Category Archives: international Talent

WALTON CREATES A MODERN ROMANCE BY FLIPPING THE GENDER ROLES IN “THE DATING RING”

Boxers are tough. They are visceral creatures who are quick to physical action and known for few words (with the possible exception of Muhammad Ali) and disconnected from their emotions. The antithesis of this type of person is the calm, well learned, and eagerly helpful librarian. Those who find themselves in this profession are soft spoken professionals who appreciate a good razor for their beard. Wait…were you thinking of a female librarian and possibly a male boxer? Sarah Walton was likely hoping you would make this mistake when she wrote the screenplay for the film The Dating Ring. This film flips the gender roles that we have come to expect. Exploring the dynamic of a relationship between a female boxer and a male librarian, Sarah wanted to challenge both herself and the audience to see these characters as unique and not just another gender assumption. The Dating Ring won worldwide acclaim and was an Official Selection for the Lumiere Film Festival, Italy (2015). Romantic Italians loved the idea which Walton presented that every female/male relationship should be considered at face value; a lesson we’d all be better off learning. Sarah has a pedigree which includes many romantic comedies but The Dating Ring presents its action with a goal of making the viewer ponder just as much as being entertained. The ultimate question asked by this film is, “What is strength?”

When Sarah went through a bad break-up and experienced a betrayal, she did what all artists do…she created. She saw her own dating experience as combative and took the pugilist metaphor to a literal place in her screenplay. To make a clean break from her normal romantic comedy method, she wrote the initial draft without dialogue to challenge herself. This approach gave her a radically different tone for the film and exhibited a fresh approach for Walton. The gender role switch of the two main characters might sound odd on paper but works amazingly well on screen, no doubt due to the incredible performances of Emily Goddard (Shayne) and Nick Farnell (Benji). Shayne is a thirty-three-year-old female boxer, bred by her retired boxing champion mother to be a fighter but it was never Shayne’s passion. She has a maternal mother inside her dying to get out, but her tough exterior and mannerisms belie her true desire for intimacy. Benji is a gentle and compassionate man in his mid 30’s, raised by his strong single mother and two older sisters who taught him the importance of strength and compassion after they escaped from his con artist father. His Achilles heel is being lied to because he watched his mother cry herself to sleep night after night as a result of his father’s lies. He wants true love, not a ruse. Walton states, “In society, the pressure for males and females to focus predominantly on their masculine or feminine traits can be psychologically unhealthy for us as individuals, our self-expression, and the way we interact with one another. Gender role reversal in film challenges this division and promotes equality for the sexes. Within a melodramatic film it’s difficult to stray from the traditional expression and repression of female characters in stereotypical feminine behavior, in which non-diegetic music plays a role. A way of solving that problem is gender role reversal. Steering away from the historical portrayal of masculine and feminine in film will allow us to challenge stereotypes and potentially ease the pressure for men and women to feel limited by their genders in society.”

Donna Hensler (Supervising Producer on The Dating Ring) Recognized the magic in Sarah’s script immediately. She recalls, “As soon as I picked up the script for The Dating Ring I was captured by the voice of the lead character Shayne; a female boxer struggling with the trials and tribulations of love. Sarah’s writing, though commercial and mainstream, is extremely honest and original. She thinks outside the box and isn’t afraid to take a risk. Sarah is a passionate story teller and her stories reflect her unique view of the world and positive view of humanity which is perfectly suited to the romantic comedy genre.”

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The core of The Dating Ring is designed around fighting. The reveal of the plot is that what you think you are fighting for may not be what you really should be fighting for. With 10 years out of the dating game, Shayne gets back in the ring. She’s training for a big fight and she’s losing her game, so focus is imperative. Her boxing coach mother lets her in on the family secret to winning championships…sex the night before the fight, because it will help her loosen up and focus on the game. Shane meets a male librarian named Benji to whom she is surprisingly attracted. The fact that he’s a male librarian and has a child (she thinks children are the devil) intimidates her, causing her insecurities to flair. She struggles to break the ice with him and finds herself acting out and screaming obscenities like a Tourette’s syndrome victim. Before she knows it she has a fist full of lies to cover up and she’s in too deep. Her fighting increasingly suffers culminating in a choice between the sport she’s loved her whole life and the man of her dreams. When they kiss for the first time Shayne reveals her true self. Benji, hurt that she lied, breaks into tears. She does what any woman in her position would do…she runs off to the boxing ring for the big game. Shayne finds herself in the ring and set up for the wining punch but she can’t do it anymore. Her love for Benji has changed her and she feels compassion for the first time in a long time. She throws in her boxing gloves right then and there with the realization that gentleness is strength.

Just as profound as the role reversal for this story is the idea presented that we cannot judge ourselves by the way that others see us. For Shayne, it is her judgmental and pushy mother who envisions an idea of what her daughter’s life should be. Discovering your sense of self is a thread that runs through much of Walton’s writing. Consider this piece that she penned about other well-known romantic comedy characters of present times; Sarah wrote, “Bridget Jones perfected the art of imperfection.  We love watching her and characters like Carrie Bradshaw, Nina Proudman, or Ted Mosby take chances, put themselves out there and fall down (often literally) because when they make mistakes it makes us feel better about our failures.  It reassures us that it’s okay to be flawed. Mistakes and failures are merely learning curves and opportunities for growth.  Bridget and her fellow imperfectionists show us how making mistakes can lead to happiness because they always succeed in the end.  But what if happiness isn’t at the end of the film or T.V. series.  What if happiness is right now?  Not when we get that dream job, lose weight, finish a degree, earn more money, find a partner, have a baby or move house… but right now. If success is happiness and we can only achieve true happiness through mistakes and failures, then surely we should be welcoming and celebrating failure rather than trying to avoid it?  I know I’ve made a million mistakes and I’ll make a million more.  And I wouldn’t change a single one because they are part of what has gotten me here… And here is pretty great.”

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There is a deluge of romantic comedies to choose from if you want to be entertained and feel good. If you want all of the former as well as to be challenged to consider who we are as individuals rather than easily categorized tropes, watch a film that was written by Sarah Walton.

ALEXANDRA HARRIS HAS AND DOES NOT HAVE “MISSED CONNECTIONS”

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Sometimes when things go wrong it can be very right. Consider Alexandra Harris. By all accounts people who know her consider her to be very positive and upbeat. There’s no implication of a duplicitous nature in regards to Harris but, opposites can play very well in cinema. As an acclaimed actress in a wide variety of productions, she exhibits all of the acting skill of the notable peers in her industry. The filmmakers of Missed Connections wanted to use Alexandra’s inherent goodness to drive a less amiable character in this production. Missed Connections is a Zero Film Festival Award-winner and was screened at esteemed events like the Raindance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival. The protagonist of the film is Jamie (played by Joseph Cappellazzi), a man who gets ruthlessly dumped by his girlfriend Sophie (played by Harris). The fallout and aftermath leave him incredibly heartbroken and bitter. In an attempt to get back at the world (and to satiate his friends who tell him to start dating) he begins responding to the “Missed Connections” section of the paper, showing up to dates pretending to be the desired person…with less than fantastic results. Through this process, Jamie actually meets a girl he likes, Emma (played by Rebecca Perfect), and then has to come clean about what he’s done. Even more conflict arises when Jamie must decide whether he’s going to keep trying to get back together with Sophie or move on with someone new.

As Sophie, Jamie ex-girlfriend, Harris is cold but not completely unrelatable. Jamie has some maturing to do and the inherent likability which Alexandra possesses makes the audience question whether some of the blame falls upon his shoulders. It’s precisely because of this quality that Rory O’Donnell (casting director on Missed Connections) was adamant that Alexandra would bring depth to the character of Sophie. O’Donnell professes, “I knew she’d be a great fit. Here we were in London, with all these serious Brits and this bright bubbly American (yes, yes, I know she’s Canadian) came bouncing in and just sort of blew us all away. As a casting director, that’s what you hope for. She’s just very, very good, and very easy to work with. It’s quite simple really. She doesn’t make the production about herself and is able to roll with whatever punches may come her way.”

   Sophie has left Jamie bitter and heartbroken but instead of taking responsibility for his part in the failed relationship, he goes about trying to blame other people. Understanding that her portrayal could easily sway the view of Sophie in the eyes of the audience, Harris took care to present her as someone whom the audience could project their own ideas onto. She relates, “I saw Sophie as one of those girls with a five-year plan. The type of girl who knew where she wanted to be and was constantly evaluating herself and those around her to make sure she was on her way to achieving it. There’s nothing wrong with that but I think sometimes it makes people less flexible with the those who are in their lives. Sophie would describe herself as ‘career oriented’ for sure.”

While her performance is magnetic in Missed Connections, there were a few substantial hurdles for ALexandra to overcome in being cast for the film. It seemed highly unlikely that she would be Sophie in this production. Chris Presswell (writer and director of Missed Connections) confirms, When Rory O’Donnell (our casting director) read the script, he thought Alexandra would be great for Jamie’s love interest (Emma), however, I wanted to keep the cast British as it was supposed to be a British comedy. When Alexandra came in for a read through, I knew I wanted her in the film somehow. She’s such a talented actor, and also a genuinely good and decent person; the perfect combination. Rather than Emma, I liked the idea of her for Sophie (Jamie’s ex-girlfriend) because I knew she’d bring some vulnerability and depth to her. While Sophie’s technically the bad guy of the story, it’s boring if the audience flat out hates her; casting Alexandra was the perfect solution to that. It’s pretty hard to hate her. She’s also very fun to have on set and all that positivity was needed when shooting during the British winter as it gets dark at 4pm!”

To hear Harris tell it, the audition wasn’t as much of a cinch as the director implies. It is a testament to her abilities that an early misstep during the audition did not derail Presswell’s desire to use her in the film. It’s often said that bad choices lead to great stories and this aptly applies to Alexandra’s initial choice in the audition. Ever self-effacing, she reveals, “When I was called in, it was for Jamie’s love interest, Emma. Rory had told me it was supposed to be a British dark comedy, so I thought ‘Right, I’ll be British then.’ Keep in mind, I had only been living in the UK for about 6 months and was still under the impression that all British people sounded like Hugh Grant. I’d also never performed with a British accent (I played an American in The Last Man, which Rory had cast me in pretty much as soon as I arrived in the UK). I went in and did THE WORST British accent. It was cringe worthy. Chris was so polite and kept a straight face but I remember Rory just looking horrified. He was nice enough to take me aside and say gently ‘Why don’t you try it with your American accent.’ which I then did. I immediately felt the energy in the room change. Both Chris and Rory relaxed a lot! That experience is something that the two of them still tease me about to this day. The positive result was that I started taking accent work seriously, studying with a teacher and performing as a Brit towards the end of my time living there. I remember being so proud to invite Chris to my performance of ‘The Cherry Orchard’ where I was playing a British Charlotta and afterwards I questioned him and he just looked at me and said “Well, Alex, I’ll give it to you, for a second I thought you were British, but I’ll never forget your Emma”. It’s true what they say, first impressions are real!”

Missed Connections was Alexandra’s first time shooting in London and second time filming in the UK. Her first British film, The Last Man, was shot in the woods outside of London in Essex. Filming in London proper is a much different experience than in Essex, her Canadian homeland, or even Hollywood. The Brits are some of the best actors in the world and Harris took every advantage to soak up the experience of the unique British approach. UK productions are more grass roots and unpolished compared to other film centers, on purpose. The feeling on UK shoots of “we’re all in this together” permeates all levels of production. This lack of hierarchy was something to which Harris was unaccustomed but welcomed. This however does not mean that it was any less challenging. The actress notes, “Chris [Presswell] is soooo British. When I say that, I mean that he doesn’t’t suffer fools and really doesn’t overpraise. When he offers a compliment, it’s genuine and it means a lot. We were on the same page from the beginning so we didn’t’t have to talk about the character too much. I would say ‘I’ve been that girlfriend’ and he would say ‘I’ve dated that girl’ so we knew where to go from there. We knew we didn’t want Sophie to be a bitch but rather someone who was at their ropes end.”

The short days and the brutal London winter temperature were unsuccessful in squelching Alexandra’s well-known positivity. Through her performance and a shrewd stroke of casting, she presented Sophie as an emotionally complex character. What might have originally been a secondary antagonist for this film became a stand-out character which captivated audiences. Mentioning how being different was a prominent facet of her character and her involvement in Missed Connections, Harris recalls, “It became the running joke on set that I had to be called the ‘evil American’ because Canadian’s can’t be mean; however, I think my character proved them wrong.”

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VISHNU PERUMAL: EXPERIMENTING WITH EDITING

Vishnu Perumal loves editing. In fact, he loves it so much that he is constantly challenging himself. Yes, he challenges himself to do better and better work on each project but it goes much further than this. He is constantly seeking out new ways of using editing in a production. He is vigilant is this approach. Sometimes a unique idea comes from pondering and sometimes simply by coincidence. You have to keep your eyes open in order to spot your opportunity and Perumal has his eyes wide open. The old adage “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” aptly applies to Perumal as he is constantly in search of differing ways to force himself to think outside the norm and how both he and the community view the role of an editor. Because of this, he often uses his work on smaller film productions to create an approach that he can access for larger ones. For this professional who has numerous award-winning productions vetting his abilities, complacency is a dirty word.

Something as mundane as listening to a friend describe a time when she accidentally hit the no tip button on her phone after getting a Lyft ride home sparked an idea for Vishnu. The discussion evolved into a debate on the virtues of tipping. Recognizing a universally relatable experience, Perumal decided to approach some of his fellow filmmakers and use it as a challenge to create a one-minute short. Vishnu would take a short story and condense it to a two act structure like that of a joke: setup and punchline. This was presented to a number of festivals that had a category for one minute films (like the Miami Short Film Festival). The film, titled Tipping Point, was a hit and proved that sometimes smaller is better.

The action of Tipping Point starts at a restaurant with a man and a woman in mid-conversation about the virtues of tipping. The man explains that he rarely tips, to which the woman begins to lecture him on the importance of tipping. The man begins to throw out scenarios on which no tipping may be fair, and mentions an outlandish one involving a horrible Lyft ride. Unbeknownst   to him, she had experienced that exact same scenario and in the end reveals to have accidentally pressed the no tip button after sneezing. Comedy, conflict, and a surprise reveal at the end…all within one minute! The impact of the performances cannot be communicated (a trait it shares with full length feature films) by a simple description; yet, what stands out here is the idea that Perumal is on a staunch search for ways to hone his craft.

Vishnu confirms that even in a film this, being succinct is a virtue. He states, “Brevity is a useful tool in editing short films, especially comedic ones. As in “Sexcapades” [the award-winning series on which Vishnu served as editor], brevity was used in this film to cut out all unimportant aspects, lines, moments, etc. When a film is stripped clean of all the fat and the spine of the narrative is laid bare, it becomes easier to add on moments and embellishments. Unlike “Sexcapades,” this film did not have the luxury of adding awkward moments. It was solely focused on getting the joke out as cleanly and efficiently as possible.” In a revealing statement about his constant quest for improvement, Perumal mentions, “If the story and concept of a film is simple and straightforward enough, you will be able to cut that down to however short you want it to be. Thinking back now, I may have been able to trim this one-minute cut to an even shorter 30 second cut.  This film was a really positive experience in my editing techniques and ability to focus on brevity. It has helped me identify how to trim the fat when editing pieces that seem too long winded or excessive.”

In a much darker subject matter, Vishnu utilized his talent on The Devil I Know. Inspired by a Jim Jones video (the infamous cult leader how led his followers of the People’s Temple to a mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana) the film saw Perumal using his editing skills to present the life of Jones in an anachronous order. In an approach similar to “found footage” the whole aspect and style of editing was instrumental in underlining the plot of this film. The result was a visually challenging story with an engaging narrative, leaving audiences mesmerized.

The film begins with the preacher amongst his congregation in the beginning of his sermon. As the sermon ramps up we witness cuts to a later point in his life where he meets up with a woman from the street. The two leave to an undisclosed location and make love. It is revealed (when the action returns to the original setting) that the woman is actually one of his congregation members. When the woman attempts to leave, the preacher won’t let her. As she fights back, the preacher becomes violent and strangles her to death. As the preacher stands over her body, the words from his sermon play in the background.

Vishnu comments, “The intention was to juxtapose the preacher’s private life with his public life, creating an initial sense of confusion for the audience. I wanted the audience to look through this initial sense of confusion and come to realize and identify what it is they are watching. By presenting the events out of chronological order, I also wanted to emulate the message that things aren’t always what they seem as well as the main character’s duplicity. Having the film told out of order also enabled a significant reveal of the female character as one of the congregation members.”

For those who wish to excel and succeed, constant self-assessment is a requirement. The professionals who are very good are challenged by the industry; those who are great challenge themselves and the industry. It is apparent which side of this Vishnu Perumal resides on.

Art Director/Motion Graphics Designer Ilya Tselyutin’s Innovative 3D Revolution

Art Director/Motion Graphics Designer Ilya Tselyutin specializes in a field of media technology so advanced that it almost seems he’s straddling a unique cusp between day to day creative facts and out of this world science fiction. Already recognized as a master in his field—a fast moving discipline that combines graphic design and animation in motion picture title sequences and television commercials—Tselyutin also excels in the exotic field of spatial augmented reality.

“This is also known as projection mapping, video mapping and 3D mapping,” Tselyutin said. “One of the earliest public displays of projections onto 3D objects was Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride back in 1969, but it wasn’t until the early 2000’s, when more advanced tools and software became available, that artists began using projection mapping in artwork.”

“It is a special technology used to display moving objects on various surface as a video projection, so, for instance, an entire building can be turned into a multimedia installation and become a part of a compelling story.”

The California based Tselyutin’s singular palette of skills, both as a creative artist and technical innovator, made him particularly well suited to explore this territory, a long-standing interest which he first he became involved with as a university student back in his native Russia. His fascination with 3D graphics, animation and design coincided with formal training in computer science and provided an ideal confluence for opportunity when the technology first arrived in the country in 2009.

“I was working at Channel One Russia as a broadcast designer,” Tselyutin said. “I was constantly exploring other areas of 3D motion graphics and the ways it can be implemented. And when I heard the Radugadesign agency was looking for 3D professionals to work on something that was quite new and challenging I was eager to try it.”

Audi-3.jpgAudi-2.jpgThe Moscow agency was the perfect new professional home for the talented, ambitious Tselyutin, and he quickly distinguished himself in the vital new field. “I saw great potential in this and left my job at the TV channel to focus solely on 3D mapping and augmented reality,” he said. “And 3D mapping technology was unheard of in Russia when we created the first car projection show for Audi in the country.”

Created for the 2011 Audi Car Design Awards the spot featured graphics that changed the colors and tires of a 3D car model and established Tselyutin as a fast-rising 3D sensation (see it here). “I took part in all of the 3D mapping projects while working at Radugadesign,” Tselyutin said. “We worked on commercial projection shows for such clients as Audi, Samsung, some national mobile operators and many others.”

 Tselyutin’s dedication and groundbreaking achievements benefitted everyone involved. “Working with Ilya was always a very pleasant experience,” Ivan Nefedkin, Radugadesign founder-CEO, said. “He was one of very few professionals in Russia who completely understood the specifics of 3D augmented reality. There was no really a university degree for what we did, so there were only a few people who could do the job. He always went extra mile to support our team by overtaking the hardest tasks to make sure the project is delivered on time—on the Audi projection show, he would stay up working all night. Ilya played a critical role in establishing Radugadesign as one of the country’s leading media agencies.”

Tselyutin’s professional reputation as an innovator and visionary quickly spread throughout the international media world. “Right after we produced that first car projection show, many agencies in Russia and abroad started implementing the same technology,” Tselyutin said. “I was invited to produce a projection show by the National Institute of Technology Kartanaka, Mangalore, India, who were quite impressed by what we were doing in Russia. I began receiving many offers from all over the world, and decided to move abroad.”

Currently residing in Hollywood, where he serves as Art Director/Motion Graphics Designer at the prestigious Trioka agency, Tselyutin is still breaking new ground, always expanding and elevating his technique. “Working on those challenging projects helped me master a great variety of new skills,” he said. “The most important knowledge I gained was learning how to successfully generate dynamic visual effects on static footage for a completely immersive effect. This proved to be very useful later on in my career,

Taken with an already impressive roster of achievements, the influential Tselyutin’s future potential is limitless.

“Ilya has a unique set of skills,” Nefedkin said. “From the advanced technical knowledge he acquired studying computer programming to his outstanding graphic design skills—he always came up with new creative ideas, challenged himself and the whole team, and pushed the boundaries of what was possible. Our clients loved it. He never ceased to amaze us with his both creative mindset and perfect technical execution.”

 

ZHEN LI PRODUCES BRILLIANCE WITH WIT IN “GENGHIS KHAN CONQUERS THE MOON”

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Genghis Kahn Conquers the Moon. The title of this film sounds…well, eccentric. Even its producer Zhen Li admits to being uncomfortable at first with the title and premise. He comments, “At the beginning, I though the idea was a bit bizarre, then I decided it was wacky instead of bizarre. It’s very bold to do a project about a well-known historic figure doing something against the historical fact. However, after reading the script and understanding what the metaphor implies, I abruptly changed this opinion. The story is special and unique with wit, humor, and intellectual sarcasm.” You don’t have to take the word of Li though; the achievements and recognitions of this film speak volumes. Genghis Kahn Conquers the Moon was an official selection at the Cannes Film Festival (France) 2016 (Short Film Corner), Sci-Fi Film Festival (Australia) 2015, Camerimage International Film Festival (Poland) 2016, The London International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantastic Films 2016, Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards 2015, Taipei Film Festival (台北電影節) 2017 Nominated for Best Short Film, Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards 2015 [Best Actor], and a 20th Century Fox Visual Effects Fellowship 2015 Recipient, and countless others too numerous to list. This diverse list of accolades attests to both the exceptional story and production as well as its universal appeal to different cultures spanning the globe. Celebrated actors James Hong and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa perform as the two main characters (Kahn and the wizard) in this film and bring the weight of their impressive Hollywood resumes to this production. Zhen Li’s confident and experienced presence is felt in every aspect of this film from the performers onscreen to its presence on the film festival circuit.

  There is no denying that VFX has created a situation in modern cinema that takes any idea a filmmaker might have and manifests astonishingly believable imagery. This eliminates the need for the viewer to suspend their belief as a courtesy to the storyline; the actions are clearly visible and believable for all to see. One bit of reality that VFX has not suspended is the truth that budgets still exist in filmmaking and it is the role of the producer to figure out what fits into the financial constraints and what does not. Because the premise for Genghis Kahn Conquers the Moon was finalized pre-budget, Zhen Li was faced with a great idea and cast but in need of ways to pay for this. Utilizing crowd funding, studio sponsorship, and other sources, Li created a plan and budget that would allow the film to possess the desired production value. The impressive look of this film allows one to easily understand that the VFX budget was both sizable and well worth it.

Revealing the evolution of his approach, Zhen states, “Our original plan was to shoot scenes in Death Valley with the spectacular landscape of an apocalypse. After some research, we found it will be over 130 degrees Fahrenheit and thus impossible for us to shoot there.  We luckily found Lucern Dry Lake which has a similar look to our vision. It was still extremely hot in summer, as there was no cloud and trees, only with direct sunlight. We rented 4 RVs and had huge fans blowing cool air off of giant ice cubes to cool down the crew.”

While this took care of the Earth scenes, the moon was the actual VFX challenge. Rather than constructing a large scale lunar surface, Li had a miniature of the moon’s topography built with a gradually-changing scale ratio. Scenes were shot on a green stage with the moon’s surface as a plate. These were then composited together in post-production. VFX supervisor Gene Warren III (whose credits include: Hellboy, The Expendables, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Underworld, The Simpsons) professes, “Genghis Kahn Conquers the Moon is an ambitious project of impressive imagination and great execution. As a producer, Zhen Li did an incredibly amazing job, which allowed us to be able to make Khan land on the Moon.” When a film has a premise that is asking a lot of the audience, the images are often the tipping point for them to invest completely in the story.

 

It should go without stating that what is paramount to every production is the incredible performances of the actors. For Genghis Kahn Conquers the Moon, Li procured a cast of minuscule size but immense impact. Most notably of these were Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (as Kahn) and James Hong (as the wizard). The credits of these two actors spans many of the most beloved films and TV productions of the past thirty to forty years. The gravitas and levity that they brought to this film is evident from the moment they first appear on the screen. Zhen discovered that this is well founded. He notes, “They are both so established and recognizable from their many Hollywood large-scale studio productions; even so, they like to work with younger filmmakers who tell unique stories and experiment with different styles of performance. Working with these experienced actors, their devotion and enthusiasm touched me. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa had to wear the Genghis Khan costume including the helm, armors, and leather boots. The costume was more than 20 pounds and he was wearing it in the insanely hot weather. He was sweating like a fountain but he never once complained. He kept working until the sweat ruined his makeup and then we would have to re-do it. The improvisation between these two lead actors brought a great deal to the film.”

  Genghis Kahn Conquers the Moon was an official selection at the Cannes Film Festival; a festival so notable and respected that even those with no knowledge of the film community understand what an achievement and honor it is to have your film selected to appear there. Cannes is more than just recognition; it opens a window of opportunities to both show films and see films from the most talented filmmakers all over the world. It is a community of the upper echelon and provides inspiration and a springboard to future projects. While in attendance at Cannes to support Genghis Kahn Conquers the Moon, Li’s film attracted crowds and garnered him invitations to some of his favorite directors’ screenings, such as:  Woody Allen’s Café Society, Pedro Almodovar’s JULIETA, Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman, Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, Paul Verhoeven’s ELLE, Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, and many other internationally lauded productions.

Perhaps the highest indicator of the quality of your work comes not from the critics or the box office but rather, those whom you work with in the industry. James Hong (Daytime Emmy Award-Winner and Genghis Kahn in this film) states, “It’s great to work with this young talented producer. Zhen Li will soon be known as the driving force in the film industry.”

 

 

 

XIANG NAN GONG ENABLES THE PRODUCTIONS THAT TELL THE STORIES OF CHINA TO THE WORLD

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It has been said that everyone has a story. In the world of television and film production, writers and directors are considered to be the creators of these stories. While this may be true, without the mastery of a technical director and producer…none of these tales would ever reach an audience. Having a vision is a very different thing from having the skills and knowledge to manifest it. Xiang Nan Gong has served this role for decades at Shandong Radio and Television, earning him the status as one of China’s most respected professionals in this field. During his time with Shandong he oversaw the multiple technical facets in the creation of documentary and scripted series. From massive scale variety shows to location documentary series which told the history of the Chinese people, Gong designed and facilitated lighting, staging, sound, and a myriad of other components which are essential to delivering the filmmakers vision. Xiang Nan might be the least well-known member the production team but he is definitely the most vital.

As with all cultures, the Chinese people are interested in the history of their ancestors and land. A country of such immense size and variety of inhabitants has many stories to tell. “The Story of Yili River” is a documentary depicting the Yili River from the perspective of the cheerful running water line.  It explores the Yili river people’s folk customs, rich life, and delicacy. Gong focused on his expertise as a recording engineer for this production, recording and placing the authentic music of the inhabitants of this region to tell the folk customs of the people on both sides of the Yili River.

Xiang Nan worked closely with the director and a small team of professionals in the studio to create and recreate the sounds of the Yimeng People for the “Shandong Report.” Layering a series of sounds and sound patterns, Gong created the sound design with a mixture of authentic music, location recordings, and studio sonics which depicted the hard lives of these people. This village is surrounded by high mountains and steep cliffs, streams, and other harsh natural environmental factors. To properly recreate and communicate what these inhabitants experience required a consummate expert like Xiang Nan.

As technical director and producer on Shandong’s “Sun Bin Military Strategist”, Gong aided this production which tells of a man who also lived through a difficult situation but persevered and elevated himself to the level of great respect. Famous for receiving the punishment of face tattooing and having his knee caps removed, Sun Bin later became one of the most respected and trusted strategist of his country’s era. While remarking that his difficulties were nothing compared to Sun Bin’s, Xiang Nan concedes that the equipment of the 90s which he used was less than desirable for this thirteen-episode historical series. He tells, “Historical dramas are grand in scale with many layers of sound. This is what makes it so believable to the viewer. While your conscious mind may not notice it, something in your unconscious tells you that you are really there amidst these battle scenes and different locations due to the small details. Today’s state of the art technology makes the process much less cumbersome but back when we made this series, it took many hours to achieve what can happen in minutes now. Regardless, the finished product is what is important and ‘Sun Bin Military Strategist’ was very well received and popular.”

Another of Gong’s productions, “44 Notes” received international and domestic acclaim. “44 Notes” won the first prize from the State Council Information Office and the Ministry of radio and television, the “Golden Bridge Award” in the United States, Japan, Germany, Taiwan, Hong Kong and other countries and regions, and was adapted for television drama production at the center in Beijing. This documentary shows the bicycling trip of teacher Du Xiangjun and forty- four of his students (of the Zibo Normal School in the Shandong Province) as they made their way to the capitol to perform a concert. Along the way, they sing and experience a number of hardships on their journey. Half way between reality TV and unscripted drama, “44 Notes” called upon Gong to be prepared for an unlimited amount of variables that could affect the filming and recording of this production. Its international acclaim is a testament to his expertise on this project.

As a loving husband and proud father of a daughter, Xiang Nan was especially happy to assume the duties of technical director and producer of Shandong’s “The Charm of Women.”

The program is the first female Chinese series about female characters with outstanding contributions from all walks of life. It introduces the work, study, life, and successful careers of each woman. Shot in documentary style, Gong took particular care to oversee the lighting and sound to present these women with the respect and admiration which their achievements deserve. While certainly not the most famous subjects of the many productions he has overseen, Xiang Nan professes that they are among the most important because they serve as an example to current and future generations like his daughter, exhibiting the great importance and impact that Chinese women have on their families and society.

As the professional who literally “sets the stage” and supplies the sounds on a wide variety of productions, telling the stories of China’s past and present; with international award-winning productions to his credit, the respect of his industry, and a long history at Shandong Radio and Television, Xiang Nan Gong is among the elite technical directors and producers who continues to bring new ideas to an ever expanding production community.

EVA YE IS CALM, COOL, AND COLLECTED FOR WARM SMOOTH MEAN

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Conflict is a deeply embedded part of our lives; no question. It’s ironic that in an attempt to escape the day to day difficulties which we experience, we often find escape by watching the problems of fictional characters in films. Most of us are oblivious to the fact that the filmmakers who grant us this means of solace experience an ample amount of conflict themselves in their endeavors. Cinematographer Eva Ye experiences conflict constantly with her involvement in films. It might be hazardous conditions, inclement weather, differing opinions on set, and others factors. The main difference is that when Eva deals with these factors, budgets and artistic expression hang in the balance. Ye has a reputation for keeping a cool head while getting the desired shot. For anyone who has even been on set during a production, that’s much easier said than done. Whether she is the DP on a TV production, music video, film, or any manner of creative filmmaking, Eva’s small size holds big ideas and large talent. Come to think of it, she’s a bit of a contradiction herself with so much talent inside a small container.

Ye’s work on the film Warm Smooth Mean (Official Selection of First Look Film Festival) has received great praise. This film with its surprising reveal near the end is full of mystery and tension. Warm Smooth Mean follows Hunter Nelson, a young man troubled by the suicide of his father River Nelson. River was the singer of a legendary country duo named Silent Station. When Hunter receives a royalty check from his father’s work, he travels to a small town to give the check back to his father’s former bandmate Jerry Lee McCoy…and to search for the answers behind River’s untimely passing years ago.

Jess Maldaner (director of Warm Smooth Mean) and Eva worked extensively in preproduction to make their plan for the film. Past experience had taught them that having the film specifically and painstakingly planned out would benefit them later. While the industry has been around long enough to make it difficult to create a truly “original” premise, the look and stylized quality of a film can often set it apart. The first part of the film takes place in Oklahoma and the lighting appears soft, mellow, and yet somewhat cold as Hunter begins his journey. As the film goes on, the secret reveals, the fight ensues, and the filmmakers begin to use more harsh and warm light to construct the scene, which heightens the stakes.

Ye’s work is center stage in perhaps the most climactic scene of the entire film. She describes, “Because of my dance background, my strong ability to operate a handheld camera is something that makes a lot of sense to me. I’m not a strong person. I’m actually quite petite compared to a lot of operators, standing at 5’4” and 110 lbs. To be able to move a camera with my hand quite intuitively is something I’ve learned through years of dancing. The rehearsing was definitely crucial in achieving this shot. We spent almost the whole night shooting this scene. There were at least 10-15 times of me moving with the actors without the camera to test out camera positions. When it came to the actual shooting, I knew exactly where I needed to go. There were people spotting me from behind in case I ran into something when I was backing up. I backed up with the actor coming towards me and stopped when he stopped. I pushed in when he got a hit in the face and fell backwards. It all worked out really naturally. Planning and rehearsing was the core of getting the scene right.” Director Jess Maldaner augments this description stating, “Eva’s handheld camera operation in this crucial fight scene was flawless! Her creative instincts allowed her to deliver the perfect amount of camera movement in the shots to create a high level of tension for the viewing audience. Eva’s work was paramount to the final look and emotional effectiveness of Warm Smooth Mean. Her technical skills coupled with her understanding of how to convey an emotional experience visually was a huge asset to the final film. She is a master of camera movement. She is also that rare exceptionally talented artist who is completely free of ego. ”

Sometimes your talent is welcomed, other times it requires some convincing when opinions differ. While filming one of the opening scenes which required some very smooth and stable camera work, the production found themselves without a car mount for the camera. While Maldaner was convinced of the need for green screen to achieve the look for the shot (taking place on a bumpy stretch of highway in Palmdale), Eva was convinced that the quickly disappearing sunlight would not accommodate this. Arbitration was in process and Ye held to the fact that her abilities and ideas would get the desired effect with greater expediency…which it did. The finished scene shows a steady shot with the blurred flat desert outside the window. Conflict averted, artistic vision intact.

Part psychosexual thriller, part art-house film, Shen is a unique portrait of desire and domination in their most cerebral and bodily manifestations. Conflict abounds in the storyline and the imagery Eva produced for this film propels it. Shen’s life is irreversibly altered when she discovers an anonymous artist has drawn her in an erotic position. After a series of strange occurrences, Shen realizes this man is drawing her future. Though her obsession with him begins as a mere daydream, his continual re-appearance starts to make her question what is real and what is hallucination. Meanwhile, her relationship with her fiancé takes a turn for the worse as he suspects she is fantasizing about someone else. His desire to control her reaches a fever pitch after he invades her journal and uncovers her disturbing secrets.

Writers Jace Casey (also the director of Shen) and Abigail Flowers understood that they needed an exceptional DP to create the mood and look which the storyline evoked. Ye’s reel had suspense, romance, thrillers, drama, & music videos. The style of shots and feeling delivered in Eva’s camera language clicked with theirs. While Casey had a plethora of experience in theater and as an actor, having an accomplished cinematographer like Ye greatly aided his process for this film. Eva recalls one scene in particular in which she was able to use her abilities to aid her director recalling, “On set, we maintained communication and respect for each other constantly. There was one occasion when we needed to take a shot of the downstairs swimming pool through the point of view of the actor standing at the 30th floor apartment window. In Jace’s mind, he knew that’s what he wanted but he was unsure if the focal length of the lens, the height of the camera, and the tilt-down angle of the lens barrel were appropriate to convey the action. He was on the verge of eliminating the shot. My experience and knowledge of such shooting situation helped Jace to understand how we could achieve this particular shot, which turned out just the way he wanted if not better. I think it is the understanding of the fine line between a creative collaborator and a loyal supporter of his original vision that made us work so well together.”

The fruit of that cooperation among the two resulted in a film whose achievements include: Harlem International Film Festival “Top Short” (2016), Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival “Best Escapism Film” (2016), and Official selection of Studio City Film Festival, Laughlin International Film Festival, & Monarch Film Festival (2016).

While there are so many talented filmmakers in the industry these days, ability alone is not the deciding factor in regards to who other professionals choose to work with. Many times it is the proper combination of expertise, artistic vison, and temperament that win out. Eva agrees, “My ability to always find the right angle makes me incredibly versatile, yet I am also very strong and firm with my suggestions. I know what I want, yet am willing to consider alternative options. That is a courtesy I always offer to my fellow filmmakers as well. The willingness to listen to others while believing in yourself is an asset. I’d like to think that my calm presence on set helps create a balanced, mindful atmosphere for shooting. Even when things may not be going right, you should always find a way to stay focused, remain positive, and strategize.”