Category Archives: Director

LA MEETS CHINA IN DIRECTOR RACHEL ZHOU’S LOS ANGELES KIDNAPPING

China not only possesses an acclaimed and burgeoning film industry but also a huge number of movie goers and cinema fans who greatly contribute to a film’s international box office. There’s a good reason that you see many Chinese names in the credits of Hollywood films these days as well as an increasing number of the country’s talent appearing alongside Hollywood marquee names. The relationship between these film industries has been mutually beneficial artistically and financially. A key ingredient in this scenario is the ability of at least some of the professionals to communicate in both languages (sometimes multiple languages) whether in front of the camera or behind it. Rachel Zhou is a Chinese director well versed in American film. She has found herself working on numerous productions due to her talent and her command of both languages. Communication is key for a director when speaking with the actors, cinematographers, and other members of the film crew. It’s even more so when the same vision must be communicated clearly to a cast and crew who do not share the same native tongue. The China-US production Los Angeles Kidnapping enlisted her as a director due to their need of cross cultural assuredness in both the storyline and the performance of the off camera crew.

The occurrence of US/China film productions is becoming increasingly more prevalent. Directors who are both talented and at ease in communicating in both languages (Rachel speaks four languages) make them even more attractive these days. Zhou believes that the communication involved in a film production transcends even the spoken. Her goal is to have her team work together culturally and spiritually. Directing more than the film, she feels that it is her job to create a positivity, a sense of calm and confidence that permeates the very air of the working environment to sync the minds of all involved. Even though she possesses more than the appropriate verbal skills needed for all on her team, it’s Rachel contention that once she creates this “vibe” on set, everyone understands and anticipates the needs of the work.

Los Angeles Kidnapping is a Chinese story taking place in the US but the theme is universal. Through the experiences of Delger (played by Siyu Lu) the audience is asked the question, to what ends will one spend their life fixated on revenge. Motivated by avenging his brother’s death, Delger follows clues about the murder to Los Angles. As a graduate of the police academy, he both understands the law and is willing to work outside it as a result of his anger. Working undercover as an Uber driver in LA, he continues his investigation. When a friend of a friend is kidnapped by mobsters, Delger is enlisted to aid in the rescue. The experience and a surprising plot twist at the end of the story cause this protagonist to question whether a life solely focused on vengeance is one he is willing to live.

While the list of Zhou’s directing credits is extensive, her work on action films was not, prior to Los Angeles Kidnapping. She fully embraced the idea of the different approach required for the genre. Taking great care to design and discuss the film’s many action sequences with stunt coordinators for entertaining action designers, Rachel’s cast underwent extensive training for them film. While storylines of a more emotional nature are centered around the actors, action films present the action as a character in themselves. This includes crew members and professionals who specialize in the genre such as stunt coordinators, drone operators, traffic controllers etc. The film also gave Rachel a chance to use one of her favorite tools as she describes, “I’m into Steadicam shots a lot. When I direct an action/crime/drama, especially actions scenes, I prefer to go with Steadicam shots. Steadicam is a novel way to shoot a scene as it isolates the movement of the camera operator from the camera. Stabilizing mechanisms counter the movements of the camera operator to eliminate the inevitable imperfections present in handheld shooting. These work in an extremely powerful way since the Steadicam shots, compared to handheld shots, give a stronger sense of subjectivity with steady movements. The audience finds it easy to become engaged in the setup.”

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Los Angeles Kidnapping garnered a plethora of awards at such prestigious events as the London Independent Film Awards (2017), Miami Independent Film Festival (2017), Hollywood International Cine Fest (2017), Los Angeles Film Awards, and received an astounding 1.94 Million views on Iqiyi.com (China’s version of Netflix) which announced Zhou as an action director. Los Angeles Kidnapping’s producer Cleo Zou has an acclaimed career in China as a producer, working with the country’s most respected and successful stars like Jackie Chan. Cleo declares, “With Rachel on the set, I never had to worry about the shoot because she is such a highly-productive artist. She`s talented, smart, hardworking and humorous. She always knows what she wants and how to get it. We all love working with her. She possesses that ease of working with professionals from both cultures which enables everyone involved to relax and enjoy the process, which is when artists are able to deliver their very best.” It’s this tone that Rachel always strives for, in both big and little ways. She reveals, “Everyone works very hard on a film set. I feel it’s important for us to not only support each other but to lift the spirits of one another. I think there is always time to make it fun. When we were shooting a conversation scene in an alley for Los Angeles Kidnapping, the art department was asked to make wanted posters to place on the walls. Because those posters are never in focus, they made ones that said “Wanted, Giraffe” & “Wanted Dinosaur”, etc. It was a tight shoot that day but the funny posters made all of us laugh. It’s not only the little things that the audience appreciates but also the little things the professionals making the film like.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.