Category Archives: Intetnational Films

Passion and Precision: Editor Bowei Yue’s Compelling Visual Style

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By Joseph West

Although the film editor works almost exclusively in a post-production capacity, he is as essential as the actors, director, even the writer. The editor exerts tremendous artistic influence over a film, controlling virtually every aspect from pacing, atmosphere and mood to how the plot line’s narrative unfolds. The editor’s visual style enhances and elevates audience experience to a profound degree, and as such, qualifies the editor as a critically important contributor to film and video. 

Film editor Bowei Yue exemplifies the demanding mixture of aesthetics and technical skill required of the successful editor. His comprehensive spectrum of skills and flair for arresting visuals have made him an internationally known force, one with multiple best editing award wins at film festivals around the world. 

It’s been Yue’s life-long passion, one he practically born into.  

“My hometown is Changchun in northeastern China, site of the earliest production company in China, Changchun Film Studio, where Chinese films were pioneered,” Yue said. “As a child, I developed an interest in films. All the kids thought films were cool, but I always thought that the people who made films were even cooler.”

After graduating high school, Yue entered the famed Beijing Film Academy. 

“I was majoring in sound, but I realized I would prefer more engaging work that is closer to storytelling itself,” he said. “Therefore, I applied to the American Film Institute for an MFA degree in editing after college.” 

The American Film Institute in Los Angeles is one of the most esteemed and discriminating conservatory’s in the film world–gaining admittance there is no small feat. 

He wasted no time, cutting a series of well received projects (the award-winning Dark Wolf Gang” earned him best editing trophies at juried competitions in the US and Spain) and his recent work on two short films, “Balloon” and “New Year’s Eve” are prime examples of Yue’s formidable talent and versatility.

The former is an engaging, visual effects heavy action/fantasy about a bullied teen who develops super powers while the latter is an intense, intimate coming-of-age familyd drama, providing Yue a showcase for two very different stylistic approaches.  

“I’d already worked with ‘Balloon’ director Jeremy Merrifield on a TV pilot, a short film and 5 commercials,” Yue said. “We have cultivated a good working relationship and talked about this project long before he was conceiving the script, which was very personal to him.”

Merrifield’s vision and eye-popping action demanded much of Yue: “In this short film, we have close to 100 visual effects shots, some of which are very complicated,” he said. “These are not difficult in a big Hollywood movie because there you have a team of people to complete the work, but ‘Balloon’ is a short film, and most of the work was done by myself. So, in addition to the art of editing, I also invested a lot of energy in the post-production supervising.”

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The result spoke eloquently for itself, making “Balloon” a sensation on the world-wide festival circuit, screening over 30 juried competitions (including AFI Fest, New Orleans Film Festival, Palm Spring International Short Fest, Hawaii International Film Festival) and winning the Oscar-qualifying Grand Prix for Best Film at the 15th annual Hollyshorts Festival as well as the audience award at the New Orleans Film Festival. But these pale in comparison to its popularity online.

“On the day of the stream launch on YouTube and as a Vimeo Staff Pick, our views quickly exceeded 100,000,” Yue said. “We were shocked–this is very rare for a short film. Now, we have more than 4 million views on the web, it’s insane! I’m really proud of the final product.”

“New Year’s Eve” took Yue in an entirely different direction. A deliberately paced ensemble cast drama directed by Hao Zheng, it relates the tension filled tale of  19-year-old Xiaoyu returning to celebrate Chinese New Year at his family home, where he must face the consequences of his unpopular decision to enroll in a kung fu school rather than university. 

“Hao is Chinese, but heavily influenced by European films,” Yue said. “His works are basically slow-paced and have an ‘endless savor.’ I personally like this type of film, but most of my works are more fast-paced and genre-leading, so he wanted my style to collide with his and see what happens with those different chemical reactions.”

The experiment was not without challenges for the editor. “The dinner table scene in the film was a very memorable sequence,” Yue said. “Anyone who knows a little about editing will tell you that dinner table scenes are the hardest to edit. There were seven actors and the dialogue content of the entire scene was very rich, with lines coming at the same time, and a lot of improv from the characters. During editing, my core work was to always pay attention to the relationship of Xiaoyu and his mother but at the same time ensure visual diversity, smoothness of cutting along with all the other elements.” 

 

Bowei Yue_3Yue flawlessly rectified any discrepancies between takes and dialog overlaps and “New Year’s Eve” was enthusiastically received at its recent premiere screening. The film will formally release at the end of this month on popular platform Short of the Week, and has already been officially selected by more than 20 film festivals in Europe. But Yue is always looking forward to his ambitious professional horizon and has several fascinating projects in the works.

These include Director-writer Íce Mrozek’s feature “About Him and Her,” a high-concept love story with unconventional, almost experimental tone, Yuxi Li’s “Sword of Destiny” a big budget period kung fu/ action feature and Erica Eng’s “Americanized” a short focused on elements of disparate cultures, athletics and a fast moving urban visual.

With an impressive skill set, Yue’s potent combination of strong visual style, ingenuity, technical skill and keen emotional tone has established him as a talent of significant range and ability. But it’s his aesthetic loyalty–an unwavering commitment to collaboration and upholding the integrity of the filmmakers original vision–that has really qualified him as an in-demand asset in the film world.

“Many editors have said that the relationship between a director and an editor is almost like a marriage,” Yue said. “Understanding and trust are very important. Film is never a one-man-band type of thing, and an editor’s work gets done by maintaining a responsible attitude to the director. But at the same time, as an editor, you need to leave your own signature on the project. Finding that sweet balance is really important for me all the time.”

Cultures Clash in Producer Yuanhao Du’s Kung Fu Western Good Friend from the West

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It’s difficult to make a film about the wrongs that have been done by the people of one culture to another, while still making something unusually fascinating and enjoyable. Quentin Tarantino did this with Django Unchained in recent times. It’s a delicate balance that is precarious in its manifestation. Good Friend from the West evokes shades of this, juggling the cultures of White settlers, Native Americans, and Chinese railworkers in the Old West. Late nineteenth-century United States is a vibrant petri dish for exhibiting this trio of vastly different cultures and their perceptions of each, as well as their confrontations. Executive Producer Yuanhao Du is more than a talented filmmaker; he has the perspective to bring essential elements to this film. A native of China who has made films in the US and throughout the world, Yuanhao was void of the template of manifesting this era of US history even though he was well aware of it. Lacking a pre-imposed idea of “how” a story set in the Western US Frontier “should” be told, this EP and his cast & crew created an immensely unique modern Western film. With some obvious nods to martial arts filmmaking techniques, there’s even a bit of whimsy to this story which is most certainly dark in its lesson.

Good Friend from the West takes place in 1873 as a Chinese railworker (played by Zhan Wang) makes a hasty escape from his indentured servitude on the expanding westward rail system construction. During his journey, he encounters a wounded cowboy (played by Dan Rutkowski) who is himself avoiding capture by Native American soldiers. When these Native Americans descend upon the duo, one of the most satisfying, surprising, and unintuitive scenes is presented. The film integrates 70’s Kung Fu film stylings as the railworker fights off the Native Americans. Not since films like Shaun of the Dead have we seen such an unusual and positive complementing mish-mash of genres. Producer Yuanhao relates, “This story combined three cool elements for me; a Western, a physical film, and Chinese and American sensibilities. At one time,  films about Chinese and American people working together were very hot; like those Jackie Chen movies. But now, people barely can see these kind of movies. Filming has magic that can influence people’s minds. If we want to reduce the misunderstanding between these two big countries with two different cultures, then as filmmakers we need to make more of these films. We have a lot of films to show how American and Chinese people are different but more importantly, we should find out what we share in common. If we want to survive, we need to know each other and work together.”

Shot in the desert on 35 MM Film, the production costs were ample. A blending of traditional Western meets Kung Fu action is also not the most obvious and easy concept to sell to investors. Yuanhao turned to crowdfunding to ensure sufficient funds for the film. While it has the obvious result of raising the necessary capital, Yuanhao reinforces that he saw this approach as being an added source of advertisement which greatly benefited the production as well. More than most, the concept of the film was a gamble. The physical and creative efforts of the cast and crew are obvious in the truly cinematic presentation of grand vistas and cultural clashes that are visible on-screen. The film’s cultural appeal and resonance is vetted by its status as an Official Selection at important events including the Hong Kong Film Art International Film Festival, Miami Independent Film Festival, Los Angeles Film & Script Festival, and awards from WordFest-Houston International Film & Video Festival (Gold Remi Award), International Independent Film Awards, European Cinematography AWARDS, and numerous others. For Yuanhao, it’s more about the reception he sees in the audience as he states, “It always feels good when I see that people like my films because I know deep down in their hearts, they agree with the philosophy of my films. I believe that this will eventually be the foundation of reducing the misunderstanding between different cultures.”

Walt Disney Animation Studios Hosts Bali: Beats of Paradise

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In a moment that mirrored the artistic exchange of the film Bali: Beats of Paradise, Walt Disney Animation hosted the talent of the film for a screening at their studio. Director Livi Zheng, Executive Producer Julia Gouw, and gamelan composer Nyoman Wenten viewed the film with some of Disney’s most creative forces, including the producer of Moana and the Head of Story for Frozen. Disney’s invitation is yet another indicator of the recognition Bali: Beats of Paradise has been receiving since its US release on November 16, 2018.

Beyond exploring the culture that created Balinese gamelan music, the film displays western artists being influenced by its character; integrating gamelan into modern day western musical styles. A question and answer session followed the screening in which Wenten, Gouw, and Zheng discussed filmmaking and Indonesian culture. Nyoman Wenten remarked, “It is amazing how quickly like-minded people attract each other. I can already see the start of a beautiful relationship between Livi and the creatives at Disney. I don’t know if any other Indonesian before Livi Zheng was ever invited to show their movie in front of the top brass in Disney. This is amazing and it makes me proud today to be an Indonesian”

Receiving a hospitable tour of the Disney Animation Studios, Livi revealed, “Disney is  remembered fondly by many children around the world. I remember so many happy memories from watching Disney movies; I am very glad that today I was able to be here and introduce my unique culture to the hardworking artists at Disney”. Executive Producer Julia Gouw noted during the film’s premiere at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills last November, “Crazy Rich Asians put Singapore on the map, so we hope that Bali: Beats of Paradise will put Indonesia and Bali on the map.”

Ken Zheng: Indonesia’s Action Star Phenomenon

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Actors like Tom Cruise and Jackie Chan are famed worldwide for their talent and their drive. Artists of this ilk are deeply involved in the productions they star in, evident in their performances. Many are referring to Indonesian actor and writer Ken Zheng in a similar manner as the aforementioned celebrities. His work as an action star and as a screenwriter has made him an international sensation in the last few years. Athlete (Zheng was part of the Indonesian National Team for Kickboxing and became the youngest Champion in Indonesia’s history) turned stuntman turned marquee name, this talent from Indonesia seems to revel in the action genre. His roles in US films and those abroad have seen him starring alongside long-established actors, vetting him as a peer and a major force in the international film industry.

2017’s Down by the River stars Zheng as a prison escapee making his way through the wilderness to the Rio Grande river while being hunted by a killer. It’s a classic tale of survival driven by a small cast. No less frightening is the film Hitman in which a woman inadvertently witnesses a drug deal gone wrong and pays the price for doing the right thing. Second Chance pits two hired killers against each other. Zheng is perfectly paired in this tale, starring alongside Trent Moore (of the Coen Brothers multiple Oscar-winning films No Country for Old Men). Concerning his work in these thrilling productions, Ken communicates, “I see the beauty in action and I love bringing thrills to the audience when they watch a movie. The action itself is always supplementary to the story and the visuals help the audience integrate to the world of the movie”

Currently, in post-production, Ken starred in the upcoming feature film he wrote called Insight. The story goes beyond the label “action film” as it is centered on two siblings who possess the gift of clairvoyance. Escaping an abusive home, they are recruited by a counter-terrorism agency. The brothers grow apart as they enter adulthood and this motivates the action of the story. As Qiang, the younger of two siblings, Ken delivers an emotional and visceral performance alongside such celebrated talents as Keith David (multiple Primetime Emmy winner) and John Savage (The Deer Hunter-winner of five Oscars, Hair-winner of two Golden Globes). Zheng concedes, “There’s always room to learn as an actor. Working with John and Keith was an opportunity to learn from their experience and talent. They’ve both been in so many extraordinary films; to see them creating on set like that…it was an incredible learning opportunity. As an actor who is also a writer, it also gave me the chance to see what I could do with the script to help the actors. When I first moved to the United States I tried to bridge the East and West as each has its own unique stories. Moreover, I always try to keep my stories rooted and grounded to real emotion and real relationship between the characters. The movie itself is not always self- contained but the relationship between the characters is always clearly defined in my stories.”

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Orlando Pineda exhibits truth as one of the Immigrant Brothers

Screen Shot 2018-01-02 at 12.43.00 PMOne of the most provocative present day subjects in the US is immigration. While debate is ubiquitous in the media and in political conversation, it’s the plight of the real people who travel to the States in search of a better life that is sometimes overlooked. The filmmakers of Immigrant Brothers made it their mission to portray an accurate representation of this story. Orland Pineda portrays Marcos in the film which depicts the story of three men who struggle to weave themselves into the fabric of America. The story is about Kemar, Ali, and Marcos, three illegal immigrants who meet on the streets of Los Angeles. Coming from different countries and cultures, they find out that they have that one thing in common, the dream of a better life here in America. In order to achieve this, they must first survive, pushing their own personal boundaries and doing things they have never considered possible before. The trio bonds, becoming a family away from their original one and faces situations that would easily frighten and break the vast majority of Americans. The film is a personalization of the current immigrant experience that is depicted with the emotional intensity inherent in these circumstances, adeptly communicated by Pineda and his costars.

Immigrant Brothers received numerous awards including Festival Prize at Atlantic City Cinefest, Best Drama Film at the European Cinematography Awards, and many others (including nominations at the Gold Movie Awards, Los Angeles Cinefest, & Hollywood International Film Festival). The film’s director Nicholas Joseph Cunha relied on Pineda to bring the gravitas he required. Cunha states, “During the filming of Immigrant Brothers, Orlando showed a level of intensity that went beyond the other actors that auditioned; confirming what I saw in his audition. In real life he is a very happy and charming person. I did not expect him to make such an extreme transformation the way he did for the character. His mannerisms, physicality, and emotional center were unrecognizable from the actual person Orlando is in his real life. He took the role very seriously and our film was the recipient of his hard work. I loved working with him. Orlando is a versatile actor who can change his essence in order to play other people.”

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Pineda’s performance as Marcos is that of the protector of the group. He’s the father figure who keeps everyone in line but also has to ensure their safety on the perilous streets of Los Angeles. Marcos is a caring person that would do anything for those he loves. Marcos is an advisor, a provider, and a guardian but his circumstances have required him to become more aggressive than the life which he previously knew. In precarious situations he can turn aggressive, resorting to a fight or flight mode. Even in the midst of this metropolis, the trio can easily find themselves in the type of threatening scenarios that most of the population will never even glimpse. The daily struggle is presented in common situations such as when Kemar (played by Marlon Samuda) disapproves of Marcos stealing food and the pseudo-patriarch reminds him that his actions will provide enough food to last them for a week. What might be called “hunting” in ancient times is easily dubbed “stealing” now, while the actions and outcome are very nearly the same. Pineda communicates all of the inner turmoil of Marcos in these situations and challenges the audience to consider what they might do in the same situation, more for their family than for themselves.

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Pineda’s own status as an immigrant in the US gave him an added empathy for the story of Kemar, Ali, and Marcos but he quickly admits that it is a minute fraction of the actual experience. In addition to other methods of connecting with the life of Marcos, Orlando prepared by spending many nights sleeping on the floor rather than a bed or sofa, going barefoot for days, and refusing other common conveniences which most of us take for granted. This created the aches and pains that influenced the physicality of Marcos as well as his irritability. The actor confirms that these slight shifts in your daily life can greatly affect your demeanor. While uncomfortable, this was essential to understanding Marcos and his “adopted” family. This type of empathy is a requirement for actors and in particular those who feel they have an important story to tell. Orlando relates, “I feel that we live in a time where these stories should be told, not because the story is new but because people are talking about it and are aware. Yes, professionals in the entertainment world can be described as dreamers but that’s not a trivial thing. I think everyone on Earth dreams. We all have aspirations. As a part of the film industry, I can help people who might never find themselves in a certain situation to somehow relate to and understand someone in need. It’s emotional and I love being part of that part of the experience of others. Maybe we can create consciousness and educate people so that they do not end up like Marcos and his friends. Maybe we can help people who are more fortunate to see these people as individuals who want to better their lives rather than just as someone who isn’t trying.”

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The numerous nominations and awards received by Immigrant Brothers confirms that the audience and film community had a great affinity for the film. For an actor like Orlando Pineda, it’s the proof of affecting individuals with the film’s message that holds the greatest importance. He didn’t have to wait for the audience to watch the film to attain confirmation of the stories relevance and impact as he reveals, “When we were shooting a scene in one of the streets in downtown L.A., an old lady came up to Marlon (Kemar) while he was performing a monologue sitting in a corner next to a trash can. Unaware that he was an actor and that we were filming, she leaned towards him and gave him a dollar stating, ‘There is always more than this. Have faith.’ Most of the crew held their work because everyone had tears in their eyes. That was one of the most memorable moments, not only of the film but of my life. That lady didn’t know that her kindness strengthened our resolve that there are good people out there who care for their fellow man and we can have some small part in helping to tell this story.”

 

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

THE DESIGN 7 OF LOVE: JAMES CHEN

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOUNG ACTRESS JAEDA LEBLANC IS ACTING WITH SOME OF THE BIGGEST NAMES IN HOLLYWOOD

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Jaeda LeBlanc may be the best kind of actor. She delivers powerful performances which are emotionally moving yet young enough that she is completely unaffected when it comes to the incredible fame and notoriety of those she works with. This powerful professional cocktail results in an individual focused on doing her best and disinterested in any vocational or social politics involved. As proof, Jaeda is too young to watch the most popular TV program in the world “Game of Thrones” …that will make more sense as you keep reading. LeBlanc is a young actor in age but her performances certainly belie this fact. She’s appeared in comedy kid shows (Odd Squad), acclaimed medical dramas (Saving Hope), even crime dramas (Real Detective), but in the upcoming The Death and Life of John F. Donovan she is set to receive the kind of notoriety that follows the marquee names she appears with in the film. LeBlanc appears in the film alongside names such as: Kit Harington (GOT’s Jon Snow), Natalie Portman, Kathy Bates, Susan Sarandon, and a host of other accomplished professionals. The core of the film is about fame, how we perceive those who have it and how it affects their lives. While this young Canadian actress has experienced accolades in her home country, “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan” prepares to project her into the arena of international fame. In discussing the film and her involvement, we get a glimpse into Jaeda’s view of fame and how it correlates to the industry and her involvement.Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 9.19.19 PM

So many iconic names in the field of film give gravitas to this story’s exploration of fame; how it affects those who possess it as well as colors the vision of those who witness it. It appears that everyone in society finds the idea of fame appealing. In a culture which lists “social media influencer” as a valid job title there can be little doubt that the pursuit of fame is air to many in the world. The Death and Life of John F. Donovan challenges perception and reality. A decade after the death of an American TV star, a young actor reminisces on the written communication he shared with him as well as the impact those letters had on both their lives. American movie star (Kit Harington in the lead role) finds his correspondence with an 11-year-old actor exposed, prompting assumptions that begin to destroy his life and career. Jaeda also appears as a young fan of Donovan’s in the film. The main character is encouraged to interact with her by his manager Barbara Haggermaker (played by Kathy Bates) as a means of creating positive press.Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 9.19.42 PM

It’s doubtless that millions of GOT fans are envious of LeBlanc’s interaction with Harington but the fantasy show’s more adult themes prohibit Jaeda’s parent from allowing her to view it, leaving her to see Kit as more of a coworker and star of the soon to be released film rather than the dashing bastard heir to the throne. The most impressive individual in Jaeda’s assessment was the film’s director Xavier Holland who helped her focus the approach for her role in the film. Holland comments, “When I saw Jaeda’s audition tape I was very impressed by this little girl’s acting ability. I also started acting at a very young age so when I saw Jaeda, she immediately reminded me of myself at an earlier age. Seeing her on the screen, I was immediately drawn to her character because she has that special kind of connection with the camera and the audience. Jaeda has a strong artistic ability. It allows you to see the picture of the character that she is painting, otherwise I don’t think she would be able to display such a strong image of what she wants her character to be. The camera loves Jaeda! She has an amazing stage presence. Like most artists, Jaeda knows how to create emotions but what impressed me the most were the little moments when she was not talking, just before crying; she was just quiet, still, and sad, but yet she was still making us feel something. That is what I love the most in an actor. Jaeda is an extremely talented young artist and I hope she knows that”.

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LeBlanc did her due diligence preparing for the role just as she would any other. Holland’s appraisal of her performance is the epitome of the idea of preparation meeting opportunity. The chance to be in such a major film is exciting for the young actress but even more so is the opportunity to watch so many accomplished actors on set and witness their method and approach towards their characters and scenes. Jaeda’s humility is admirable as she concedes that, as a young actress there are many opportunities ahead to learn and she makes a point to be astute and aware as they present themselves. Names like Bates, Portman, and Sarandon are desirable tutors for a young actress such as LeBlanc. With such exciting circumstances, one would expect the young actress’s favorite moment of this project to be one of heartfelt advice from any of these acclaimed veterans of film…yet, Jaeda’s most memorable moment is seen through the eyes of her own mother. Jaeda recalls, “Yes, there are a lot of famous actors in this movie and I was excited to play along with them so I could study their ways of working and see how I could improve my own skills by learning from them. Now, after working with them I realize that I am like them in the sense that I have the same work ethic. So yes, working with big names is definitely a bonus in this choice of career. But…my favorite moment was when I went to get breakfast. I was in the lineup with my mom when she turned she saw a lady behind her. She smiled at her, then she looked back because that person looked so familiar. My mom’s face started to change at that moment as she realized that it was Kathy Bates. She turned to her and nervously said ‘hello’ to Kathy. I had to take over because my mom looked like she was going to pass out. lol. I said hello to Kathy and just let her know that my mom was acting a little weird because she liked her so much. Kathy was very nice about it. When I think about it, I guess I learned two lessons about being an accomplished actor on this film: how to perform well and how to be gracious to fans. This was a very sweet moment that I still remember fondly.”