Category Archives: Director

Telling Stories to Spark Social Change: Director Alma Jiménez Ochomogo

Director Alma Jiménez Ochomogo was born in Toluca, a small town about an hour outside Mexico City. Her parents owned and managed a small business, which provided a living for the family but didn’t leave them time for much else, so Jiménez Ochomogo was often left to her own devices. She couldn’t have known it then, but looking back with the clarity of hindsight she can point to her time spent there as the beginning of her lifelong pursuit.

“My family owned a small grocery store in Mexico and my mother used to work there all day long, so I spent most of my time there. I couldn’t really spend a lot of time playing outside because it was on a busy street — and because of insecurity,” she said, reflecting on how it all began.

“One of the only things that I could do was watch movies. I always had a big imagination so I think that was my escape. [It was like] I was in all kinds of places and adventures in the movies. [That] has tremendously impacted my life.”

Though that small town was where she’d discovered her passion, the opportunities there for an aspiring filmmaker were extremely limited. So the ever-driven Jiménez Ochomogo chased her calling to Los Angeles. She flourished in the city, and it immediately became clear she had a rare gift. Her film “The Play” is a testament to that gift, beautifully blending a rich, original narrative with a bold message of perseverance in the face of inequality.

“‘The Play’… tells the story of Kimberly, a transgender actress, who receives her first role as a woman and is struggling to get into character,” Jiménez Ochomogo described. “It was a very difficult endeavor to find someone who could both play a transgender actress and deliver Shakespeare… if I didn’t choose the right person, the character could have become cartoonish.”

Director Alma Jiménez Ochomogo
Director Alma Jiménez Ochomogo (left) and actors Ted Heyck & Aean McMullin (right) preparing to shoot “The Play.” Photo by Sara Marijuan

Written, directed and produced by Jiménez Ochomogo, “The Play” is a brilliant and powerful work that boldly tackles a topic too often swept under the rug. Aean McMullin delivers a masterful performance as Jennifer, deftly embodying the young actress.

“Kim… is cast as Viola/Cesario, the heroine and protagonist of the play ‘Twelfth Night’ by William Shakespeare,” she explained. “Aean McMullin, the actor, did a great job creating Kim. He had the right amount of vulnerability and strength that the character required to feel real. It also helped that he was classically trained so was amazing in delivering Shakespeare.”

In February, Jiménez Ochomogo unveiled her most ambitious project yet. Blurring the line between social media and cinema, L.A. Livfe was a series of three films by three directors which were ‘screened’ using the Facebook Live service. To ensure the project would get off on the right track, Jiménez Ochomogo’s film “The Pair” was chosen to be the first film to air.

“I directed the first short film called ‘The Pair,’ which was a love story about a Palestinian and an Israeli who meet in a Los Angeles bar,” she said. “We rehearsed for hours, but we only broadcast live once… so in many ways it was a make-it-or-break-it type of project.”

To shoot a film and air it live online for the world to see is an immense undertaking. It required countless hours of preparation, and the stakes couldn’t have been higher. But Jiménez Ochomogo had a story in her mind, and she knew exactly how to tell it.

“Our objective was to incorporate film language into live broadcasting, and the thread that joined all of the stories together was the city of Los Angeles,” she explained. “Each of us told a story of a moment in this city.”

At once enthralling and captivating, “The Pair” was a perfect example of what sets Jiménez Ochomogo apart. She is driven to find the unusual, the unorthodox and the unexpected, all of which she brings to life on the screen. Together with her visionary eye, her gift for storytelling puts Alma Jiménez Ochomogo miles ahead of her peers.

 

Jing Wen talks becoming a web phenomenon

Jing Wen
Jing Wen

When Jing Wen sits to envision how to begin working on a new project, every fibre of her being comes to life. She is addicted to the power she experiences when she witnesses her audience feeling her story. From the very first take, she knows what she wants them to see and she commits herself to ensuring that every single step is taken with care to do her ideas justice. For the renowned director, her work allows her to be free to express herself and her opinions before the world in a way few other professions allow. It is a job unlike any other and her passion for her work is unprecedented.

For as long as Wen can remember, storytelling has been her calling and she has done so for the better of every project she has ever embarked on. In her work on films like Blossoming Flowers and Golden Eagle Festival, Wen has taken the inner workings of her mind and shared them with her audience in the most raw, authentic way possible. She is a natural connector, knowing all of the intricate roles involved in bringing a film to life and ensuring that each and every person she works with knows exactly what they need to do to help carry the film to greatness. When a problem arises, she knows exactly what to do and she makes sure that her co-workers are at ease and confident in their roles at all times.

Wen’s leadership skills are unparalleled and they have been instrumental to her success as a director. In 2016, she was tasked with re-vamping the Chinese reality show, Mom is Superman 1. The show’s producer, Baili Yuan, sought Wen’s help in the midst of a struggle to change the direction of the show after its first season. Yuan knew that the script needed the perspective of a director like Wen. Someone who had the creative edge to keep their audience fully engaged and eagerly anticipating each new episode. Yuan also knew that it needed a natural born leader. It required a skilled director who could talk the stars through their roles and establish attainable targets. To Yuan’s satisfaction, Wen agreed to share her talents with Yuan’s team and presented her vision for Mom is Superman 2.

The result was astounding. Wen far exceeded any expectations that Yuan had for her. The wildly successful web series received 1.4 million viewers online and became a Topic Discussion online over 3.2 billion times. Unsurprisingly, Mom is Superman 2 won Macau International Advertising Festival’s “2016-17 Best Program of China” award and Wen is without a doubt the reason why.

Wen’s satisfaction, however, came from the chance she seized to use her talents for the better of her viewers. She got to do what she loves more than anything else. She got to tell stories. “What I love about directing is story telling. It is the most essential part of any film. As a director, the way in which you choose to tell your story is crucial. I want my audience to feel amazed when they watch my films. More importantly, I want them to find meaning in the stories I tell,” said Wen.

Mom is superman 2 poster 2
Mom is Superman 2 poster

The challenge, for Wen, is that making her films often involves the assistance of a sponsor. She knows how difficult it can be when a sponsor pushes her to accept their advice and their suggestions. Her vast experience in the industry, however, allows her to overcome this obstacle each time she is presented with it. She is passionate about her work and she understands the need to stay true to her original ideas. In order to do so, she has grasped the ability to liaise effortlessly with her sponsors and ensure that any compromises she makes wont jeopardize the integrity of the film. Her professionalism is one of the many reasons that sponsors and producers are eager to work with her at any chance they get. Mom is Superman 2’s producer, Yuan is a prime example. Having worked with Wen on several occasions, Yuan continues to return to her whenever she is looking for a high quality director who can help take her projects to the next level.

“I first met Jing when she was a graduate but I haven’t forgotten her since. She is so full of curiosity and she thrives in a variety of situations. She is such a creative director and her experience makes her an asset on any project. She knows how to handle any emergency we encounter on set,” told Yuan.

After achieving such acclaim for Mom is Superman 2, Wen has already set her sights on an even bigger, brighter outcome for Mom is Superman 3. Every time she finishes a project, she is already thinking about the next best thing she can bring to the screen. This is because directing is a lifestyle for Wen and storytelling is her artistry. It isn’t something she can shut off, and why would she? She is fortunate enough to be able to do what she loves and to be great at what she does. She lives every artist’s dream on a daily basis and she does not plan on stopping any time soon.

JAMES BARNES TRAVELS THE WORLD TO DO GOOD THINGS…WITH A CAMERA.

Director James Barnes has always felt the need to be inspired about the productions he has worked on. Whether documenting ground breaking artists in Abbey Road Studios, capturing some of today’s most famous and influential artists in informal interview settings, Barnes has been closely tied to music for much of his work. His time at UK’s MTV enabled that and he was compelled to use this to altruistic ends for the TV documentary “Travis McCoy’s Unbeaten Track” which was part of the Staying Alive Foundation. James had the idea for this show and pitched it to the Foundation’s president Georgia Arnold. Barnes explains, “Throughout my time at MTV I had been aware of Staying Alive and seen the annual documentary they would make but I’d never been involved.  Then after my work on the Pete Doherty doc my confidence to develop and to direct had grown so when I heard they were looking for ideas I thought I’d give it a go.  I had the idea of essentially a trip to visit grantees, recording sounds and producing a track. Through a friend at a record label I made contact with Travis McCoy.  He was the final piece of the puzzle, installing him as the figure head of the show.  Although it is hugely enjoyable, sometimes working in entertainment television can feel like you’re in a bubble. I saw this as a way of feeling like something I was working on was doing more for the greater good.”

Staying Alive is the international MTV initiative to promote safe lifestyle choices and at the same time combat the stigma and discrimination of HIV. It is the largest HIV mass awareness campaign in the world. Barnes created and directed “Travis McCoy’s Unbeaten Track”, an MTV documentary featuring McCoy (lead vocalist and songwriter for alternative hip hop band Gym Class Heroes) in his role as Ambassador for the Staying Alive Foundation, traveling with an MTV film crew to South Africa, the Philippines, and India to raise awareness about youth-driven HIV and AIDS prevention initiatives supported by The Staying Alive Foundation. The hour-long program witnesses McCoy’s experiences in Cape Town, Manila, and Mumbai, interacting with some of the grassroots youth-led HIV prevention projects supported by The Staying Alive Foundation. Far from the romantic and hedonistic manner one expects from a rock star, the impoverished areas and the oppressive 100 degree plus temperatures are a contradiction to the graciousness of the local hosts which greet Travis and the crew at each stop.

The three locations exhibited in the special were specifically chosen to show that the effects of this disease on people covers a vastness and is not localized to one region or culture. It also displayed the different work that Staying Alive does across the planet. In Khayelitsha (South Africa) dwellings of corrugated iron with coat hanger cables for power conduits were overshadowed by the smiles and dancing of the children who playfully performed for the camera’s attention. In Manilla, the production recorded a sex education class filmed in a graveyard in which the homeless residents were using the tombs as shelter. Bhubaneswar (India) was well off the tourist path, providing no paved roads and whose residents had never seen Westerners before. While each location provided Barnes with touching moments, it was Bhubaneswar that most poignantly reminded him why he had set this production in motion and wanted to direct this message. He recalls, “Our female grantee had herself tried to take her own life for testing HIV positive and having been rescued was now doing the same for other young girls. Hearing this, even through a translator, was an intense emotional moment for all of us.” The final filming moments had James working with Travis and the world famous Bruno Mars in a Miami studio. Having McCoy as the centerpiece/proxy for the rest of the world to witness the work of Staying Alive was key and a composition involving these two noteworthy artists would add to its attention. Barnes notes, “Having a young, cool, contemporary character as the face and voice of the film was the first way in which we approached this production. We figured that not only would this make people listen to the more educational pieces of information but we also hoped he would take it in and then explain it in the type of language our viewers would understand, rather than a doctor or professor. I would say 90% of this was done in pre-production where we thoroughly researched each project in each location so that we could prepare our talent for every eventuality.  During production it was just a case of ensuring we got the most important touch points of each project across. Travis did an exceptional job and I think his feelings for those he spoke with on camera transferred to our viewers.”

Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 8.10.18 PM

At the World Media Festival in Hamburg (a global competition dedicated to recognizing excellence in branded content from the areas of information, education and entertainment), “Travis McCoy’s Unbeaten Track” was recognized with an Intermedia-Globe Gold Award in the ‘Documentaries’ category. As both creator and director of this program, it’s appropriate that James is appreciative that his show received accolades. In complete contradiction to this very idea, Barnes states, “It’s interesting to me that Marcus [Liversedge-Series Producer], Benedict [Spence-DOP] and I still cite this as our favorite thing we’ve ever made even though it’s by no means the most high-profile. Experiencing the locations, contributors, and their stories is something that will always connect us. I think the most rewarding part of this production was giving a platform to these young people who were doing such brave and admirable things in the face of adversity. It was always my hope that this would inspire and inform others on the issues.”

DIRECTING THE DIFFERING EXPERIENCES OF A MAN’S LIFE: THOMAS HEFFERON

It’s a requirement for a successful professional in the film industry to be versatile these days. Even so, those who are able to cultivate a sense of personal identity amidst the ability to be eclectic are among the most sought after. Actors, cinematographers, and definitely directors are the current-day elites in their vocations who are the most enduring when they have a style that is malleable to different formats while still retaining an intrinsic thread of personal perspective/self. Director Thomas Hefferon has revealed this trait in a number of films, music videos, and commercial productions. Considering his film work, it’s ironic that while the vast majority of his work (often co-written with T.J. Hundtofte) is female based, some of his most recognized and lauded films have a masculine story and center. Perhaps it’s just a natural byproduct of being male and artistic but the vantage presented in Hefferon’s films attest to his natural ease in conveying the different mental and emotional states from boyhood to manhood. The playfulness and sweet sensitivity is sometimes disrupted by the fear that boys avoid and men deny. Still, it’s apparent that there is a fondness Thomas has for his youth and he is able to take the audience into this treasure time with him via his many films.

In “The Confession”, Hefferon pays homage to the classic films of the 70’s. The production looks and feels authentic to the era. He worked painstakingly with cinematographer Andrew Edger and costume designer Natalie Conaty to authentically create the vibe of this period. Thomas notes, “The right crew really makes your life on a film livable or not. Andrew was wonderful to work with. Besides being very talented, he had just done a period film prior to this so he was in the proper mind state already. I was very lucky to get Natalie as she was working on “The Tudors” at the time and doing such fantastic work, and she of course brought her immense talent to our set.” Even beyond the visual presentation in the film, Hefferon wanted to recreate what the films of the 70’s felt like. He explains, “We definitely wanted the film to not just be set in the 70s but also almost feel like it was shot back then. We achieved this feeling mainly through the pacing of the film and the edit, and how it played out. Current day films have many more fast edits than films of the 70’s. There is almost a lingering quality to the way films were presented back then. We almost wanted to slightly bore the audience in the first half of the film, when they think they’re watching a drama and then…” One of the most enjoyable parts of The Confession is the “bait and switch” con that happens in both the storyline and to the viewer at the end of the film. The final moments of the film are completely unexpected as Thomas and his cast hold their cards close to their chest. Safe to say, the reveal recalls the great teen comedies of the 70’s that inspired this director. His adeptness in delivering this knockout punch awarded him the admiration of his cast and crew (not to mention multiple worldwide screening including the Tribeca Film Festival). The aforementioned Natalie Conaty professes, “I have worked with Thomas for the better part of a decade now and can say without a doubt he is one the most uniquely gifted people I’ve ever met. As a director he brings his vision to you without a hint of ego, eager to hear your thoughts and ideas. his attitude to filmmaking makes for a really creative environment where everyone pushes themselves to do better because they believe in the project. He owes much of his success to his auspicious mix of creative selflessness and dedication – on and off set.”

The Confession - Headshot 01

A more vulnerable and even frightening part of being a young boy is displayed in Hefferon’s “The Pool.” Most boys have experienced episodes of bullying but that’s not what at the heart of this tale. Academy Award-Nominee Lenny Abrahmson (for the Oscar Award-Winning Film Room) took a great interest in this film and Thomas as the director. Abrahmson remarks, “A film such as this relies on all the factors of film to amplify the tension, and Thomas displayed a masterful command over the collaboration between storytelling, breathtaking cinematography, believable acting and more to heighten the tension of the film, ultimately leading toward a truly powerful and impactful film. Few directors can convey such a command over the production as a whole. Thomas’s work on ‘The Pool’, where he utilized a great many tactics of top tier directors attests to his place among the best.”

“The Pool” seems at first to be a simple story of one boy’s fear of water (Sam) and his friends Charlie and Ben pressuring him to be in a breath holding contest with which he is not comfortable. The added pressure of appearing weak in front of the fairer sex is added when Katie shows up at the pool. Explaining that his fear originates from an experience with an unknown presence during his younger days, Sam stirs his own bravery but what happens next turns potential fear into a life altering experience for all of them.

Thomas reveals that his inspiration for the tension in the story and the film comes from his view of childhood. He notes, “I always felt like there was a window of time from about ages twelve to sixteen or seventeen when you’re growing up outside of adult supervision. You’re figuratively trespassing in this space where there are no rules and if there were, no one is truly able to enforce them. This is the time I experienced my most intense bullying and when I saw other be bullied in ways that changed me. ‘The Pool’, which I co-wrote with T.J. Hundtofte takes that idea of metaphorical trespassing and makes it literal. These kids are literally in a place they’re not supposed to be, at a time where they’re not supposed to be there. No adults. No supervision. So what I tried to do was create a sense of magical realism by having the entire place feel slightly heightened, as if it didn’t really exist in our reality. It’s reality-adjacent, to borrow a phrase.” One of the very effective ways that was done to give this sense of heightened reality on set was by laying down black tarp at the bottom of the pool. On camera this created the sense of no bottom in the pool, only darkness. It’s as if you’re looking into the deep of the ocean.

Following up “The Confession” appearing at the Tribeca Film Festival, “The Pool” was nominated at this prestigious event for the Jury Award Best Narrative Short. While it was a thrill to return with another of his films so soon, Hefferon concedes that seeing the attention the film’s young actors received was even more rewarding.

“The Heist” is the member of this film trio which finally makes the leap into adulthood and presents the type of fast paced, comical, and sometimes adversarial relationships that men can sometimes share. In this film, three would-be bank robbers sit in their car as they prepare to pull off the heist of their lives. But Francis’ minute instructions are quickly overshadowed by the rest of his gang’s petty arguments about anything from the colour of the ski-masks to who gets to be the cool, silent guy with a hair-trigger once inside the bank. Planning is derailed more and more by the crew’s wild tangents until they finally just decide to go for it and make their move. Only to find the bank closes early on Fridays.

What stands out most about this film is that Thomas is able to deliver a compelling and humorous story that is 99% dialogue and takes place entirely inside a car. The description sounds dichotomous to an entertaining experience and yet it proves to be very much so. Pressure can be a powerful motivator and can instill energy into performances and a production. A self-described guerilla production that was expeditiously conducted in the dead of winter outside (with only the cast inside the car), there was a deluge of intensity on set. Thomas relates, “We knew for this to work the pacing had to be lightning fast. Banter depends a lot on good editing, but you also need the right interplay from the actors on the day. Luckily our protagonist Francis, was played by an experienced Irish sketch- and Improv actor who got the tone we were going for right away. We were determined not to be derailed, even when our main actor forgot to put on the handbrake and the car started rolling onto the main road with crew in tow. Luckily no one was around at the time, but it was a bit of a scare.” Both scares and laughter are found in Hefferon’s many films, onscreen and off.

The Heist - Headshot 02

Director and Producer Sonia Bajaj has fast success with new film ‘Bekah’

Sonia Bajaj realized her true calling while in Pune, India. During this period of transition, she was introduced to people from different cultural backgrounds and varied interests. She was in constant touch with daily happenings in the world and she also began to have a better understanding of art forms like music and literature. She was introduced to several films, television series and documentaries from all over the world, thereby exposing her to different styles of filmmaking. She began experimenting, and soon these experiments translated in experiences. She knew she had to be a filmmaker.

Originally from Mumbai, Bajaj has been able to travel the world doing what she loves. She thoroughly enjoys the aspects of making a film. As a producer, she is responsible for overseeing all five stages of filmmaking: development, pre-production, production, post-production and distribution. She creates a business plan, budget, and schedule, handle creative and business affairs, and gather cast and crew. But that is not all she does, she also is a successful director.

“While making multiple short films, I realized how thoroughly I enjoy myself during the entire process of making a film. Being a director is similar to being the captain on a ship. You have your entire team helping you, yet the responsibility of a successful sail lies entirely on your shoulders. When I direct a film, I have the opportunity to take the audiences to the world of my characters through my eyes. That’s what I like about being a director,” she said. “I look forward to narrating stories that touch the heart, that inspire an individual to overcome obstacles and live his dream, stories that educate and entertain.”

As both a director and producer, Bajaj has had a formidable career. She has worked on award-winning films such as Rose, Hari, The Best Photograph, A Broken Egg and Impossible Love. She is also the curator for the women in film series at Downtown Los Angeles Film Festival, where her responsibilities include reviewing and judging films around the globe. She has an esteemed reputation, and is respected by all she works with.

“Sonia is a professional and a pleasure to work with. She has a superb eye for truth when it comes to filmmaking and making an actor feel connected and safe on set. I would work with her again in an instant,” said Tony Ruiz, who worked alongside Bajaj on her film Rose.

With her new film Bekah, Bajaj is impressing both audiences and critics yet again. The film was just completed in May, and was first recognized at LA Shorts Awards where it won an award for Best Drama. Since that time, it has already been an Official Selection at the UK Monthly Film Festival, a Semi Finalist at Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival and Los Angeles Cine Fest and a Finalist at Eurasia International Monthly Film Festival. It won the Award of Merit at Accolade Global Film Competition, the Gold Award at NYC Indie Film Awards, and the Platinum Award at Mindfield Film Festival, with many more film festivals expected for the powerful film.

“With Bekah, I had the opportunity to direct and produce the story of a young African American woman. Our entire cast comprised of African American Actors, and crew from different parts of the world, giving me the opportunity to work in a culturally diverse project. Our goal was to inspire and encourage our viewers through Bekah’s eyes. We’ve been successful in achieving that in a short span of time,” said Bajaj.

Bekah is the story of an idealistic young writer and college dropout who pursues her dream of becoming a full-time writer, motivated by the spirit of her deceased fiancé. She leaves her dysfunctional home and goes it alone facing a world that is less idealistic.

The story focuses on the struggles of a young writer trying to break into the real world. It’s a tale of overcoming the loss of love, by fulfilling a promise that was made. At the end, it becomes all about how families need to be connected and support each other.  We wanted to tell this story to encourage families to support each other, encourage youngsters to pursue their dreams despite the difficulties that they may face,” Bajaj described.

After looking at Bajaj’s success of her other films, the main lead and co-producer Charlie Cakes, also known as Charlotte Makala, asked her to be a part of the project, knowing her needed someone of her caliber to make the film the success it has already become. Looking at the diverse nature of the film, Bajaj instantly got on board. As they began producing the film, they realized that 80 per cent of the cast and crew were all women.

“This definitely was refreshing experience to produce a film made by women and about women,” said Bajaj. “The very fact that our team was so diverse, it was essential to have a director who wasn’t familiar with the culture of the characters. I had my own take to the production, which helped us to create a fresh outlook to the story we wanted to convey.”

There were many rehearsals, and script revisions, and Bajaj, both the director and producer of the film, experimented with different techniques before filming. This enabled her to create a fast-paced productive environment on set, allowing her to get all the shots she set out for in a skilled and quick manner.

“I enjoyed directing my actors in their accent. The lingos were so different that it was a learning experience to get out of my comfort zone, learn a different style of talking and build emotions out of that. It helped to broaden my horizon and work on building varied layers to the characters,” Bajaj described.

Bekah is just one of many films that Bajaj has put her winning touch on. She is a formidable director and producer, and one that audiences can expect to continue hearing about for years to come.

Alon Juwal’s Sci-Fi Film “Visitors” Keeps Viewers on the Edge of Their Seats

"Visitors" Alon Juwal
Film Poster for Alon Juwal’s Film “Visitors”

Last year producer Alon Juwal wrote, directed and produced the riveting dramatic sci-fi film Visitors, which has been gaining traction with audiences and festivals across the U.S. since its release at the tail end of 2016.

Starring Kei’la Ryan (Bad Friends & Family, Kingdom, Night Crawlers) as Kaleigh, Nick Unger (Front Seat Chronicles, Phil of the Future) as her brother Cole, and Tim Juliano as their father, Visitors follows two siblings who return home to their estranged father’s house after a long absence, only to find their home being invaded by a group of uninvited visitors from another world as the night progresses.

As the producer of the film, Juwal’s ability to bring together a talented cast and crew, execute the business side of things, such as raising the necessary funding to actually make the project happen, as well as overseeing all aspects of the production from pre to post were integral to the success Visitors has achieved since its release.

Garnering extensive attention across the country, Visitors earned Juwal the Best Director of a Sci-Fi Short Award at New York City International Film Festival, as well as the Honorable Mention Award from the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival. Visitors was also nominated for awards at several festivals including the USA Film Festival, Vail Film Festival, Phoenix Comic-Con and Newport Beach Film Festival, and was chosen as an Official Selection at the New Hope Film Festival.

“Working with Alon has been an amazing experience… he doesn’t like to waste time, he knows when he has the shot which makes him a great decisive director. Alon is good at what he does because he knows that preparation is key, and you can see it in the way he put the project together,” explains Tom Edwards, Visitors’ aerial cinematographer and behind the scenes videographer.

“Before principle photography he made the time to meet up with his actors and crew members to make sure everyone was comfortable and on the same page. To have a good friend like Alon who is just as passionate as you are, working together to make stories come to life is a real charm.”

Visitors film Alon Juwal
Egor Povolotskiy (left), Alon Juwal & Nick Unger (right) on set of “Visitors” by Majid Alkhatib

Through the powerful combination of the film’s score, specific angles, lighting and purposeful pacing, Juwal does an impeccable job of building the suspense within the story in a way that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.

The long shots of the brother and sister running through the trees at night trying to make it to safety, while neither the characters nor the viewers really know what they are running from, the bright lights beaming down from above creating eerie silhouettes in the forest, but still leaving us unsure of where the light is coming from, and sporadic sounds of their father’s dog barking in distress, are a few of the cinematic devices Juwal employs to heighten the tension within the film.

While all of this was tantamount to nailing the thrilling, otherworldly sci-fi elements, what really makes Visitors such a unique film is the burdensome relationships Juwal paints between the siblings and their father. As the producer/director of the film Juwal remarkably captures the palpable feeling of emotional discontent that exists between Kaleigh, Cole and their father, revealing the years of turmoil that persists within the family with a subtlety that allows the audience to draw their own conclusions. Visitors is proof that Juwal’s style is one that shows rather than tells, a mark of a truly talented and thoughtful filmmaker.

"Visitors" Alon Juwa
(left to right) Kei’la Ryan, Nick Unger, Alon Juwal & Braden Pruss on set of “Visitors” by Polina Krasovicka

Like the work of most producer/directors, Juwal’s personal life experiences have had a strong impact on the stories he chooses to bring to life on screen. Originally from Tel Aviv, Israel, Juwal’s parents separated early on in his childhood; and it is clear to see how his first-hand experience growing up with divorced parents gave him the insight necessary to accurately portray the strained relationship that exists between the children and their father in the film Visitors.

“I spent the majority of time with my mother as I was growing up. Even though I saw my father quite often, we were always pretty distant from one another. The first thing they teach you in film school is to write about what you know, so I always tried to channel these experiences to my work,” explains Juwal.

Juwal’s approach to Visitors is uniquely powerful in that the film includes all of the elements necessary for an entertainingly suspenseful sci-fi film, while also portraying a moving emotional story that touches audiences on a deeper level.

“First and foremost, good cinema must be entertaining. Cinema is a way of escaping from reality, so when we go to the movies, we basically want a break from our boring, every-day lives. We want to be entertained,” admits Juwal. “Personally, when I go to the movies I’m looking for more than that. I want to be moved. A good movie can often stay with me for an entire day, even more.”

A beautifully shot film with a heartfelt message, it’s not at all surprising that producer and director Alon Juwal has received such far-reaching acclaim for Visitors, and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

 

 

Director/Producer Richard Kenyon Embarks on Several New Projects

Richard Kenyon
Director/producer Richard Kenyon shot by Jill Marie Robinson

Some creatives seem to have their hands in so many different projects that we can’t help but wonder if they’ve been blessed with a superhuman gift or discovered a mysterious way to create more hours in the day. The collective work of director/producer Richard Kenyon, which spans the gamut and includes award-winning films, PSAs and high profile theatre productions, is one that begs the question: How does one man accomplish so much?

Earlier this year Kenyon produced, directed and co-wrote the film A Girl’s Guide to Drowning starring Young Artist Award nominee Alexis Rosinsky from the films My Best Friend and The Archer, as well as the Golden Globe Award winning series Modern Family.

A Girl’s Guide to Drowning brings to the screen a story about the drastic manner in which a young woman tries to cope after a painful breakup with her boyfriend. Based on the character of Ophelia from William Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet,” who is as tragic as she is iconic, Kenyon’s newest film is a modern take on a classic play, which he says is, “proof positive that Shakespeare is relevant in the 21st Century.”

The film, which is expected to screen at festivals around the world later this year, is one that Kenyon has wanted to make for many years, but only came to full fruition after a chance meeting with Alexis Rosinsky, who plays the lead character in the film.

Kenyon recalls, “My wife and I were at a dinner party and Alexis performed a monologue from Ophelia and it blew us away. She was 13 years old at the time and I have never witnessed a more natural talent than the way she spoke Shakespearean text. So my wife and I went home and wrote ‘A Girl’s Guide To Drowning’ for Alexis.”

Considering his long-standing passion for Shakespeare’s work, and his ability to craft a story that hits home with modern audiences, A Girl’s Guide to Drowning was the perfect film for Kenyon to direct.

Richard Kenyon
Director Richard Kenyon & Alexis Rosinsky on set of “A Girls Guide to Drowning” photo by Maynrad Brenes

A highly sought after director, Kenyon is also in pre-production with the film Measure for Measure, a feature based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name, which he will be producing and directing. The storyline for the film revolves around a nun who’s propositioned by a high-ranking official and faced with the decision to lose her virginity in order to save the life her brother, or do nothing and keep her chastity intact. With Kenyon behind the wheel, there’s no doubt that Measure for Measure will do justice to Shakespeare’s original play, while also appealing to the palettes of modern audiences.

“To say this film is my opus is really an understatement. I have been around this play for my entire adult life. I saw a production of it at Stratford Canada in 1992 and it hasn’t left my mind. It starred the amazing Colm Feore and a young actress by the name of Elizabeth Marvel-who now both appear in ‘House of Cards’,” explains Kenyon. “Since that day I have directed the play twice and have been in it so I know the power it has in for an audience.”

In addition to Measure for Measure, Kenyon is also busy laying the groundwork for the upcoming film Some Day, a biographical tale about the struggles he personally faced as a child when he and his family moved from England to Canada, which is slated to begin shooting in Canada at the end of the year. If his plate wasn’t full enough already, he will also be directing the upcoming horror film Branded, as well as the film Ice Cream.

A film about the penal system, which focuses on the way seemingly simple decisions are overwhelmingly difficult for prisoners as they try to assimilate back into society after being released from the system, Ice Cream is expected to begin shooting in Barcelona at the end of summer.

“It is unlike anything that I have ever been offered before which was the real attraction. I love being challenged by my work otherwise why do it,” says the director about the upcoming film.

Kenyon’s directing career, which stretches back over the past three decades, first began back home in Canada in the late ‘80s when he directed “The Actor’s Nightmare” performed at the Alberta One Act Play Festival. His love for the theatre and his unparalleled talent as a director eventually lead Kenyon to serve as the artistic director and co-founder of several prestigious theatre companies, including The Shakespeare Company (TSC), Shakespeare in the Mountains and Knights in Waiting.

Over the years Kenyon has directed innumerable iconic plays including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which was performed to sold out audiences during TSC’s inaugural summer season, “Richard the Third,” which received rave reviews for its ingenuity, “Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmond Rostand, and more.

He says, “There is something very unique and exciting when an actor steps onstage and performs. A bond is made with the audience and they aren’t afraid to tell you how they feel. That is thrilling.”

While he’s achieved extensive success as a producer and director in the film world, with his first film Insomniac winning the award for Best Overall Score at the AMPIA Rosie Award as well as being nominated for the Best Editing, Best Cinematography and Best Drama Awards, the theatre is something Kenyon says, “never leaves you.”

This summer he will be directing the production of “Hamlet” produced by the Lovers and Madmen company, which will be performed at several venues throughout Pasadena. He is also directing and producing the upcoming production of  “The Curious Mind of Will Shakespeare,” an immersion show that will take audiences into the exciting world of Shakespeare and is slated to run at the Shakespeare Club Villa of Pasadena on October 26, 27 and 29.

Maynard Brenes, who served as the director of photography on A Girl’s Guide to Drowning, says, “Richard’s theatre background is probably his most valuable asset to directing that he brings to the table day in and day out. Part of the creative puzzle is being able to communicate with talent and having that background is invaluable. His work speaks for itself.”

In addition to his film and theatre work, Richard Kenyon has also made a huge mark in the entertainment industry as the producer and director of several riveting PSAs, such as The Keys, which earned an AMPIA Rosie Award Nomination for Best PSA in 2015, as well as the “Pason Systems” PSA, which earned him an AMPIA Rosie Award Nomination for Best Producer in 2008.

Beyond all this, Kenyon is the creator and radio host of “The Director’s Cut with Rich Kenyon,” an informative series that airs on Kaotic Radio and sheds light on all areas of the film industry.

Driven to create new and enticing work at every turn, Kenyon says “Stagnation is the death of art.”  

Anyone who’s had a glimpse of Kenyon’s work over the years would easily conclude that he is definitely one creative genius who’s never stagnated, and with four new films in the works, it’s doubtable that he ever will!

Director and Producer Ron Grebler talks living his dream and captivating audiences

Ever since Ron Grebler was a child, he knew he wanted to direct for the big and small screen. Growing up in Toronto, Canada, he loved watching movies. He always enjoyed being transported to a new world through a film, with each image impacting his emotions. When he would watch, he felt fully engaged, and knew from early on that he wanted to be a cinematic storyteller. Now, he is a top Director and Producer in Canada.

While working with AXE and “Canada’s MTV’s MuchMusic”, Grebler helped take a revolutionary advertisement to the next level. Promoting AXE Hair Products, Grebler produced and directed a series of branded videos for the network’s “Spring Break Special.” The first of its kind on the network, three segments were seamlessly integrated into the hugely successful special to look like programming, not commercials.

“It was flattering to be chosen to work on a new concept of content with such an entertaining and iconic brand. As a commercial and branded content producer and director, it’s a rare opportunity to be asked to launch a new product for a successful brand. AXE was known for its body sprays and very entertaining commercial spots. When they were launching their first line of hair care products it was hard not to jump at the opportunity,” said Grebler.

What made the project fun for Grebler was the “hidden camera” aspect of the commercial. Part of the videos featured the main talent of the commercial asking vacationers questions about his hair, and the unsuspecting vacationers were unaware they were being filmed. This created a fun energy that was maintained throughout the three videos.

“It’s easy to work with Ron. He genuinely loves the craft of producing and directing and wants to put as much as possible into every commercial. We continually chose Ron because of his reliability, professionalism and his creative style. He was a ‘one stop shop’ for production, and we were confident that the final product would be engaging and of high quality. He has a producer/director’s ‘personality’. He’s creative and quick thinking, clear-headed, and dedicated to crafting the best programming possible with the budgets he’s given,” said Randall Graham, the Creative Director of Brand Partnerships and Commercial Production at Bell Media.

The campaign went on to be a large success for both AXE and MuchMusic. Despite the challenges that arose from shooting in Cancun, Mexico, the most popular Spring Break vacation destination, Grebler rose to the occasion. Without him, the campaign could not have achieved what it did.

“Working with Ron is often a fast paced and well thought out environment. Ron is always determined to exceed the expectations of his clients which often means maximizing every available minute. Being in a foreign country with limited tools at our disposal outside of what we brought allowed Ron and crew to think and operate outside of the box yet maintain high standards of production. Working with Ron is, at its core a job but also a classroom. Ron is a vast vault of production and creative knowledge which he is happy and eager to share. In all my years of knowing Ron, he’s always had the mentality that learning never stops and teaching others is always an available opportunity. Ron is always encouraging, positive and motivational on set which makes the complicated and sometimes unpredictable production days not just manageable but fun as well,” said KJ Fuhrman, the Production Coordinator of the campaign.

Grebler is known for his outstanding and memorable commercials. In addition to the AXE campaign with Much, he recently worked on a group of national  commercials for Belair Direct. The campaign was seen by millions of viewers across Canada and was highly successful for both Belair Direct and Grebler.

“Working on a commercial of this magnitude was a lot like juggling 300 hundred balls at once. There were so many little details, all time-oriented and interconnected, and if one falls, the others fall too. It was crazy but it was fun,” said Grebler. “There’s also that satisfying feeling of turning on the TV and seeing the spot I worked on for 3 months appear on different major networks. It’s also cute when my mom and dad call me to say they saw my spot on TV.”

Working with FUJI, Grebler reached an even bigger audience than Canada, as his advertisements were seen all around the world. Working as the director for the campaign, Grebler created two separate commercials, one for national television, and the other for internet use.

“It was an intense, short project that necessitated a lot of focus and particular attention to detail. I was strongly involved in the pre-production and production design, especially when it came to sourcing props and building sets. I was very hands on because for both the agency and client, the overall look of the set was extremely important. Since the concept included having a hand built craft to be used as a ‘hero’ prop, I specifically chose the artist to construct it and oversaw and approved the construction and color scheme,” said Grebler.

The decisions that Grebler made for the commercials led them to be immensely successful. FUJI then decided to launch the commercials in Japan, and are considering a roll out to other international markets.

Ron brings a fresh creative perspective as well as a lot of focused energy, enthusiasm and organization to every project. He has a depth of experience across many different brand categories and demographics and knows how to make every video unique, visually appealing and successful in its goal. He excels at translating the agency creative and client brief and crafting it into engaging video content that will keep consumers and audiences tuned in … and that’s the whole point of a commercial,” said Rebecca Hamilton, Chief Executive Officer Fish Out of Water Design, the agency that created the commercials.

Grebler’s reputation of being extremely thorough while working extremely quickly make him extremely sought-after not only in Canada, but internationally as well. He is truly exceptional at what he does, and his passion for what he does shows in every project he works on.

You can watch the FUJI commercials here.

 

From Commercials to Film, Director Roberto Escamilla is a Visionary Artist!

Director Roberto Escamilla
Director Roberto Escamilla

Many directors find success directing commercials and/or music videos and choose to stay there throughout their careers; and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that as artists and brands need someone who can direct great commercials and music videos in order to keep their audience engaged. In the same breath though, there are many directors who have chosen to use their experience directing commercials and music videos as a stepping stone into directing narrative films, and Mexican director Roberto Escamilla is one of them.

Since beginning his career many years ago, Escamilla has become known for his work as the director behind a slew of popular commercials and music videos, as well as for his work as the director of the opening sequences for the hit telenovelas “Pasión y Poder” (aka “Passion and Power”) starring Jorge Salinas (“Que Bonito Amor”) and Fernando Colunga (“Soy Tu Dueña”), “Corona De Lágrimas” (aka “Crown of Tears”) starring Victoria Ruffo (“Triunfo del Amor”) and Alejandro Nones (“La Piloto”), and the romantic drama “La Que No Podía Amar” (aka “The One Who Couldn’t Love”) starring Susana González (“La Candidata”) and Anna Brenda Contreras (“Blue Demon”).

Over the years Escamilla’s reputation as a skilled director has spread far beyond Mexico as more and more international audiences have had the opportunity to see his work. In 2015 Escamilla was hired by Mexico-based production company Curiosity Media and award winning advertising agency Y & R to direct the “”Hot Cakes de Película” commercial for leading maple syrup brand Karo. The commercial is modern, funny and so visually enticing that it will make you want to smother your pancakes in Karo’s maple syrup the next chance you get! As the director of the commercial Escamilla definitely nailed the mark.

In 2012 Escamilla gained quite a bit of attention for his work as the director of the promos for the hit Mexican biographical series “El Encanto Del Águila” (aka “The Eagle’s Spell”) starring Carlos Corona from the multi-award winning film “Cantinflas” and Ariel Award nominee Emilio Echevarría from the Oscar Award nominated film “Y Tu Mamá También.” The stunning promotions Escamilla directed for “El Encanto Del Águila” earned the Gold Award of Excellence for Total Package Design at the 2012 PromaxBDA Awards, one of the leading awards events recognizing innovations within the marketing and design industry around the world.

While his work as a commercial and music video director has brought him extensive praise, what drives Escamilla to direct is his passion for delivering stories that touch the audience on an emotional level– those with an impact that lingers longer than what’s possible within the confines of a music video or commercial project, where the end goal is more concerned with sales than delivering a powerful story.

Escamilla admits, “I see cinema as an art medium. Yes people that work on it need to make a living from it, but we need to always remember that this is a profession that allows us to express ourselves and also to deliver a message.”

Even from Escamilla’s early work as a commercial director it’s easy to see his flare for narrative storytelling, so it will come as no surprise to those who know his work that he has progressively moved into directing more and more film projects.

Film poster for "Changes"
Film poster for Roberto Escamilla’s film “Changes”

“Changes,” Escamilla’s latest film, is a coming of age dramedy starring Joshua Furtado from the upcoming film “Charlie, Charlie” (starring Golden Globe nominee Tom Sizemore), Jade Lorna Sullivan (“Simple Lives,” “Camelot”), Chaz Kao (“Lucifer,” “Fall Into Me”) and Danny Parker-Lopes (“Minority Report,” “King Rikki”). Written and directed by Escamilla, “Changes” portraits one boy’s transition into “manhood” on the eve of his 16th birthday.

“I know how important is for a young man to prove himself in front of his friends…. That’s why I wanted to create a film that reflects this and at the same time I wanted to deliver a message about diversity and acceptance,” explains Escamilla about his inspiration for the film.

Under the heavy influence of peer pressure from his friends, the film’s main character Mitchell (played by Furtado) is taken to a brothel where he loses his virginity to a prostitute named Destiny (played by Sullivan), or at least that’s what his friends think. Filled with twists nobody would expect, “Changes” offers as a beautiful insight into the peer pressures of becoming a man, staying true to oneself and the importance of compassion.

Escamilla’s highly anticipated film “Changes” is slated to have its U.S. premiere at the UCLAxFilmFestival in Los Angeles on May 6 where it has been chosen as an Official Selection. The Mexican Consulate in LA will also be screening “Changes” on May 25th.

About the completed film, Escamilla says, “I feel it’s a big accomplish, it looks great, the casting is perfect and the message of love and acceptance it delivers touches me every time I see it…. and I’ve seen how it moves the audience which is the most important thing.”

While Escamilla has undoubtedly made a name for himself as a sought after director in Mexico, his ability to create powerful narrative film stories has clearly struck a chord with audiences around the world; and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!

Director Jan Pavlacky turns harsh conditions into artistic masterpiece

Many people are haunted by the idea of what they should spend their life doing. Finding a career path that pays the bills and makes one truly happy seems almost impossible. Luckily for Jan Pavlacky, a chance job on a film set ignited a dream, and that dream has turned into the reality of becoming an award-winning director.

Pavlacky’s talents are recognized around the world by both colleagues and audiences that see his work. His directing on his film BKA 49-77 received international acclaim and was screened at some of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. His exceptional directing abilities have been appreciated by companies such as Nike when he did a commercial campaign for them, as well as world re-known production companies such as Savage and atSwim. He has excelled in directing commercials, films, and even music videos, including his work on the music video for the Please The Trees song “It’s Not Me.” The music video called for Pavlacky to shoot in difficult conditions during the middle of winter, on the highest mountain in the Czech Republic. When it came time for the shoot, there was a massive snowstorm, and temperatures fell below zero degrees.

We drank a lot of hot tea and mountain rum and wore warm clothes. We were fighting against extremely low visibility but luckily we had several walkie-talkies that we were able to hide in the actors costumes so we I could direct them during the shot. We had the chance to shoot on film stock, which, due to the extreme weather conditions, was the only way how to shoot, since the temperatures were too low for a digital camera,” said Pavlacky. “I love when the conditions are somehow extreme. It makes me somehow more focused towards the one single goal. We were really lucky to have such harsh weather conditions since the weather played a crucial part in the story.”

“It’s Not Me” was Please The Trees’ first music video. Although such extreme weather conditions were not originally part of the plan, Pavlacky used it to add an extra element to the story, thinking it was the best way to show a man finding his soul in the emptiness, which is what the song is about.

Rather than giving up, Jan pushed forward in order to convey the deep subject matter through the visual medium.  The final product ended up being a beautiful piece of art, showcasing gorgeous shots of the white-out conditions.  Since its release, the video has accrued tens of thousands of views and kick-started the successful career of the band,” said Alessio Spinelli of Milk and Honey Pictures, the production company that did the music video. “The band wouldn’t be where they are now if it weren’t for Jan’s incredible work as lead director on that first music video.”

Milk and Honey is a production company that focuses not only on commercials and music videos, but also on feature films and television series. They are one of the biggest production houses in Prague, and have an impressive reputation not just in Pavlacky’s native country of the Czech Republic, but also worldwide.

“Milk and Honey have been in the business for more than 20 years. They’ve produced big Hollywood Blockbusters and countless foreign commercials, and working such an important company was a huge step in my career,” said Pavlacky.

Pavlacky’s impressive work with Milk and Honey goes far past the “It’s Not Me” video. He was also the lead director for multiple Milk and Honey projects including commercials for Theraflu and GS Enerix. The Theraflu commercial was his first experience working on a project for the U.S. market and worldwide renowned digital agency Wunderman.

“Notably working for the US market is always something special and it is a benchmark for many directors in my field, so obviously, the responsibility was huge, and I was extremely happy that the shoot ended up successfully. The collaboration with the New York creative team brought some great ideas into the shoot. I also had a great Director of Photography on board who shot many feature films and together we delivered a great commercial and had an amazing and creative time on the set,” said Pavlacky.

The commercial was shot at many different locations around Prague, creating a visual experience that impressed both Wunderman and the American audience. His work on the GS Enerix commercial also did wonders in the Czech market, airing to thousands of viewers on television. It helped to improve all brand indexes, including brand recognition, purchase intent and sales. With results like this, it is no doubt that Pavlacky’s impact will continue to impress audiences on both the big and small screen for years to come.