Livi Zheng recently directed the music video “Queen of the Hill” featuring Judith Hill a Grammy Award winning artist and contestant on The Voice (US season #4). “Queen of the Hill” is a unique collaboration between two genres of music: funk and Balinese gamelan. The music video itself is a kaleidoscope of funk and traditional Balinese dance and costumes.
“Queen of the Hill” was shot in the Southern California’s Joshua Tree desert. Filming in the desert is always a challenge but doing so in summer, as in the case of this music video, is even more so. Shot in a single day, the greatest challenge for the Queen of The hill team was transporting a Gamelan ensemble during rising temperatures in excess of one-hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Director/Producer Livi Zheng only had access to one set of the large gamelan ensembles and if the set broke during three-hour truck drive, or cracked under the heat…that’s it, show over.
The making of “Queen of the Hill” is featured in the full-length documentary Bali: Beats of Paradise. Also directed by Livi Zheng. Bali: Beats of Paradise will be released in theaters November 16, 2018. This epic story of Balinese music and the spread of gamelan was shot in Bali, Indonesia, and The United States. The executive producers of the film are His Excellency Ambassador Umar Hadi, Indonesian Ambassador to South Korea, former Consul General of The Indonesian Consulate in Los Angeles, and Julia Gouw.
Julia Gouw, on the list of 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking in the US, was born in Indonesia but has lived in the US for the last forty years. Her passion includes promoting Indonesian culture in the US internationally. Julia Gouw and Livi Zheng have collaborated on projects ranging from filmmaking to concert production.
No matter how powerful the actors’ performances, how brilliant the director, or how adept the cinematographer, the film that audiences ultimately see is only as good as its editor. When tens to hundreds of hours of footage reach the editor’s desk, the success of the film is in their hands. Like a conductor who turns the unbridled chaos of an orchestra into the most beautiful of symphonies, a great editor can create a timeless masterpiece from a million disparate pieces, and that is exactly what editor Aijia Li accomplishes with every project she takes on.
Hailing from Changchun in northeast China, Aijia developed a passion for film and photography when she was just a teen. She spent her youth hungrily absorbing every movie she could get her hands on. By the time she reached college she’d accumulated a huge collection of movies, and was falling more in love with filmmaking with each passing day.
“I’ve had a passion for telling stories since I was a kid, and then I started writing stories and novels. But film has always been my spiritual food,” Aijia recalled. “In junior high, I spent all my allowance on DVDS, and now my parents still have a few boxes of my collection in the house.”
It was during college that Aijia seriously began experimenting with creating and editing her own films. She discovered just how crucial the editor’s job was to the overall process and realized that she had a natural aptitude for the delicate and often-arduous job. But editing films was not just something she was good at — it was something she loved. As an editor, Aijia was able to work hand-in-hand with the director to shape and define the story as they envisioned it. It’s not much of a stretch to liken her role to that of a midwife, guiding the film through the last critical stages before it enters the world.
“Film can [only] be film because of editing. A good editor can save the director’s life. I think in the digital age, the editor as the director’s closest partner may become more and more important,” Aijia explained. “The relationship between the director and the editor is like a marriage. After they finish shooting the film, the director spends more time with the editor than their own family. A good director understands that the film is the editor’s work. Before editing, what the director has is only the raw material.”
Nowhere is the power of that partnership between director and editor more evident than in the quality of Aijia’s work. Time and again she faithfully executes the director’s vision, blurring the line between art and science with equal measures of calculated efficiency and creative instinct. The 2018 drama “The Moon Also Rises” is a perfect example of Aijia’s unparalleled editorial prowess.Simultaneously moving and thought-provoking, “The Moon Also Rises” is an existential exploration of the impacts that people have on the lives of those around them, and the lasting traces they leave when they’re gone.
“This film is different from any other film I’ve edited,” Aijia said. “In the process of cross-editing, the difference between the images and the proportion of the frame gives the audience a strong sense of the drama’s conflict… The director of this film is a pure artist.”
Faced with the daunting challenge of creating a final product that lived up to director Yao Yu’s lofty expectations, Aijia’s work on “The Moon Also Rises” was a trial by fire. The resulting film is a testament to both her technical expertise and keen creative instincts. Impressed by the film’s concept and execution, judges at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival included “The Moon Also Rises” in the festival’s 2018 lineup of screenings.
Aijia had already cultivated a stellar reputation as an editor prior to “The Moon Also Rises.” Among her earlier works was the inspiring 2016 film “Short Term” about the unlikely paternal bond a homeless man develops with a young boy he finds living on the streets. Written, directed and edited by Aijia Li, “Short Term” explores the perennially-relevant subjects of poverty and racism and the impacts they have on the most vulnerable members of society.
“As the editor, the only way to make this kind of emotional story great is to edit by heart. I understand the characters, I feel them…,” Aijia explained of her process. “Another thing is, less is more. I don’t cut too much when there’s a heavy, emotional moment. I hold it. Because good editing is not just about skill and it’s not an editor’s showreel. It’s a story.”
That philosophy guided Aijia’s work throughout the editing process, and when critics and audiences watched “Short Term” it was obvious she had a gift possessed by few others in the field. The film immediately caught the attention of festival judges across the country. In addition to winning top prize at the 2016 Women’s Independent Film Festival, “Short Term” was also a semi-finalist at both the Los Angeles CineFest and the Hollywood Screening Film Festival. It was also an official selection at the International Family Film Festival, the Lady Filmmakers Festival and the Glendale International Film Festival — where it was also nominated for two additional awards.
Among some of Aijia Li’s other masterful works as an editor is the recent film “Float,” which earned multiple prestigious awards from the 2017 European Independent Film Awards, Hollywood Film Competition, London Independent Film Awards and the LA Shorts Awards, and Pantha Rahman’s dramatic film “Deceased,” which was chosen as an Official Selection of the Nepal Human Rights International Film Festival, Bucharest International Film Festival, Indian Peacock International Film Festival and more.
“I have encountered many editors during my time in the film industry, but Aijia was my only choice to work on this film. Aijia has the best feel for editing out of any professional I have ever worked with,” admits “Deceased” director Pantha Rahman.
“I was incredibly impressed by the high level of emotion she added to my film… Ms. Li’s unlimited knowledge and understanding of editing was evident in every single cut she made… Her vast knowledge and wealth of experience were essential in building the film’s narrative structure… Without Ms. Li as the editor of ‘Deceased,’ the engaging visuals and sentimentally resonant narrative would have never come together, making me forever grateful for her work on the film.”
A great editor understands a film’s story and characters as well as they understand the technical aspects of the job. In many ways a film is a lot like an unassembled puzzle when the editor’s job begins. Only, this puzzle includes hundreds of extra pieces and there is no picture to reference. The only way to know where the pieces go and what they’ll form is to fully understand what the director’s vision is and how to bring it to life. In the simplest terms, that’s what Aijia Li does — from thousands of scrambled, disparate pieces, she builds stories with the power to move audiences to laughter or tears.
While the shot sequences and camera angles seen in a film or TV series are laid out by the cinematographer beforehand, capturing those key visuals falls on the shoulders of the industry’s skilled camera operators, those like Malaysian born Zac Chia.
Chia’s extensive skill in capturing visuals as both a camera and gimbal operator have set him apart from others in the industry and have led him to be tapped to work behind the scenes on a number of high profile projects.
Chia says, “I love so many things about film! It’s a business with the perfect blend of art, technology, human relations, and business in my opinion; and an art form with a lot of creativity, yet requires a lot of careful planning. And the collaborative aspect of it is absolutely amazing. Everyone brings their expertise onto the table, and creates a project together.”
Some of the projects he’s become known for include the series “Kore Conversations” and “Cupid’s Match,” which ranked as the CWseed.com’s second most watched show upon release, the films “The Shadowboxer” with Dalton Alfortish from “22 Jump Street,” the 2018 thrillers “Paracusis” with Chris Barry from “The Book of Life,” and “Monkey Man” with Richard Bulda from the series “Fashion House,” and more.
One skill that sets him apart from many camera operators is his seasoned experience using the gimbal to capture scenes with fluid movement, which is exactly what he did for the T-Mobile and Fox collaboration “The Four” aka “The Four: Battle for Stardom.” The series, which premiered in January, is a music competition reality show where hopeful music groups vie for the chance to win a recording contract with Republic Records.
Arden Tse, “The Four” cinematographer, says, “Zac was extremely critical to the production, to an extent that our productions wouldn’t have been able to run and achieve the shots we were required to get without him. The expertise that he brought to the camera operating side of our production made sure that we could make our days and keep things on schedule.”
Always in the perfect position to get the shot the production depends on– Chia’s foundation in the industry and the vast repertoire of work he’s created over the years stem from his astonishing talent as a camera operator; but this has also led him to be tapped to take on multiple other roles in the industry where visuals are concerned.
Earlier this year Chia was called in to serve as both the cinematographer and camera operator on the “Bodytraffic” promo video for the 2018 Bodytraffic Los Angeles tour, which debuted on May 31 at The Wallis. Founded in 2007 by Lillian Barbeito and Tina Berkett, the LA-based contemporary dance company Bodytraffic has taken to stages across the U.S. being named as one of 25 to Watch by Dance Magazine in 2013 and Best of Culture by the Los Angeles Times.
As the cinematographer and camera operator on the project Chia worked with director Ran Ro to map out how to capture the entire choreography of one of the company’s dance numbers, which was what the client was looking for. Chia opted for a lot of wide shots and strategically figured out how to capture specific dancers during certain points of the routine using the lighting available in the space.
“I realized we had access to a lot of natural light with the big windows, and so I discussed the use of lighting to highlight the dancers and/or moments with Ran. She loved the idea, and so we got a hazer, as fog has the ability to catch light, and in turn cause the streaks to look more concentrated on screen,” explains Chia.
“When we got to the location, I hopped on the sun surveyor app on my phone to see where the sun would be at what time, and we chose our backdrop and which part of the room to shoot at depending on where the sun would.”
Considering that the project contains so much movement, Chia’s skill as both a camera and gimbal operator proved integral to capturing the fluidity of the routine and including the dancers performance in the way the client and director envisioned. Using his gimbal, Chia was able to move with the dancers, syncing his movements in terms of speed and direction in order to ensure that they were the center of attention at all times.
“Zac was an incredible cinematographer and gimbal operator on the shoot… His role was crucial for the shoot as it involved filming energetic dance movements in a spacious location. It was a great experience collaborating with him,” explains “Bodytraffic” director and editor Ran Ro. “He came up with great ideas during the shoot and we were able to get shots with dynamic energy and movements although they were filmed spontaneously. He is also very patient on set and is a great communicator. I loved working with him.”
With the ability to move from working as a camera and gimbal operator to leading his department as a cinematographer, and the rare capacity to accomplishing both simultaneously, Chia brings a level of versatility to the table that makes him a unique talent for productions like this. Whatsmore, he’s earned quite a bit of praise for his work as a director as well, earning the Festival Award from the Atlanta Horror Film Festival for his 2015 film “Room 205” and the Diamond Award from the LA Shorts Awards for his 2017 film “Saptapadi.”
Chia has also been tapped to shoot, direct and edit numerous videos for the inaugural season of the Overwatch League, a professional eSports league for the game Overwatch created by Blizzard Entertainment, the creators of World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor.
“I was tasked to pitch, create, direct, shoot, and edit shows for the Mandarin audience with OWL’s Mandarin Host, Tutu,” says Chia.
In April one of the video’s Chia shot and directed aired live at the arena in Southern California in between the Shanghai Dragons and Florida Mayhem game, as well as on the platform Weibo in China. He’s also directed numerous other videos for the Overwatch League over the last three months, including ones that aired during the Seoul Dynasty vs Shanghai Dragons game and others.
Chia adds, “I absolutely loved the opportunity to pioneer content for a show in its inaugural season, and I was blessed with a lot of creative freedom from Blizzard Entertainment.”
Up next for camera and gimbal operator, who’s proven himself as a formidable genius behind the lense, is the film “A Good Thing,” which he will also be directing.
Sound editor Yuxin Boon works in the film industry but when she is asked exactly what a sound editor does, she often explains that it’s like being in a band. Boon does have a background in music so this isn’t simple conjecture…she knows what she is speaking about. Yuxin describes, “The general public has a view that the only job of a sound editor job is dealing with sound effects. The truth is that editors are divided into different categories of sound, like dialogue, Foley, and ambience. A sound editor is not usually in charge of remaking all the sound the audience hears. Editors are assigned to one particular category of sound but also applying their work to the overall sonic image of the film. It’s like a band; every member has one instrument and task. They need to play their own instrument while also working cohesively as a team to make the music and deliver the emotional intention of the song.”
As a professional female sound editor focusing on dialogue and Foley editing in the film post-production industry, YuXin has created a career path in the industry that includes working with Oscar-Award winners (as she did in “Heavy Rain” with Bill W. Benton) that display nature’s fury, romance films (“Christmas in Mississippi” & “Enchanted Christmas”), Westerns, and a myriad of other genres. A sound editor is required to be creative as well as detailed, which are the characteristics which drew her to this work. While many vocations in the TV and film industry steer professionals towards a certain genre, it’s the absence of this aspect for sound editors which allows professionals like Boon to test themselves to apply their talents a wide variety of story types. While the application of abilities may differ, the means by which they are applied is often universal.
A sound editor must possess a discerning eye, well…perhaps ear is the appropriate body part in this particular scenario. Talent is a requirement and the application of these are a given but Boon believes that this is only a baseline for contributing to a production. One needs only to watch your favorite movie with the sound down to gain an immediate appreciation for the work of a sound editor. Even this simple example does not properly communicate the affect a sound editor has on the entertainment. The work of Boon and her peers involves layers upon layers of sound that weave together a sub-story that most of don’t ever fully appreciate. In Yuxin’s opinion, a good editor not only inspires the other professionals on the production team to perform at the next level but also carries the emotion to the audience for a better understanding. A good sound editor can offer intriguing soundscapes which the director is looking for as well as combining it with creative designs and techniques. Skill is an element that can be used to evaluate editors’ work, but it’s far from the only one. Creativity may be the most important trait a sound editor can bring to those they work with.
It’s likely that Boon’s unique perspective came from her path to sound editing. As a child of parents who were not musicians but great lovers of music, her parents took her to piano lessons and encouraged (but did not push) YuXin towards making music a part of her life. While she thought that her aim would be in the music world, Boon took a film class and discovered that her natural inclination towards detail and her finely tuned ear (thank you piano) made her highly adept at timing and sound editing/design. The process of mixing different elements to create completely new sounds, such as the dinosaurs’ roar in “Jurassic Park” fascinated her and stimulated her creatively. As Boon discovered that a sound editor is given the opportunity to work with aspects like dialogue, Foley, and other sonic presentations of a film, she became increasingly drawn to it. Trail blazers like Singapore’s Ai-Ling Lee (Oscar-Award Nominee for La La Land) continue to reinforce the idea that an Asian woman/professional has a place in the film industry of Hollywood.
Any art form must grow. To achieve this requires individuals with fresh perspectives who understand and respect the process and individuals which created the template being used. Yuxin Boon has already created a community of peers and professionals who recognize this in her work and her view of her own application of her talent. The very fact that she sees her role in a manner that is simultaneously similar and differs from the traditional idea indicates the reasons why she has found herself so busy with an eclectic set of productions these days.
Jose Andres Solorzano was looking for work that has a greater sense of adventure. He already had a very successful career at Red Bull Mexico Headquarters but wanted to pursue his career as a filmmaker full time. Although he had experience as a cinematographer he had never taken the full plunge. Feeling that the fortune smiles on those who take the risk, he quit his safe day job and ended up getting more risk than he had imagined or hoped for. Within a very short time he received a phone call from Argentina. Hernan Vilchez, famed documentary director, was looking for someone to cover the gathering of the traditional government of the Huichol Nation on top of their most sacred mountain. The Huichol were discussing a situation with a Canadian mining company that involved one of their most sacred sites. Without skipping a beat Solorzano was in, beginning what would become a three-year-long journey which would include escaping from armed drug cartels, witnessing ritual sacrifices, and often find him alone in nature without protection from its brutality. If Jose were not so busy filming a documentary about the Huichol it would be fascinating to watch one about his own epic experience as DP for “Huicoles: The Last Peyote Guardians.”
“Be careful what you ask for.” is a highly appropriate description of this period in Jose’s life. For three years he travelled some of the most remote areas of Mexico, sometimes alone and often at great risk. At times being around other people posed more danger than the forces of nature. It’s fitting that the Huichol and such a spiritual and enigmatic people; it’s an apt description of Solorzano’s experience as DP working with Hernan Vilchez on this documentary. Hernan sent Jose to the Huichol traditions government gathering on top of the Cerro del Quemado. He was so convinced by what Solorzano captured (by himself) that he immediately extended the project into a feature documentary. Due to Hernan’s permanent residency in Argentina, he often sent his trusted DP out by himself to get the footage he required. The belief of this celebrated director was both confidence building and demanding.
“Huicoles: The Last Peyote Guardians” follows the Ramirez family trough their sacred pilgrimage to Wirikuta, the place where they connect with their gods and gather peyote in order to talk to them. The documentary portrays at the same time the cosmogony of the Huichol culture and their fight against foreign mining companies that are trying to create an open sky mining in their most sacred territory. This natural protected area known to them as Wirikuta is the most biodiverse desert in the world for cactus plants. The documentary tells the point of view of the Ramirez family and the Huichol culture but also presents the point of view of the mining companies and the mestizo population of that area, presenting a dialogue to all the parts that create the complex problem of mining in this region of Mexico. The members of the Ramirez family are introduced on camera as we learn about them, their history, culture, and this pilgrimage that is intrinsic to the relationship they have with their gods. We also see the inhabitants of the Wirikuta, a very poor region of Mexico in great need of the work resources that could be brought by the oil company. The documentary tries to balance both points of view, allowing the audience to make their own decision.
The journey of the Ramirez family and the documentary start in Laguna Seca, Jalisco and it finishes on the top of their most sacred mountain, the Cerro del Quemado (Mountain of the burned one). Jose created a visual language for the film based on his director’s desire to be very realistic but also communicate the aesthetic of the sojourn. The method which both director and DP agreed upon was the use of time lapse photography as a recurring resource for this language. Time lapse allowed for the portrayal of these amazing locations in an unconventional way. This technique allows the audience to witness with an altered perception of time and movement normally unseen by the human eye. Time lapse allowed for this film to show the stark contrast of natural terrain and topography versus machines and other manmade objects. Of course, it also magnifies the viewer’s understanding of the mysticism and magic the Huichol feel connected with.
Remote locations without electricity, the middle of the desert, tops of mountains, the depths of mines, etc., were some of the many challenging factors which Solorzano was confronted with in his work on this production. The absence of running water or a sewer system can be navigated but cameras without electricity cannot be dealt with the same way. Solar power mats, power inverters that ran off car batteries, and gear which utilized less power in general were all a part of the required package for the cameras. Extreme heat, cold, and pervasive dust exacerbated the complications of running even a small amount of production gear. Jose concedes that it was the Huichol themselves who enabled him to survive due to their knowledge of navigating this perilous journey. Professing the constitution of these people he recalls, “We had been shooting a ceremony in the bottom of a valley and we needed to carry all the gear down the mountain to this sacred place. They sacrificed a cow and had a ceremony. After shooting the ceremony we needed to walk back to their village on top of the mountain. There was a moment when my legs couldn’t go any further. I was literally crawling and couldn’t keep on going. Hernan was still going forward and while in pain he kept a good attitude on every step of this way up. Near the end some of the women in the family grabbed my back pack and tripod and helped me to finish the way back to the village.”
Jose Andres Solorzano went looking for change and he found it. Perhaps it’s more appropriate to say that he helped to make it. “Huicoles: The Last Peyote Guardians.” had a premier tour that visited many different venues, two of which were a part of the Huichol nation territory. Thousands lined up outside the theater in Guadalajara to see the documentary under the rain in Mexico City, a strong indicator for any premier. This feature documentary garnered more than 11 different awards at international festivals. The effect on the Huichol and those who viewed their story is public, the lasting meaning on Solorzano has been much more private until now. He reveals, “For me, this documentary changed my life and how I live it. Before starting to work on this production I came from doing a lot of actions sports content for brands like Red Bull and Vans. This content was really fun to shoot but I was missing something. ‘Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians’ took me back to my interests of trying to shape a better society with my craft. It also helped me understand a unique culture that is still alive in my country, the Huichol nation. With the understanding of their cosmogony it also opened my eyes to my interest in learning more from my roots and the different native indigenous cultures that are still alive in Mexico. If I had to choose the most memorable part of this production for me, it would be all the knowledge I gained and the people I knew in the road. That is a really interesting difference between narrative and documentary film. In a narrative film you are trying to create a world in order to portray an idea or message. In a documentary film you are trying to grasp that knowledge from other people and circumstances and at the end of the movie, you have changed because of all of that you have learned. Documentary filmmaking changes the filmmakers and the audience. At least, that is what it should do in my estimation. I believe that after three years of going to the desert and the different Huichol communities, I became a completely different person. The old Jose Andres died in the desert in one of those adventures when I rolled from a mountain or maybe when the drug cartels stopped us. One thing is for certain, without this movie I wouldn’t be who I am today.”
An editor can be a director’s best friend. Those who fill either of these roles on a production give a nod of acknowledgement to this statement. Editor Shiman Hu is an in-demand professional in the film industry and a highly valued collaborator on many a film set due to her understanding of this symbiotic relationship. As with any mutually beneficial partnership, an altruistic approach serves the entire group best. Producer Li Yuan (who worked with Hu on the film “Plus Slash Minus +/-“) extends that idea professing, “Shiman is the kind of editor that every producer and director wants to work with. She understands the storyboard and the director’s vision thoroughly. She completes a film not just by telling the audience what’s literally in the screenplay but by emphasizing the director’s theme with her excellent ability to combine different camera movements visually with editing rhythm. It sets up a tone which is exactly as the director desired.” This praise is vetted by the recognition which “Plus Slash Minus +/-“ has received such as being an official selection at a variety of film festivals like the Los Angeles Film Awards, Gold Movie Awards Goddess Nike, Top Shorts, and the South Film and Arts Academy Festival. The story of a very real life drama (inspired by true events) and the skill with which it is presented have made it a favorite of pubic and peers.
As the title infers to astute viewers, “Plush Slash Minus +/-“ is about dealing with the unexpected. It’s the story of Cathy, a promising high school teen on the surface but one who has felt the challenges of her single parent home. Now faced with an unplanned pregnancy, she insists on giving birth to her child regardless of everyone’s objection. Endless fights escalate in her life causing more drama that has driven both mother and daughter to the edge. Cathy’s immature boyfriend, her mother’s temporary lover, everyone is passively involved in this drama but are resistant to witnessing the birth of a child and continuation of a perceived cycle of struggle.
Hu worked with the other filmmakers under the concept that the film be presented in a stark manner, almost more as a documentary than a piece of fiction. Refraining from beautiful, wide sweeping cinematography shots/framing and the use of vibrant color, the story appears visually natural and realistic to drive home the idea that in real life things are not always attractive and pleasant to deal with. An underage girl with an unexpected pregnancy who looks to be repeating the difficulties her own mother faced; it’s not the typical escapism or overly grand super heroism that seem to be most easily digested by many viewers. Cathy proposes to the father of her child that they leave town together. When he refuses, she returns home only to find cigarettes, alcohol, and an instable financial situation to greet her. Chaos is the pervasive theme throughout the film as this young woman faces a very real and all too common occurrence in life.
Many times, the effect that the director desires on screen is most accurately realized in the editing process. Shiman embraces the opportunity that her role affords her in films such as “Plus Slash Minus +/-.” In a pivotal scene that redirects Cathy’s attitude and feelings towards her own mother, Hu was able to intensify the action filmed for the scene. When the mother’s boyfriend knocks Cathy down, the matriarch leaps to her defense and brawls with him to protect her child. Shiman used effects during this scene with Cathy’s POV shots to exhibit that she had been stunned by the force of the boyfriend’s assault, conveying the intensity and true harm caused.
Music is often the guide which lights the path for the audience, making the emotional journey more accessible; Shiman is an enthusiastic fan of its use. When Cathy discovers she is pregnant by using a home pregnancy test in the bathroom, chaotic music accompanies her. After the fight scene while mother and daughter cry together, a sole piano melody magnifies the moment. At nearly every emotional turn, the editor has inserted the appropriate musical accoutrement to assist the viewer in fully experiencing the moment with the characters of this film.
While she doesn’t refuse work in big budget feature films, Hu relates that she finds film like this one to be among the most important for her to be a part of creating. She notes, “This is one of the most challenging types of film to create. I’ve never edited a film with such a realistic theme before. It’s closer to the theme of a documentary and discusses a hot topic which many people are concerned about. I needed to arrange the image language to tell a complete story. The film was made up of many shots and every shot had many takes, especially the fighting scenes. I tried a lot of different ways to show this scene until finally determining the most perfect way to present it. It’s sometimes a difficult process but this is where the expression and creativity comes in to play. This difficulty comes not from the special effects but in regards to the existing footage’s ability to tell the whole story and cutting through the shots to emphasize the sense of rhythm; it’s a very important part of the work and a part which I love.”
Editing truly allows one to bring a very big change to a movie. Without a great editor, even the most beautiful footage can be useless. The final presentation of a script is about eighty percent related to the editor. An editor is like a magician; they can transform even unsatisfactory footage into something quite meaningful. They can make bad shots disappear and unplanned ones seemingly congeal out of thin air. Magic hands like those of Shiman Hu are to be respected, valued, and congratulated.
The world of politics can be gritty and rough. The task of telling the stories of politics can resemble that as well. Both the process and the look requires a consummate professional to do it properly; makeup artist Christina Spina is such a person. Taking over for fellow artist Jessica Panetta when she was called away early in the filming of Filth City, Spina stepped in and created a seamless transition. Working with both Jessica and director Andy King, Christina established a tone congruent with the tone of the productions. Whether maintaining the design continuity or creating on the spot looks for day players, Spina used her skill to assist the director’s vision, empower the actors, and be a vital part of what would result in the film winning the award for Best Comedy and Best Cast at the Canadian Film Fest 2017.
The 2017 action/comedy/crime film is based on true events inspired by Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford. Filth City tells the story of a city’s crack smoking mayor competing for reelection whilst in the heat of a scandal. When local kids record Hogg smoking crack on video, numerous media outlets compete to get their hands on the footage. Hogg’s campaign staff and syndicate of dirty cops work to keep the video’s existence a secret while others want to use this to put an end to the mayor’s political career. Crime, corruption, and the largest garbage strike in York history are all components as the plot follows a wide range of characters through this neo-noir crime tale. The film itself was provocative similarly to the real life events it was based on. During the world premiere at the Canadian Film Festival in March 2017 (at the Scotia Bank Cinema) Filth City received a massive amount of attention from the media, stoked by intense negative public comments by the city’s late mayor’s brother. His comments created a media frenzy and the film received tons of media attention as a result, creating buzz and selling out tickets; the very definition of turning a negative into a positive.
The director and the designer (Panetta) had created a look that was inspired by modern television crime dramas, and classic film noir crime films. All of this was communicated to Christina when she took over. While the public often thinks of makeup in TV and film as making the actors more attractive, the goal was anything but this for Filth City. The filmmakers knew that the story was about the reality of politics and the people involved, not the pleasant way these individuals project themselves. To this end the goal was to present what they referred to as “hyper realism.” The look of the characters was to be very specific and not the somewhat bland “wallpaper” approach commonly seen in film. Christina describes, “For example, a lead cop character had a specific flip to the front of his hair. The Mayor had redness in his face and was intentionally sweaty and shiny on camera. The cop turned drug addict character had a dry red patch on his neck and darkness under his eyes. A young woman in one of the lead roles wore gold eye shadow. All of these choices are so simple but specific in forming the visual language of character. In comedy, depending on the circumstances of the script and the nature of the show, characters tend to have bigger makeup design elements to increase the comedy aspect. Since this was a crime drama comedy, the ham factor was turned down and simplified into hyper-realism.”
In the work of a makeup artist, what appears “normal” on screen is every bit as challenging to establish as that which seems striking. That might seem counterintuitive but anyone who has appeared on camera without the benefit of makeup can attest to the fact that it can greatly aid or detract from your appearance. In TV and film productions, extremes at both ends of the scale can be challenging. If the viewer finds themselves paying attention to the makeup, it’s done incorrectly. Christina concedes that it is very difficult to produce a makeup look that appears flawlessly natural, as if the person is wearing nothing at all. This type of makeup is erroneously confused with being easy and fast, which is not at all the case as it takes refining and attention to the most minute details and should never be seen. The makeup style Spina used for lead character Mayor Hogg (referred to as breakdown makeup) displayed redness all over his face to resemble broken capillaries from substance abuse. This makeup design was very specific and required both written and photo documentation to ensure perfect replication for each scene.
Not all of Christina’s work on Filth City required painstaking recreation for the lead characters. She often got the opportunity to improvise looks for a number of day players (actors on the set for a single day, often performing peripheral or background roles). It wasn’t uncommon on this production to have an actor with four different look changes in one day. Because the story was set in current times with an emphasis on politicians, law enforcement, and the media, Spina often took her inspiration from the generalization of these types on day to day television. The proper simple choices can have a dramatic effect on camera. It’s this type of wisdom which augments the talent that Christina is lauded for. Her quirky versions of real people benefited both the comedy and the crime sentiments of the storyline. She agrees stating, “I am actually able to execute last minute requests successfully with a combination of methods. It mostly comes with years of experience. I am always facing challenges and learning from experience, and am lucky to have those experiences to move forward so that I am more prepared each day. I have learned so much over the years, and am learning still. Each experience encourages me to revise and restock my kit. I have learned so many valuable things, one important tip is to be able to improvise requests on the spot by having a fully stocked kit with all the tools and items to execute any request. It could be stressful when requests are made and crew is forced to wait on me or my department, a general rule on set is that you do not want to be the cause of holding up shooting. But with thorough communication and a solid plan of execution everyone can get their respective jobs done and not feel stress in a way that would compromise the outcome.”
Advertisers have become much more aware of the fact that interesting presentations equal more attention for their products as well as a longer life in terms of their production budget. To that end, shrewd and astute companies have given greater latitude to the artists they use in creating these promotions. Italian fashion company Golden Goose has utilized the duo of editor Aaron Bencid and director Marco Prestini in a trio of fashion films which are highly unusual, deeply narrative, and always compelling. It seems that the company subscribes to the idea that when you hire a professional, it’s with the understanding that you allow them to do what they know how to do best rather than telling them how you’d like it done. The director of ThreeRivers for Golden Goose agrees with this as well as he states, “I was given a lot of creative freedom on this project and the only request made was to have three female characters. I used the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and work on a narrative to portray the collection. I usually edit my own films but since I was piercing into new territory, I wanted to divide the labor with someone I knew I could trust so I asked my long-time collaborator and great editor Aaron Bencid. He definitely demonstrated a different sensibility and approach towards the project, which ultimately made it better. Working with him was a professional, intuitive, and overall well- rounded experience. A great thing about Aaron is that he’s not just someone who knows the ins and outs of the program, but he comes up with opinions and solutions of his own. He’s as good of a listener as he is an active participant during the editorial process.”
Bencid approaches every project whether it be film, television, web-based, promotional, etc., with the purpose of affecting the emotional impact of the production’s message. Three Rivers is a subtle drama with elements of suspense. An eerie and cryptic voiceover at the beginning hints to an uncertain world. The imagery is subtle yet powerful; its composition imposes a certain amount of anxiety. The character’s actions are purposely mysterious, inducing the audience into a sense of dread and confusion. The first visuals are that of the ancient sequoias; silent giants that for centuries have extended their presence towards the sky and the infinite. Birds sing amidst the foliage and forest community, where a road extends hiding in the trees. A black SUV approaches in the distance, dominated in every direction by the grandeur of the trees which overlook the black asphalt. Two women (Anna and Heather) have been traveling for hours towards the heart of the forest where, hidden among rocks and conifers, a small glass house is seen in the distance. This secret place far from the noise and the city is where as usual the two love to take refuge during the first days of autumn. Accompanying the duo is a mysterious hitchhiker they picked up on their drive to this remote location in the woods. The following morning, one of the girls is discovered missing.
The setting for this story implies the same contrast that Golden Goose and their distressed fashion line is known for. The mystery and intrigue are compliments of the editor and director. The plot sets an obvious somber and eerie tone to which Aaron wanted to be faithful and magnify. His use of use of unnaturally long moments to induce a sense of awkwardness and uneasiness is reminiscent of Yorgo Lanthimos’ work (famed Greek director known for his creative vision in films like The Lobster, Dogtooth, Alps, and others). Bencid describes, “I never wanted the film to feel cutty. The mood of it was purposely slow and I wanted the film to flow like that in the edit. Involving too many cuts in a specific scene would overload it and disrupt its tone. This ended up being a main template; having the shots drag out instead of cutting it short. Remaining on certain shots for longer periods of time than normal helped me enhance the desired effect. I didn’t want the audience to realize when the cut came in, as if you were trapped in this loop; a loop that narratively parallels the ending of the film.”
Three Rivers was the recipient of copious accolades for its highly creative approach. Vimeo Staff Pick, winner of “Best New Creative Advertising Piece” (Interference Festival 2015), and Official Nominee “Best New Italian Fashion Film” (Fashion Film Festival Milano) were just a few of the many recognitions it received. What makes this all the more impressive is the fact that director and editor were on completely separate continents during the production of Three Rivers. Times zones and physical distance made it nearly impossible to communicate in real time, which led to email being a primary source of communication. It’s a very modern way of making films and the results of Three Rivers makes the very idea of this seem counterintuitive…almost impossible but yet it is very much accurate. Lending to the argument that Three Rivers is literally a piece of art rather than just a promotion was its screening at the Italian Museum Triennale under the exhibition “Il Nuovo Vocabolario Della Moda Italiana” 2015-2016. This is proof that Three Rivers and editor Aaron Bencid can proudly and literally be referred to as art and artist.
Honesty is one of the scariest things in our lives. At the same time, there can be no growth without it. One cannot move forward until acceptance of reality has occurred. This is both the core of the story of the film Asia A as well as the reason that director Andrew Reid worked with screenwriter Roberto Saieh on the project. Saieh has a talent for delivering a realistic perspective rather than the typical sanguine escapism which much of the industry is known for. While there is a time and place for both, the blunt actuality of Asia A (the title is derived from the American Spinal Injury Association classification of “A” for a person with no motor or sensory function preserved in the sacral segments S4-S5) causes it to stand out. Reid shares a strong connection to the storyline of the main character Marquise which made the film very personal for him. This makes it even more impressive that the director credits Roberto with flipping the story upside down in their initial meeting, a sure sign to him that this was the perfect screenwriter to help him create the intensity and realism that he demanded.
Asia A is the story of Marquise (played by London Brown of HBO’s “Ballers”), an athlete who has recently suffered a spinal cord injury which has changed his life dramatically. Without knowing whether this will be a lifelong change or a temporary one, Marquise is forced to deal with the uncertainty of his future and what he thinks it will look like. While the core of the idea may not be completely unique, the way in which the story is told is not the norm. This is not a film about events but rather about the characters and how their relationships are affected. The main character’s interaction with his (recent ex) girlfriend [Camilla] and his older hospital roommate [Noah, played by Emmy winner Pruitt Taylor Vince] present him with the choices of letting the actions of others determine his future or doing so for himself, during a very vulnerable and painful part of his life. Reid explains why he pursued Saieh to write the script stating, “Roberto’s creativity is what makes him unique from other writers. His goal is to create truly authentic stories that resonate with audiences. Storytelling is art, entertainment, and emotion all wrapped into one package and Roberto is a true storyteller. What ensures his success is his creativity and work ethic, which are unparalleled. Talent will get you into the room but it’s hard work that keeps you there.”
An extremely benevolent impact of Roberto’s work in the eyes of the film’s director is that he flipped many of the key relationships in the film and by doing so changed the emotional kaleidoscope of it. A few expertly made adjustments completely transformed the way that the audience and even Reid was witnessing the characters and events. While most writers would fixate on what happened to Marquise, this writer focused on his response to them and those around him. Saieh came to this perspective by an unexpected association as he tells, “It occurred to me that Marquise, the main character, had to grieve the life he once had in order to accept the one before him. Using that as a starting point, I loosely modeled his journey based on the five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, & Acceptance; taking each as inspiration. It’s impossible for me to know what it feels like to be an Asia A patient but I have experienced different kinds of loss in my life. It is that sympathetic emotion that I overlaid onto the story and used to shape Marquise’s journey. I firmly believe that no matter what you’re writing about, as long as the emotional honesty is intact it will ring true.”
Although the injury happened directly to Marquise, the experience affects all of those around him and particularly those closest to him. In the original script, Noah is the hospital roommate of Marquise and becomes a protector to him. Wanting to present something with an inverse correlation to the norm, Roberto wrote Noah as crass and irreverent with an almost forced cheerfulness. Noah’s deceased wife pitied him and he used this as a crutch to combat the depression and anger of his situation. A diabetic, Noah is eating himself towards death and has already endured two leg amputations. Rather than a wise mentor, Noah becomes a textbook example of who Marquise does not want to become. Saieh describes, “To me, characterizing Noah this way seemed like a truer version of how people are lacking self-awareness and are self-victimizing while at the same time offering a harder-hitting narrative. I didn’t want to shy away from exploring the darker side of the themes. This isn’t the story of someone who successfully went through a similar experience and is now mentoring someone else through it. It’s the story of someone [Noah] who couldn’t do what life is asking of Marquise now.”
Further driving this point and doing so painfully for the film’s protagonist is the fact that his ex-girlfriend Camilla pursues what she believes to be the right thing in reuniting with Marquise. While the comfort of her support could be a band aid, Marquise is constantly confronted with the choices Noah has made and whether or not to face his difficulties alone but with honesty.
Roberto began his writing career with Indie Dramas and desires to take this indie sensibility and attention to “character” that defined this early work to summer blockbusters and genre films. His fascination with romantic dramas comes from his belief that some of the worst wounds you can receive can be self-inflicted, which can seem even worse when they’re the right choice. This is perfectly stated in Asia A when Marquise rebukes Camilla’s offer in a self-aware understanding that her feelings resemble pity more than love. It’s a concept Roberto feels presents itself often in our lives. He remarks, “It’s a matter of digging into personal experience and those situations where you know a relationship is over but you also know it’s going to be up to you to end it because the other person, for whatever reason, isn’t willing to step up. Having the strength to self-inflict a necessary wound because it’s the only way to save yourself seems to be a recurring theme in some of my work; letting someone go, someone that you love to death, because they’re not right for you or because you know they will be your downfall. It wasn’t that much different writing Marquise in this situation, regardless of his status as a spinal cord injury patient.”
The human experience is diverse and complicated. There are layers upon layers of emotions that make up the life of every individual on the planet regardless of their experiences and their point of origin. This complexity can sometimes go unnoticed in the din of so many people. The beauty that makes up each person’s life is a story in itself. This concept goes overlooked by many but is always present in the mind of Jifu Li. As a Sound Editor, Jifu spends his time ensuring that the voices and sounds present in a film weave in and out of presence in the story as the filmmakers see fit. One might not think of sound in terms of color but it is precisely this perspective that allows a contouring of the experience by the audience. Jifu uses his talents in a wide variety of films ranging from Oscar nominated to independent productions, proving that those of great talent seeks to collaborate with great storytellers regardless of the price tag…because that’s what they must do as committed artists.
Creating any film is a massive endeavor. The Oscar-nominated feature film The Grandmaster was almost hyperbolically so. The footage was extensive, twelve reels by the time that Jifu began his work. The production’s shooting cycle had lasted four years. Li’s previous work on five films had convinced Wu Ling (general manager of the China film post Company) that Jifu’s talent and propensity to work long hours without complaint made him ideal for the position. The Grandmaster is the story of the martial-arts master Ip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee. While it’s a gripping drama, the film is an obvious action story as well. The picture editing and audio editing of the film were done synchronously, which meant that getting the final frame version in perfect sync was an intimidating proposition. Altogether there were fifteen versions of the film. If an action scene changed, all of the effects and Group ADR required recutting by hand, sometimes even redesigning or rerecording. Describing what he does in a very literal sense, Jifu states, “If you cut from a punch to a slow motion reaction, the sound pacing should be fast to slow. I might add in some ‘Bass Drops.’ The hit should appear to the audience as it ‘feels’ to the characters, like you can hear the fist beat from the skin to the bones, all the texture and details. What happened a lot in The Grandmaster is that they would then change it on the other side; cut to the fighter’s slow-motion movement first, and suddenly speed up, hitting the others person’s face. The sound design will then change a lot. Sometimes there were voices and sometimes just music and sound effects. There are so many of these sonic aspects in modern films and in particular action films. My job is to make sure these subtleties are executed perfectly and to the desire of the director. It can be arduous but it’s always gratifying.”
A consummate professional like Jifu was necessary for The Grandmaster due to one technique which was employed during filming for the benefit of the action sequences. In this film (as in many action films) the director used music to aid in the fight sequences. This type of choreography is always about timing and music greatly aids in this. Quite often, the music used during filming is not the same that is used in the final edit (sometimes the music is altogether discarded). This results in extensive ADR (automated dialogue replacement). Even beyond the main characters, Li worked extensively on Walla Editing (the background character voices), Wild Tracks (sound effects which are recorded on location by the production sound mixer and then later edited for use), and Foley.
The Grandmaster is a beautiful film, visually and audibly. In addition to its 2014 Academy Award-nomination, it also received the Best film at the (2014) Asian Film Awards, Best Film at the (2014) Hong Kong Film Awards, as well as a Golden Horse Film Festival Audience Choice Award & Best Feature Film nomination. Most meaningful to Jifu was the Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing in Foreign Feature Film that acknowledged his skill on The Grandmaster and which he credits for inspiring him to continue to excel in the profession.
Though he enjoys the challenge of a huge budget feature film, Li also welcomes the opportunity of smaller films and the methodology they require. His work in Editing for the film “Love is Color Blind” helped to create the mood for a very different type of adversity and combat between the film’s main characters. The film, which won a host of awards at the London IFF 2017 and the Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood, is the story of an American woman who adopts an orphan from China and has brought it back to the United States. With adolescent rebellion, the child begins to gradually question the authority of her mother. Teen angst ensues and a rift is created between child and parent. As life educates the daughter, she prepares to sincerely apologize to her mother at her 18-year-old birthday party but the mother faints from weakness due to late stages of cancer. At the last moment of life, the mother and daughter finally understand each other.
Jifu had extensive conversation with director Liu Jiaqi about the emotional shading of the tone she wanted in the film. In creating the sound design for “Love is Color Blind” he used Avid Media Composer and Protools HD. The program creates sound Design effects and allows them to be categorized and moved around as per the director’s desire for subtle differences. These type of modern tools are equally applicable in major studio films or smaller indie productions. It’s a fact of the modern filmmaking era that both the tools and the skilled professional like Jifu who use them often work in both situations. The key factors in either are talent and hard work, something which Li is always mindful of. He reveals, “I remember when I worked for Kar Wai Wong the director and he told me an idiom which inspires me to this day. Everyone knows that the most valuable part of a toad is the toad oil but do you know how the toad oil is produced? The toad is placed under a light and is scorched by the light. It produces this oil, a process which takes about twenty hours. When I heard this, I thought ‘sometimes inspiration comes from dogged pursuit.’ The best thing/essence occurs at the moment when you feel you reach your limit and want to give up. If you persist, you might be surprised by your achievement. This is what keeps me working as hard as I possibly can.”
International Entertainment, and the Talents that Leave us Buzzing….