Creating and completing a film is in itself something of a miracle. The amount of work done by a varied group of artists and skilled professionals is layers deep; similar to an iceberg in the fact that most of these are not evident to the public. Director Florina Titz had poured everything she had into the film Caihong City but found the project stalled with some challenging postproduction obstacles. Titz reached out to Ye Zhu to channel the post efforts and create a new workflow to deliver the film to its final form. A multimedia production specialist with a wide skill set, Ye’s knowledge of the different production teams which coordinate behind the scenes allowed her to breathe new life into the film during the final stages. The director’s trust proved well placed as Caihong City appeared as on Official Selection at important events across the world from LA’s Valley Film Festival to the Paris Play Film Festival, Romania’s 12 Months Film Festival, and many others. Awarded the Best Trailer Awards at the Philip K Dick Film Festival in NYC, even the most brief glimpse into this film communicated that it was something truly unique.
Caihong City is a truly daring work of cinema. Filmed in over thirty locations in and around New York City’s five boroughs, this production features an international cast and a language created specifically for the story. This dystopian science fiction tale is set in a futuristic world where dying genius Liu Junjie (Zhao Lewis Liu) forms an unlikely alliance with crazed vagabond Serioja (Marian Adochitei) and depressed prostitute Lavinia (Lana Moscaliuc) to complete a super task to survive. The storyline and the footage was exceptional but the production came to a halt due to a number of postproduction obstacles. The most significant of these was a clear vision for the integration of a software interface that would transform modern NYC into Furui and Caihong City. Inseparable was a work flow that would allow multiple artists to share data, visual concepts, and delivery strategies. The ideas were available but it was Ms. Zhu who would help manifest them into reality. The greatest impediment to this was the fact that the film’s international cast and crew were now dispersed throughout the globe. She designed and coordinated an interwoven and overlapping series of tasks within a tight schedule involving all aspects of postproduction. Ye’s motivation, communication, and tenacity are prime assets which drove the production to completion.
Proving that her role is as much about creative vision as practical coordination. Ye not only enabled Caihong City to become finalized but even helped reimagine it to some degree. After organizing a WIP screening with a mixed crowd of sci-fi lovers, filmmakers, and potential investors for the film, she used the responses of these individuals to convince the filmmakers that a re-edit was called for. The cinematography and visual style was transfixing but the main characters had not been fully developed. Ye reveals, “After presenting the results to our post production team and going through the entire film scene by scene with the director and editor to discuss possible solutions, we decided to re-edit the film. During this process, we focused on building the three main characters by cutting out less significant characters and plotlines. We adjusted the pacing of the film by deliberately leaving long beautiful scenes in the film in between critical intense moments to create some breathing room for viewers. More emphasis was put on VFX to further explore ways of using the look and functions of the map to solidify the plot. The re-edit of the film integrated more logic and structure into the previously heavily instinct and emotion driven cut to reach a perfect balance that’s transformative to the final film. It’s like putting a puzzle together. You need to know what are the missing pieces for everyone involved in order to move on to the next stage and try to figure out the best approach to get things done efficiently.”
Beyond its remarkable aesthetics and adventurous use of linguistics, Caihong City continues the lineage proven by films like Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther in proving that Hollywood and the entire world is ready to view a diverse cast. The impediments of previous generations of film have given way to the creativity of productions like Caihong City which prove that it is in fact a brave new world for film.
From the first frame and song of Pressure-Man (writer/director Kai Kuei-Chieh Hsu’s musical comedy) you instantly recognize the color of John Potter’s suit and tie as prominently as his singing. This is by design. The theatrical, somewhat fanciful approach is designed to place the viewer into accepting the “sleepwalking” lifestyle that the main character John is immersed in. The colors are over the top on purpose. The color makes a subliminal impact, it’s the reason that the filmmakers approached colorist Hugo Shih to use his expertise on Pressure-Man. Even the scene over the closing credits shows the wild color schemes Shih can use to great effect. The heart of the film is intact regardless of the color, but it is the talent which Hugo brings that truly gives this film the character to make it stand out as unique. Among its many recognitions were: 2016 American Movie Award (Best Production / Art Direction (Winner), 2016 Praxis Film Festival (Audience Awards), & Official Selection of the 2015 Los Angeles International Film Festival Awards (Winner – Best Comedy/Dramedy). In hopes of understanding why Kai Hsu and this production were so intent on having Shih work on Pressure-Man as the colorist, we spoke with him in order to understand his role and the essential parts of his vocation. Because the film is so stylized in terms of its use of color, it is a perfect example of what a colorist is capable of doing in modern cinema.
In current American society, Pressure-Man is the norm. This film is about an accountant who is so tied to his job that he doesn’t take the time to participate in actual life with his family. The idea of living to work rather than working to live is ingrained into the life of many in the US. Pressure-Man is as subtle as a sledgehammer, which is exactly what is needed to wake the main character John (and many of us) from this enslavement. In pursuing the dream, we forget to live the dream, which is exactly what Hsu is saying in this film…about everyone, not simply those in the film. To create such an altered state, Hsu worked closely with Hugo in creating the approach he wanted for a color scheme.
From the opening scene, Shih’s handy work is evident. As Pressure-Man introduces himself and the film in song, his brightly colored suit and bow tie grab the viewer’s attention as a spotlight illuminates him. The director wanted everything but the Pressure-Man hidden so Hugo added a lot of mask, covering everything else and tracked the actor, so that the mask would follow with him. It’s a technique which the viewer doesn’t notice but focuses the attention right where the filmmaker desires it to be. Even the transition from the opening song into the action of the film required Hugo’s expertise. Shih explains, “There was one shot we worked on very long time, which is the shot when Pressure-man stops dancing and starts to introduce us to the main character and the idea of the story. The Director wanted the lighting to look like he was using dimmer. It was difficult because it wasn’t shot this way. I needed to add the dimmer effect myself. In order to achieve this, I brought down everything at the background but the Pressure-man. Secondly, I key framed the background to gradually light it up, but without effect on the Pressure-man. Sometimes the director wanted it as dark as possible, but without losing any of the detail. Thus, the director and I were looking for a balanced light that we could both be happy about. I like working with directors that have specific ideas and requirements. Even though their requests might be difficult, we can build a style of communication. I know how to achieve many things as a colorist but if I learn how to communicate better and more easily with the directors and cinematographers I work with, I will work more and we will all enjoy the process.” Describing another shot in the film, Shih states, “There is a shot in which the Pressure-man is in the bathtub with father. When I graded this scene, the director asked me to make it look like the actors were in their own little world. I made the spotlight stronger, and used two shapes to mask out the sides to be dark. Then I added overall blur to simulate the steam because I want to make more feeling of taking shower. There was also a scene in which the father has a nightmare. He dreams that every member of his family has become a ‘Pressure- Man’. This was composed of multiple green screen shots. Because we have a rushing to meet our deadline, I decided to do compositing in a color grading software. Before I was able to do that, I had to do a perfect color balancing so that I could get a clean key and make a proper composition. It isn’t exciting to hear about but the finished product really made the director excited.”
A common misconception about the colorist job on a film is that they only deal with grades and tones of color. Because of the work they do and its effect on the action taking place in the frame, they often control how the lighting feels on film as well as the color. Because the colorist almost always performs their work after the filming has taken place, it is important that they work closely with the director and have a strong sense of why the lighting was established on set during filming. Just as with the actors, the environment in which the colorist performs his/her work is crucial to achieving the proper effect. The working environment of a colorist is very different from other positions on a production. During a color session, the room must be totally dark. There only light which can be turned on is a 6500 daylight lamp because it will adjust to the colorist’s eyes once they go out of the room and come back in. Also, the room must be 18% Gray (which is a neutral color and won’t reflect any colors to influence the eyes of the colorist towards the image). A colorists’ room also requires specialized equipment to aid in the color grade process, making things efficient and accurate. Hugo Shih’s work in Pressure-Man highlights the impact of the role of a colorist in modern film. While many audiences may not understand the substantial amount of time required and the valuable expertise that Hugo possesses; the look of the film stands as proof that his contributions create a unique and artistic experience.
As far back as we can trace the history of mankind is how long storytelling has existed; that’s because storytelling allows us to communicate our own history. At some point (most likely around a campfire) storytelling became an art and, as art does, the tales became more grand and entertaining. Through the ages, the means by which stories were communicated has evolved; oratory, legible, theatrical, and eventually we came to our modern cinematic means. Moving Pictures may be just a skooch over a century old but they have already transformed in so many ways and have escalated the art of storytelling on a global scale. Hollywood may be the epicenter of TV and film but many countries in the world have ingrained some form of the industry into their social fabric. Hollywood can be proud that its child has become loved everywhere on planet Earth. All the corners of the world use this means to tell their tales. By studying the productions of different countries we can understand more about them as well as gain insight into how they see themselves. Petr Golikov is a Russian producer who has had immense success in the world of commercial production but who has also been a producer on many documentaries which present the history of his country as well as how historical figures have effected Russian society. Because of his successful career as a producer and his respect for US productions, he has a healthy respect for Americas contributions. Viewing the documentaries, he has produced allows one to have an insider’s look at many historical figures and social aspects of Russian society that are not often presented to the US. It’s particularly interesting that a producer like Petr, who has such a lauded career (working with well-known US companies like: PUMA, Gillette, Kraft Foods, Ford, Phillips; with campaigns that won awards such as: an Effie Award, a Silver Prize at the Kiev International Advertising Festival, and a Golden Prize at the Golden Hammer International Advertising Festival, as well as others) is always searching for a way to hone his abilities and challenge his approach. Golikov left the world of commercial producing for a period of time to work at the award-winning Studio Ostrov. Studio Ostrov is a recipient of many prestigious awards including: an Emmy Award, Bafta Award, and Nika Award. This award-winning production company was founded by the award-winning filmmaker Sergey Miroshnichenko. Petr admits that when he was offered the opportunity to work with an artist as important as Sergey Miroshnichenko, he could not forego the experience. It is a scenario that has altered his approach to production ever since, particularly his style of communication with directors.
The production Gogol: The Farewell Letter mixed actual letters of correspondence from one of the most celebrated Russian writers with a very artistic presentation. The film was recognized and awarded at the Kiev International Film Festival in 2009. The film is based on Nikolai Gogol’s correspondence with friends and contains reconstructed scenes from the life of this writer and the intellectual debates which he led with them. The main role was played by Eugeniy Voskresenskiy (he won an award at the Kiev International Film Festival for this role). Golikov describes the creative approach which the film is known for, stating, “Three-fourths of the film took place in the set designed and built to look like a huge head of Gogol. People appeared there like ghosts or thoughts or images. We wanted the viewer’s to feel that they were inside Gogol’s head and we took the metaphor to a very literal place, which the audience seemed to really enjoy.”
One of the films Petr produced (at Studio Ostrov) which received the most accolades was The Word. This film is about the life of famed writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The Word received a TEFI Best TV film nominee, a LAVR (2009) Best documentary film award, and a special award at the 2nd New York Festival of Russian documentary (2009). The Word was filmed shortly before Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn death in 2008 and discussed the writer’s book The Gulag Archipelago, his ideas, & future plans. The documentary contains rare footage of his life outside Russia and unpublished exclusive interviews in which he discusses modern literature and the future of Russian in the 21st century. Because the film discussed one of the most important writers and thinkers who witnessed such an extensive change in the world, it was paramount that it present his firsthand take on history and the literature of his lifetime.
One of the most intriguing documentaries which Golikov produced for Studio Ostrov is titled Closest. This is a riveting and poignant documentary which views the city of Kazan in Russia. This location is extraordinary in the fact that its population is comprised of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim people who live peacefully together. It is a model which attempts to explain if we can live amongst each other with these differences without strife and war. The production asks if “love thy neighbor” can truly exist. Filmed on location over a ten-day period, Closest gives first-hand accounts of what these different ideological groups think of each other and how they implement their religious teachings.
Reaching much further back into Russia’s history, Petr produced Pyotr and Fevroniya:Story of Eternal Love for Studio Ostrov. The Orthodox Church in Russia has declared this couple saints and the keepers of family and marriage. According to lore, Pyotr and Fevroniya were buried in separate tombs but the following day their bodies were discovered together in the same tomb. Many people visit this tomb and ask for intercession. Golikov communicates, “I had to approach the story with great care before it was presented to channel’s producer. There was a presentation for a priest from the Orthodox church because this couple is recognized as saints. The church was happy with it and the film crew was actually very moved by the story, as were the viewers…which gave us such high ratings. It’s a wonderful love story.
Petr’s acclaim as a producer of both documentaries and commercials in Russia has led to upcoming productions with Feel Good Video in the US. Golikov has been enlisted to bring his talents to a number of projects for Feel Good Video including the documentaries Dreams by the Ocean and Twinsters in addition to a series of commercials for both Dyno Wave and Joe To Door brands. Petr’s immensely popular and acclaimed work in the past is a causality to the effect of these international offers. The best reward for a professional such as Golikov is the abundance of offers that continue to find their way to this consummate producer.
Being an Executive Producer (EP) is in many ways similar to being a UFC fighter. You put in an insane amount of hours preparing for the microscopic amount of time that the audience actually witnesses the entertainment which you create. You must predict the action which will take place in your mind, envisioning it months or years before it ever takes place. You choose the team of professionals who will hopefully insure your success. Not to be forgotten, you often feel as if you have had every ounce of energy kicked out of you before it is all over. If it sounds hyperbolic to you, a conversation with Miguel Rivas may alleviate this uncertainty. Rivas is well known in his native Canada (the US is now paying a great deal of attention to him) for his writing and acting abilities but, unknown to the public en masse, he has been the EP overseeing many of the productions for which he has become famous. The combination of writing and acting has given him an overview of what is needed and naturally steered him towards the role of EP.
Many often refer to the role of EP as an honorary title given to marquee name actors and actresses to placate these celebrities. While that may exist in some parts of the entertainment world, this scenario has no presence in Canada’s TV and film industry or Miguel’s experiences. Many times, Rivas has been asked to take on this task as someone who has the understanding of what the production needs as a whole. He states, “Being executive producer means ultimate control, but also maximum stress. The whole project rises or sinks based on how you put it together. That means primarily, finding the right people to work with. On ‘Japan’ and ‘Wanda’ (two of the films by comedy troupe Tony Ho), it was paramount to find people who understood our sensibilities as a group. As EP, you have to organize everything and keep multiple plates spinning at once. Independent films can be hard to fund; finding money and support for our voice was the single most important part of being EP on these projects. Once that was in place, it was just about doing every task, however large or menial, with an eye on making the best film you possibly can.” Tony Ho is one of the most established and lauded Canadian comedy groups to perform both live and on film. With a signature dark comedy style, they appeal to a wide audience by tackling the highly stressful situations that many of us face, or hope to never face. Japan won the Grand Prize for best film at the Laugh Sabbath Film Fest at NXNE, while Wanda was also recognized at the same Film Fest. Both films present the stresses that modern professions and love lives have on the average person, with ridiculous…sometimes fatal outcomes. Tony Ho’s Roger Bainbridge (Nolan in Japan) confirms the importance of Miguel as EP for the film, stating, “I was really fortunate to have Miguel as an executive producer on Japan with me. Most Tony Ho films feature just the three of us and maybe 1 or 2 more people but Japan required a large cast and many locations over different days. Miguel did a great job of finding the right people for the job, making sure they were paid well, organizing their schedules, and arranging the shoot days so that we could use the extras efficiently without wasting anyone’s time. Miguel was also key in finding our shoot locations. He did a great job in writing the script for Japan, but the humor comes from the fast pace of the story. We needed lots of locations to make the script work. Miguel used his connections to get us locations that would fit our script and budget. That was the beauty of having Miguel as both writer and executive producer, he turned a complicated script into an easy shoot. We didn’t have to compromise.” Adam Niebergall plays Marty (the recipient of some opportunistic nepotism) in Japan and reinforces Bainbridge’s take on Miguel’s abilities and expertise on Japan. Adam comments, “You can tell Miguel really loves making movies because he’s so calm about it all the time. On Japan there were lots of different people involved; extras, cameramen, transportation people, etc. Everyone went to Miguel to ask questions. He was the one who communicated with everyone, either in person or by phone/text, and everyone trusted what he said. Strong leadership is important on film projects and Miguel inspires confidence in everyone involved. Plus, he’s always nice about it. He never yells at anyone. He’s always more than happy to answer anyone’s questions. You can tell he’s thankful to everyone for helping to make the movie. He knows what he wants to do and accomplish and how to bring out the best in everyone’s work.” Daniel Beirne, the director of Wanda, reiterates, “he had no problem switching from his “actor/writer hat” to his “executive producer” hat. He was respectful of the crew we had there and made sure everyone was ok to keep working or asked if we should take a break. I love working with Miguel because he treats the set as a collective project; even though he was writer, actor and executive producer, everyone was equally important.”
As proof that he is no one-trick-pony, Miguel has applied this same template to music videos for a variety of modern artists. Alt Altman is the solo Toronto musician, Digits. Having toured all over the world, he’s released several successful international singles and albums under various monikers. He’s been shortlisted for the prestigious PRISM prize. Digits sought out Bainbridge because of the multiple strengths that he could bring to a production. The video for “StreetViolence” (Named one of the Top 5 videos of the year by Exclaim!, featured on VICE, and MuchMusic) is an epic tale of the downfall of society and one couple’s attempts to evade the gangs who rule the streets. While the gang monikers are often comedic, the action which takes place and the anger that is vented on individuals throughout the course of the video, carries a sobering impact. Digits declares, “It’s Hard not to have only great things to say about Miguel. The cast and crew that he assembled, the storyline, the costumes, and the fact that it was finished in a matter of days…I’m so pleased with the video and the response it has gotten!” Jay McCarrol is a member of the hugely successful band Brave Shores, whose pop song “Never Come Down” was a huge hit. Jay is also one of the minds behind the web series Nirvana: The Band The Show, which had a large premier at TIFF. Rivas produced two videos for Brave Shores, “Never Come Down” (which has amassed nearly 700 thousand views on YouTube and was featured on Silent Shout, MuchMusic and VICE) and “More Like You.” McCarrol refers to Miguel noting, “As an artist, it’s important to have a professional who will listen to your ideas; Miguel is that kind of artist. He made sure Stef (Stefanie McCarrol, sister/bandmate) and I were comfortable with the concepts and took our ideas into consideration during the early phase. I like that he was flexible and fun. He is the best to work with. He also knew how, as producer, to stretch a dollar, which believe me, is needed with music videos.” While “Never Come Down” is upbeat in tone and comedic in action, “More Like You” is somber and introspective in terms of the music as well as the visuals that accompany it in the video. Rivas comments, “The music videos were slightly different as funding was secured beforehand and the task then focuses a little tighter. A major duty when acting as EP is making sure everyone at all levels of the project is happy and involved in the right way. For the Brave Shores music videos, I was the liaison between our projects and Universal Music as well as the band. You have to be level headed and a little political to make sure everything gets done in a way you’re happy with. It can be doubly difficult to occupy other roles (writer, actor, director) while acting as EP, but it offers an ability to control and lead things in a way that I find very satisfying.”
Perhaps what stands out most when considering all the aspects and talents of Miguel Rivas is that he is foremost a conduit for himself as well as others to communicate a story. He might be involved in creating lines, delivering lines, or finding the right people to finance the microphone that captures the lines which someone else is speaking; whatever the vehicle of delivery, Miguel is somewhere in there grinding away because he believes in the art of telling a great story.
Artists are dangerous; not in a “hold you at gunpoint demanding your wallet or your life” kind of way but rather, they can be highly intelligent people who use their talent to sway both individual and mass opinion/sensibilities. If you upset a writer, they can compose something that addresses you in a subversive way. An actor might deliver the lines in a subliminal tone, guiding you to a feeling that might differ from what is instinctual for you. All that is needed is an Executive Producer to enable them to make it all happen. Combine all three of these with a slightly sarcastic comedic wit and timing and you’ll get Roger Bainbridge…the most interstin…err, dangerous man on Earth…well, at least in Canadian entertainment. Comedians and comic actors get away with saying and displaying some truly awful things by delivering them in a way that shines a light on their ridiculousness. Case in point; Bainbridge had seen many of his friends taken advantage of as unpaid interns. Not only did these people not receive monetary compensation for their toil but, they were quite often not treated with respect. As a writer and an actor with the resources to green light a film, Roger used his role as a part of the Canadian comedy group Tony Ho to create, produce, and present Japan. The film reveals the politics and disrespect (in a very funny way) of the modern office template.
Roger Bainbridge has worn a lot of hats in his career; writer, actor, music video director, executive producer, but he is most commonly associated with Tony Ho (the aforementioned Canadian comedy group). Tony Ho enjoys tackling ideas like threesomes (Wanda), dysfunctional family dynamics laced with time travel (Time), etc. No subject seems to eclectic for Tony Ho. Bainbridge was inspired to write Japan based on the shared office experience many of us have. He explains, “The impetus for writing Japan was seeing a lot of my friends being forced to take unpaid internships at places that really should have been paying them, and seeing how messed up the job market was at the time for people just getting out of school. From there I just thought about what might spurn a change of heart in someone in charge of the hiring. I worked briefly in an office where we did subtitling, so it wasn’t a really traditional office. Everyone had headphones on, pretty cut off from everyone else. No one really spoke to each other, it was all done through email. So I guess I was just left with an impression of people being timid to go talk to anyone, which creates this awkward tension, and tension is really at the heart of comedy.” As the writer of Japan, Roger had the inspiration and the skill to conceive the notes of his comedic sonata and as the EP he could find and reserve the concert hall, he simply needed to proper “musicians” to perform the piece with the delivery and skill that would inspire his trust.
Tony Ho has been creating comedy for over a decade. You don’t stay in any relationship that long unless you have a deep caring and trust of the other(s) involved. Once he had conceived the idea for Japan and written the lines, Bainbridge immediately understood that Tony Ho were the best performers suited to make the film. The trio of Tony Ho has spent more than a decade creating and performing together both live and on screen. Roger refers to Adam Niebergall and Miguel Rivas as two of the funniest and most interesting performers he has ever worked with. Niebergall diverts praise to Bainbridge stating, “He’s a ‘taste maker’ and he’s incredibly compelling. I’ve spent a decade or so working with him in comedy and I still can’t ever see it coming. I’m amazed by Roger’s Vision. He has an unwavering integrity with his comedy. His work is so good because he is always asking himself what he would want to watch and he would never bother making anything that doesn’t pass that test. I think a lot of people write things with the mentality “Oh, this would be good; people are talking about this right now.” and a lot of times that type of thing can come off flat. You can tell when a comedy writer isn’t obsessed with her/his subject matter. Roger knows what he wants to say as a writer and for me that’s always much more compelling to pay attention to. He’s always one step ahead. He thrives on making people think about themselves and it really motivates his work.”
With the writing of Japan completed and Tony Ho set to star in the film, Roger’s job as EP meant he would acquire the production team that would capture the action of Japan. Henry Sansom was the professional that Bainbridge entrusted to be seated behind the camera. DOP Sansom echoes Adam Niebergall’s sentiments, declaring,” In my experience, Roger Bainbridge is one of the most talented and disciplined minds in comedy in Toronto. Not only an incredible actor dedicated to craft and context, he is a star writer of subtlety, relevance, and boldness. Without seeming too fellating, if there was only one artist I could work with for the rest of my career, and know that every project was able to reach the highest standard, that would be Roger Bainbridge.” Inspiring confidence in others is the template of Roger’s career, a worthy attribute for someone whom both creates and enables the filmmaking process. The fact that he is so adept at creating the storylines and situations that take place on camera might divert one’s attention from the fact that Bainbridge is such a respected an accomplished actor. A viewing of his many diverse roles and the temperament of his characters serves as a confirmation that he is truly in his element in front of the camera.
Roger reveals the tone that he wanted for the action on film as he communicates, “In making Japan, we knew we were really pushing ourselves to make something more relatable in tone of comedy, pace, and look, so it was nice to have it be received so well by people who
have seen it. Our stuff can tend to be a bit more challenging, so this was a test to see if we could dip a toe in something a little more mainstream, and people seem to like it.” Centering on the stereotype that the Japanese culture is focused on workplace competition and Karaoke leads Miguel’s character to force Roger and Adam to compete in a sing-off with the winner being awarded a paid position for the company. While Sophie B Hawkins “I Wish I Was Your Lover” has never been so amusing, it’s the flashbacks and narration that empower the performances to have deeper laughs than simply the action might elicit on their own. Japan has a greater level of complexity in terms of the number of sets and number of cast members involved than many of the Tony Ho productions. There is a trait that enables Japan and the theme to be irreverent to the stereotypes that the general public often feels comfortable buying into. Bainbridge agrees, “I think Canadians have a unique take on comedy because we have the benefit of being influenced by both American and British comedy. The British style can be a great deal more subtle and satirical and American stuff can be so in-your-face and broad and angry. I think we have the ability to marry those two influences in an interesting way. I have never been to Japan, and that’s deliberately part of the humor of the piece for me. I like it when people feel like they completely understand a place by just gleaning bits and pieces of their culture as it’s been distorted through media. The larger joke is that these are ideas people may hold about Japan while not actually knowing anything about the place.” Bainbridge is currently in development for TV productions with Tony Ho. With successful comedy albums, his involvement heading films and music videos, Roger Bainbridge is equipped to bring the full package to the home viewing public.
UK based Naked Entertainment is the producer of a new reality show titled Stripped andStranded, commissioned by Channel 5. This factual-entertainment series is not about unclad individuals on a desert island but rather, it shows multi-generational families attempting to complete challenges while relying on each other for support and survival. The real goal of the show is to present all viewers with someone whom they can relate to regardless of what age and background they come from. Even more importantly, the show wants to reveal that we all struggle with relating to someone in our own family and should not discount their potential contributions to our life. One of the great things about reality TV is that it allows the public to see “regular” people, representative of all walks of life. We wanted to find out more about the contestants and the programs itself, so we approached leading casting producer Grivas Kopti. As the person at the heart of finding, researching, and presenting the family members on Stripped and Stranded, Grivas has a perspective unique to all others involved. Mike Warner, Senior Executive Producer at Naked Entertainment sought out Kopti because, in his own words, “He is undoubtedly one of the industry’s most prominent associate producers, and I am positive that he is among the most elite in his field. Mr. Kopti’s involvement on many celebrated and nationally distributed programs is an excellent example of the undeniable success that Grivas brings when he performs the leading role of associate producer.”
Stripped and Stranded was filmed in Panama but the process began in England with casting. The goal of the show was to find families with multiple generations. This meant that normal social media blasts would not work as many of the older generations are not as tech-savvy and tech-conscious. Online forums, newspapers, as well as social media were used to attract interested applicants. Following extensive interviews, Kopti worked with an editor to create 1:30sec Skype audition tapes which were then used to decide which four families would offer the most interest as well as the greatest potential for growth. For those unfamiliar with the role of leading casting producer, Grivas found the applicants, screened them, produced pitch tapes, produced and oversaw all legal paperwork for applicants (on a survival series!), and wrote extensive family biographies which are key in shaping the narrative of each episode. Essentially, Kopti performed as interviewer, legal advisor, film producer and editor, and journalist…all before the show began filming!
Grivas has an extensive and highly successful career in casting. He has been in charge of finding the “right” people for reality shows like; Tattoo Fixers on Holiday, Celebs Go Dating, Naked Attraction,Couples Come Dine with Me, and numerous others. As someone who has always been able to talk and connect with strangers, his natural talent resonates well in the TV industry. His desire to focus on Reality TV is centered around the diversity that it depicts in society. He states, “There is always a magical element to seeing faces on TV that you don’t usually see or wouldn’t expect to see; especially in a show like this one, where we really delve into people’s lives and dysfunction. That’s one of the biggest takeaways for the viewers, insight into communities and homes you don’t see too often.”
The challenge of Reality TV shows like Stripped and Stranded is to show real people in a way that we can all relate. However, most of us don’t find ourselves stranded on a desert island, fighting for survival. The subtext of the show, and its true goal is to depict how family members relate to each other when times are good and bad. The producers hope that, in seeing the drama and struggles exhibited on-screen, viewers will not only discuss, but also learn from the challenges which the contestants endure. Grivas feels confident that all viewers will find something relatable, as did he, revealing, “One of the families was unable to communicate effectively and make decisions simply because most, if not all members, are extremely headstrong, proud and constantly talk (scream!) over each other. I come from a feisty Greek family, so that explains a bit there. You definitely know when we are home; as do our neighbors.”
Stripped and Stranded could be considered “extreme” family therapy. The families learned a great deal (good and bad) about their own feelings as well as those of their family members when confronted with dire circumstances. Just as in counseling, participants were faced with uncomfortable thoughts and history in order to move ahead and grow. Kopti confirms, “After carrying out in-depth research, we concluded that, when faced with challenges and obstacles to overcome collectively, people in disagreement are more likely to put their differences to one side to overcome the hurdles they are faced with. We wanted to put that to the test and see what happens when families who are in some sort of crisis are stripped of their technology and other modern comforts and left on a deserted island for an amount of time to fend for themselves. What took me by surprise, even after extensive casting interviews and from meeting our contributor’s prior to filming, was just how much the families had not communicated amongst themselves. There were a lot of stones unturned and things never said. As families, we want to avoid things instead of dealing with them – which is so detrimental to a family’s dynamic and bond in the long run. Ultimately, from an editorial perspective, we wanted to achieve some resolution and peace at the end of each episode/story. We were hoping to say that when we take away every day distractions and modern comforts from people, we can actually instigate healthier communication and positive, healthy relationships.”
The filming location for the show is Panama. The crew obviously needed open and remote locations as the “stripped” part of the show’s title refers to being stripped of modern conveniences. The natural aesthetics of Panama produced a pleasant backdrop dichotomous to the tense action. Grivas relates, “It’s beautiful landscape. It’s paradise. For a show of this scale, as Stripped and Stranded was, we need to ensure we have an elaborate space, so Panama seemed perfect. It has many different sides to it. Obviously you have Panama City, then you have the beautiful islands. Both were great as a backdrop for the show. It wasn’t only the cast that was at risk for this production. Most of the crew was petrified of exotic spiders and snakes; you can only prepare so much for those kind of things. I think education is key, more than anything, to know how to best handle a potential encounter with a dangerous species.
Stripped and Stranded has yet to air which means you won’t find any spoilers here. Only the participants and the producers know the actual outcome. While much of Kopti’s work has focused on individuals relating to other individuals, he finds the familial aspect of Stripped andStranded to be very rewarding and complex. Grivas confirms, “Every generation will have something to say and things they want to change, that’s just natural. Parents want the best for their children, but need to accept that that it’s not necessarily what they had in mind for them. And I think that’s okay. It’s certainly something I battle over with my parents.” Stripped andStranded will soon air on UK’s Channel 5.
Being an artist is just like being an iceberg. If that doesn’t make sense to you, it likely means that you have never pursued a career in the Arts. The public witnesses about 5-10 percent of the work that you have done to get to the point in which they are actually aware of you. Anyone who thinks an artist is a slacker trying to avoid “honest work” is completely unaware of the years, even decades, of training accumulated just to be able to perform to best of your abilities. Athletes are the closest to this template and their physical forms give evidence to their toil. You won’t necessarily see a six pack on a painter or a cinematographer. Artists often work together to create works that are designed to move a mass audience. When Director/Writer/Producer Tom Petch wanted a film score for his award-winning film The Patrol, he enlisted James McWilliam as a composer. The result was a highly original and unique score which sounds both mechanical and organic. With sounds that are at times indiscernible and sometimes beautifully organic, McWilliam’s compositions (along with composer Nick Crofts) were created with the intention of being very prominent in the film to give the audience the uncomfortable feeling of being in a war. The Patrol was nominated for the Radiance award at the British Independent Film Festival and won the Jury Prize at the Raindance Film Festival, attesting to the achievement of this goal.
Filmmaker Tom Petch is a veteran. With The Patrol, he wanted the audience to understand what he and other veterans had felt in their experiences as a soldier. The film follows a patrol of soldiers in Afghanistan in 2006 tasked with keeping territory out of the hands of the Taliban and providing support to the Afghan National Army. Rather than focusing on the war itself the film delves into the internal psyche of the individual men, and as the soldiers become disillusioned with their roles in the war asresources become stretched the authority that was, until that point the only thing holding them together, begins to unravel. The original plan to use music from a number of different artists was scrapped in order to create a highly original audio landscape which would be created by McWilliam. Petch was clear from the first conversations that he required some unorthodox compositions. Rather than a score which causes the viewer to feel for the soldiers, Petch wanted music that placed the audience into a state of similar sensation as these combatants. McWilliam states, “From the outset it was clear that Tom Petch didn’t want a conventional score. He wanted to avoid the usual ‘trappings’ that came with a war movie set in the middle east such as Arabic wind and vocal parts mixed with emotive strings and orchestra that have become so common place in film & TV. He wanted a score that reflected the alien like landscape the soldiers found themselves in and, in a musical way, mimicked the sounds of warfare. It was important to him that the score reflect the emotions felt by the soldiers such as fear, anger, and isolation. To achieve this, I knew I had to approach the compositional process in an unusual manner and cast off any preconceptions of what a war film should sound like. An important point that Tom mentioned was that he wanted the score to develop along with the film moving from ‘ugly’ mechanical sounds at the beginning of the film and slowly transitioning into more ‘human’ recognizable sounds with the introduction of melody as the film develops and we come to understand the soldiers and their lives.”
The instrumentation for the later part of the film was much easier for McWilliam to envision but the “ugly” sounds required a lot of experimentation. Communication from Petch to McWilliam brought the ideas into focus and create the proper unpleasant audioscape. As a composer, conductor, and orchestrator, McWilliam has worked on films Exorcist Diaries, Crimson Peak (by Guillermo Del Toro, $73MM Worldwide), and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ($892MM Worldwide) and others in locations like Paris, London, and Macedonia. In creating the unusual music for The Patrol he leaned back on his early pop-musician aspirations with a modern twist. In his early days, James studied piano and drums. In his search for interesting yet uncomfortable ‘noises’ for The Patrol he used a bit of rock/experimental influence. The composer reveals, “A lot of our primary sounds came from a £30 guitar I bought which I then unceremoniously scraped, banged and smashed, mixed with lots of effects and then chopped up into useable bits of audio. Along with sounds that Nick had created, we had our palette and we really felt that we’d made a sound world that couldn’t be for any film other than The Patrol. Nick and I decided which scenes to work on and we talked about how the score was to develop as Tom had asked, starting with hard, mechanical, distorted sounds inducing unease and tension and then moving towards a softer more human sound with hints of melody entering into the score as we learn more about the individuals involved. Along with my composing partner, Nick Crofts, we created some pretty ugly sounds, alongside some very beautiful ones, and how we introduced these sounds into the film and layered them up to create intensity at key moments was important. For example, the beginning of the film begins with a wildly distorted guitar accompanied by pulsing low synths, this has the deliberate intention of dropping the viewer straight into the hell that is warfare in the Helmand Province. Later on in the film shortly after one of the main characters dies (Taff) we get a glimmer of something you could call a melody, played on piano. This point signifies a change in the film and the music.
As anyone who has worked on a film can tell you, the Director is the person in charge who has the understanding of the tone of a film and will lead others to complement his/her vision. While some members of a production try to interpret a Director’s vision, others feel that their role as an artist is to present their ideas in an emotional way. Tom Petch clearly communicated his opinion of what the score to his film should be like; McWilliam took this advice but channeled in through personal sensibilities. James notes, “I think that as a film composer you are a filmmaker just like everyone else and it is your job to do offer a perspective on what you are seeing based on your knowledge and experiences. It can be an incredibly difficult job under very stressful conditions and whether it’s composer; orchestrator or programmer you must be able to understand the needs of the director and help deliver a score that is right for the film. The composer is in quite a unique position as they’re often one of the first people outside of the closed circle of director, producer and editor, to see a full edit; this means they are one of the first to react to what they see on screen and this materializes in the form of music. Given how long everyone else has had to form his or her opinions on the film, what the composer does next can be a crucial moment. It can be a very difficult position to be in and this is where the real skill of being a film composer comes to the fore. Will the composer see the film the same way as the director and or producer have been seeing it from the first day they began work on it? Perhaps the composer has a different take on it that moves the film into an entirely new direction that no one else had thought of, this is the power that music can have on a film.”
The fact that Petch was not only Writer/Director/Producer of The Patrol but also a veteran required unmistakable aim from McWilliam’s score. James was immensely successful in his creation as Petch declares, “James’ score for The Patrol was outstanding. He developed the music for the film having really grasped the story, the film’s idea of isolation, and the brief I gave him for the movie. His score had an ethereal quality which lifted the imagery and definitely contributed to the film winning the UKs leading independent film festival, Raindance. James’ ability to work with a directors’ vision and turn it into his own work, while never baulking at the challenges, and understanding of the collaborative process is essential to successfully scoring a feature film. These qualities led to the great success of his score and thus our film.” The score in The Patrol leads the viewer on a disturbing trip which is used to translate the individual’s perspective and emotional state in a time of war. The film’s music stands by itself as a work of art that, when combined with the film, speaks to the humanity of those found in a circumstance which attempts to separate them from that same humanity. James McWilliam has succeeded as part of a production team in communicating the story of the dissipation of the team on-screen; helping us all to see that war is never pleasant for anyone.
Technology has brought the entire world closer. Social media such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook have given a global platform to anyone who desires it. What one gains in exposure, you lose in privacy. The generational difference of opinion on this is vast. Older generations are wary while younger generations don’t even think about an idea as archaic as privacy. It’s certain that different ages and different cultures feel differently about discussing the topic of sex. V-Card the Film is a perfect example of how society’s discussion of the subject has changed. The film’s editor Luiz Henrique Schiel Gigolotti understood that he needed to be as precise as a surgeon to navigate the subject matter of which could both attract or offend differing viewers. The duplicity was challenging for Luiz as he wanted the artist’s message to ring true while still representing the humor and real social stigma associated with the main character Dillon’s situation. The proper editing can completely change the audience’s decision to respect or feel pity for the protagonist.
V-Card is the story of Dillon, a twenty-three year old virgin. Dillon has been trying but things haven’t worked out as planned. Depending on your cultural and religious background you might be offended or intrigued by his story. Luiz’s job as an editor is to help the filmmakers find that middle ground that interests everyone without turning them away. Dillon is a likeable, early 20’s New Yorker with a job, friends, & the things that most of us desire. Dillon is the film’s proxy for all of us to examine how we feel about virginity. The question put to the audience is whether we make our own decision about when we lose it or if we feel pressured by society to make it occur within a certain time frame in order to feel “normal.” The documentary examines Dillon’s life and feelings as well as those of random interviewees (and some scheduled ones) from many different cultural, racial, sexual, and social backgrounds. The star and writer of V-Card is Dillon Birdsall. When Dillon approached Luizto be the film’s editor, he was eager to accept. Gigolotti recalls, “When Dillon asked me to edit V-Card, I didn’t think twice about jumping into this project. The challenges of editing a feature documentary are something that I really get excited about, even more so with a film like this that so openly discusses a subject that many people are still uncomfortable talking about on a personal level.”
Editing is sometimes thankless. When it is done poorly, the audience is aware of it and a film seems cluttered and cumbersome. When editing is highly professional, you become lost in the story and don’t notice the skillful editing. An editor’s job is not for those who require constant praise. Still, editors are just as much a part of the creative process as the cinematographer, director, and others involved in filmmaking due to the fact that they have the ability to enhance the emotional impact the audience feels towards the action on screen. In a film like V-Card the emotions are varied and the different people involved in the discussion are very numerous. Once the actual filming has taken place, it’s Luiz’s job to connect the audience with Dillon and his interviewees, even when they sometimes only appear for seconds. Jamaal Green is the director (nominated at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival in 2014 for Chronicles of a Profiler) of V-Card the Film and the person who most closely works with Luiz on the tone set by the film. Jamal praises Gigolotti’s work stating, “Luiz is a vital asset to any film. He has become my go to person for editing and ‘After Effects.’ I can think of three specific projects we worked on in which his abilities took the films to a higher level. A good editor can present what you have and make it work, but a great editor will make what you have filmed look even better. That’s what Luiz has done with V-Card. He is an amazing artist and a pleasure to work with.”
In terms of his involvement in V-Card, there were some obvious challenges and other, less expected ones for Gigolotti. He explains, “Editing V-Card was a huge challenge in my career. When we talk about virginity or sexuality, there is always some concern to not offend the person we are talking to. In this specific case, I needed to make sure that the edit and the graphics are not offensive to the audience.” Far from offensive, thanks in large part to Luiz’s editing, V-Card achieves a heartfelt tone. Rather than leading the viewer to any judgment of Dillon, we are warmly invited to question our own experiences and how we perceive others who may have had radically different entrees into the world of human sexuality. The subject matter of the film could have taken several different and more highly salacious slants but Gigolotti worked with Dillon and Jamaal to place the topic in a nicely gift wrapped present with a colorful bow on top. That colorful bow was realized in the formatting of animation sequences. Luiz’s skill at combining real life footage and animation is a primary reason that he was asked to edit V-Card the Film. Dillon Birdsall, writer and star of V-Card the Film comments, “The main reason I hired Luiz for the film is because he is a fantastic editor, especially when it comes to after FX and animations. When we first seriously considered the idea of intermingling animation to the film, it was Luiz’s ideas and expertise that enabled us to successfully achieve the results we wanted. We needed a light heartedness that wasn’t gimmicky and also wouldn’t take you too far away from the storyline. He has been a vital part of the documentary and brings a ton of great ideas and enthusiasm to the project. I’ve known him for a little over two years now and I’ve become a huge fan of his work. I feel very lucky to have worked with him and I definitely hope to do so again.”
In addition to another documentary currently in production (Luiz admits to being smitten with this approach to telling a story), advertisements, and other films; Gigolotti has most recently been editing for Martha Stewart’s Living. The diversity and amount of work he finds in New York these days reaffirms his decision to move from Brazil to work in the US as an editor. He recognizes, “There are so many great artists, directors, and all around professionals in the industry here in the US. It seems like I am challenged everyday by people who only want the best. That’s what I always have wanted to be a part of, a community committed to always bringing their best.”
When we are moved by a film, or encounter a new television series that sparks our attention and earns our love, few of us consider the long list of people behind the scenes that are responsible for making the project great; and why would we, after all the point of both mediums is to help us get lost in the story.
Regardless of whether we recognize the jaw-dropping level of collaboration that goes into a production or not, it still remains that hundreds of crew members band together to work long hours to bring our favorite projects to the screen, and film electrician and camera operator Ekaterina Doldjeva is one of them.
As the on set electrician, Doldjeva’s work requires her to take on a multitude of responsibilities from communicating with the cinematographer to determine what lighting they want in to order achieve the desired mood in a scene, to setting up the lights and deciding on their placement, as well as cuing the lights at the right time. Each and every one of her decisions has a pivotal effect on the final outcome of a production.
Doldjeva explains, “For me, every time I am lighting a set, it feels like I am painting with light… I have always believed that people tend to remember how a movie made them feel more than anything else. So, understanding and being able to control light is crucial in order to tell any story.”
One thing that makes Doldjeva a special force in the industry is the fact that she is also a skilled camera operator. When it comes to working as a camerawoman on set, Doldjeva’s work entails much more than simply pointing a camera. She has to maintain the composition of the shot and know what camera angles to shoot and when to move, all the while being conscious of the actors and set to ensure that everything that needs to be in the shot is– and that nothing that isn’t supposed to be in the shot accidentally makes it in.
While Doldjeva works grueling hours behind the scenes to bring magical stories to life for the audience to enjoy and rarely gets the recognition she deserves from the public, she doesn’t work in film for the fame, she works in the industry because she loves contributing her creative efforts to visual storytelling; and to her team behind the scenes, she is worth her weight in gold.
Finding a quick, resourceful and energetic electrician that the cinematographer can trust is rare, and that is one of the reasons why Doldjeva is such a sought after gem in the industry.
Serving as the electrician on the Primetime Emmy Award winning and Golden Globe nominated series “Shameless,” the Netflix original series “Sense8,” NBC’s “Chicago Med,” and “Chicago P.D.” starring Sophia Bush (“One Tree Hill,” “Partners”) has kept Ekaterina Doldjeva busy working nonstop for the majority of 2016 so far; and she shows no signs of slowing down.
She is currently working as the electrician on the comedy feature film “Office Christmas Party” starring Golden Globe Award winner Jennifer Aniston (“Friends,” “Horrible Bosses”) and Olivia Munn (“X-Men: Apocalypse,” “Zoolander 2”), the drama film “American Express” starring Oscar Award winner Charlize Theron (“Monster,” “Mad Max: Fury Road”) and the upcoming dramatic series “A.P.B.” starring Ralph Abbas (“Chicago Fire”) and Olivia Bird (“Empire”).
One of the qualities Doldjeva has to her advantage that few others do is the fact that she can easily transition across various roles in the field. While she works most consistently as an electrician on set, she has paid her dues and honed her skills as a grip and cinematographer as well. She was the grip on the romantic biographical feature film “Southside with You,” which earned a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, as well as the cinematographer and editor on the film “Heirloom.”
To find out what it takes to work as an on set electrician and camera operator in the highly competitive film world, make sure to check out our interview with Ekaterina Doldjeva below!
Hey Ekaterina, thanks for joining us! Can you start of by telling us where you are from?
ED: Absolutely! I am from a small town called Panagyurishte in Bulgaria. It is a patriotic town with a significant historical value. I lived there as a kid, then, I transferred for high school to the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia. Being thirteen years old, I had to learn to live by myself, which helped me grow and form as a person at an early age.
What was it like growing up their?
ED: Growing up in Bulgaria was a happy adventure. Many kids would gather daily and play soccer, tennis, basketball, volleyball, etc, until the sun goes down. We would go on trips and walk or bike around historical monuments in the woods. The nature is gorgeous everywhere in Bulgaria. There are various forests, lakes, rivers, caves and national parks all around the country. Hiking was another common thing to do either with groups of people or with family. We studied Bulgarian history along with international history and geography. This made me decide to study abroad, and travel as much as I can, so I can see different parts of the world and learn their culture and history.
When did you first realize you wanted to work in the film industry?
ED: I would say when I was in high school. My major had a main focus on computer science, math, and physics with an emphasis on English language. But I was interested in visual effects and animation and graphic design primarily at the time. I would look at the lighting style of a certain painting and try to create an image thinking about how to light it on the computer and make it seem real and alive for whatever project I was working on. Right after high school, I enrolled in a college in Los Angeles and started taking editing, camera operating, lighting and film history classes. My interests in visual storytelling became clearer, pointing me to the career path I chose to do today.
What was the first job you landed in the industry?
ED: One of my first jobs on a professional level was “Chicago Fire” TV series, but I did numerous short films, independent features and events before that as well. I started working on big productions my last year of college which was a huge accomplishment for me.
What was it like working on that production?
ED: “Chicago Fire” and other projects like “Betrayal,” “Chicago PD,” “The Other One,” “Empire,” “Shameless” and “Sense8,” were productions where I used all the knowledge I learned in college. At the same time, there was etiquette, which is crucially important behind the scenes. It is breathtaking to see how a certain scene is done especially on a show like “Chicago Fire.” Most scenes include lighting buildings on fire and heavy stunt work, but helping and contributing to create those scenes and afterwards see it on TV when the episode comes out, it repays for all the hard work I have done. I feel grateful that I am able to be apart of the crew at such a high level. Another interesting factor on working on this production as well every other one is that some of my bosses are Academy Award winners. They have done so many great movies and TV shows and working with them, seeing the decisions they make for a certain scene or a shot is always the most amazing part of my job.
What came first for you, working as a camera operator or electrician?
ED: I think that both jobs are equally important, but the reason I thrive to be a better and better electrician is to eventually become a cinematographer. Lighting is a crucial part of telling a visual story. For me, every time I am lighting a set, it feels like I am painting with light. However, being a camera operator is a true passion of mine. In order to be a cinematographer you have to be able to translate words from the script into visuals. There is way more into it, but I would say that one couldn’t work without the other.
How did one lead to the other?
ED: I realized that you couldn’t just point a camera and shoot something and expect it to look on a professional level. I started to research different lighting styles and how to create a certain look, mood and the atmosphere in a scene. I have always believed that people tend to remember how a movie made them feel more than anything else. So, understanding and being able to control light is crucial in order to tell any story.
Can you break down an average day for you when you’re working on set as a camera operator?
ED: Working as a camera operator involves constant communication with the cinematographer and the actors. The camera operator has to be cautious of the actors’ rehearsals, camera movements, lights and flares and anything else that may help or ruin the shot. Often, I have to fix problems and find solutions on the go. For example, it’s my responsibility to see if the shot comes out sharp. Also, I have to look for any unwanted equipment or props in the shot. Another important factor is talking to the actors either about their position in front of the camera or even anyone looking straight into the lens. This may seem insignificant, but scenes with more actors and extras requires that extra attention of detail. In other words, I am the eyes and ears of the cinematographer. I would say that communication and teamwork is essential throughout the day.
How about as an electrician?
ED: When I work as an electrician I see the shots and the scenes in a different way. Once the camera is set, then lighting begins. I often think ahead what the next set up will be in terms of lights, power and equipment. It’s very important to be quick, safe and efficient when you are lighting a scene. Every time we use big sources of light, you don’t want to blind anyone or set a light in an unsafe position. Weather condition is a key when we are shooting on location, so it would be my responsibility to make everything work in any circumstances. Teamwork is essential for an electrician. We often have to separate what we do, so we stay more efficient and productive.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your position during a production? How did you overcome them?
ED: I think the most common challenge I face with most days is doing lighting cues. It could be as simple as a character entering a room and flipping a switch to turn on or off the light to flickering lights and thunderstorm effects, flashlights, TV screen effect, fire etc. It’s not uncommon to do a movement or an effect in a shot that is not in the script, so when this happens, I have to improvise and come up with a quick solution and see how as a team we can make it work, so we don’t slow down the production. This makes our crew look good in front of our bosses and especially the producers. I would say that I learned to overcome those challenges easily within every production that I have worked on since I meet different crews and bosses that have different ways of doing their job. This absolutely helps expand my knowledge and builds up my skill set.
Can you tell us about some of the productions you’ve worked on and what job you were doing?
ED: The past year I did a few very interesting projects such as the films “Office Christmas Party” and “American Express,” as well as the television series “The Exorcist,” “Shameless” and “Empire.”
“Office Christmas Party” is a comedy starring Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman and Kate McKinnon. The story is about a branch manager who throws an epic Christmas party in order to land a big client, so his branch doesn’t get shut down. Some of the scenes were shot in downtown Chicago and we had a pretty big crew, more than usual. Throughout the day, we experiences short blizzards, rain and clear skies, all within 30 mins. A rapid weather change like this is never good for a lighting set up. So, at times, I had to separate from the crew and follow the weather every 10 mins, so I can tell the gaffer if there will be a lighting change. We had lights on every intersection around the square we were shooting at, inside buildings, along trees etc. so I had to be close to a certain section and decrease or increase the amount of light on all lights every time the sun changes and let everyone know, so they can tell production. This was crucial for lighting continuity within every shot and scene.
Another project I did was called “American Express” starring Academy Award winner Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried and Joel Edgerton. On this project, I had the chance to work with a female cinematographer for the first time. She was specific in her choices of light and camera composition. Every time I had to set up a light whether on a ceiling or hidden around wall, most of the time it was my choice of placement. Because of my choices with the amount of light and shaping the light every time we set up, I got to be the photo stills gaffer for the feature film. In other words, we had photo sessions where I was in charge of the lighting set ups. A similar thing happened on the Fox pilot “The Exorcist” starring Academy Award winner Geena Davis. Since this series is a thriller, we had various lighting effects every day. I did all of the lighting cues at almost every location we shot at. For example, I had to simulate power going down on construction workers inside a church at a specific moment when the actors were passing by. Every time, timing was crucial especially when I had to repeat the same effect a couple of times in a row.
But, the Golden Globe nominated series “Shameless” and “Empire” were absolutely different from the three projects I just mentioned. “Shameless” has minimal lighting when the production comes to shoot in Chicago. I usually have to set up one or two lights but I have to avoid making them look artificial. “Empire” is absolutely the opposite of “Shameless” and maybe everything else I have ever done, because this is a drama TV series that has musical performances. So, I often had to navigate a spotlight and follow the singer across the stage. We had to set up lights for the shot but also, for the stage. Sometimes there will be a long shot where the performance might get interrupted; the singer would go off stage, or dance etc. A small mistake on a giant production like this could be inexcusable. I was electrician on all of these projects and it was important for me to be focused and quick in every decision I made.
What has been your favorite project so far?
ED: This is a hard question to answer because I’ve enjoyed all of the projects I have done. However, if I had to pick one to be my favorite it would be “Sense8.” It is a Netflix original made by Lilly and Lana Wachowski. Some of their work include “Matrix trilogy,” “V for Vendetta,” “Speed Racer,” “Cloud Atlas” and “Jupiter Ascending.”
On “Sense8,” I had the chance to work with Academy Award winner cinematographer John Toll, whose credits include “Braveheart,” “The Last Samurai,” “Iron Man 3,” “The Thin Red Line,” “Almost Famous,” “Vanilla Sky” and “Legends of the Fall.” He is one of my favorite cinematographers, I even studied his work while I was in college. I see him as a mentor and someone to look up to in terms of telling a visual story and becoming a better cinematographer. Having the chance to be apart of his crew and work directly for him is something I never thought would happen. Some of the techniques he used on set, whether setting up a shot or solving a lighting problem, even the way he communicated with the crew, was something I hadn’t encountered on set before. I think what I loved most about this project was the pace and the way the directors and the cinematographer perceived each scene and communicated to the actors.
What would you say your strongest qualities are in your field?
ED: Some of the strongest qualities I have are problem solving, I am quick and efficient, but safe, creative and absolutely reliable, and I am a team player. Working in the lighting department requires me to not only be knowledgeable of the equipment we use along with all the new updates and what new technology has to offer, but also, being able to use it properly. I think that those qualities helped me understand the professionalism behind the scenes and quickly establish my career path.
Can you tell us about the different types of lighting that you use for a scene to create a certain mood or atmosphere?
ED: Well, this really depends on the story, the director and the cinematographer. Some cinematographers prefer big sources of light that can be cut, diffused and shaped once set and others the smallest possible use of light possible. In the same way, I have worked with cinematographers who love the use of LEDs. An important factor of creating a certain mood or atmosphere in a scene is what the project is about. The contrast ratio defines the feel or the mood of the scene. For example, comedies tend to use a 2:1 ratio where if we look at the shadows in a certain shot they are almost non-existent. However, in thrillers there is lots of harsh lighting with deep, dark shadows that create a spooky feeling to enhance the surprise moment. On the other hand, in the case of a low light, high contrast ratio scenario or the other way around, the choice of the certain lights comes with the preferences of the cinematographer and the gaffer.
Earlier this year you were invited to judge the 2016 Fandependent Film Festival in Chicago, what was it like judging the festival?
ED: It was an interesting experience to judge versus having my movie being the one judged. Also, my comments had to be on point since this would help decide the winner of the festival. I can say that this was an overwhelming experience since I had a lot of responsibility on my shoulders but at the same time, I enjoyed giving an in-depth evaluation about each project.
What were some of the things you looked for when judging the films that screened at the festival?
ED: I would always start from the overall story whether or not it works or the plot makes sense. Next, I would focus on the acting and how each character carries the dialog or the story itself. Of course, I would focus on my field looking at the cinematography and lighting of the film and how everything relates to the story.
Can you tell us about some of the projects you are currently working on and what you are doing?
ED: Currently, I am working on “Sense8.” We have been shooting in various location houses where one of my main responsibility is to link all the LED panels we set to a dimmer board, so the gaffer would be able to quickly control the levels on each light throughout the shots. There are many issues that can come up doing this; so troubleshooting has been a major responsibility during this show.
At the end of the day, what is it that you love about your job?
ED: It encompasses creativity, technical knowledge and etiquette. Collaborating with so many people and various departments in order to create the final product repays at the end of the day especially when you see your name in the credits in the theatre or on TV later on. I wouldn’t change what I do for any other job.
What do you hope to achieve in your career?
ED: I would say my long-term goal is to work as a cinematographer and shoot feature films at an Academy level. For now, I am glad that I am able to work on such high profile productions and expand my knowledge with each project that I do.
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