Category Archives: Film

Director John Wate lives childhood dream when making ‘Samurai Warrior Queens’

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John Wade, Photo by Roberto Vivancos

Growing up in Berlin and Munich, Germany, John Wate found a passion in Manga comics at a young age. He was intrigued by the style of the Japanese graphic novels and began drawing his own at just ten years of age. Even then he knew he was meant to tell stories, but as he began transitioning away from drawing and into filmmaking, his innate drive to be a storyteller never wavered.

Now, Wate is a renowned director in his home country and abroad. Two of his past films, The Sword of the Samurai and The Samurai Bow, made it for 4 years into the top twenty of National Geographic Channel’s worldwide most popular documentaries. He is known for his unwavering dedication to his craft, and his work on projects like Epic Warrior Women, Samurai Headhunters, and Samurai Warrior Queens, projects that reminded him just why he got into filmmaking in the first place.

“One of the first manga stories I ever wrote when I was a teenager was that of a female samurai kicking ass. When I was sitting in the edit room watching Samurai Warrior Queens chasing inslow motion across a bridge towards the enemy with their blades drawn, I felt as though I was having my teenage wishes fulfilled,” said Wate.

The drama documentary Samurai Warrior Queens tells the real-life story of Samurai woman Takeko Nakano who in 1868 fights for her clans’ independence in a final battle that marks the end of the Samurai era. The legends of the Samurai seem to be an all-male affair; but contrary to popular belief, Samurai women stood their ground in countless battles and castle sieges. Takeko Nakano fights for her clans’ independence in a final battle that marks the end of the Samurai era.

“It is almost unknown that female samurai existed, let alone that they stood on the battlefield. Recent DNA from battlefields found that 30 percent of the sampled bones belonged to female fighters. However, for proud male samurai it was regarded as a shame if you had to rely on women to win your battle, so their presence was hardly ever recorded. The film can give them their place in history,” said Wate. “Takeko’s life provided a great arc and was pretty much a metaphor for the end of the samurai era as a whole. The role of female heroes has not received much attention until recent years, especially in Japan, and the story sheds a very different light on what in the West is often perceived as the general submissive and weak, moon gazing Japanese female persona.”

Wate enjoys strong female characters and had already come across different accounts of strong female samurai and wanted to show what their life was like. Their education, their ability to stand up against the more famous samurai in battle, it was all an intriguing topic that Wate wanted to really dig into.

Extensive background research of local folk tales and chronicles eventually led him to choose the life story of Takeko Nakano. She grew up in Aizu, a proud province in northern Japan where education, etiquette and martial arts were held in high esteem. Her father was a commander in a clan that understood itself as the protector of the Shogun. When the Shogun was threatened by other clans, supplied by Western firepower, the Aizu fought their last battles that eventually ended in the end of the samurai era. Takeko was very talented with the Naginata, a polearm or a samurai blade with a meter-long grip at the end. She was an instructor and took it on herself to recruit other female combatants to charge against the enemy but was eventually killed during the assault by a bullet.

To understand how she lived, how she might have seen her daily duties, why she refused to marry and fight instead, Wate traveled to her home province, went to research local archives, see their castle defenses, and really explore what her life would have been like. He then developed the script, cast the film, and got to shooting.

“I loved showing the world of the samurai, their attitude, ideals of honor and courage from a female perspective. In some ways they had to endure more than their male counterparts. Not only because they were often the pawns in the marriage game, but also because they had to fight and stand in for the actions of their husbands, their clan and the Shogun. I also found it fascinating and horrifying at the same time how they were taught to pursue grace even in death. Female samurai carried a dagger with them at all times once they reached womanhood to defend their honor. If they were in danger to be captured and raped, they would often have to commit suicide and were taught already as teenagers to tie their knees together with their belts, so that their legs would still look graceful after their death,” he described.

The film was distributed worldwide and nominated on the short list for the IMPACT Award, losing to the Academy-Award winning film Lincoln. It aired in the United States on the Smithsonian Network in 2015 where it still plays regularly, and is available to stream currently on various platforms, including Amazon and Hulu.

By Sean Desouza

Producer Gaurang Bhat terrifies audience with horror flick ‘Vengeance’

As a celebrated film producer in his home country of India, for Gaurang Bhat, the most fundamental aspect of his role is simple: storytelling. Every captivating film tells a powerful story, and Bhat never takes on a project unless he believes in the script. He knows that the filmmaking process is a collaboration, and he always makes sure his team has the same goal as he does, to create a great film that entertains the masses, and to tell a great story.

This devotion to his craft is evident on every project he takes on. He has been pivotal to the success of many acclaimed films, including Never Too Late, Sushi Man, Nimbus, and SPARSH: A Leprosy Mission, which has received great praise at many prestigious international film festivals. He also has contributed to popular television shows, including Netflix’s hits Chefs Table Season 6and Street Food Asia as a consultant.

One of Bhat’s first tastes of international success came back in 2015 with his film Vengeance. The horror flick tells the story of four friends who, when a common friend dies in a car accident, decide to go in a house away from the city to film their own eulogies before the funeral. The situation turns dark when a fifth person menaces to kill them.

Vengeance“I always wanted to be part of a horror film. I have been a fan since I was a kid. I wanted to try my hand at a fun slasher movie, but this film has so much more than just gore, blood, and violence. That’s why as soon as Luca Ripamonti completed the script, I knew I was working on the film. This story takes a little bit of a different approach as its more about the creeping human fear of a mysterious masked figure. You rarely see the masked figure in the film. It’s all very grounded and psychological,” said Bhat.

From the moment Bhat began working on Vengeance, everything was smooth sailing. He and his team completed the project with ease. Bhat had a lot of creative inputs on the project. He worked on securing the funds and marketing and was involved in making sure that they completed the film as efficiently as possible, overlooking the whole development and production of the film. Based on the ease of filming, he more than did his job.

“It was a very good experience and it’s always great to work with friends. Luca and I have known each other for the longest time now. We still speak every day discussing films and new projects,” said Bhat.

Bhat’s work in marketing the film made it a tremendous success, as the film was selected for many prestigious film festivals, including Infinity Film Festival, Roma Doc and Visionaria, and the world-renowned Cannes Short Film Corner.

“I am ecstatic that the film was such a success. Not everyone can say that their project has been to Cannes. It’s such an honor. I am delighted beyond words. It’s sure been a long project but we got there, and it was great. It was always a dream to have film at Cannes,” said Bhat.

Needless to say, Bhat is at the top of his game as a producer, constantly creating successful projects that captivate audiences in India and around the world. He spends every day living his dream, and although it wasn’t always an easy road to get to the esteemed point in his career he is at now, he knows that working hard does indeed pay off.

“If you too want to be a producer, just keep working and do whatever odd jobs you get. Keep making connections in the field, keep being productive. You never know when you’ll meet someone who might offer you their next project, sometimes it just depends on luck and being there at the right moment. Also, be nice to everyone and be patient, it’s the most important thing in this industry, I can’t stress enough. When I was young, I might have burned some bridges, but I hope others don’t make the same mistake,” he advised.

 

By John Michaels

Graham Fortin talks passion for editing and working on ‘Roam’

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Graham Fortin, photo by Katrin Braga

Growing up in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Graham Fortin enjoyed putting puzzles together from a young age. He felt a rush when he would connect two pieces together, slowly creating a beautiful picture. As a teen, when he was taking a film class in school that required him to make a match cut of someone opening a cupboard door, he was instantly satisfied. He felt the same thrill from when he would make a puzzle, and he knew in that moment he found his passion in life.

Now, Fortin is an internationally sought-after editor, working on many hit films and television shows. Best known for his work on Viceland’s The Wrestlers and Mister Tachyon, Khalid’s Free Spirit, and the award-winning Pour Retourner that premiered at the iconic Tribeca Film Festival, Fortin has had a tremendous career, living his childhood dream.

Fortin enjoys working on many different types of projects, which is evident when you glance at his resume. Whether working on a hit film or unique passion project, he puts his heart and soul into his work. The 2017 drama Roam is a perfect example of this determination.

Telling the story of one dark night on the road to adulthood, where a teenage boy must choose between his friends and his future, Roam is a passion project of Writer/Director Michael Milardo. Milardo had a very clear vision as to what he wanted and Fortin enjoys that as an editor. If he knows what the director is going for ahead of time, it helps him feel incredibly comfortable signing on, knowing he is in good hands.

“I like Michael’s story, that it reminded me of my own youth. It reminded me of moments where I was peer pressured into being part of the group. I think it’s important to reflect on those moments and consider that maybe you’ve got to fight that even as an adult. It’s easy to just go with the flow in life. Sometimes you’ve got to listen to that inner voice and create some conflict to move forward,” said Fortin.

Fortin heavily related to the story, who had similar teenage years and tapped into that. He remembers roaming the streets as a teenager aimlessly with friends. He wasn’t the alpha male of the group, so he related to Jacob, the main character. At the end of the film, Jacob kind of stands up for himself a bit, or is at least on the road to it, and Fortin used his own experiences to hit those emotional beats.

roam_short_film_bobby_shore“I liked the subject matter of the film. I liked the vulnerability of the main character. The project was well thought out look and style wise, and I had a lot of options in terms of footage, so it was a great puzzle to put together. I’m into films that take place during one night, as I find it’s a cool headspace to be in. The role technology plays in our lives is also part of the story. It takes place in the 90s and you forget what it was like to have to rely on landlines,” said Fortin.

Fortin’s connection to the film ended up touching the hearts of its audience. The project was a Vimeo Staff Pick, and for the editor, it was amazing to see all that hard work pay off. He always hopes that his projects will be a success, but seeing that “Staff Pick” sticker on the corner of the video was an amazing feeling.

“I’m happy to get it out there and hear people enjoy it. Having people connect emotionally with the story is the most important thing. I think people related to the main character and cared about his arc. I’m incredibly proud of the story we told and how it turned out. Sometimes you work on projects that don’t quite connect and this one did,” he said.

Watch Roam here and see Fortin’s heartfelt editing.

 

By John Michaels

Editor Shuo Wang tells impactful LGBTQ story in award-winning documentary

Film is a window for audiences to feel emotions and experiences that they may never have the chance to otherwise. The editor plays a fundamental role in the filmmaking process, the storyteller behind-the-scenes. Whenever Shuo Wang sits in the editing room to begin her work, she feels she is in her own space to create a compelling story. It is her time to express her creativity, where she can explore endless possibilities to captivate audiences all around the world.

As a sought-after editor in her home of China and abroad, Wang knows just how to tell a good story. This is evident with her films like A Mistake, Outlander, Mire, 100 Days Under, and more. She uses editing to entertain and educate her audiences on various concepts and loves every moment of it.

“As an editor, I like to try different possibilities and to see different results. Under my editing, I want to make the individual clips into a live and vivid story. The story may have some life experience, suggestions and principles that could share with the audience and give them inspiration. Every time I am editing different narrative films or documentaries, I also meet different characters and real people with their own stories. I want to use my editing ability and thoughts to make every story look more alive,” she said.

Wang strives to tell impactful stories through her work, which is just what she did with her recent documentary Somewhere Between. This true life story is about a Christian living a double life. On one side, she is a devote Christian, and on the other side, she is homosexual. Her life is battled back and forth, and she continues to find the answers of it. The story is about self-identification and finding the balance between two different sides in one person’s life.

“The interviewee Farrahn is not the only person in this situation that has this confusion about her life. There must be a large group of people in similar situations and might have different struggles in their life. This is an ordinary everyday story that could happen to many people around the world. People who see this story will hopefully feel some encouragement and hope to overcome their struggles and difficulties and become who they want to be,” said Wang.

Wang was there during shooting over the course of two months, understanding Farrahn’s life and how to best tell the story when it came to editing. When it came time to create the first cut of editing, she had a good idea of the interviews and the timeline which made for a seamless editing experience. However, after watching the film, she realized there needed to be more information about her life before the documentary started shooting, and wanted to include information about her childhood that Farrahn described as horrible. Therefore, Wang added b-rolls and included more of Farrahn’s internal struggles and changes. B-rolls are the cutaway shots that play an important role in any documentary. After the second cut, she decided to add a scene of the interviewee singing, to allow audiences to truly understand the emotion behind the story. Her editing played a fundamental role in the shaping of the story.

“As the editor in this project, I am the visual storyteller and kind of the second writer to create a live and vivid story. Sometimes, I am more familiar with the footage than the director. Therefore, under most circumstances, I have the accurate ability and observation to make decisions about shot choices. And also, as the editor, I have the ability to find a unique story through all the footage I received and put all useful clips together to create the story in a visual way,” she said.

Somewhere Between premiered early 2019, and has since gone on to win several awards, including Best Documentary Short at the London Independent Film Awards and an Official Selection at the Oceanside International Film Festival. Wang is thrilled for the success of the film, but the greatest reward for the editor comes from sharing such an important story with audiences around the world.

“Although it is a sad and heartbreaking story from the perspective of an outsider, it is also a story that shows how she struggles and tries to find herself from the perspective of the interviewee. As an editor, I consider myself a visual storyteller behind the scenes. Making this documentary is not only about getting awards, but more importantly, this emotional story could have a positive influence on those people who see it,” she concluded.

 

By John Michaels

Five Feet Apart is Ideal for Dianshuo Zhang

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It used to be that the look of a film was credited almost entirely to the cinematographer. While it’s most certainly true that the artists of this profession are among the most talented in connecting visual aesthetics with the emotional content of a story, there is no denying that in modern filmmaking they also share this with the VFX department. VFX Compositor Dianshuo Zhang has worked on numerous award winning and nominated productions such as CBS’s Primetime Emmy nominated The Good Fight, FX’s Fosse/Verdon (eleven Primetime Emmy Nominations), and others. Her work on the CBS Feature Film Five Feet Apart helped to create some of the most touching and sweet moments of this film. The film has already acquired a huge fanbase in the teen market with a slew of nominations at the Teen Choice awards and a WW Box Office Gross in excess of $80 Million.

 

Director Justin Baldoni (writer/creator of the award-winning documentary My Last Days) knows how to engage young audiences. He cast Haley Lu Richardson as Stella Grant (Jane the Virgin, M. Night Shymalan’s Split, Golden Globe Nominated Edge of Seventeen) Cole Sprouse as Will Newman (Riverdale, Friends, Adam Sandler’s Big Daddy) in the lead roles of Five Feet Apart for their unique chemistry. The story might be described as a modern day medical Romeo and Juliet. The two teens must be kept apart as a result of their potential cross infection; Stella has cystic fibrosis and Will has a dangerous bacterial lung infection. Their love story involves rebuking authority (even though well intended) to pursue some real life experiences. Their story is heart wrenching and ultimately bittersweet.

 

Many of the romantic moments for the two main characters were augmented by Dianshuo’s work. When the teens scape the hospital to make their way to the Christmas lights in a neighboring small town, the picturesque scene of blue sky, lake, and small bridge appear courtesy of Zhang’s matte painting. The detail is impressive, right down to the ice texture on the lake and the color correction. She illuminates regarding the unobvious high tech aspect stating, “This shot was outside a parking lot surrounded with some houses, green trees, and mountains in the background. I used 3D tracking to create a camera in order to add the matte painting in different depths. When the camera moves, you could see the parallax between objects. The 3D tracking also created a PointCloud, so I could see where the ground, the houses, the trees, and the background are, etc. I put each layer of the matte painting, such as winter trees, snow on the houses and ground, and holiday lights, on a card to the shot and matched the correct position according to the PointCloud. I also animated the holiday lights blinking in distance in order to give the background some life. In this way, I turned this spring shot into winter.” It’s not an exaggeration to state that the skill of Dianshuo contributes massively to both the appearance of the film and its production budget.

 

While she doesn’t always get to attend the premiers or screenings of the films she works on, Zhang notes that viewing Five Feet Apart with an audience was special for her. She relates, “It’s always exciting to watch your work on a big screen. It’s an honor to work with so many talented artists and see what we can create together. Attending the screening of this film, I was so happy to overhear some audience members profess their amazement that the scenes were VFX; that’s the highest compliment I can receive.”

Canada’s Michael Shlafman talks importance of music in documentaries

Always a musician, Canada’s Michael Shlafman found himself drawn into the world of composing and orchestrating for film and television because of its limitless possibilities. There are almost no creative boundaries when working in the medium outside of what is dictated by the needs of the project. He can go from working on a score that features a jazz trio one day to a symphony orchestra the next, and that is what excites him; he simply aims to make authentic and sincere music, with endless flexibility and an eagerness and willingness to always be learning and growing.

“I like to think that my style of composing is whatever it needs to be for a given project – after all, that’s what I love so much about working in this medium in the first place. Though I really love to write music that combines traditional acoustic instruments with electronic elements such as recorded and manipulated sound effects, synthesizers, etc. into a hybrid sound that blends sound design with more traditional styles of music,” he said.

Throughout his esteemed career, Shlafman has become an internationally sought-after composer and orchestrator. Millions around the world have heard his work, whether in the multi-million dollar movie Pet Sematary (orchestrator) or the television shows LARPs: The Series (composer) and Best. Worst. Weekend. Ever. (additional music). He has also worked on several acclaimed documentaries, like La Guerra, My Indiana Muse, Botero, and more, knowing just how music can enhance the genre though it needs to be done with a little more care and respect than may be required for a fictional story.

“I think there’s a really interesting distinction to be made between working on documentaries versus working in fiction, especially regarding the music. For starters, documentaries are real. They’re about real people/events, and as such they require a slightly different treatment that is perhaps more careful and respectful. When you’re working on a movie based on a fictional story, of course you still need to be tasteful and respectful, but the characters in the film are never going to watch it. I feel that there’s a lot of pressure to do right by the subjects of a documentary, as there should be. You can’t just throw any music over some painful moment of someone’s life that was caught on camera as though it were a soap opera, it needs to be handled delicately,” said Shlafman.

Music can be a very manipulative tool in documentaries if not used responsibly, and Shlafman always makes sure to do the film’s subject justice when he works. Music changes how an audience reacts emotionally to a piece of film, and for a documentary, where the filmmaker’s job is to present fact and truth as cleanly as possible, music can sometimes be too leading. Shlafman makes sure not to taint the story through the music and does his best to help the director present a perspective as unbiased as possible.

“Music can also really help with the pacing of documentaries. No matter how interesting the subject is, sitting through over an hour of interviews or ‘talking heads’ can get tiresome, and music can help make it feel faster,” he said

David Bertok’s score for Botero, which Shlafman orchestrated,is a perfect example of how a score can set the pace of a documentary. The film is a poetic documentary profile of Colombian artist Fernando Botero and provides a behind-the-scenes chronicle of the life and art of this painter and sculptor – the world’s most recognized living artist.

“I wanted to work on Botero because it’s a very engaging and thrilling story about a world-renowned artist, Fernando Botero. I think it’s important to share these stories so that they’re not forgotten and so that their legacy lives on,” he said.

As an orchestrator on the film, Shlafman played a pivotal role in the post-production process. When a composer creates a mockup on a computer, it is designed to sound as convincing and realistic as possible. The issue then lies in translating that data to a piece of paper that a musician can perform from and achieving a better version of the intended sound through the use of professional musicians with decades of experience. That translation is at the crux of what an orchestrator does, and his role with this project was to help take the data from the mockups and create scores that could be read by the musicians, fulfilling the composer’s vision of the score. In the end, they had a live string orchestra, and with Shlafman’s dedicated work, it turned out beautifully.

These thoughts were echoed by critics, as Botero went on to win several awards at festivals all around the world. Shlafman is proud to have been part of the film, especially one that tells the story of such an iconic artist.

“It’s always a good feeling to know that something you worked on was successful, and even more so when you really believe in the importance of the story. I think it’s important to honor great artists, and this is an excellent way to help preserve Botero’s legacy,” he concluded.

 

By John Michaels
Photo by Erin Ramirez

Cinematographer Omer Lotan recalls creating award-winning drama ‘Remains’

When Omer Lotan first began pursuing filmmaking, he thought he wanted to be a director. At the time, he was new to the industry and was not aware of the many positions, so directing seemed like the obvious choice. However, he soon discovered a love for cinematography, and he knew that was his destiny.

“I learned to understand that from all the positions on a film set, this would be the most interesting, challenging and rewarding one, since the look and feel of the film is truly in your hands. I found out how much I could learn about original cinematic ideas from working together with a range of talented directors,” he said.

Lotan was right to trust his instincts and pursue cinematography, and he is now at the forefront of his industry in his home country of Israel. Having worked on many acclaimed projects, from the films Thunder From the Sea and Last Round, to the hit music videos “Time to Wake Up” by Hadag Nahash and “Childhood and the Big City” by Ivri Lider, to the viral commercial for Viber, Lotan has shown audiences everywhere that he is a master at his craft on whatever the platform.

One of Lotan’s first taste of international success came back in 2013 with the film Remains, which tells the story of Itamar and Thomas, who share a bed, walls, an apartment and electricity bills. Thomas commands, manages, and criticizes; Itamar is silent and listens. In the face of the couple’s confinement and the abysmal feeling of suffocation, and in the face of the power struggle that permeates their daily conversations, Itamar is forced to take action – an action that briefly allows him to feel things through the body, through the concrete world. The story was influenced by Writer and Director Yotam Ben-David’s personal experiences.

“Power, domination and oppression are in the heart of the story, and I found it very interesting to understand how to translate these topics into a cinematic language. I think the film has elements, which everyone can relate to and be moved by, and since I personally know Yotam well, it was even more interesting for me to take part in his very personal and emotional film,” said Lotan.

When working on Remains, Lotan knew he had to come up with creative ideas and search for original ways to bring his and the director’s vision to life. The director wanted the intimate film to have an epic ambience, which is why they decided to have a lot of wide shots, as well as many camera movements. The camera work and the lighting, with the long wide shots, the dark and contrasted interiors, as well as the quiet urban night shots, enhance the main emotions of the film. Lotan used the architecture of the urban areas and the apartment’s spaces to tell the story and describe the character’s feelings, feelings that create a tension and sometimes might even be uncomfortable to watch.

“Both Yotam and I share similar aesthetic visions, and our previous collaborations led to a deep creative dialogue throughout our work together. He is very clever and original with his cinematic approach, which always encourages me to bring creative ideas to the table as well,” said Lotan.

Remains had an impressive festival run. It was screened and competed at various film festivals in Israel and around the world and won the Best Short Film Award at the Evolution Mallorca International Film Festival, as well as Best Short Narrative Film Prize at the Jerusalem Film Festival, none of which could have been achieved without Lotan behind the camera.

“After screenings of the film I received a lot of positive feedback about the visual impression left by my work. It is always exciting to be complimented for your work, especially when these kind words are coming from a variety of audiences from around the world,” said Lotan.

So, what’s next for Lotan? The upcoming documentary Homeboys is set to premiere next year. He travelled to Uganda to film the musical-documentary that follows Samuel and Isaac, South-Sudanese teenagers deported from Israel who dream about being musicians. Be sure to keep an eye out for it.

 

By John Michaels

Producer Katy Lopes’ Brilliant, Engrossing ‘Inner Self’

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By Jeff Monroe

Producer Katy Lopes has enjoyed significant professional success thanks to an extraordinary methodology, one that mixes her precisely ordered grasp on big picture logistics with a soulful, artistic need to explore and express the depth and nuance of the oft troubled human condition.

It’s a knock out combination which lends each of her productions a distinctive flair and appeal, and her current project, the engrossing film Inner Self perfectly crystalizes the Brazilian-born Lopes’ remarkable skills. An emotional tour de force, Inner Self is a passion project, one which her entire life has steadily built up to.

I was born and raised in Sao Paulo and grew up in a family with a strong artistic side,” Lopes said. “My mom was a theater actress and my dad worked as a music manager. When I was 11, my mom signed me up to acting school, where I spent seven years doing theater and also helping her manage entertainment events.”

Lopes grew up in the middle of a rich creative milieu, experiencing both sides of that world by acting onstage and organizing details in the back of the house. She quickly realized where her interests lay.

“I figured out that my passion was actually behind the scenes,” she said. “I was always fascinated by the production side.”

Lopes was just 18 but she plunged into professional life with full grown zeal.

“I decided to do my BFA in Radio and Television Broadcast,” she said. “I also started working in the industry, producing for ‘Panico na TV,’ one of Brazil’s most famous comedy TV shows. I had the most amazing and great experience of my life, in terms of professional and personal growth.”

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The ambitious Lopes was balancing studies at Sao Paulo’s distinguished Universidade Anhembi Morumbi with her work on the series—and both proved invaluable.

“The great college I went to made me a better professional” she said. “But the best training I had was working and living the reality at ‘Panico na TV’ which taught me a lot of things about how to be a producer and also how not to be.”

Lopes’ acutely discerning perspective allowed her to gain critical knowledge at an accelerated pace, one which her professional career path easily matched; she relocated to Southern California where she earned a certificate in producing at the prestigious New York Film Academy.

With her degree in hand and based in the film epicenter, Lopes quickly began to establish herself as a force to be reckoned with. She produced a series of arresting short films (‘Blurred,’ ‘Blades,’ ‘Incomplete,’ ‘UnHappy,’ ‘Misfit’s Prick’), handily accomplishing everything from story and script development to budgeting, scheduling, location scouting and securing locations—the always demanding check list of requisite elements at which Lopes’ excels.

All of this led up to her most ambitious project to date, the altogether extraordinary ‘Inner Self,’ a film focused on an unusual and compelling subject—depression.

“Inner Self was an experimental project that inspired me,” Lopes said. “As the producer of this film, I want to depict the naked day-to-day truth of a young girl who suffers from severe depression.”

Lopes’ deftly handled examination of such raw psychological realities shrewdly mixes emotional subtlety and societal insight.

“Today’s social media generation ends up making it very difficult to identify depression as a disease,” she said. “The social mask teenagers wear also masks the problem, because they may show us a happy person with a happy life, but the problem is hidden inside, and they end up in a deep black hole of their inner, unrevealed self.”

Lopes aimed—and succeeded—in raising awareness and aiding the cause of suicide prevention with the engrossing production and the remarkable contributions of her marvelous star player.

“I was blessed to find an amazing and extremely talented young actress, Ester Vasquez,” Lopes said. “She brought so much life and value to this film and, in addition, she wrote a song especially for Sara, her character, who is a young musician that is trying to live her life with the disease.”

The actress was equally impressed with her producer. “Katy is a great producer because she is passionate and persistant,” Vasquez said. “she knows what she wants to achieve, has excellent pre-production organization She and smpathizes with her crew. By istening and treating everyone with respect, she makes us give the best of ourselves. Katy allowed me to freely explore my character while the camera was rolling—she let me improvise a song in the middle of the shoot! She truly values the people she’s working with.”

Lopes with Ester Vasquez

Lopes with Ester Vasquez

‘Inner Self’ is currently making the rounds of the festival circuit and has just been recognized as a semi- finalist at the prestigious Los Angeles Cine Fest.

“It’s been well received and people are very touched by the movie,” Lopes said. “After all, 99% of the population have someone close who suffers from depression or suicidal thoughts. As a producer and filmmaker, I feel completely responsible to try to influence this generation for the better.”

‘Inner Self’ epitomizes Lopes’ signature combination of prescient professionalism and socially conscious creativity, defining attributes with which she will continue to deliver even more significant creative contributions.

Producer and Director Yuanhao Du dives into mother/son relationships in new film

Filmmaking, for Yuanhao Du, is magic; it is the ability to turn the impossible, possible. As an industry leading producer and director, Du is an extraordinary magician. His ability to take words on a page and turn them into a beautiful cinematic production is unparalleled, and as his name continues to become more and more recognized around the world, his passion for what he does only intensifies.

Throughout his esteemed career, this Chinese native has continuously impressed international audiences with his work. Award-winning films like Patrick, On the Other Side, Off to Care, and more encapsulate what a talent Du is, often working as both producer and director for a single project, taking on a vast amount of responsibility to ensure each and every film he works on is a roaring success.

Du’s acclaimed hit A Mother’s Love is just another example of what this filmmaker is capable of. The film is about a young man and his control freak mother after she discovers the son’s one-night stand died on his bed. Together, they have to find a way to fix this catastrophic problem. The story dives into deep-rooted themes like responsibility and, of course, a mother’s love.

“I guess some people have those types of moms who always try to help you do everything and make all decisions for you. We love that but we also don’t like it. We enjoy doing things without taking any responsibilities, but at the same time, we also hate to be controlled by other people. If you want to control your own life, you have to take responsibility for yourself. We can’t run away from that, no matter what,” said Du. “All parents love their children. They would do anything to protect their kids from anything. However, if parents do that too often, it will cause their kids to become either spoiled or weak. Both of these things are not good for them when they grow up. So, parents accept the truth that eventually kids will have to take responsibility for themselves. This film explores that notion.”

Once Du found the script, he took the time to find the perfect team. He had already done the extensive preparations necessary to turn the script into a film, planning the shot list, storyboard, and researching the themes in other films and literature. Once he had that completed, finding his crew was seamless, as he knew just what to ask of each and every individual.

“I enjoyed the tension that we created. We challenged ourselves and pushed ourselves to be better filmmakers. I love creating a story and being part of story development, but this time I just got a final draft script. It’s quite interesting because as director I need to respect the script and also put my ideas, my point of view into it as that helps make a good movie,” he said.

A Mother’s Love premiered last year, and has recently started making its way to several renowned film festivals. It was an Official Selection at both the Jersey City Popup Film Festival and The Brightside Film Festival 2019, a Finalist at the ONIROS Film Awards and a Semi-Finalist at the Utah Film Festival. Although Du led the team, he remains humble in the wake of the film’s continued success.

“The biggest success is that everyone in my team knows each other well and that is the cornerstone of the whole production. Those experiments when preparing and shooting this project became a valuable resource for me when making even bigger projects in the future. At the same time, this project tested my limitations. It’s a good example to measure my directing and producing abilities,” he said.

A Mother’s Love shows the commitment and talent Du brings to every project he takes on, two fundamental aspects of filmmaking. He directs and produces because he loves it, and he knows that is the key to his success.

“If you just want to be famous, don’t become a filmmaker. There are many things you’ll need to do, and you always need to be ready for the coming challenge. Directing is not just a job, but also a big part of your life. You need to learn how to get those inspirations from your daily life and be ready for suffering when you don’t have inspirations. Your inspirations will come from your life, just be patient and pay attention to the little things. Learn everything you can about film, and always be a student to learn from every filmmaker you work with. Don`t be afraid to ask questions. Filmmaking is teamwork. Nobody really works for you; they work with you. Be nice to everyone, but also be strong as a leader,” he advised.

 

By John Michaels

Lucia Wang’s Free Ride

Free Ride

Audiences love a well-written story with twisting plots. These films are the result of layers upon layers of professionals both in front of and behind the camera. The path from the set to the silver screen is as complex as the actions and motives on screen. One of the professionals who gains the first glimpse to what “will be” is the on-set editor. Ziyang “Lucia” Wang was both editor and the on-set editor for the recently released comedy/crime film Free Ride. The fast pace of the film and its frequent use of VFX kept Wang on the edge of her seat in a manner similar to fans of this film. Even though it has barely had time to appear, Free Ride has already received awards from the Los Angeles Film Festival (Best Indie Short), the CineCina Film Festival, and the Transparent Film Festival (Best Comedy). Though not yet in wide release, Lucia offers an inside peek to the process of making this acclaimed film.

Free Ride is the type of film in which leaves you constantly guessing about who is the real danger. While transporting three dangerous mental patients to another state, the van driver loses one of them. During his search, he encounters a thief who is eluding the authorities. When the criminal offers the driver a cut off his loot, the actions and intentions of all involved parties becomes convoluted and suspect. Hot pursuit, questionable allegiances, and the X-factor of mental patients culminates in both nervous anticipation and hilarity.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the story is its constantly twisting and uncertain direction, by design. “What’s going to happen next?” is the sign of good writing and good execution in a film. This requires an incredible amount of planning and Ziyang was a part of this from the earliest of preproduction meetings. From storyboard layout to final presentation, her editing expertise was a major benefit for director Yi Qu in achieving her vision for this film. The tone of the story could be described as a sarcastic black comedy influenced by No Country for Old Men and Hell or High Water. There’s a palpable undertone which alludes to the human condition of always wanting more contributing to one’s downfall. Ziyang relates, “Free Ride is not only a tense movie but has a lot of craziness and cynical perspective to it. As a road film, it contains a lot of location changes that we needed to cover in a short amount of time. Our director was very worried about this during the pre-production but I showed her some short clips to convince her that in the world of editing, we don’t have to show every line, every sentence, and every second; jump shots work perfectly, especially in a comedic piece.” This approach is perfectly displayed when the criminal first jumps into the van. Lines of dialogue overlap and the back & forth editing perfectly complements this frantic moment. The silence that follows delivered by the punchline of the driver asking the robber to buckle his seat belt is even more gratifying because of this. Yi Qu’s confidence in Wang’s editing was so great that she even conducted a reshoot based on the editor’s input. Ziyang states, “In the original version of there is a scene in which the driver decides to strike the criminal with a taser. I felt there was a lack of drama for this peak moment in the story. I asked for a separate insert shot of the taser hidden under the driver’s seat as a POV shot. I cut it in this way: the driver hops off the van, looks down, and cut to the taser to highlight it as an important prop. Then I cut back to the driver looking up with this taser already in his hand…and now the audience knows what he’s going to do. Subtle tweaks like this are important and this shot totally increased the tension.”

In a variety of ways, Ziyang Wang proves that she’s not there simply to cut what others imagine but to reimagine ways of helping their vision be achieved. She’s not clairvoyant, she’s an editor. As a professional who is focused on making the work of others looking better, Ziyang is creating a reputation that will see much more work heading her way.