Category Archives: Cinematographers

EVA YE IS CALM, COOL, AND COLLECTED FOR WARM SMOOTH MEAN

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Conflict is a deeply embedded part of our lives; no question. It’s ironic that in an attempt to escape the day to day difficulties which we experience, we often find escape by watching the problems of fictional characters in films. Most of us are oblivious to the fact that the filmmakers who grant us this means of solace experience an ample amount of conflict themselves in their endeavors. Cinematographer Eva Ye experiences conflict constantly with her involvement in films. It might be hazardous conditions, inclement weather, differing opinions on set, and others factors. The main difference is that when Eva deals with these factors, budgets and artistic expression hang in the balance. Ye has a reputation for keeping a cool head while getting the desired shot. For anyone who has even been on set during a production, that’s much easier said than done. Whether she is the DP on a TV production, music video, film, or any manner of creative filmmaking, Eva’s small size holds big ideas and large talent. Come to think of it, she’s a bit of a contradiction herself with so much talent inside a small container.

Ye’s work on the film Warm Smooth Mean (Official Selection of First Look Film Festival) has received great praise. This film with its surprising reveal near the end is full of mystery and tension. Warm Smooth Mean follows Hunter Nelson, a young man troubled by the suicide of his father River Nelson. River was the singer of a legendary country duo named Silent Station. When Hunter receives a royalty check from his father’s work, he travels to a small town to give the check back to his father’s former bandmate Jerry Lee McCoy…and to search for the answers behind River’s untimely passing years ago.

Jess Maldaner (director of Warm Smooth Mean) and Eva worked extensively in preproduction to make their plan for the film. Past experience had taught them that having the film specifically and painstakingly planned out would benefit them later. While the industry has been around long enough to make it difficult to create a truly “original” premise, the look and stylized quality of a film can often set it apart. The first part of the film takes place in Oklahoma and the lighting appears soft, mellow, and yet somewhat cold as Hunter begins his journey. As the film goes on, the secret reveals, the fight ensues, and the filmmakers begin to use more harsh and warm light to construct the scene, which heightens the stakes.

Ye’s work is center stage in perhaps the most climactic scene of the entire film. She describes, “Because of my dance background, my strong ability to operate a handheld camera is something that makes a lot of sense to me. I’m not a strong person. I’m actually quite petite compared to a lot of operators, standing at 5’4” and 110 lbs. To be able to move a camera with my hand quite intuitively is something I’ve learned through years of dancing. The rehearsing was definitely crucial in achieving this shot. We spent almost the whole night shooting this scene. There were at least 10-15 times of me moving with the actors without the camera to test out camera positions. When it came to the actual shooting, I knew exactly where I needed to go. There were people spotting me from behind in case I ran into something when I was backing up. I backed up with the actor coming towards me and stopped when he stopped. I pushed in when he got a hit in the face and fell backwards. It all worked out really naturally. Planning and rehearsing was the core of getting the scene right.” Director Jess Maldaner augments this description stating, “Eva’s handheld camera operation in this crucial fight scene was flawless! Her creative instincts allowed her to deliver the perfect amount of camera movement in the shots to create a high level of tension for the viewing audience. Eva’s work was paramount to the final look and emotional effectiveness of Warm Smooth Mean. Her technical skills coupled with her understanding of how to convey an emotional experience visually was a huge asset to the final film. She is a master of camera movement. She is also that rare exceptionally talented artist who is completely free of ego. ”

Sometimes your talent is welcomed, other times it requires some convincing when opinions differ. While filming one of the opening scenes which required some very smooth and stable camera work, the production found themselves without a car mount for the camera. While Maldaner was convinced of the need for green screen to achieve the look for the shot (taking place on a bumpy stretch of highway in Palmdale), Eva was convinced that the quickly disappearing sunlight would not accommodate this. Arbitration was in process and Ye held to the fact that her abilities and ideas would get the desired effect with greater expediency…which it did. The finished scene shows a steady shot with the blurred flat desert outside the window. Conflict averted, artistic vision intact.

Part psychosexual thriller, part art-house film, Shen is a unique portrait of desire and domination in their most cerebral and bodily manifestations. Conflict abounds in the storyline and the imagery Eva produced for this film propels it. Shen’s life is irreversibly altered when she discovers an anonymous artist has drawn her in an erotic position. After a series of strange occurrences, Shen realizes this man is drawing her future. Though her obsession with him begins as a mere daydream, his continual re-appearance starts to make her question what is real and what is hallucination. Meanwhile, her relationship with her fiancé takes a turn for the worse as he suspects she is fantasizing about someone else. His desire to control her reaches a fever pitch after he invades her journal and uncovers her disturbing secrets.

Writers Jace Casey (also the director of Shen) and Abigail Flowers understood that they needed an exceptional DP to create the mood and look which the storyline evoked. Ye’s reel had suspense, romance, thrillers, drama, & music videos. The style of shots and feeling delivered in Eva’s camera language clicked with theirs. While Casey had a plethora of experience in theater and as an actor, having an accomplished cinematographer like Ye greatly aided his process for this film. Eva recalls one scene in particular in which she was able to use her abilities to aid her director recalling, “On set, we maintained communication and respect for each other constantly. There was one occasion when we needed to take a shot of the downstairs swimming pool through the point of view of the actor standing at the 30th floor apartment window. In Jace’s mind, he knew that’s what he wanted but he was unsure if the focal length of the lens, the height of the camera, and the tilt-down angle of the lens barrel were appropriate to convey the action. He was on the verge of eliminating the shot. My experience and knowledge of such shooting situation helped Jace to understand how we could achieve this particular shot, which turned out just the way he wanted if not better. I think it is the understanding of the fine line between a creative collaborator and a loyal supporter of his original vision that made us work so well together.”

The fruit of that cooperation among the two resulted in a film whose achievements include: Harlem International Film Festival “Top Short” (2016), Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival “Best Escapism Film” (2016), and Official selection of Studio City Film Festival, Laughlin International Film Festival, & Monarch Film Festival (2016).

While there are so many talented filmmakers in the industry these days, ability alone is not the deciding factor in regards to who other professionals choose to work with. Many times it is the proper combination of expertise, artistic vison, and temperament that win out. Eva agrees, “My ability to always find the right angle makes me incredibly versatile, yet I am also very strong and firm with my suggestions. I know what I want, yet am willing to consider alternative options. That is a courtesy I always offer to my fellow filmmakers as well. The willingness to listen to others while believing in yourself is an asset. I’d like to think that my calm presence on set helps create a balanced, mindful atmosphere for shooting. Even when things may not be going right, you should always find a way to stay focused, remain positive, and strategize.”

 

Cinematographer Ernesto Pletsch travels to home country of Brazil for new show “Desterro”

DESTERRO, 2016. Dhruv Lapsia (1stAC) and me
Dhruv Lapsia and Ernesto Pletsch on the set of Desterro

Ernesto Pletsch is one of the lucky few. Not only does he get to do what he loves every day, he is exceptionally good at it, and isn’t that the dream?

Originally from Porto Alegre, Brazil, Pletsch has seen success both domestically and abroad. Just last year, he worked on the pilot for the television series Desterro, a show in Florianópolis, Brazil. The series follows the investigations of two detectives in a witchery island located in southern Brazil.

Desterro is a thriller and crime story. My favorite genre to watch. I was very excited about the whole project and the ambition of it,” said Pletsch. “Looking back, I think that was my best experience as a cinematographer. I had a great team, working with people I already trust and felt confident with. In Brazil, I ended up meeting more awesome and talented people that were essential for this to work. Every day was a different challenge and learning to me, making Desterro a very special experience.”

Desterro was inspired in folkloric tales of the island Florianópolis. These folkloric tales were written, drawn and sculpted by a famous artist called Franklin Cascaes. A blend of witchery, mystery and gothic, creating great inspiration for Pletsch and the rest of the team.

“I loved shooting Desterro because everyone was putting their souls into the project. Everyone was doing their best. We had our moments of tension, but we also had those moments of euphoria, and when we called it a wrap and you could just see smiling faces around,” he said.

The pilot was shot during a five day time period in Santa Catarina. The people in the area had not had the opportunity to see a film production before, as the island is somewhat secluded. Pletsch and his team were viewed as true Hollywood guests, and the best treatment was offered.

DESTERRO, 2016. Mayanna Neiva (lead actress, star), Chico Caprario (actor), Dhruv Lapsia (1stAC) and me
Mayanna Neiva, Chico Caprario, Dhruv Lapsia, and Ernesto Pletsch on the set of Desterro

“Shooting in Brazil, as expected, had completely different rules, as in no rules,” Pletsch joked. “We had the freedom to do whatever we wanted to, shoot anywhere at any time. This was very exciting.”

While shooting, Pletsch was presented with the challenge of overcoming an obstacle he had no control over: the weather. Certain scenes would be completely prepared, and when it came time to shoot, it would become windy and rainy. Low tides made it difficult to carry boats to desired locations. Equipment would have to be moved and plans would have to change, but for Pletsch, a seasoned cinematographer, he says that is all part of the experience.

“It will always feel frustrating and disappointing at the time because you have a certain idea in mind, but it happens. You move on, and sometimes it comes out better than you originally thought,” he said.

According to Pletsch, shooting Desterro was different than a usual television show, saying it was shot like a movie. They had four days for twenty pages of script, which gave them a reasonable time for each scene. They took our time and made it day by day.

“Usually television shows would require more efficiency from the crew. On a film, we record five to seven pages of the script a day. For a television episode, it tends to go over ten pages. This can get pretty hectic, and sometimes you prioritize delivery over creativity. That’s how usually goes. In any production, you have to pick at least two sides of the triangle: price, quality and time. If they want something delivered fast, they better have money to accelerate the process. If you don’t have money, you may take time to do something good. But if you don’t have either money or time, you’ll probably end up with something of poorer quality,” he advised.

Despite the great success he saw on the show as the Director of Photography, Pletsch was first signed into this project as a gaffer. When he first became aware of the project, there was already an American cinematographer on board. Wanting to work in his native country, he took on the role of lighting technician, and offered to help the cinematographer understand Brazilian practices and translate for the Brazilian crew. However, three weeks before they were scheduled to shoot, the director, Mariana Má Thomé, approached Pletsch to take on the role of cinematographer, as the previous cinematographer could no longer do the role for personal reasons. Having already worked with Má Thomé before, and getting to truly work as a cinematographer in his home country, it all felt like destiny.

“I always like working with Ernesto because we combine the best of our abilities to make the perfect visual for the film. We get together references and break them down in visual palettes, styles and movement.
On set, our work is smooth. Most of it was already planned ahead, and I know I can trust him with his work. Ernesto loves what he does, and this can clearly be seen on screen. He is always striving for the best, and will work with all department heads to achieve the best picture. His work with light is spectacular, and for me, as a director, is lovely to see your vision on screen,” said Má Thomé.

The pilot premiered at Florianópolis, Brazil, on September 11, 2016. From there, they had two more public screenings, and had a lot of success with rave reviews from both locals and critics. Desterro is currently being negotiated with Brazilian and international networks.

Cinematographer Jon Keng feels lucky to be doing what he loves every day

No matter how many awards he wins, festivals he attends, or film sets he works on, Jon Keng remains humble. For him, it isn’t about the recognition or the praise, for him, it is just about doing what he loves. He knows how fortunate he is. Keng is from Singapore, where people rarely get to pursue their true passions in life as they get forced to conform with societal norms. Despite all that he has accomplished, he just feels to be able to make a living out of being a cinematographer.

Keng started out wanting to be a photographer, but as he grew so did his dreams, and he turned to cinematography. His understanding of how to beautifully frame a still image greatly contributed to his talents as a cinematographer when he began, and now he has worked around the world on a variety of award-winning films and television shows. He previously worked on award-winning LGBT themed films Cocoon and The Stairs.  He recently shot the TV pilot Pineapple, which was selected for Sundance Film Festival 2017. His film Fata Morgana won a prestigious Golden Rooster Awards last year, China’s equivalent of the Academy Awards. There is no shortage of achievements for this cinematographer.

I enjoy my work a lot. Every film presents a different work environment, so I never get bored of what I do,” said Keng.

Working on the 2013 film Tadpoles, Keng began experiencing his enormous success. The film screened at over nine festivals, including the Vladivostok in Russia, Jogja-NETPAC in South East Asia, and the Singapore Short Cuts. He was also the first Singaporean to win the Jury Prize at Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland for his work on the film, the world’s longest running film festival, which is widely considered to be one of the top film festivals.

Tadpoles was, by far, the toughest film set I had ever worked on,” said Keng. “Being forced to tackle extreme challenges with a team of people is my favorite aspect of filmmaking. I feel that it really bonds the crew and gives us so many great memories to look back on.”

Keng was involved with the film right from the beginning of the screenwriting process, and was able to give his feedback to each new draft as it came along. He worked alongside his childhood friend Ivan Tan, the writer and director of the film. The two of them always had a shared interest in filmmaking, and became a compatible team.

“Jon is a great pillar of support on set. Even when things get stressful, he is always on point and calm with his decision making. This is very reassuring to the crew,” said Tan. “Jon never tries to impose a particular style onto a film. Instead, he digs deep into the core of the story and together, we find a unique look for every film we work on.”

Tadpoles follows two families who are forced to stay indoors and confront their fractured relationships as an unusual monsoon threatens to flood the eastern part of Singapore. There had been a series of floods in Singapore prior to the film, which became the inspiration.

“It feels great to be able to share this uniquely Singaporean story with the rest of the world,” said Keng.

After the triumph of Tadpoles, it became clear to not only Singapore, but the rest of the world, that Keng has extraordinary talent as a cinematographer. In 2015, he worked on the film Home, which became the first Chinese film to win at Best International Film at Raindance International Film Festival.

Home is a unique project because it started right from the ground up. We threw around some themes that we wanted to explore, being migrant stories in China, but we never really had a specific story in mind,” said Keng. “One day when we were on location scouts, we came across an abandoned hotel resort with a gigantic water lily pond. We spoke to the old caretaker of the resort, a migrant worker that had been left behind by the construction company many years ago after the construction had fallen through. inspired by this unique location and character, we decided to write an entire story around it.”

Home tells the story of Lao Tian, an elderly migrant caretaker of an abandoned construction site. On his last day of work, he encounters a five-year-old city girl who has run away from home. Bie Pu explores the concept of homelessness across the social classes of modern day Beijing.

“Shooting on real locations with real people cast in many of the acting roles was a great pleasure for me. It showed me that there is a multitude of stories out there in the real world left to be explored,” said Keng.  “I enjoy this organic style of working, to find a location first before writing the script. This brings a level of realism to the film, something that cannot be achieved with set builds. Once the location was found, the script was completed in less than a week and we were shooting within two weeks once the actors were cast.”

The film had its premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2015, an Oscar qualifying festival and one of the premier festivals in Los Angeles. It then went on to not only be screened at 13 international festivals, but win the HBO Films Competition Award at the Savannah Film Festival, and the Director’s Choice Award at the Miami Film Festival.

“Working with Jon Keng is the epitome of a professional working experience. Jon’s expertise in cinematography is only matched by his great demeanor and ability to remain calm under high pressure situations. Jon has made a name for himself as being the reliable artist and technician you want on set,” said the producer of Home, Edmond Yang. “J on is good at what he does because he approaches every job and every collaboration from a place of respect. His interactions with coworkers are based on a foundation of trust and professionalism surpassing any of his peers. He is able to keep focus on the overarching needs of a production while never forgetting the micro details which make up each successes. Jon illustrates why creativity fused with technical precision make an artist, but more importantly he reminds us why interpersonal communication is key to our discipline. This is why people want him on every set we have – because he is as talented as he is humble and that’s a combination we want to surround ourselves with in order to achieve our best on film sets.”

It seems that Keng does not work on a project that does not have outstanding results. His meticulous eye and passion for what he does justifies why he is such a celebrated cinematographer. With skills like his, there is no doubt his name will continue to appear on both the big and small screen.

From Still Shots To Moving Images, Irem Harnak is a Visual Genius

The world is full of people who take pretty pictures, so what is it about the work of certain photographers that sets them apart from the pack? What quality do they contain that others lack? The answer lies is their ability to make the observer feel something, to capture an emotion or a moment in time.

Irem Harnak, a photographer whose name is internationally recognized throughout the world of fashion and commercial photography, is one of those rare visionaries whose portraits flawlessly capture the personality and emotion of her subject in a way that transports viewers and makes them feel as if they know the person in the photograph.

Over the years Harnak has amassed an astonishingly impressive portfolio of work that places her among the upper echelon of today’s photographers. Marie Claire (China) featured her shots of designer Erin Kleinberg, who dresses Golden Globe winner Lena Dunham(“Girls), and her long list of fashion stories and editorials have been featured in other well-known print and online magazines such as The Ones 2 Watch, The Fashionisto, Fantastics, Bon Bon, the Uk’s Kenton, Boys by Girls and Pause, Germany’s Superior Magazine, and more.

Audiences will also recognize Harnak’s work from the plethora of lookbooks and campaigns she’s shot for recognizable fashion brands over the years, such as leading activewear brand Titika, women’s golf apparel company Birdy & Grace, swimwear company Zubaida Zang, top Canadian designer Joeffer Caoc and others.

Harnak was also hired by Baker Vandertuin Inc., an ad agency known for its creation of successful campaigns for major clients such as the Heart & Stroke Foundation, Canadian Touring Car Championship and Durabond Racing, to shoot famous jazz singer June Garber.

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Jazz singer June Garber shot by Irem Harnak

“She is an amazing jazz singer, great performer with so much charisma, elegance and energy. I find it hard to get that kind of energy from the 16 year old models I shoot,” admitted Harnak about shooting Garber.

With such a wide variety of subjects, the through line that connects all of Irem Harnak’s work is the eye-catching creativity she brings to the table and the way she manages to bring out the  unique personality of each of her subjects in every shot.

Although she has spent the last decade in Canada, Harnak was raised in Istanbul, Turkey, a thriving city that she described in an interview with Yes Supply Collective as: a crazy, beautiful city with layers upon layers of civilization and history. It’s a place where everything has a voice, everything talks, day and night. The waves of the sea, the ferries going east and west, the seagulls, the breeze, the cars honking, people rushing from one street to another simultaneously talking to each other, telling each other stories day and night.

Anyone who’s had the chance to check out some of Harnak’s breathtaking and emotive photography will immediately see how her early beginnings in a visual inspiring place such as Istanbul has impacted her work.

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Jenna Earle shot by Irem Harnak for Kenton Magazine

While Harnak’s shots of famous models such as Carly Moore, Jenna Earle, Emma Génier and Robbie Beeser have put her work in the spotlight and made her a sought after fashion photographer, she’s also managed to successfully translate her skills as a photographer into the film world.

Harnak says, “I have always been inspired by cinema, that was one of the things that pushed me to become a photographer. Being a photographer one understands the lighting, the framing, how to execute a visual language in one or more frames. When you are a cinematographer, you need to do everything a photographer is doing to create a unique shot, but bear in mind that whatever you are framing is a continuous action not a moment frozen in time.”

As the cinematographer of the films “Personal Space,” “Living with Strangers” and “I Am You,” Harnak has proven her ability to move from shooting beautiful stills to creating moving imagery that effectively tells a narrative story.

The feature film “Personal Space” follows Sid, played by James McDougall (“The ABCs of Death 2”), a down in the dumps twenty-something guy trying to move past his recent breakup with Karri, played by Amelia Macisaac from the 2015 comedy “The Spirit of 39B.”

A self-proclaimed anti-love story, “Personal Space” is one of the few films out there that truthfully depicts what it’s like when the passion fades from a relationship, the uncomfortable phase that follows when two lovers have no choice other than to separate and the unglamourous depressive period that follows a break up. The way Harnak chose to capture the shots throughout the film create an authentic portrayal of real life, without all of the escapist fairytales that most films rely on.

About shooting “Personal Space,” Harnak explains, “I was working in really tight spaces, I was literally in the actors’ personal spaces, I had to light the space with little lights and rely on bounces, and reflectors. It depicted the feeling of loneliness and being lost that we were trying to get across.”

Just like real life, “Personal Space” is often awkward to watch, for example, the many times Sid tells Karri he wants to talk but has nothing to say. Overall the film gives viewers an accurate slice of live view into a real breakup, and Harnak’s cinematography nails the mark the whole way through.

While Harnak received praise for her cinematic work on “Personal Space” and “Living with Strangers,” her work on “I Am You” is what has really brought her unparalleled talent as a cinematographer into the spotlight.

“I Am You,” which debuted at Toronto’s Kaleidoscope interactive art crawl, is more than a movie, it’s an innovative step in using virtual reality technology to create a film. The film follows a young couple who discover a new VR app, which allows them to swap bodies and experience life as the other; and, as the viewers watch the film from the characters’ perspectives, it’s as if they too have been transported into the film.

About her work on “I Am You,” Harnak explains, “I shot the traditional part of the film. With the framing I set up, I was trying to describe the alienation, disconnectedness the couple was feeling towards each other. I placed the camera at a considerable distance and used a bit of an unconventional frame cropping to make the viewer feel unease.”

Produced by Cinehackers, “I Am You” has garnered an overwhelmingly positive response with Vice writing: Cinehackers had created a way to let virtual reality users feel like they were in a first-person perspective movie, kind of like Being John Malkovich… And Toronto Film Scene writing: ‘I Am You’ is an amazing piece of work in VR filmmaking. An intimacy enveloped me that I had never felt before while watching a film.

Although photographer Irem Harnak has clearly cut out an indelible mark for herself as a fashion photographer, her work as a cinematographer is definitely worth taking note off; and frankly, we can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!

EYE DROPS – AVNER MAYER SHOWS A KINDER WORLD

When art is malevolent it is divisive, seeking to focus society on what “others” are doing to make your life worse. When it is mediocre, it serves little purpose at all. But, when art is at its best, it gathers all peoples in and draws their inherent goodness out of them. The creators of art are no different than every other segment of society in the fact that they must daily choose to use their abilities to draw us closer to each other or tear us apart. The WATER Project seeks to cultivate the former. Also known as the Israeli-Palestinian Cinematic Project, this endeavor saw ten Israeli and Palestinian directors embark on a journey to create films, fiction or documentary inspired by water. Under the belief that water symbolizes the source of possibilities at the primal core of all things, these filmmakers took part in joint meetings in Tel-Aviv presenting their ideas to one another. Produced with full creative freedom with mixed crews of Palestinians and Israelis, these films reflected the personal and courageous perspectives of both sides view of reality. The film Eye Drops was part of the WATER project which was screened at more than 20 Festivals around the world, receiving significant press attention. The project premiere was at the Prestigious Venice international film festival as the opening film of the “Critic week” program. The WATER project received an Amnesty award for its effort to bring Palestinian and Israelis closer. Eye Drops is a reaffirming vision of the ability of all people to see beyond their differences, particularly in a subject matter as provocative as this one. The film received global attention at festivals including the: Tertio Millennio Film Festival (Italy), Stockholm International Film Festival, Busan International Film Festival (South Korea), New Middle East Cinema film festival in Philadelphia, and many others. The look that Cinematographer (Israel born) Avner Mayer created depicts both the despair and hope of the people and this land. Overcoming the almost instinctual reaction of this land’s natives and the world’s view of it, Meyer’s imagery and design enables the audience to see the humanity underlying it all.

It’s easy to make assumptions about someone without getting to truly know them as an individual. That can be applied to the viewing audience of a news program, a film, or even a neighbor. In Eye Drops, Mohammad Bakri lives with his two sons (Saleh and Ziad) in a small flat in Tel Aviv. Their neighbor Sarah (played by Rona Zilberman) is a Holocaust survivor who asks them to assist her with her eye-drop medication. A unique and mysterious connection grows among them. The movie is about compassion and the ability to get along in spite of differences in religion and race. The filmmakers approach to the composition was to create a feeling of empathy. In order to convey this, the movie is almost always shot at the eye level of the characters. The hope for this was to allow viewers to see through the character’s eyes and souls. Many of the shots include the entire cast in order to create a feeling of unity. Exterior shots were designed to be cold and intimidating, almost as a mirror to the political climate in Israel at that point during the second Intifada (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Intifada). In contrast, the houses are portrayed as places of great warmth in hopes of showing the love and compassion hiding inside this political climate. All that is need is to go into someone’s home and talk with them in order to find real, warm human beings.

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It was Mayer’s task to create these emotional vignettes for Eye Drops. Mohammad Bakri (director/writer/actor) needed a highly skilled professional behind the camera who not only understood how to help him capture the story but to also understood the people and emotions that motivated them. Designing everything from the lighting to the framing of the shot necessitated a professional and emotional eye. Avner communicates, “As a DP I feel my work is always to translate the director’s vision into images. A lot of the preproduction process for me concentrates in creating the visual bible of the movie. When you work with new filmmakers, there are two main problems. First of all, their visual lexicon is not always clear; meaning you need to find a common language to talk about images. That’s always hard but it seems to be smoother with more experienced filmmakers. The second issue regards logistics and the amount of time needed to achieve some effects. It’s much easier to talk about shots than actually to perform them on set. It’s important that the director will realize what is possible to do and what’s not inside the budget and time constraints, prioritizing the important story beats. People don’t often realize that this is a lot of what my job entails. Mohammed is well known and respected in the Israel film community so it was a pleasure to work with him and it was much easier than working with a ‘new’ director…but there are always challenges. Mohammed wanted to shoot in the actual real locations. It was a blessing and a curse as a DP. The locations had a lot of charm and were very photogenic but the big minus was regarding space. This was mostly in regards to the house, which was a little too small. We were limited in our options with that space. In the end we found creative solutions and solved that issue.”

Eye Drops received voluminous praise and accolades from the community and critics. One of the most vocal fans of Mayer’s work on the film came from its creator. The fact that Mohammad was also the lead actor in the Eye Drops made Avner much more aware of the acting. Normally this cinematographer focuses on the visual side of the imagery; did the characters land in the right place? Is the lighting precise? Etc. Bakri praises Avner’s work and awareness declaring, “I honestly couldn’t have done this movie without Avner’s Support. It was my first narrative film, and coming into the movie there were a lot of elements I didn’t expect. Avner was my right hand, helping me in planning the scene blocking and shot selection. We were on a tight schedule and Avner got us there in time. I really think Avner is a real talent! He’s very committed to his work, he communicates well, and his visual perception and imagery is stunning! I’m never surprised to hear that he’s doing well in the industry, he deserves it!”

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The climax of the film is when Sarah’s eyes are finally well enough to make out the faces of her helpers. She sees that they are in fact the individuals who she would have avoided if she had seen with her vision rather than with her heart. Eye Drops makes a profound statement that will hopefully predict the future.

 

 

 

 

 

CINEMATOGRAPHER YASH KHANNA MAKES “OUIJA SUMMONING” FRIGHTENINGLY GOOD

When filmmakers create a film on a smaller budget that does huge numbers, Hollywood sits up quickly. That’s exactly what happened when Writer/Director Marwan Mokbel’s Ouija Summoning (produced by Egywood Pictures) became a hit horror film. Ouija Summoning was distributed by some of the biggest platforms in the U.S. and worldwide, including Amazon Prime, Walmart, Best Buy, Red Box, iTunes, Barnes and Noble, and many more. Horror films are among the most commercially successful genres in the industry. When a film like this with tighter budgetary constraints is so well received, it’s proof that the story and the look of the film are exemplary and in perfect synergy. Horror productions rely heavily on the believability of the “look” as fans of the genre continually demand more realistic visuals for the unbelievable situations. Mokbel needed a consummate professional as his DP for Ouija Summoning and he found it in Yash Khanna. One of the main reasons for Khanna’s enthusiasm about being involved was Marwan’s encouragement that his DP be experimental. Creative people love the opportunity to do just that…be very creative. The scenario worked out well for Yash, Mokbel, and the film they have created. Marwan states, “I hired Yash because of his extensive history of bringing a unique visual style and stamp to each production he has worked on in the past. Yash was nothing short of impressive with his work on our film. His understanding of lighting, composition, and color, reveal his talent while the thoroughness of his preproduction preparedness gives proof of his staunch work ethic and commitment. The film one hundred percent succeeded thanks to the fantastic contributions of Yash.”

Khanna relents that being prepared is the most necessary part of his early contributions to any film. His eclectic resume (including films such as: Funny Man, How To Get Girls, Slipaway, Exit, and many others) displays his ability to be a valued Cinematographer on a production for any genre but, his work on Ouija Summoning allowed him to stretch his creative muscles in the appropriate manner for this horror production. Yash notes, “The reason for taking on a project like this, other than working with someone great like Marwan, is that I was afforded the chance to do different techniques. I learned some new things about the horror genre working on this film. I learned how it can be made gripping. I was able to try some lighting ideas which I had wanted to try for a long time. Usually we don’t get to play much with underexposure and contrast but I was able to explore many of these ideas while shooting Ouija Summoning. Marwan works at a very quick pace so shooting fast on multiple setups was a good experience for me as well.”

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From the very earliest stages of his preproduction planning, Khanna set down with the department heads to design the color palette for wardrobe and art design in order to achieve a gothic look for the film. Moving on to lighting and color, Yash wanted to execute soft lighting but with a lot of contrast. The reason behind this choice was to make the atmosphere appear grey and gloomy. Khanna and his team designed their lighting by first cutting and diffusing the daylight and then they began lighting the world of Ouija Summoning. They came up with the idea of using stained glass. This would allow them to introduce harsh colors in the frame. They then designed a rig that would keep the color temperature in sync with the sources, accommodating the many scenes with flashlights and candles. A prime example of the result is in the suspenseful first scene of Ouija Summoning. Yash explains, “The Opening scene was one of the toughest ones to film. We were filming in the basement of an old house. The scene was a long one shot with practical effects. We needed a very dim look as it was the first time we reveal paranormal elements in the film. Marwan had written the scene in a very gripping tone and we wanted to do justice to it. We rigged small units where the camera wouldn’t see them and rigged just the right amount of practical [lighting] where we would feel silhouettes moving.

It was really tight quarters and I had to operate the camera through the stairs walking down and following though narrow corridors. It was a long take. A lot of fans comment that this is a ‘jump out of your seat moment for them…which makes me very happy.”

In a film of the horror genre, it’s a modern day requirement to use VFX, fans expect it and almost demand it. In Ouija Summoning, a beautiful woman is haunted by an evil spirit after an innocent game of Ouija board goes horribly wrong. Sara (the woman) had a perfect life until an evil spirit was summoned from a Ouija board. This spirit had once killed its own son and cannot put the past behind it. Sara is tormented by this spirit, who will stop at nothing until it destroys Sara and everyone else in her life. Making good use of his prior experience working on projects which involve VFX, Khanna planned his lighting, color, and camera choices with the VFX team to make this work to the film’s advantage. Sometimes however, VFX is not enough. Only the authenticity that comes from witnessing real events works in a storyline. In the climactic ending scenes of Ouija Summoning, Sara flees from the spirit and the viewers witness a harrowing chase. For Yash’s role as DP, it was one of the most dangerous and important scenes. He confirms, “The car chase scene, towards the later end of the film, is where the character is driving away from the paranormal spirit. This scene required the car to appear fast and out of control along curvy desert trails. Our stunt man had to skid the car along the turns and do a 180 spin and flip the car in one single motion; after which the car explodes. This was filmed during a one-night shoot. Time constraints were strict, the risk of danger was high, and we could obviously not do take after take of exploding cars. I had multiple camera units running to maximize the footage. We lit a huge area of the desert because we were shooting from far away. The shot came out perfect and was one of the highlights of the movie, a real testament to the planning we did and the amazing execution of our crew!”

Because of the stir Ouija Summoning created, Yash is now fielding a host of offers. The best advertisement is doing great work. The public took great interest in Ouija Summoning and the look which Khanna created, now Hollywood is taking great interest in him. Smiling he declares, “The success of Ouija Summoning has been a great boost for my career. This was my first horror film. I have been offered many horror scripts as a result of it. I’m reading them and waiting for something unique to interest me. I am excited about what’s next.”

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Sergey Savchenko talks working on Russian hit “Liberation of Europe”

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Sergey Savchenko has always known film was his passion.

Growing up in the heart of Siberia, Sergey Savchenko was not like other children. While many passed the time with toys, Savchenko turned to movies. Film slowly transitioned from his childhood pastime to his life’s ambition. He would sit and watch the same film over and over again, enjoying it more with each viewing. He would study it, and try to understand how each scene was put together. Upon stepping onto a film set for the first time, his dream was realized.

“On that day, I realized that I’m not alone with dreams and hobbies. It’s like a family, not everyone can understand your worries and complex thoughts so clearly,” he said.

Now, Savchenko is a successful director of photography, working around the world doing what he loves. This year, viewers in Russia had the pleasure of seeing Savchenko’s artistry on 1TV’s Liberation of Europe, a five-episode documentary series highlighting the difficult decisions made in the headquarters of different countries during the second world war. Actor Victor Verzhbitsky, the main narrator of this movie, goes through the events of the World War II, still frozen in time.

“It was a long journey, like a short life. In the process, I visited a lot of European countries, met a lot of very interesting people, gained priceless experience in large reconstructions staging. We worked a lot with actors in emotional scenes, and as a DP it was very interesting to me to set the lighting and searching for needed emotions in a frame,” described Savchenko. “The range of emotions in the film varies, going from bravery and courage, to treachery and intrigue. It was very interesting to work with such a script.”

The difficult format of filming included shooting real characters and events, working with the actors, staging feature scenes, and the cinematic language of the series. The team needed an experienced Director of Photography to be able to handle the complexity of the task, and the director Pavel Elkin chose Savchenko.

“Working with Sergey, to me as a director, was much easier than with any other DPs, due to the fact that his understanding of the process of making the film is much deeper than of many others. He doesn’t need to be explained the principles of shooting for future postproduction or graphics, he is fluent in the technical side of the issue. In addition, the director of photography is essentially the eyes of the director. It is important that `the head` and `the eyes` work together and understand each other well. In creative matters Sergey is simply brilliant,” said Elkin.

While working on Liberation of Europe, the team needed to split the crew to create a second unit, which happened several times. Savchenko ended up taking over for the duties of the director on the second unit.

“I must say, it was done very well. The color of all the featured episodes was also the accomplishment of Sergey. He’s really good at his job and another two or three dozen related tasks,” said Elkin.

The job did not come without its challenges. There were many large-scale reconstructions required, with many people working on them, which made the staging complex, as well as many interviews from people all over the world. But for Savchenko, it was teamwork that made all of the challenges that were presented seem minimal at most.

“Thanks to precise work of the crew, we managed to shoot everything we needed,” he said. “And you know, I can talk with Pavel easily. We understand each other perfectly. He has a vision of a product in general, and clearly understands what he wants and can explain what he needs. has a great shooting experience all around the world, including Europe, it’s brought up in Paul a great sense of taste. He knows all specifics of filming and post-production, so we successfully managed to avoid a lot of problems while shooting. Even in difficult conditions we reached the right results, working quickly like a clockwork mechanism.”

The right results were definitely achieved. The series, which premiered in May, received extremely high ratings in Russia, and had led to a collaboration with companies such as Panera Films, Reality Production, as well as projects advertising for Avon and Siemens. It also inspired the documentary The Great Che.

“Watching it, I was filled with a sense like finishing a book. In my memory, there were much more events and emotions than what had been shown in this project. You just can’t experience this feeling in ordinary life, this feeling of finishing something great, something you have a very warm feeling to,” he concluded. “It is impossible to describe; it can be only experienced.”