for camera crew, and head of gear, I was also focus puller.”

’Pulling focus’ is the act of changing a lens’ focus in correspondence to a moving subject’s distance from the focal plane, to maintain a sharp, consistent image. It’s a subtle but critical element: if an actor moves away within a shot, the focus puller will change the distance setting on the lens in precise relation to his changing position, or shift focus from one subject to another within the frame, as dictated by what the shot requires. Thus the focus puller/cinematographer is hands-on steward of a film’s entire visual narrative, and Loven’s technical skill and intimate knowledge of cinematographic and optical theory is second to none.

”Carl was an essential member of the team on Go Back to China,” DP Silfen said “He always rolled with the punches, navigating the challenges of working with local crew in a foreign country, and his focus pulling was spot on.”

Lovén always impresses with his characteristic blend of involvement, energy, technical knowledge and distinct knack for dynamic visuals. Not surprisingly, director Ting tasked him with some additional follow up.

“When the Asia portion of the movie wrapped up, I was called back to Los Angeles to do the pickup shots as well,” Lovén said, “It will premiere at SXSW this year, will be screened at the San Jose Film Festival and they are securing more festivals each day.”`

“It was a great experience, and I am really excited to see how the film turned out.”

All That Glitters is a Timeless & Timely Tale

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Liv Li on the set of All That Glitters

While great storytellers can relate any tale in a gripping manner, it’s always best when they have some direct personal attachment to it. The film All That Glitters is a story of female perseverance and empowerment; a poignant topic these days perhaps more than ever in the world. Director and writer Lincheng Yang had a strong attachment to the story (more about that later) as did first assistant director for the film Liv Li. Gender does not usurp talent but we also find ourselves in an era where thankfully it is also not prohibitive. The plot of this film is made more authentic by both the talent and experiences of these incredible women who created it.

 

The female experience permeates nearly every aspect of All That Glitters. Madison Greenlund appears as Helen Noah, a talented copywriter in her twenties who has not come into her own professionally. As a young girl, Helen (played by Sierra Anne Murphy of Paramount Pictures distributed Bumblebee) was diagnosed with scoliosis. The ridicule she received in her teen years destroyed her self-esteem and has held her back in her profession now as an adult. Her work partner [Jerry] is a charismatic handsome writer who is more than eager to take credit for Helen’s exceptional work. Judy is Helen’s feisty and well-intentioned boss who makes it her mission to challenge this young female writer to rightfully claim her recognition for her talent.

 

All That Glitters is based on Lincheng Yang’s own personal experience. Present day finds her as an acclaimed and respected film director in a primarily male dominated field. Placing Liv in the first assistant director role further ensured that the production process flowed smoothly, safely, and exceptionally at the hands of yet another female filmmaking professional. Li confirms that she has found herself in scenarios that called for a woman to step up and command the same treatment and respect that male counterparts are given. She affirms, “I think in this male-dominated industry, it’s very hard for woman to break through. Even today, we have to force ourselves to speak up in this industry. If you want to straighten a rusty and distorted pipe, the force you use to do it will always be harder than the initial power that’s placed upon it. I’m glad to see that the most powerful unions, like the DGA, are putting more attention and strength in actively helping women empowerment in this industry and other minorities of the society, like LGBTQ community and minor ethnic groups.” Juggling the logistics, preparing daily call sheets, checking cast and crew, and maintaining order on the set, Liv’s skill, talent, and determination are unquestionable. Her work and that of the entire production received numerous recognitions including Best Narrative Short Film at CineCina, Best Director & Best Short film at NXT UP, Best Cinematography at the Los Angeles Film Awards, and Official Selection of the Elijah Wells iGen Film Festival and The Film Collective.

 

The fact that female filmmakers are the creative forces behind such exceptional productions is important to state and yet the fact that it must be reiterated seems somewhat defeating. Lincheng Yang, Liv Li, and countless other female filmmakers will increasingly be recognized as leading voices in the field. While their part in the continuing exposure of their art demands long hours and difficult situations, ours responsibility as the audience is as simple as sitting back and enjoying what they have created for us.

Yu-Ying Chuang Serves Up No Deer for Dinner

No Deer for Dinner

Chemistry; it’s vital to great filmmaking. Yes, this relates to the actors visible on the screen but even more so to the talent interacting behind the scenes. Director Yuhang Chen, Editor Yu-Ying Chuang, and Writer Otoniel Walker combined their talent for one of the most suspenseful and unique thrillers of the year in No Deer for Dinner. There’s more than one perspective on morality by the different characters in this film and it’s presented in a highly entertaining fashion because of the work of this trio. Chuang confirms that her initial discussions with the director about the story excited and convinced her to take on the editing responsibility. Her editing work has a pronounced and beneficial mark on this film which was the winner of Best Horror Short and Best Thriller Short at the Independent Shorts Awards this year. The twists and turns of the story become more understandable when viewed through his explanations of the process which sculpted it.

In a mountainous Nevada town, many people have gone missing without a trace. For the past thirty-six years, a single individual has vanished each year without any belongings left behind. When a young couple enters the town after robbing a bank, they take refuge in the home of an elderly couple by taking the residents captive. In a plot that keeps viewers guessing who is the greater threat, it becomes uncertain who is the captive and who is the captor. No Deer for Dinner is the sort of film which instills the idea that the most dangerous and lethal situations are the ones just slightly out of sight. The young felonious couple comes to the realization that hunters disappear in this Nevada town for a frightening reason.

“You might need to use editing to support me.” This was the phrase that director Yuhang Chen greeted Yu-Ying with when proposing she edit the film. His frustration was a result of conditions during the filming. Several scenes had been deleted leaving holes in the story. Chuang informs, “When I got the footage, I was surprised because it was not the same as the original script. We discussed how to solve the problem and how to create suspense from the footage we had. There was certainly some difficulty to this approach but it wasn’t impossible.”

Yu-Ying concentrated on spotlighting key scenes to make the tone more prominent. The fast pace of a frantic hunter being chased in the first scene is exponentially more panicked by the quick-cut editing. When the elderly couple are eating dinner and engaging in an unusual conversation, Chuang lets the scenes linger to an almost uncomfortable extent which maximizes the awkwardness. Describing the end of the film, Yu-Ying explains, “The penultimate scene ended in Roger killing the police and taking the gun out to shoot the female robbers. At the beginning of the last scene, I wanted to have a little suspense about what kind of a person Roger is. The first picture I used is Roger is preparing food and when the camera slowly slides back, the woman is tied on the chair and the policeman’s body is on the table. I wanted to make the audience think that it was a normal day. It’s this shocking realization that Roger hunts the hunters to eat their organs and meat.”

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While editors are referred to as filmmakers often equal to the director, in many cases they are dubbed “problem solvers.” No Deer for Dinner has a disturbing and chilling feeling most prominently because there seems to be a realistic path to this situation actually occurring. For this film, Yu-Ying Chuang has drawn and highlighted this line with great effect and success, to the benefit of the film and audiences.

Walt Disney Animation Studios Hosts Bali: Beats of Paradise

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In a moment that mirrored the artistic exchange of the film Bali: Beats of Paradise, Walt Disney Animation hosted the talent of the film for a screening at their studio. Director Livi Zheng, Executive Producer Julia Gouw, and gamelan composer Nyoman Wenten viewed the film with some of Disney’s most creative forces, including the producer of Moana and the Head of Story for Frozen. Disney’s invitation is yet another indicator of the recognition Bali: Beats of Paradise has been receiving since its US release on November 16, 2018.

Beyond exploring the culture that created Balinese gamelan music, the film displays western artists being influenced by its character; integrating gamelan into modern day western musical styles. A question and answer session followed the screening in which Wenten, Gouw, and Zheng discussed filmmaking and Indonesian culture. Nyoman Wenten remarked, “It is amazing how quickly like-minded people attract each other. I can already see the start of a beautiful relationship between Livi and the creatives at Disney. I don’t know if any other Indonesian before Livi Zheng was ever invited to show their movie in front of the top brass in Disney. This is amazing and it makes me proud today to be an Indonesian”

Receiving a hospitable tour of the Disney Animation Studios, Livi revealed, “Disney is  remembered fondly by many children around the world. I remember so many happy memories from watching Disney movies; I am very glad that today I was able to be here and introduce my unique culture to the hardworking artists at Disney”. Executive Producer Julia Gouw noted during the film’s premiere at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills last November, “Crazy Rich Asians put Singapore on the map, so we hope that Bali: Beats of Paradise will put Indonesia and Bali on the map.”