Category Archives: international Talent

MACBETH’S MODERN COOL LOOK, COURTESY OF AWARD-WINNER JANE JOHNSTON

Only the brave (sometimes the foolish) fear to tread upon the hallowed ground known as Shakespeare. For centuries the works of the playwright have been treated as gospel for actors and all those involved in their production. Their rhythm and essence of these storylines have been the base and inspiration for much of modern cinema and theater. While the stories have been retold in their basic original form in film, on seldom occasion they have been reimagined. Such was the case with Geoffrey Wright’s Macbeth starring Sam Worthington in the title role, produced exactly 400 years (to the year) from what is considered the play’s original premier. Set in modern day Melbourne, this Australian production of Macbeth is a gangland interpretation. In a congruent fashion, Worthington (as Macbeth) is convinced by his drug addled wife to seize his destiny and assume power by killing his close friend Duncan, setting into play a domino effect of tragic events. This modern interpretation of a classic called for slick cars and suits while also wanting to give a nod to Scottish themes and touches of a more historic Macbeth. The film’s design has pops of color throughout the tones of greys and blacks. Once he became King, Macbeth owns his look donning color and texture. By the end of the film he is battling for his life in a more military garb. When a tale is as well-known and loved as Macbeth, the audience knows what to expect, just not the accent it will be presented with. It was paramount for this presentation of Macbeth to visually be set apart and above all others. To great means this was achieved through the talent and artistry of costume designer Jane Johnston. She readily admits to being terrified going into the production but her plan was to bite off small chunks and manage these bite sized pieces. The plan worked to the delight of Johnston, the filmmakers, the audience, and critics. The film’s director Geoffrey Wright professes, “I very purposefully sought out Jane Johnston to create the costumes and look of Macbeth. Her resulting vision of combining old world styles with modern fabrics was instrumental to its themes and moods. From a visual-textural point of view it remains the richest and most complex film I’ve directed and I was thrilled by Johnston’s planning, communication, and execution of craft. Johnston’s work was especially impressive in enhancing the character portrayed by the star, Sam Worthington, whose next film was as the lead in the biggest budgeted and most profitable film (up to that time) ever made – ‘Avatar’ by legendary director, James Cameron. Cameron’s company was impressed by Worthington’s impact in Macbeth and Johnston’s work was a critical part of the reason for that assessment. Worthington had never previously looked as good as he did in Macbeth. His elevation to an international star was made certain and Johnston received an AFI award, the highest Australian accolade possible, for her accomplishment.”

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Jane’s very tried and true process involves reading and dissecting the script and coming up with tear-sheets to piece together her thoughts for looks. Meetings with producers, the director, etc. follows as a cohesive form evolves for each character. It’s essential to have conversations with the hair and makeup departments to see what they are thinking. Taking advantage of the city’s location itself, Johnston notes, “Melbourne has some interesting public art and some great locations which I think that added to the production design value but as far as costumes were concerned I think the fact that we were shooting in winter definitely added to the look. Needless to say, we would have made a very different film had we shot in Sydney. Melbourne is also known for its fashion and I tried to use interesting Melbourne designers whenever I could and mix them up with pieces of vintage clothing. There was one particular men’s label called Calibre who were incredibly helpful. I also found some really obscure independent fashion and jewelry makers whose products I incorporated into the designs.” She continues, “I remember sitting in my car outside a bar in Sydney with Sam Worthington ‘doing my pitch’ and hoping that he could see it too. Thankfully he was totally on board and excited by the character. I think it was one of those times that the look and clothes helped the actor feel grounded, and helped them see who they were. I started having fittings and our ideas evolved. Once we felt we had our character, I could develop it further and add certain touches or details to the point where I knew it was right.”

This Film Finance production of Macbeth received six nominations and two wins, one of which was Johnston’s Australian Film Institute (AFI) Award for Best Costume Design. The AFI Award is the highest honor in Australia and a massive achievement for anyone involved in the film industry. Describing the experience, Johnston recalls, “The event went over two nights with the first night being the technicians’ awards, which was our night. The second night was the more glamorous red carpet event where the actors turned up. The experience itself was quite surreal. A lot of people around me felt quite confident for the production designer and myself but you never know. David’s award (David McKay won Best Production Design for Macbeth) was called out first and he made his speech and then costumes were announced and I think I really stopped hearing anything in that moment! I gave my speech and thanked my fabulous team and met David out the back to have our photos taken. Then of course we celebrated! I think that the film overall had a strong impact; it was visual, had a great soundtrack, and it really hadn’t been attempted on this sort of budget before. The production design and the costumes worked really well together and I believe that helps for a film to receive recognition. I put Sam Worthington in a suit and that hadn’t been done before! I also put him in a kilt. I think it was a stylish looking film and it happened to stand out amongst the other films of that year.” Proof that with talent and quality material, you can excite and expose different generations to the most classical of stories.

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Animator and designer Cynthia Larenas talks working with eBay and music legend Egyptian Lover

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Designer and Animator Cynthia Larenas

Despite working all around the world, Cynthia Larenas’ upbringing is very important to her. She was born in Quito Ecuador, and moved to Australia at the age of four. Growing up in Adelaide, she still stuck to her Spanish roots and is completely bilingual. Her heritage is something that she wants to keep alive while travelling for her work.

Larenas is a designer and animator, working for large companies and small businesses to create apps, videos, print designs, and much more. Her extreme versatility lends it hands to many mediums, and she has worked with some of the biggest brands in the world, including eBay.

“I wanted to work at eBay because I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn new things, to challenge myself, and experience working at a large company. I wanted to undertake the rebranding projects because I thought it was a fun and exciting opportunity to produce work that would be seen at such a huge scale,” said Larenas.

As only one of two in-house designers for eBay Australia and New Zealand, Larenas’ responsibilities included rebranding Group Deal, Flash Sale and Fashion Gallery creative, and leading the design of eBay’s fashion Gallery brand towards a more Gen Y demographic. She created eDM design and build, was involved in casting, photo and design direction of external agencies, created promotional material for in-house employee engagement campaigns, and did animation work for eBay’s 2013 Christmas Campaign. Her work was featured on the homepage of eBay Australia and New Zealand every day for a year.

“It was great to work at eBay and I got to learn a lot, particularly what is involved to run and maintain the creative on such a big website. It was also fun seeing what you had worked on up on the website and seeing that the hard work you were doing were converting to sales. It’s been the best place where I have been able to get direct results of my creative,” she said.

While working with eBay, Larenas had the ability to measure her work, test mobile placements, pitch ideas, and challenge herself. For the Fashion Gallery rebranding project, the aim was to attract a more Gen Y audience to the gallery. This meant she got to research and create some fun pieces that brought something different to the eBay site, directly contributing to their sales and growth.

“It was really cool to see. I remember I was subscribed to eBay eDMs before I worked there, and shortly after I started, I received an email as I normally did, however this time I saw my work on there being shared out to me. It was a funny and proud moment in my career,” said Larenas.

Larenas’ work continued to impress with the different companies she worked for. While working as an animator with Electric Studios, she helped on campaigns for Bosistos, Old Spice, and Jack Daniels. She also was a Creative Director, Designer, and Animator for Nectar + Co, and Designer at Imano, where she helped shape Ray-Ban’s app “Never Hide” during that time.

“I love that I get to make things look good and have then opportunity to influence the world around me,” said Larenas.

Continuing with this trend, Larenas worked with the American musician, vocalist, producer and DJ, Egyptian Lover. He was an important part of the L.A. dance music and rap scene in the early 1980s. He is widely known as being ‘The King’ of the Roland-TR 808. For the release of his song “Into the Future”, Larenas and Carl Jiorjio were asked to create an animated music video for it. Jiorjio and Larenas have worked together on a few different promotional animations and music videos for artists in the UK and US, but the most notable was for Egyptian Lover last year.

“Cynthia is one of the most dedicated and hardworking individuals I have worked with. For as long as I have known her she has always been working hard on different projects that have been keeping her busy in the creative industry. What I like most about working with Cynthia is her ability to push herself when it comes to a project, often studying to expand her skill set and knowledge for the greater good of the projects she undertakes. I’ve also admired her fearlessness when it comes to design or animation challenges, always pushing to provide creative and powerful solutions. She is motivated by pressure and never turns down a job because it’s too hard. I have witnessed her time and time again take up challenges, learn new programs and techniques that exceed clients’ expectations. Her all-round knowledge and broad range of skills are rare in the design world these days,” said Jiorjio.

“Having worked all around the world has helped her not only to understand different cultures and approaches, but it has also resulted in her applying a professional and easy to work with ethic. I have never seen her become defeated by a job and have recommended her highly throughout my career,” he continued.

Jiorjio served as creative guidance and did the final editing of the clip. As the two of them were fully responsible for the music video, from concepts to storyboards, to animation and final editing, it meant they had complete creative freedom to explore our imaginations as far as they wanted.

“Working on the Egyptian Lover video was rewarding, challenging, fun and one of my favorite projects to date,” said Larenas. “I love collaborating with musicians or other artists because I get to work with really talented creative people that push me to do better.”

Her tasks involved art direction, storyboarding, compositing, 2D and 3D animation and illustration. Although the video was released only a couple of months ago, it has received an extremely positive response. It already has over 8,500 hits on YouTube and was shown on LA television station Link TV which reaches 33.7 million US homes and 6.7 million regular viewers. None of this could have been possible without Larenas’ dedication to the project.

 “Making this clip for Egyptian Lover was also humbling as he is a pioneer in electronic music, with thousands of adoring fans across the world,” said Larenas. “Although it was a massive task, that spanned over a year, it was extremely rewarding when it was finished.”

Larenas’ extraordinary talent is evident to all those that saw the Egyptian Lover music video, and all of her other work. With such innate talent, there is no doubt as to why she is so respected in the industry, and considered one of the best at what she does.

 

Ask an expert: A “how to” of line producing

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Line Producer Esi Conway

I am Esi Conway, and throughout my years of being a line producer, I have worked hard to become recognized as one of the best at what I do. As a line producer, I build teams who can pull together to make great television shows. I am often one of the first people on the team.  I usually start off with a budget, schedules and deadlines. I then build teams, find locations, and book the crews. Going around the world, I have worked on some of the world’s most well-known television shows, for networks such as MTV, HGTV, BBC, Animal Planet, and more.

To be a successful line producer, you must be organized, disciplined, and have an in-depth knowledge of scheduling and budgeting, as well as an understanding of the technical accepts of TV making. On a day-to-day basis, you plan and schedule to get ahead of the project and forecast the needs of the team. You also trouble shoot any problems that arise. To succeed as a line producer, you need exceptional communication and diplomacy skills about to balance editorial expectations with the financial constraints of the budget. Here are my quick tips to getting into the industry and staying in the industry:

Getting into the industry

When I started out, nepotism was the name of the game. To get a start in the industry, you had to know someone working in TV. I had no such contacts, so I got a friend who studied design to make a cool eye catching resume and cover letter and sent it to every production company listed in the TV directory called “’the knowledge.’ I was given a few weeks work as an office PA, and that’s where I got my break. Thankfully, now there are sites you can go to where they advertise starting positions in TV.

Build relationships with your team

Gain an understanding of what each role does and the challenges they face as this will help you when it comes to problem solving.

Be flexible in your approach to problem solving

Editorial teams are constantly trying to squeeze more out of a budget. Listen to the idea and think is there a way to balance this request with the budget. Ask yourself “where might you be able to save to give them some of their additional requests?”

Be approachable

It is important that you know what’s going on in the project, so it’s important that you are approachable so that people come to you with ideas, issues, progress reports, and everything else.

Stay in contact with contractors

Be the connector person. In this role, it is important to have a great list of contacts with a proven track record in each area so that you can build teams for various projects. Who can pull together to produce hit shows?

Remember the working hours

Filmmaking and television don’t allow for the 9-5, so it is often hard for those with families to maintain their positions at companies. You must be prepared to put in the hours, whether it be the weekend, or holidays to get the project completed.

Take a minute to enjoy the moment

Once you get your foot in the door, it’s important that you maintain your enthusiasm and commitment. As it is a project based industry, you need to maintain your standards so that people want to employ you again. If you can do this, it can be very rewarding. I have worked with some top names in the industry, on television shows watched by millions. Although the hours are long, it doesn’t feel like work as the excitement from the team and the project carry you through. From being on a safari shoot in South Africa, to shooting in the favelas in Brazil, to filming with the Queen in Malaysia, there is never a dull moment.

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.

Photographer Alejandra Sierra brings artistry to everything she shoots

For as long as Alejandra Sierra can remember, she has always been holding a camera in her hands. There was never a moment of doubt about what she wanted to do with her life; she always knew that photography would make her happy. But what makes her luckier than most is that not only does she love what she does, she is extraordinarily good at it.

While being recognized around the world for her talents as a photographer, Sierra has seen tremendous success. She has over 22 thousand followers on Instagram, and her first individual exhibition, “Metalmorphosis” went on to be featured in the leading contemporary art museum, MURA, in her hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico. Her photographs have been seen by hundreds of thousands of readers of various Mexican magazines, and contributed to making the magazine Cream the success it is today. This trend continues in regards to her work with national companies.

“I love photography and I really enjoy product shots, and shooting for national companies allows me to do both,” said Sierra.

Sierra’s work has helped boost many corporations such as La Tequila, Le Garraf, Marisa Pasteleria, Café Barra Café, California Wings and Beer, Cortez, Gaspar, Osaka, Olio Bistro, La Bocha, Ambiderm, Marianka, and Kuu, to name only a few. She was instrumental in providing them with widespread social media exposure, as well as drawing in a growth in sales.

“It makes me really proud to have such big enterprises to like my work, know about it and want their products shot by me,” she said.

One of her more substantial jobs was for the restaurant De La Rosa, and Sierra helped the company revamp their image with her work. For Sierra, the chance to work with a company that gives so many jobs to the people in her country was invaluable.

“It was a humbling experience to know that I was responsible for the pictures of this iconic brand. I shot products I grew up buying as a kid and then portrayed what they represent through a picture,” said Sierra.

Rocío Gómez Michel, the Marketing Manager for De la Rosa, was extremely impressed with Sierra’s work with her brand. She attributes Sierra’s work to the success of the restaurant’s social media, allowing for consumers to feel closer to the brand they grew up with, and they saw a sizable increase in sales as a direct result from Sierra’s photos.

“Given my history as a brand analyst, I know the importance of a good photographer in campaigning and branding an organization. Alejandra’s experience as a photographer, as well as her achievements through her career made her a clear choice to help in the continued success of De la Rosa. Her expertise is an invaluable asset toward the overall success and growth of any organization she becomes involved with, and I can confirm from personal experience that she is largely responsible for much of the success,” said Michel.

Sierra’s work has impacted not only the sales of companies, but also the awareness of many social cause organizations across Mexico. She uses her art to help improve the lives of others in her native country, something that is not only rewarding, but important.

“Telling a story, bringing a cause to life, being able to make a difference is one of the best feelings in the world,” said Sierra. “It makes me really proud. I feel useful and that I´m making a difference through my passion and career. Being able to help doing what I love the most is amazing.”

Of the various social causes she has helped, what was perhaps the most substantial was Sierra’s work with Mi Gran Esperanza (MGE), a widely renowned association dedicated to the eradication and treatment of cancer. Mi Gran Esperanza is a civil association founded 22 years ago that helps to treat and attempt to cure children with cancer. More than 3,000 children and their families, have been helped by the association, and they are one of the most important associations of our kind in Mexico. Mi Gran Esperanza helps with physical, emotional and spiritual health and recovery of low income patients and their families. Each year, they treat around 400 kids mostly from the western side of our country, helping them to overcome their battles.

“Working with MGE was Bittersweet. It was sad, because you never want kids to get cancer, but being able to know that my work was going to help their lives being a little bit better was great. It was an honor to shoot this brave kids and their families,” said Sierra.

Sierra’s photos were featured in the annual calendar that the organization puts out every year to fundraise and provide as a thank you for their donors. The calendar showcases the patients, the installations, the families and what they do. Estela de la Alba Rulfo the CEO of Mi Gran Esperanza, says that they chose Sierra for this project based on her previous work and reputation as an outstanding photographer.

“Alejandra’s leading role as the photographer for our calendar was instrumental in raising money for our organization, and that we required a top tier photographer to complete this task. After working with Alejandra, I am confident that we made the right choice. Thanks to Alejandra’s preeminent skills as a leading photographer, as well as her patience and ability to complete shoots timely, the people felt comfortable, happy and familiar in each shoot. The results were amazing pictures and a truly beautiful calendar. The closeness was such that Alejandra even became a sponsor for one of the girls she felt the most connected with. This encapsulated the desired tone of the calendar, and showcased the impact that the donations have on many of our patients and families. I am wholly grateful to have worked alongside her throughout this project,” said Rulfo.

The calendar has unparalleled success, and sold nearly 10,000 copies. Because of such tremendous success, MGE presented Sierra with a recognition as a thank you for all the work done and the positive results.

“It was great being able to help them and put a smile on their faces,” said Sierra.

Sierra chose the uplifting theme of gratitude for her photos, and showcased the reflection of this emotion from the families, whose medical expenses are entirely covered by donations. After choosing the theme, she had to coordinate the photo shoots. This resulted in a month of organizing and shooting, and dividing what our services include, what did we do with the donations and how the families were thankful for them. Sierra shot the patients, their families and the events, and was ultimately responsible for the majority of the calendar.

“This project has been one of my most valuable lessons in life. Seeing the kids so positive, so brave, and so happy was really inspiring,” she concluded.

Actor Wadih Dona’s Menace and Magnetism Earns International Renown

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Australian actor Wadih Dona’s career has been marked by an impressively steady progression of accomplishments. His natural cache of talent and classic theatrical training has earned him two decades of sustained professional success, not only on stage but also with numerous television and film jobs. Dona’s gift for creating fully realized, believable characterizations have landed him several very high-profile recurring roles on Australia’s top TV shows, but those successes are just a minor aspect of the driven actor’s ambition.

“I am interested in telling stories that resonate on a larger scale,” Dona said. “I have been in TV, film and theatre for many years in Australia, and I am interested in opening up avenues for international work. The US is a market that actors naturally gravitate to, and given my long list of credits, I felt ready to take it on.”

It didn’t take long for Dona to reach this goal. His portrayals utilize an impressive mixture of instinct, stagecraft and soulful, emotional intensity; Dona draws viewers in close, building an emotional bond which he deftly exploits for a powerful artistic impact. It was precisely this quality which led him to his first US film, 2016’s Septembers of Shiraz, playing alongside two of America’s biggest movie stars, Oscar winner Adrien Brody and the acclaimed lead actress Salma Hayek.

The film, a thriller set in 1979 Iran, was somewhat of a passion project for the two stars—both also served as producers—and it combines taut suspense and raw emotion into a compelling whole.

Septembers of Shiraz is an art house film, it’s an intimate family story, not an action blockbuster,” Dona said. “The film is an adaptation of the novel by Dalia Sofer, and is based on real life. It centers on a Jewish-Iranian family, played by Brody and Hayek, who are suddenly faced with persecution when the Iranian Revolution unfolds in 1979. Brody’s character is arrested, tortured and humiliated, and the film closely follows his ordeal and the fortitude he had to have to get through it.”

Dona’s personal background—the actor grew up in numerous European and Middle Eastern countries—and formidable resume of successful performances served him well when it came to Septembers of Shiraz.

“I knew Wayne Blair, the director, as we had worked together in a production of Othello for the most eminent Shakespeare company in Australia,” Dona said. “We had history, were good friends, so he trusted me and my work methodology—and vice versa.”

“He sent me the script, asked me to screen test and told me that the project would be cast out of the US, with Salma Hayek and Adrien Brody attached. Obviously, I did well because I got the part, but Wayne had no final say in the casting so it was good to know that I achieved it on my own merit.”

This was indeed the case, as executive producer Heidi Jo Markel said: “We were looking for an actor with gravitas, who could portray the menace of the Iranian Revolution. We knew we had our guy when we saw his fantastic screen test. Wadih is talented actor with incredible screen presence and the icing on the cake was that he was a pleasure to work with on the shoot.”

To develop his character (Rostam, a member of the infamous Revolutionary Guard) Dona focused on Markel’s watchword: “Menace. Rostam symbolizes the forces of chaos and anarchy within the Revolution,” Dona said. “I was cast because I can access those dark emotions quite easily. As a child I was exposed to civil wars and I knew those kind of men, I saw them—young men who suddenly had power, and they could do what they pleased with that power. When we were on set, carrying weapons and with the period uniforms, I was scared when I saw my own reflection in the mirror!”

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“Adrien Brody and Salma Hayek were both very personally invested in this story,” Dona said. “I had scenes with both, and each was a pleasure to work alongside, but I had more to do, plot wise, with Salma. In one scene, Rostam loots her house and there is an obvious sexual threat as well as one of underlying violence. We rehearsed this scene a few times and kept going deeper emotionally. She went into that dark emotionally territory with me so openly, we built rapport very quickly because of this. She was fantastic to work with—open, accessible and an absolutely gorgeous human being.”

When the film debuted at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival, Dona said, “It premiered there in the biggest cinema in Toronto, the Roy Thompson theatre, with 2,630 people watching. It was massive. I had never seen a cinema that size.”

A complex, thoughtful piece of filmmaking, Septembers of Shiraz was aptly described, by one critic, as “a germane and intelligent observation of the current global political climate in which the world’s ‘have-nots’ are rebelling against the party-political status quo.”

For Dona, it had even more significance. “It was a fantastic, enriching experience,” he said. “Personally, I think we made something quite beautiful and life affirming. And it has helped me leverage myself professionally to do more work. It’s a calling card of sorts for me now—people sit up and listen when I tell what I have done in this film. And, if I had to be selfish, I would say also that shooting a film with one of your friends directing and acting alongside Oscar award winning stars, well, that’s too not bad, either, is it?”

AN AWARD-WINNING FILM ABOUT A MAN WHO NEEDS NO AWARDS: I HEARD THE FLOWERS BLOOMING WHEN I WAS 80

Short film IHFBW80

How do you create a film about an eighty-year old man transporting a piano across town to perform a solo concert? Well, besides having all the creative professionals involved…you hire the amazing producer like Huang Zhe (aka Gigi). With a variety of different types of productions (film, commercials, etc.), Gigi quite simply knows how to maneuver every piece into its perfect place so that the artists can get along with the job of being artists. The most classic of automobiles need the proper propellant to deliver performance and so does every classic production. When director Zhen Pan started off with a rough test shoot, he reached out to Huang and enlisted her help to put the film on track. After reading the script and conferring with Pan (whom she had worked with previously on other productions), Gigi decided to sign on and bring new life to the film. It was a well contrived decision as I Heard the Flowers Blooming When I Was 80 won Best Screenplay in 4th Golden Panda International Short Film Festival and was a finalist in the IndustryBoost Competition. Huang’s ability to reset the course for this production and empower it to such great success is a testament to the fact that a great producer is paramount for filmmakers to achieve their vision.

Writer/director Zhen Pan is often referred to as China’s Wes Anderson. Within his decade long career, he has amassed numerous lauded productions. It was highly important to him that I Heard the Flowers Blooming When I Was 80, matched up to those in his impressive resume. He recalls, “We had a rough testing shoot and it didn’t quite go well. A lot of things went wrong and we just couldn’t figure out a way to make things work the way we needed them to. It was not until Huang Zhe stepped in to become our new producer that we were able to re-start the  project. Not only did she manage to find all the locations that we needed, but she also re-grouped the entire team and kept everyone energetic and focused on creating something that we would be proud of. I couldn’t thank her enough for being the production leader and making everything happen. This film would have been impossible to make and receive the recognition it has been given without Gigi.” Huang is quick to admit that she was able to make use of some prior work, essentially retaining about a third of previous footage. New schedule shoots and permits required quick and accurate designing to get the film in on time and within budget. The film required a consummate professional like Huang to guide it into a proper “landing.”

While the film focuses on one main character, the cast numbers more than thirty and required a sizeable crew. I heard the Flowers Blooming When I was 80 is a heartwarming story of recalling and achieving your dreams. On his 80th birthday, a lonely old man named Larry (played by John S. Boles) meets two children who are doing a school survey on the street. The little boy asks Larry:” What was your dream when you were my age?” This reminds Larry of when he was a little boy and wanted to hold a piano concert. Everyone dissuaded him from the idea as his parents believed his older sister to be a better pianist and more deserving of attention. Everyone ignored the boyhood Larry’s feelings. With the gradual growth of age, little Larry became old and eventually forgot his dream. On his eightieth birthday, Larry spent time alone, as he usually does while his children made excuses to avoid their father’s birthday. Larry suddenly remembers the question that the little boy asked him in the morning,” What was your dream at my age?” and decides to pick up his dream again. Moving his piano from the garage to the center of the small town, he interrupts the lives of the town’s commuters, but he finally achieves his dream of holding a piano concert…in spite of having no audience. The film gives wings to the idea that our dreams are for ourselves and not simply to be pursued for the appreciation of others. The very idea itself is a perfect description of a successful producer’s role. It’s a concept which Huang has thoroughly embraced. Gigi confirms, “The most important thing for me is seeing the stories that I like and love to produce. I was attracted to this production by only seeing the film title, and stepped in as soon as I read the script. I knew the problem was that the film didn’t have a proper plan and schedule. It was also highly important to have a crew which can work well with each other. A talented crew is so important, but the most important thing is keeping a happy filming environment.  Everyone should enjoy what he or she is doing. I decided to regroup the crew for this film, meaning that I found a totally new crew for this production. I started the pre-production earlier this time. Since I prepared early and had good communication with the city, we got the street closure for free…nobody was unhappy about that.”

A seemingly “doomed” production that couldn’t quite get off the ground, I Hear the Flowers Blooming When I was 80 went on to be an award-winning film because Gigi Huang recognized the potential of the story, cast, and crew. Investing her talents with those of this production, it went on to gain the type of notoriety that all its participants hoped for. Gigi comments, “To be honest, I was really happy and felt honored that we won the ‘Best Screenplay’. It might not have gained notoriety or prestige for my career personally but that’s not why I’m a producer. I’m perfectly happy to sit back and know that I was able to achieve exactly what I set out to do and that allowed Zhen Pan and everyone involved to be the artists that they are.” …which is exactly what I heard the Flowers Blooming When I was 80 is all about.

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