Category Archives: international Talent

Video Editor Emeric Le Bars Has Time on His Side

Hollywood’s film community is populated by a host of specialized craftsmen and technicians, with many working behind the camera in unique, separate and distinct fields. These widely varying duties abound in the post-production stage of filmmaking and while many make limited contributions, others have a critical impact on a films audience. The editor is perhaps the single most significant of all post-production talent, with the ability to dictate the feel, pace and emotion of the finished product, and French-born video editor Emeric Le Bars is quickly proving himself as one of the best in the business.

While Le Bars has distinguished himself as an in-demand cutter with a solid reputation thanks to such as editing award winning features Lily’s Light and documentary Live Another Day, numerous episodes of TV series Say Hello, contributions to in-douse content for Smile TV and public television station PBS Socal, numerous freelance editing jobs and his own web series The French Touch. It’s a fast-growing body of work that ensures Le Bars status as a rising up and comer on a natural career path.

“As a youth, I was shooting a lot of small personal movies with friends and family,” Le Bars said. “And I started getting really good at video editing—the passion started there. Then when I went to college, I had classes and internships where I was doing a lot of video editing and camera work. I knew this was what I wanted to do in my life and moved from France to the United-States as soon as I graduated.”

Based in Hollywood, Le Bars keeps busy, thanks to his editing skills but has recently parlayed even more fascinating skill into a new facet of his career—time lapse photography, Time lapse, of course, is the sequential series of photos shot over a long period of time and compressed into a finished product that shows what was originally a gradual piece of action (a flower blooming, a dawn-to-dusk cityscape) at a dramatically accelerated pace. While the process sounds simple, it’s a discipline that requires comprehensive technical knowledge and painstaking attention to the camera’s mechanics to ensure a seamless final effect, and Le Bars is one of the best in the business.

“Time lapse photography is really a mix of photography and video editing,” Le Bars said. “That’s why I love it so much. I have a portfolio of more than 600 clips from all around the world. And time lapse has become a big part of my life—I now specialize in them, shooting for big companies like Skyspace LA, Google, Red Bull and, recently, on the Netflix original Real Rob.”

Le Bars’ previous work, and notable profile as a force to be reckoned with, made him a natural for the show (a charming fast paced series centered on comedian Rob Schneider’s day-to-day Hollywood life) which began to prominently feature his top quality time lapse.

“I had worked with Real Rob editor Darius Wilhere on The Hollywouldn’ts, a movie he directed,” Le Bars said. “He saw that I was also doing time lapse and asked me to edit a few for Real Rob. I wasn’t used to working on demand—usually I go out and shoot what I want, the way I want it. This time, I had to make sure I was doing what Rob Schneider wanted, make sure I am using the right interval for the subject, the right composition and the right shutter speed. The color correction is also very important as well because it has to be related to the subject is, Los Angeles, sunshine, palm trees.”

Characteristically, Le Bars nailed it: “Emeric is, without a doubt, in the top 1% of time lapse videographer-editors working in the world today,” Real Rob editor Darius S Wilhere said. “His work is gorgeous and the quality is evident to anyone who sees at it. It’s his attention to detail and his willingness to return to locations again and again until he has the exact right shot that communicates the beauty and power of a given location.”

“This level of work only comes from constant dedication to one’s craft for years and tens of thousands of hours. I applaud his diligence to the craft and look forward to working with him for many years to come. The director and producers were thrilled with his work and have asked me in advance to secure his services for season 3.”

“Rob Schneider and Netflix loved the shots,” Le Bars said. “My time lapse work ended up opening 8 episodes of season 2 and also as a few establishing shots in the episodes. It definitely is an amazing credit to have on my resume”

Having firmly established himself with a formidable catalog of professional achievements in just a few short years, the driven, ambitious Le Bars’ potential is unlimited.

“I have always been a big dreamer,” Le Bars said. “And every day I am thankful that I am where I always wanted to be, working in the field I always wanted to work in and that I am around so many creative people in the city of Angels. All of this helps me to create more and more content, to edit more and more time lapses and videos.

“Just follow your dreams in life. I know it’s easy to say, but if a young French man who came to the US with nothing and succeeds in the industry can do it, anyone can do it. Create a life that you will remember. Work hard for what matters to you, not to others.”

 

Advertisements

NOT YOUR TYPICAL FUNNY MAN: JAMES PRESTON ROGERS

Actor James Preston Rogers is tight lipped about the plot details of the upcoming 2018 release Benjamin (Darius Films). What he is happy to speak about is his enjoyment of being in this film cast alongside so many comedic heavyweights. Rogers is so often noticed and cast for action roles (with a commanding physical presence of 280 lbs. and over six and a half feet tall) that displaying his comedic abilities alongside Kevin Pollak, Dave Foley, Rob Corddry, Peri Gilpin, Cheri Oteri, and numerous others was a joyful difference for him. His appearance as Ulf, a Russian semi-pro hockey player allowed James to stay close to the accent he had developed for the “Siberian” in “Frontier” (on Netflix) playing the nemesis of Jason Momoa’s lead character. The accent is as close as James gets in this film to any aspect of the melee that the Siberian or the combative aspect of Ulf’s hockey career in this comedic role. The inference of Roger’s commanding stature might be the premise of a fish out of water but James takes his place evenly matched alongside so many recognizable faces in the comedic acting world. As director and costar of Benjamin Bob Saget states, “Simply put, James is impressive. His comedy talent is obvious. He understood the role of Ulf and added great depth to it. It would have been easy to present the character as one dimensional but James portrayed Ulf as sincere, deep, and of course with the imperfections that make real people so funny. It was a pleasure to work with him and we were lucky to have him in the cast.”

Benjamin pic 5

Benjamin is the title of the film as well as the character which the story focuses upon. A teen who has decided to delve into drug use, a group of family and friends hold an intervention to dissuade him. During the act of revealing the skeletons in their own closets (in hopes of eliciting a similar response from Benjamin) these individuals all come to realize how they are perhaps living more chaotic lives than the young man they came to help. Rogers appears as the Russian hockey player/boyfriend of Benjamin’s mother Marley, played by Peri Gilpin (perhaps best known as Roz from TV’s “Fraiser”). ULF comes in as Marley’s boyfriend very supportive of her and her situation. Throughout the course of the story ULF realize that he doesn’t fit into this new world he has embarked on, and need to focus more on himself to make his dreams a reality. English is Ulf’s second language. He really loves hockey and Marley and will do anything for either of them as the wild side of the sport and this woman fulfill a part of him. Amongst all the other adults who appeal to Benjamin, Ulf is the character who is likely the most unlike them and therefore has an unexpected connection with the perspective of Benjamin.

Appearing as Ulf is the second time recently that James has appeared as a Russian (the first being in “Frontier”). The language and accent are nearly second nature to this Canadian born actor who spent his childhood and early adult years amongst a variety of cultures. His childhood friends in Toronto were German, Irish, English, Scottish, and originated from many other parts of the world. This was early training for his ears, training that Rogers put to good use in his acting career. In regards to his role in Benjamin, James describes, “The advantage I have over Russian actors is that English is my first language. You need to know that the script is written in English and is for an English audience looking for a Russian accent. It can be difficult for a Russian actor who learned English as a second language to hit all of the nuances of the jokes the writer is looking for. I’m sure it would be the same for me if I were in a Russian language film. Sometimes it’s about what you don’t say and let the space be taken up for the audience to complete the joke in their own mind. This comprehension gives me an advantage and I usually book these kinds of roles over the Russian actors. Like almost anything, you need to know your audience. If you put the accents on too heavy, you will lose your audience. You need to put on just enough and know the comedic timing for the joke to get across.”

Benjamin pic 1

Being cast alongside so many famous comedic actors might seem intimidating, and James admits that it was at first. However, the process became so enjoyable and satisfying that any insecurities took an immediate backseat to the experience. Rogers tells that the scripted and non-scripted jokes were plentiful and the conversations off camera were intelligent and enlightening; proof that like James himself, his costars are far from one dimensional. Rogers feels drawn to roles that (similar to career courses of larger actors like Dwayne Johnson and Jason Momoa) dispel the idea that an actor who is cast in action roles does not possess the ability to be equally gifted in comedy or drama. He confirms, “Just because are tall or in good physical shape doesn’t mean that we don’t have life experiences and emotions that equip us to communicate through the camera and onto an audience. Most well-known actors get painted with one brush and it’s very rare that we get to color outside the lines. I love seeing a comedic actor cast in a dramatic role and present another side of themselves. My father was hilarious and I think that part of that comedy gene exists in me. When I was in 10th or 11th grade we’d have these things called ‘cut-fests’ at school. You’d square off with someone and trade insults. People would cut class just to watch. It was all for laughs. Between my father and the cut-fest I was working on my comedy timing through my entire childhood, I just grew into being a big guy. Benjamin has given me the chance to show that training and the fact that I’m standing alongside some of the best comedic actors in the present day entertainment industry is beyond exciting.” James Preston Rogers has taken his rightful place as the physically and comedically impressive gentleman alongside his talented cohorts and can be seen doing so in Benjamin.

FLIPPING THE SCRIPT WITH ROBERTO SAIEH

Honesty is one of the scariest things in our lives. At the same time, there can be no growth without it. One cannot move forward until acceptance of reality has occurred. This is both the core of the story of the film Asia A as well as the reason that director Andrew Reid worked with screenwriter Roberto Saieh on the project. Saieh has a talent for delivering a realistic perspective rather than the typical sanguine escapism which much of the industry is known for. While there is a time and place for both, the blunt actuality of Asia A (the title is derived from the American Spinal Injury Association classification of “A” for a person with no motor or sensory function preserved in the sacral segments S4-S5) causes it to stand out. Reid shares a strong connection to the storyline of the main character Marquise which made the film very personal for him. This makes it even more impressive that the director credits Roberto with flipping the story upside down in their initial meeting, a sure sign to him that this was the perfect screenwriter to help him create the intensity and realism that he demanded.

Asia A is the story of Marquise (played by London Brown of HBO’s “Ballers”), an athlete who has recently suffered a spinal cord injury which has changed his life dramatically. Without knowing whether this will be a lifelong change or a temporary one, Marquise is forced to deal with the uncertainty of his future and what he thinks it will look like. While the core of the idea may not be completely unique, the way in which the story is told is not the norm. This is not a film about events but rather about the characters and how their relationships are affected. The main character’s interaction with his (recent ex) girlfriend [Camilla] and his older hospital roommate [Noah, played by Emmy winner Pruitt Taylor Vince] present him with the choices of letting the actions of others determine his future or doing so for himself, during a very vulnerable and painful part of his life. Reid explains why he pursued Saieh to write the script stating, “Roberto’s creativity is what makes him unique from other writers. His goal is to create truly authentic stories that resonate with audiences. Storytelling is art, entertainment, and emotion all wrapped into one package and Roberto is a true storyteller. What ensures his success is his creativity and work ethic, which are unparalleled. Talent will get you into the room but it’s hard work that keeps you there.”

Roberto Sy-8914.jpg

An extremely benevolent impact of Roberto’s work in the eyes of the film’s director is that he flipped many of the key relationships in the film and by doing so changed the emotional kaleidoscope of it. A few expertly made adjustments completely transformed the way that the audience and even Reid was witnessing the characters and events. While most writers would fixate on what happened to Marquise, this writer focused on his response to them and those around him. Saieh came to this perspective by an unexpected association as he tells, “It occurred to me that Marquise, the main character, had to grieve the life he once had in order to accept the one before him. Using that as a starting point, I loosely modeled his journey based on the five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, & Acceptance; taking each as inspiration. It’s impossible for me to know what it feels like to be an Asia A patient but I have experienced different kinds of loss in my life. It is that sympathetic emotion that I overlaid onto the story and used to shape Marquise’s journey. I firmly believe that no matter what you’re writing about, as long as the emotional honesty is intact it will ring true.”

Although the injury happened directly to Marquise, the experience affects all of those around him and particularly those closest to him. In the original script, Noah is the hospital roommate of Marquise and becomes a protector to him. Wanting to present something with an inverse correlation to the norm, Roberto wrote Noah as crass and irreverent with an almost forced cheerfulness. Noah’s deceased wife pitied him and he used this as a crutch to combat the depression and anger of his situation. A diabetic, Noah is eating himself towards death and has already endured two leg amputations. Rather than a wise mentor, Noah becomes a textbook example of who Marquise does not want to become. Saieh describes, “To me, characterizing Noah this way seemed like a truer version of how people are lacking self-awareness and are self-victimizing while at the same time offering a harder-hitting narrative. I didn’t want to shy away from exploring the darker side of the themes. This isn’t the story of someone who successfully went through a similar experience and is now mentoring someone else through it. It’s the story of someone [Noah] who couldn’t do what life is asking of Marquise now.”

Further driving this point and doing so painfully for the film’s protagonist is the fact that his ex-girlfriend Camilla pursues what she believes to be the right thing in reuniting with Marquise. While the comfort of her support could be a band aid, Marquise is constantly confronted with the choices Noah has made and whether or not to face his difficulties alone but with honesty.

Roberto Sy-9225

Roberto began his writing career with Indie Dramas and desires to take this indie sensibility and attention to “character” that defined this early work to summer blockbusters and genre films. His fascination with romantic dramas comes from his belief that some of the worst wounds you can receive can be self-inflicted, which can seem even worse when they’re the right choice. This is perfectly stated in Asia A when Marquise rebukes Camilla’s offer in a self-aware understanding that her feelings resemble pity more than love. It’s a concept Roberto feels presents itself often in our lives. He remarks, “It’s a matter of digging into personal experience and those situations where you know a relationship is over but you also know it’s going to be up to you to end it because the other person, for whatever reason, isn’t willing to step up. Having the strength to self-inflict a necessary wound because it’s the only way to save yourself seems to be a recurring theme in some of my work; letting someone go, someone that you love to death, because they’re not right for you or because you know they will be your downfall. It wasn’t that much different writing Marquise in this situation, regardless of his status as a spinal cord injury patient.”

THE SOUND OF THE GRANDMASTER: JIFU LI

The human experience is diverse and complicated. There are layers upon layers of emotions that make up the life of every individual on the planet regardless of their experiences and their point of origin. This complexity can sometimes go unnoticed in the din of so many people. The beauty that makes up each person’s life is a story in itself. This concept goes overlooked by many but is always present in the mind of Jifu Li. As a Sound Editor, Jifu spends his time ensuring that the voices and sounds present in a film weave in and out of presence in the story as the filmmakers see fit. One might not think of sound in terms of color but it is precisely this perspective that allows a contouring of the experience by the audience. Jifu uses his talents in a wide variety of films ranging from Oscar nominated to independent productions, proving that those of great talent seeks to collaborate with great storytellers regardless of the price tag…because that’s what they must do as committed artists.

Creating any film is a massive endeavor. The Oscar-nominated feature film The Grandmaster was almost hyperbolically so. The footage was extensive, twelve reels by the time that Jifu began his work. The production’s shooting cycle had lasted four years. Li’s previous work on five films had convinced Wu Ling (general manager of the China film post Company) that Jifu’s talent and propensity to work long hours without complaint made him ideal for the position. The Grandmaster is the story of the martial-arts master Ip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee. While it’s a gripping drama, the film is an obvious action story as well. The picture editing and audio editing of the film were done synchronously, which meant that getting the final frame version in perfect sync was an intimidating proposition. Altogether there were fifteen versions of the film. If an action scene changed, all of the effects and Group ADR required recutting by hand, sometimes even redesigning or rerecording.  Describing what he does in a very literal sense, Jifu states, “If you cut from a punch to a slow motion reaction, the sound pacing should be fast to slow. I might add in some ‘Bass Drops.’ The hit should appear to the audience as it ‘feels’ to the characters, like you can hear the fist beat from the skin to the bones, all the texture and details. What happened a lot in The Grandmaster is that they would then change it on the other side; cut to the fighter’s slow-motion movement first, and suddenly speed up, hitting the others person’s face. The sound design will then change a lot. Sometimes there were voices and sometimes just music and sound effects. There are so many of these sonic aspects in modern films and in particular action films. My job is to make sure these subtleties are executed perfectly and to the desire of the director. It can be arduous but it’s always gratifying.”

A consummate professional like Jifu was necessary for The Grandmaster due to one technique which was employed during filming for the benefit of the action sequences. In this film (as in many action films) the director used music to aid in the fight sequences. This type of choreography is always about timing and music greatly aids in this. Quite often, the music used during filming is not the same that is used in the final edit (sometimes the music is altogether discarded). This results in extensive ADR (automated dialogue replacement). Even beyond the main characters, Li worked extensively on Walla Editing (the background character voices), Wild Tracks (sound effects which are recorded on location by the production sound mixer and then later edited for use), and Foley.

The Grandmaster is a beautiful film, visually and audibly. In addition to its 2014 Academy Award-nomination, it also received the Best film at the (2014) Asian Film Awards, Best Film at the (2014) Hong Kong Film Awards, as well as a Golden Horse Film Festival Audience Choice Award & Best Feature Film nomination. Most meaningful to Jifu was the Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing in Foreign Feature Film that acknowledged his skill on The Grandmaster and which he credits for inspiring him to continue to excel in the profession.

Though he enjoys the challenge of a huge budget feature film, Li also welcomes the opportunity of smaller films and the methodology they require. His work in Editing for the film “Love is Color Blind” helped to create the mood for a very different type of adversity and combat between the film’s main characters. The film, which won a host of awards at the London IFF 2017 and the Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood, is the story of an American woman who adopts an orphan from China and has brought it back to the United States. With adolescent rebellion, the child begins to gradually question the authority of her mother. Teen angst ensues and a rift is created between child and parent. As life educates the daughter, she prepares to sincerely apologize to her mother at her 18-year-old birthday party but the mother faints from weakness due to late stages of cancer. At the last moment of life, the mother and daughter finally understand each other.

Jifu had extensive conversation with director Liu Jiaqi about the emotional shading of the tone she wanted in the film. In creating the sound design for “Love is Color Blind” he used Avid Media Composer  and Protools HD. The program creates sound Design effects and allows them to be categorized and moved around as per the director’s desire for subtle differences. These type of modern tools are equally applicable in major studio films or smaller indie productions. It’s a fact of the modern filmmaking era that both the tools and the skilled professional like Jifu who use them often work in both situations. The key factors in either are talent and hard work, something which Li is always mindful of. He reveals, “I remember when I worked for Kar Wai Wong the director and he told me an idiom which inspires me to this day. Everyone knows that the most valuable part of a toad is the toad oil but do you know how the toad oil is produced? The toad is placed under a light and is scorched by the light. It produces this oil, a process which takes about twenty hours. When I heard this, I thought ‘sometimes inspiration comes from dogged pursuit.’ The best thing/essence occurs at the moment when you feel you reach your limit and want to give up. If you persist, you might be surprised by your achievement. This is what keeps me working as hard as I possibly can.”The Grandmaster -MPSE best sound editing

“IF” HONESTY IS BEAUTY

Director Nikki Ormerod wanted to use her background in still photography as an inspiration for the film “If” which celebrated the differences in human beings. She wanted the most basic of presentations in order to focus all attention upon the individuals presented onscreen. She had long desired to work with cinematographer Stuart Campbell and was pleased when he consented. The resulting film was an official selection of the Ottawa Film Festival (2016) and earned Campbell a nomination for Best Dramatic Cinematography from the Canadian Society of Cinematographers. The most fitting description for the film would be classic. “If” is streamlined and yet possesses a massive emotional impact. If (no pun intended) the desire of Ormerod and Campbell was to exhibit the corporal form and communicate the essence of our connective substance, goal soundly achieved!

Most directors hope to capture a performance that is believable. In her film “If” Ormerod wanted to simply capture the beauty and complexity of what is already in existence. The desire was to manifest a “filmic version” of the type of photography that interested her most. The soul of the individuals onscreen should be visible and instantly relatable to the audience. Nikki knew Stuart’s work and knew that he understood how to capture the correct moments to exhibit this. She confirms, “Stuart elevated the film to levels of quality I had never thought possible. ‘If’ is a very simple film that centers purely on showing the faces of a variety of individuals from different walks of life. Considering the static nature of the shots, it was necessary to have a cinematographer that could think beyond just shooting beautiful photography and instead capture thoughtful, conceptual, and cinematic imagery that delved much deeper, which is exactly why Stuart was the only man for the job. Based on my initial idea, Stuart brilliantly introduced the idea of incorporating slow motion shots and poetic narration to the film to help support the idea and visuals, which I must say was a stroke of pure genius. The slow motion shots and use of black and white photography created strong rhythmic and timeless imagery.”

bts_3

Working together, director and cinematographer created a visual statement which communicates a unifying vision of community; one which literally shows how we are all the same regardless of age, sex, race, religion, and other factors…because we all feel the same emotions. The Rudyard Kipling poem supplies the verbiage which tells this but the imagery packs the punch of this idea. Within mere seconds of viewing those onscreen, one can see the same desires, hopes, and motivation in an outwardly eclectic yet inwardly cohesive group.

The sincerity and simple beauty of Nikki’s idea for the film spoke so loudly to Campbell that he offered up a streamlined and simple approach to the camera’s view. In its singular manner, the cinematography of “If” established the ability of the audience to focus on the individuals seen on the screen rather than a variety of framing, lenses, and other technical processes that Stuart could have used. There’s no shortage of technology available to use on a film these days. Drones, Go Pros, and other technological gadgets enable a cinematographer to create a myriad of different looks for their work. Stuart explains, “Some prefer to have a lot of toys at their disposal so they have options while they’re shooting. I prefer to figure out what needs to be done and focus in on that and get the gear that is needed. Different jobs have different needs. Some jobs you really do need to have two, three, four cameras around because that’s what’s appropriate for the job and what you need to cover. Personally, I love one camera jobs because it allows me to shoot everything the way that I think it needs to be shot. Controlling? Maybe, but everyone is different and everyone sees the world differently. Someone else may not shoot something the same way I would. And sometimes things come up where you need to adjust and roll with what’s happening. There’s no guarantee that someone else will react the same way.”

bts_7

There’s something to the idea that a great cinematographer gets inside the brain of the director they are working with. If the cinematographer is the eyes of the project, the director is most certainly the mind and heart of it. Campbell contributed more than just the images seen in “If” because he “got” Ormerod. Nikki’s original idea was to have music, vague & droning instrumental tracks to accompany the people seen onscreen but after prompting from Stuart and some research, the Kipling poem was added and gave a whole new dimension to the film. That poem was written for Kipling’s son as a piece of paternal advice. It gives general conditions to succeed in achieving a happy & beautiful life. If everyone lived by similar “rules” the world would be a much different place, and potentially a much happier one.

One very obvious and complementary part of Campbell’s contributions to “If” is the use of slow motion. The gravitas of the imagery in the film, coupled with the poem by Rudyard Kipling, are enhanced by the calculated lethargy of the movements seen in the film as a result of this. This grants the viewer the ability to hang on every person, every frame, every emotion, fully supporting the idea and experiment of a “moving photograph”, as was the director’s original desire. Stuart confirms, “The slow motion was a very clear way to allow the viewer to really take in the emotion that the subject was giving out. Like a photograph, the longer you have to sit with something, the more story comes out of it. It was an opportunity to let the viewer take their time and experience the visuals along with what was being said in the poem. The film is an emotional piece and sometimes it’s best to just take your time with things. Using slow motion also gave us an opportunity to make some emotions mean more by speeding them up or picking a speed somewhere in between. Shooting in slow motion just gives you options and lets you bring some more drama to what you’re shooting (sometimes).”

bts_2

Stuart Campbell is known for getting amazing results with an often very basic camera set up. While he is quite comfortable with the updates that technology’s cutting edge offers up, it’s because this cinematographer is so committed to story and connecting with the essence of a production that he often uses a very limited set of tools for himself. It’s via this “primary” approach that Campbell feels he is able to more sincerely communicate the essential ideas that the storyteller wishes to impart. It’s Stuart Campbell’s contention that more tools do not make one more skilled, rather it’s by using the tools you have when they are called upon that empowers one to honestly communicate the essential idea of any story.

THE DESIGN 7 OF LOVE: JAMES CHEN

22163818_10155843589892431_477575936_o

Filmmakers are always searching for a better way to communicate the message and feeling of a story. The characters found in their creations are a means for the viewer to identify the experiences and emotions in their own lives, or the ones they hope to avoid. In the upcoming feature film Design 7 of Love, the filmmakers took advantage of the vision and talent of VFX Artist James Chen to manifest the state of mind of one of the central characters in a very disorienting situation. The film connects the unexpected association of architecture and emotions, or perhaps more accurately…the effect of these on one’s mind. Using state of the art technology in CG, they enlisted Hi-Organic Motiongraphics to do what so many productions desire, to display that which cannot be filmed. Taking a key role in this, Chen worked on some of the most surreal moments in the film. The integration of this tool and the cooperation between artist like Chen and filmmakers continues to be the type of visuals to moviegoers that were nonexistent until the last several years. While CG has allowed the creators of these films to display almost any scenario on screen, the role of artists like James Chen is to make them so real that we almost question our own senses.

The VFX work which James was charged with creating is integral to telling Design 7 of Love properly. One must understand the surreal nature of the storyline in order to appreciate how important Chen’s work on the film was. Yet, even prior to this one must understand that the word “design” in Chinese has two meanings. The first is the dictionary definition meaning “to decide upon the look and functioning of (a building, garment, or other object)”, the second is “to set up someone or something, in a relatively negative way.” The word “design” in this film has both of the meanings in many cases, especially when everyone is trying to “design” a scenario or situation in order to “set up” someone in the emotional world. The beautiful protagonist of the story is Doris, an interior Designer. Her ex-boyfriend Bartz hopes to repair their relationship by providing her with a senior designer position in the architecture studio where he works. This only serves to enrage Emma, the company’s other designer who seems to have feeling towards Bartz. The studio’s pitching process to a hotel goes smoothly as Doris’ presentation impresses the hotel’s young owner Mark, both with her design concept and herself. Doris suddenly becomes the studio’s hot shot. The studio owner Andrew hopes to ensure the company’s revenue by landing the hotel as a client. To achieve this, he encourages (essentially orders) Doris to starting dating Mark. Doris pretends to date Mark to justify her cold actions towards Bartz, leaving Bartz devastated and also making Mark more and more confused. Doris does not fully accept nor deny either of the two men’s pursuits. As the relationship between the characters becomes more and more complex, Doris’ mind world starts to twist. In a congruent fashion, all her “designs” metaphorically turn her vision of this supposed “beautifully designed” city into a pile of monstrosity, reflecting what’s in her own mind. In the end, Doris, Bartz, Mark, Andrew, Emma, and the other two studio staff [Chang and Chiz] all have their own “design” to “set someone up” in love or other affairs. The director of Design 7 of Love even created a scene in which all the characters act like they are “actors” instead of film characters, conveying to the audience “being set up.” The overall theme is that what we label “love” may actually be the result of a “design.” It’s the ability to see the merging of imagination of the mind (brought about by the emotional turmoil) that becomes part of reality that James manifested for the film.  Doris’ main work objective is to provide new design to the hotel to make it a part of Taipei’s new “world design capital” title, but her emotional state has become chaotic and unstable as a result of her complex social relationship. When she wants to make things more clear, more simple, more “designed”, the outside world becomes more complex. This resulted in an approach that Chen describes as “anti-beauty.”

An ideal example of this is in the “Growing Monstrosity” scenes. So called because of the evolving appearance of the city, these changes are a direct effect of the chaos in the emotional state of Doris. Window fences, excessed vent pipes, and poles start to grow from the walls of the street view instead of beautiful decorations. These reflects the character’s mind. Metaphoric steel fences appear as a sign of Doris’ insecurity. James and the team came up with 40 base mechanical objects which were considered elemental to a structure, from factory pipes to a variety of small metal fences to serve as parts pool. The combination of the objects and scripted sequence transformation animation created a large number of wall structures with different shapes, providing a sufficient amount of complexity for the “growing monster” atmosphere in a fast way. The “shattered dream” scene contains CG environment and VFX with green screen footage. Doris is seen standing on a ladder made of piano keys, enjoying the “beautiful dream” environment which reflects her feeling at the time. The scene is designed to have a full CG environment. Later in the film the scene starts to collapse with every step she runs on the ladder as the dream becomes a nightmare. James states, “My colleagues and I utilized a vast amount of relief sculpture photo and traced them onto the models with Zbrush to enhance the details which made the Thinking Particles-powered fragmentation FX more convincing and beautiful.”

IMG_3493

Hi-Organic Motiongraphics Kai-Zhen Lee was FX Lead on the film and explains what made Chen such an asset, stating, “James has experienced a vast variety of CG animation positions which made him very resourceful when facing technical difficulties. He often provided quick and sometimes unorthodox solutions for FX problems regarding the interactions between software functions from time to time. It was thanks to his knowledge, experience, and ingenuity that we were able to create such a unique look for Design 7 of Love.” A result of this was the film’s nomination for “Best Visual Effects” at the prestigious 51st Golden Horse Awards. With over fifty years of filmmaking history to the Golden Horse Awards, the nomination for “Best Visual Effects” places Chen and Hi-Organic Motiongraphics among the most recognized in Taiwan, Hong-Kong, & China. The connection between the images he creates and their effect on viewers is always present in his thoughts. James relates, “In order to get photos of Taipei city with a clear view for this film, the team somehow managed to negotiate with one of the TV stations to give us access to their helipad, which is a rare occasion. It’s not a view that many people get and it is beautiful! When you are up on a tall building and overlooking the city you appreciate the perspective. It’s times like these when I realize that my job is to give other people the ability to see things with the same awe that I experience. I love that part of what I do.”

DISPLAYING THE DISTANCE: RUIXI GAO

Anyone who has been in a long distance relationship will relate to the film “Distance.” Whether it’s romantic or platonic, being separated from those you love is difficult, particularly when you are on opposite sides of the planet. To communicate the feeling in images, director Haixiao Lu enlisted Ruixi Gao to take the helm as cinematographer. Based on her previous work in productions like Last Call, Locked, Under the Pieces, and others, Lu was confident that Ruixi could deliver the sentiment and creativity he was looking for; a notion that was proven correct when “Distance” earned wins at the 2017 Hollywood Film Competition, the LA Shorts Awards, and the NYC Indie Film Awards (earning the Best Short Film). Gao is justifiably proud of the look of the film. What it lacked in big budget financing, Ruixi made up for in creativity, tenacity, and good old fashioned hard work; it’s a situation she often prefers as it requires her to prove her ability to deliver an exemplary product regardless of the monetary factor. The slick look and beautiful vibe of the film belie any struggle to make it. While the storyline of “Distance” may be painful and the process of making it hard fought, watching the film is completely effortless and enjoyable.

The perennial theme of the movie is love, in particular a long distance relationship between young lovers. While in China, a young Korean girl meets a boy and the fall in love. When her love goes to study in LA she is understandably heartbroken. They go about living separate lives while still in the relationship. While it is difficult, they FaceTime every day. Inevitably the spacial distance and their busy lives take a toll, creating an emotional space between them. With a grand romantic gesture to surprise him, the girl flies to LA but finds him in the embrace of another woman. In a letter, she tells the boy that the memory of their love will endure but the relationship cannot, at least it cannot for her. In the final frames we see the two former lovers returning to the places they were in the beginning of the film but appearing changed. While this story is not new, the way it is communicated is done with such grace and beauty that it elicits a transcendent beauty and pain which cause it to be markedly different than similar films that preceded it.

While many filmmakers romanticize over the days of actual film, Gao feels that the digital age has empowered many cinematographers to create a higher quality of imagery in films within greater time and budget constraints. Even more, the transition from film to digital has allowed DPs to create looks previously impossible. The result is the transition to a new age of a more realistic sensory experience, a richer color screen, and new innovation opportunities. Rather than a detriment, Ruixi considers the advantages of digital to be a powerful tool to be used in the appropriate manner. That said, she is fond of using an analog methodology when it is called for…as she did with an important aspect of “Distance.” When the director (Haixiao) told Gao he wanted to have a split screen simultaneously showing the male character in LA and the Female in Korea, Ruixi experimented with different ways of achieving this for the film. She reveals, “It’s always a challenge when you want to achieve the look of a big budget film on a smaller budget but I honestly feel that there is no substitute for being creative. I studied and researched a lot of different methods for doing a split screen. I did camera test before the shooting and then showed the director my experimental video. I simply covered up half camera’s screen(monitor) and then combined the two in post-production, placing one on the bottom. Together they made a perfect complete picture. There are many ways to shoot. Working with the editor gives a variety of means to achieve the effects needed for this.”

distance 01

While the filming was done in one city, it was Ruixi’s job to make sure that the main characters appeared to be in locations on opposite sides of the planet. The moods of the boy and the girl would also need to be passively communicated to relate the emotional mood of the characters. Gao used a simple lighting design for the film with low key lighting and a soft filter for the Korean girl and a somewhat more revealing and higher key lighting for the boy in Los Angeles. Gao professes that a simple design is typically the stronger one in her estimation, which director Haixiao Lu agrees with. He notes, “Anyone who has seen Ruixi’s reel will attest to how attractive it is. She has this innate ability to find the natural beauty in all things, which is always the most honest and powerful when it comes to visual imagery. I did not hesitate to seek her out to be the DP on this film once I saw the reel. She really knows how to work with a director. She is a passionate artist and working with her is exciting because of this. Talent such as hers is rare.”

Ruixi Gao is a reminder to all in the film community that embracing a “hands on” approach to innovation can mean using traditional tools or the most advanced ones available. The only rule that is important in art is the constant pursuit of it. The form is elevated by those who take risks and follow their own muse. While Gao may have learned from others, she forges ahead with an open mindedness that serves her and those she works alongside well. The pain that one feels when watching “Distance” would not be as intense and ironically enjoyable without the look this cinematographer has created for us.

distance03