Category Archives: Intetnational Films

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.”

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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.”

 

YOU CAN’T TAKE YOUR EYES OFF ALSION ARAYA IN THE UNSEEN

Faust has been the inspiration for countless films about those who make a pact with the devil to get exactly what they want but end up making a great sacrifice for their gains. There’s always a loophole “gotcha” moment. While this has nothing to do with the theme of the movie The Unseen it might be found in the story of one of the film’s stars Alison Araya. If the actress were to design an ideal situation for herself, it would be The Unseen. While Araya has made numerous appearances in blockbuster films like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Watchmen (and many others), this was her first major role. Alison’s portrayal of the fearless Moll who is involved in a same sex relationship drew great praise from critics. She even got to act opposite one of her adolescent crushes (Aden Young as Bob Langmore) in one of the film’s most climactic and prominent scenes. Everything was perfect except…wait for the twist…The Unseen is an action/sci-fi/horror story and Araya is one of the most squeamish individuals on the planet. A self-described chicken who can’t make it through the horror film trailers at a movie theater, the actress found herself in a perfect environment save the very premise of the film. With no way out of it and too much to lose by passing on The Unseen, Araya bit the bullet and accepted the role as Moll. Alison and the entire audience benefitted from this decision. The film itself was a resounding hit whose recognitions include: two Canadian Screen Awards nominations, eight Leo Awards nominations, selection of the Molins de Rei Horror Film Festival and Vancouver Film Critics Circle, and wins at the Other Worlds Austion SciFi Film Festival, Molins de Rei Horror Film Festival, and others.Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 3.31.23 PM

While The Unseen is based on the lore of The Invisible Man, it’s a very different and unique take. Writer/director Geoff Redknap didn’t want to update the already familiar story with new actors and VFX; he wanted to create an entirely different focus. The Unseen dissects the idea of how this fantastic situation would affect the family of the person in this very odd circumstance. The inclusion of an ex-spouse, children, extended family members, etc. is similar to looking at a 3-D picture where your eyes cross and present a totally new subject…one which was previously invisible. The character Moll is the partner of Darlene, ex-wife of Bob who has literally disappeared. She is stepmother to Eva, Bob and Darlene’s daughter and has become fiercely protective of her new family, particularly when it comes to Bob. The actress portraying Moll would need to be both fierce and tender. Redknap stipulates, “Alison stood out during the audition process. She was fierce but what captured our attention was the vulnerability she bought to the role. She could have easily played a mere foil to her step-daughter but instead Alison’s multi-layered performance brought a greater depth to her own and the other actors’ performances. Alison was not afraid to go head to head with Aden Young and they created one of the most climactic scenes in the film. We knew we ‘got it’ when the air felt like it was buzzing with the electricity of the performance Aden and Alison had just given.” Producer Katie Weekly confirms, “It was important to find an actress who could carry the gravitas of Moll. We were looking for a dynamic and strong actress who could also play the vulnerability of the character. Alison bought nuance and passion to the role and really made it her own. A different actress might have played Moll as ‘the bad guy’ but Alison brought such life to the character that her transition from the beginning to end of the movie was much more satisfying.”

Moll could have been presented in a variety of ways; it was this fiercely loyal woman who protects her family and her partner that attracted Alison to the role. Moll is deeply in love with Darlene (played by Camille Sullivan) and has completely bonded with and come to love Darlene’s daughter Eva (played by Julia Sarah Stone) from Darlene’s previous relationship with Bob as her own. Being the woman in Darlene’s life, Moll has a chip on her shoulder when it comes to Bob. A drifter and absent father, Moll has seen firsthand the pain Bob has caused and will stop at nothing to protect the family she calls her own. Moll is stunned when she discovers that Bob is back in town and Eva is missing. Suspicious of Bob and the company he keeps, she pursues the truth and the two. When Moll is finally let in on the family secret, she is able to make peace with the relationship Bob and Darlene will always share and relaxes with her place in Darlene’s life knowing there are no secrets. The story is family drama with a very substantial secret ingredient.

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In one of the film’s most intense scenes, Alison was called upon to do something that has been common place for her in numerous productions, exhibit the signs of seeing something that wasn’t there; which is both literal and figurative when you are in a movie about an invisible man. She recalls her process noting, “I remember struggling with that particular moment in the film, when I had to react to seeing something shocking and new to me. I remember trying to figure it out intellectually and I wasn’t getting anywhere. Then I just closed my eyes and visualized what was in front of me. Immediately my body reacted and I understood on a visceral level what was real for me. I love moments like that because we don’t always have it worked out in advance. Some moments stump me and they challenge me to look deeper into my tool belt or think outside of the box. There is no one path to the truth of the moment, there are infinite paths it’s a matter of knowing which one to follow on any given day.” One thing Araya wasn’t confused about was working with her co-star Aden Young. She admits, “Working with Aden was a career highlight for me! I was a huge fan growing up in Australia; Aden has always been on my radar. I had a huge crush on him after watching “Black Robe” and when I saw his name on the cast list, I could hardly believe it. Aden was so generous and really invited me to get inside the ring with him and go for it…and we did! It was exhilarating and scary and live. It was incredibly fulfilling and I hope to have many more moments on set just like that. I held it together and kept it very professional but there was a younger version of me inside that was going crazy with excitement.”

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The Unseen as a film is contradictory; not in the sense that it doesn’t line up in terms of story or production but rather that this movie about the unseen is made so believable by what is seen. It’s not overuse of VFX or trickery that makes it compelling, it’s the performances of Alison and her cast that pull us into believing this very fantastic situation is as real as any discomfort a non-nuclear family experiences. The filmmakers ask us as the audience to buy into quite a bit and it’s the performances onscreen that make it much easier to be at ease with and suspend our view of reality. What is seen in The Unseen looks very good.

ZHENG HUANG PRODUCES AN AWARD-WINNING FILM FROM THE HEART OF HIS FAMILY

Of all the qualities that make up an artist, the most essential is heart. While knowledge, vision, and technical expertise are beneficial, passion is not to be underestimated when it comes to the tenacious mindset that drives an artist of almost any medium. Producer Zheng Huang’s connection to the location and story of the film “Lost” was deeply embedded in his heart. While he wore a multitude of hats for “Lost” (including writer and director) it was the role of producer which proved most taxing. It was Huang’s excellence as a producer that also led this film to such immense praise and eventually a spot at the world famous Cannes Film Festival. The film is epic, adventurous, and gripping for many reasons. Zheng was driven to create the film as a tribute and connection to his family’s homeland and to expose its beauty to the world. The lush grasslands, the exotic characters, and the endearing portrayal by the cast all appear to originate from the story which this producer was inspired to write, and was the only person capable of manifesting onscreen. “Lost” truly is a piece of Zheng Huang personified for all to see.

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“Lost” was Zheng’s first high budget film to produce and he definitely felt the responsibility. Whether it was fear or passion, the fuel that pushed him towards excellence was the appropriate one. After the completion of the script, he flew to China and did location scouting in Inner Mongolia. It was an intensely emotional moment for him. Huang’s grandfather had died on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia and it was this which inspired the story. Zheng wanted to be in the grasslands; to feel them and to expose this feeling to the rest of the world in film. For two years he had seen the terrain, the people, and the story in his mind; a mixture of Chinese and American culture and individuals…and now he was seeing the nebulous form start to solidify in front of his eyes. While the story of “Lost” is not derived from his family, Huang understood that the feeling of the location and people who carry the spirit of both his grandfather’s life and his own. The film tells of an American boy named Michael who has lost his mother in Inner Mongolia. Mr. Wu, a native Mongolian, saved Michael and decides to adopt him. Mr. Wu teaches him Chinese and Mongolia culture. Michael’s real mom (Mary) searches for him for quite some time. Michael knows the truth that Mr. Wu hides this from him and Mary. Michael is angry but struggles with the decision to return to his birth family or not. While many films give a clear and imposed decision about situations like this, “Lost” accurately depicts the conflict that can be a part of real life when considering to whom have we bonded most strongly. Just as importantly, the story and the stunning visuals of this film portray the people and the culture of Inner Mongolia not as “others” but as those who share precisely the same emotions, virtues, and faults as those of any group of people on the planet, meaning that Zheng perfectly achieved the goal of his film. The process of creating this onscreen was earned.

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Every producer knows the challenging points for their project. Successfully and positively utilizing these is a badge of honor as well as an accomplishment for any professional in the field. For “Lost” the can easily be defined as: kids, animals, and nature. Due to the nature of the people in this part of the world, the actors needed to be able to ride horses. This is not exactly a skill that the majority of individuals possess these days. While some actors take quickly and easily to it, it only takes one intimidated thespian to derail the schedule. A dutiful producer, Huang prepared a week of riding lessons in advance to the shoot. A couple of actors were never quite at ease with the situation (or the animals) which necessitated a restructuring of the shot list and even some “cheat” shots.

Zheng admits that this film was his first time working with a child actor. The final performance by this youth in the film is exceptional but the producer concedes that it wasn’t exactly the same as dealing with most actors in his experience. He recalls, “He was great and is a very talented actor. I think it’s wrong to expect a young actor to have the same perspective as an adult. It was actually kind of miserable for part of the shoot, it was hot and he was being asked to do things that were difficult…I can completely understand his state of mind. Having been a young boy myself once I knew that there’s not much that pizza and some toys can’t fix when it comes to attitude. Regardless of the actor I’m working with, I find that if I can put myself in their shoes I can quickly find the proper motivation for them.”

One of the most striking traits of “Lost” is the visual component of the film. The beauty of the Inner Mongolian grasslands is as epic as any classic western from Hollywood’s heyday. A shrewd producer who is always cognizant of a film’s budget, Huang had his location manager contact his best friend (a herdsman named A De) about using his private 8,000-acre meadow. A De was so interested in the film being made that he offered the location up free of charge. As a thank you, Zheng gave him a supporting role in the film. In an effort to keep production value high and cost low, he also hired a crew from nearby Beijing (four hours away from the filming location). Casting locals rounded out this international production and provided the authenticity that Huang had envisioned. Since his early vision, it was these very people that he wanted to be seen in the film.

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“Lost” was much more than a film to Zheng. It was an Odyssey that connected him with the previous generations of his family. Through his talent, he was able to communicate to the rest of the world, via film, what it feels like to feel both afraid and comforted in a part of the world that few Westerners will ever see. It’s by seeing these types of stories that we realize how similar all people are at their core. The literal deluge of awards that “Lost” has received in addition to being an Official Selection of the Cannes Film Festival (2017 American Film Award, Award of Merit at the 2017 Best Shorts Competition, Official Selection of the Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, Multiple Platinum Awards at the International Independent Film Awards, and numerous others) is an assurance that the beauty of this film has touched many people in many different lands. While producer is only one of the roles which Zheng Huang performed for this film, it is likely the most applicable to his deep investment in it.

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RAFAEL THOMASETO BRINGS HIS HOLLYWOOD INSPIRATION FULL CIRCLE

Making a film can be like going on vacation. No, not in the sense that you relax but rather in the fact that you travel for different experiences. You might travel to Paris to walk the Champs- Elysees and attend the Louvre or you might go to Cabo Wabo to drink tequila and kite surf. Filmmakers are people like the rest of us and they are prone to experience making different genres of productions; it allows them to keep things fresh and interesting throughout their career. While producer Rafael Thomaseto has made many thoughtful and heart-wrenching films, he reveled in the making of “Inherent Greed” with its selfish and even maniacal characters. Like a Disneyland thrill ride for both the audience and those involved in making this production, it displayed some of the darker sides of humanity, scaring you while you still enjoy the break from reality.

Film has often been the intersection of humanity for many of us. While we can relate to the characters in many ways, they often seem willing to exceed the barriers that society or reality imposes on itself. For Thomaseto who grew up in Brazil, the lines between safety and danger were always clear. His family’s residence in a gated community allowed him the safety of a “normal” childhood but he was always aware that there were others who were not afforded this benefit. This perspective is a stark contrast to the main characters in “Inherent Greed”, the Duboff brothers. These siblings have been raised in a highly affluent family and been given every opportunity, yet they want more. While they are driven to crime by the thought of increasing wealth, Thomaseto was inspired to commit a small infraction by a film poster and Woody Allen. He explains, “When I was 13, I had an experience that shaped my vision of the cinema. In São Paulo, every Friday my mother would pick up me and my sister from school and we would meet my dad at a mall in the city for lunch and then an afternoon of shopping. I hated spending hours watching them spend money on clothes so I would immerse myself into movies. One particular time I was in line to buy popcorn and had already gotten my tickets to see a romantic comedy, but I noticed the poster for a movie called Match Point. For some reason this image stood out to me. I left the line and went to check the times of the movie and realized it was PG16. I didn’t care. I pretended I was going to the movie I had tickets for and entered a different room. I sat down in the first row and watched Match Point, written and directed by Woody Allen. It’s still my favorite movie and Woody became my favorite director and inspiration.”

“Inherent Greed” is a complex story of two brothers who have been raised with privilege and wealth but return this favor by murdering their own parents in hopes of seizing the family fortune. The main focus of the story concerns whether the two brothers can get away with their crime while avoiding public or legal scrutiny. While the opulence of the family in the movie is displayed via onscreen locations filmed in mansions and a ranch in Topanga Canyon, the independent film sized budget belies the images onscreen. Thomaseto confirms, “Smaller films often have very unique and original ideas and stories, which makes them very interesting. One of the greatest challenges for a producer is that these films don’t come with the financial backing of a big studio. I got hired only a few days before the official picture, and I was at the time working on the postproduction of a commercial for a brand called Clearasil. The budget of the commercial was probably 100 times bigger than what we had for “Inherent Greed.” Organization is a key element to making sure a production happens. Keeping a constant conversation within all the main and key roles on the project, such as executive producer, producer, director, cinematographer is essential. These are creative people; when allowed to use their talents…sometimes the best results have nothing to do with the financial component.” This perspective is part of what fueled Thomaseto’s documentary “Cycles of Existence” which attempts to understand how the homeless community finds happiness even though they have essentially no material possessions. The idea itself is diametrically opposed to the main characters of “Inherent Greed.”

Retribution, Karma, call it what you like…the Duboff brothers get what’s coming to them in a number of ways at the end of the film (yes, you’ll have to watch it yourself for the details). The concept of rewards happens for those behind the camera as well as those on camera. Many of the films Rafael has produced have appeared at the world famous Cannes Film Festival, including “Inherent Greed.” He relates, “Cannes has always been my favorite film festival and I have always been obsessed with the films that come out of there. Having the films I’ve worked on be a part of it gives me more strength and self-esteem to keep fighting in the entertainment industry for great work. Working in film isn’t as glamorous as people think but attending a festival like this is a step up for everyone’s career. It brings more visibility to the work of the film and the talents involved. You can enjoy the benefits of being a filmmaker, which means sitting down at a meeting during the festival and having rose wine surrounded by heads of production of the main film studios in the world. A sense of community and affirmation is the real payoff in this situation.” Louie Torrellas (CEO of Ambitious Media Productions) declares, “Any person who works in the film industry is highly aware of how difficult and overwhelming shooting a project can be. Being the head of a production, gives you even more responsibility and in my point of view, the producer is the boss and the most important role on a movie. Rafael’s work during the production of the film ‘Inherent Greed’ was nothing short of amazing. One of the executive producers on the film recommended him to my company, Ambitious Media (production company for the film). We hired him and he instantly took over the project and made it work. Rafael exhibits a proficiency and tenacity rarely seen in producers these days. I’m continually reminded what a genius move it was to hire him. The positive reactions to this film vet this decision in spades.”

Los Angeles Brazilian Film Festival

From Bollywood to Hollywood: Actress Karishma Bhandari

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Actress Karishma Bhandari shot by John Clark

Born and raised in East London, actress Karishma Bhandari first made her mark in the Bollywood film industry back in 2012 when she landed the starring role of Sita in Southbank Centre Goes Bollywood.

Aside from being a skilled actress with magnetic appeal on screen, Bhandari’s extensive dance training gave her an added edge over the hundreds of other hopefuls vying for the role. Though she was only 19 at the time, Bhandari had already spent several years perfecting her craft at home in London. Her outstanding performance in the film Southbank Centre Goes Bollywood brought her widespread attention and ultimately proved to be the catalyst for the successful career she has today.

Directed by Encounters International Film Festival Award winner Aneil Karia, who also earned  the Grand Jury Prize Award from the Utah Arts Festival for her 2014 film Tag, the comedic adventure film Southbank Centre Goes Bollywood was commissioned for the Alchemy Festival, the UK’s largest festival of South Asian culture. The film followed Bhandari’s character Sita, Sheila played by Gurkiran Kaur (Oxasians, London Kahanis) and Rita played by Roshni Rathore (80’s Vampire Flick, Love Type D), three dance teachers at a local community centre who make it their mission to keep the centre open after a wealthy developer buys the property with the intention of closing it down in order to build a hotel. Chalk full of lively Bollywood dance routines, Southbank Centre Goes Bollywood’s endearing story about three young women battling the odds and fighting for what they believe in was a hit with viewers.

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Still of Karishma Bhandari in pink in “Southbank Centre Goes Bollywood”

The first insight into the dynamic talent actress Karishma Bhandari has become known for, Southbank Centre Goes Bollywood proved Bhandari’s ability to portray a character who was the polar opposite of herself– a necessary skill for any true actor, and one that has undoubtedly led her to land leading roles in a wide range of films since.

Director Aneil Karia says, “Karishma’s passion is one thing that makes her stand out from the crowd, as well as her striking look and her warmth. It was a challenging, nuanced role in the film and she delivered a wonderful performance.” 

In 2016 Bhandari’s international reputation got an even bigger boost when she landed a lead role as Geeta in the Bollywood feature film Club Dancer directed by B. Prasad. The film follows Ria played by Nisha Mavani, an Indian girl who moves to the city where she tells her parents she’s landed a respectable job, however she is really a dancer in a club.

When her parents come for a surprise visit and find a man at her house who they assume is her boyfriend, but is actually a criminal who sought refuge from the police the night before, they immediately want them to get married. The man quickly disappears, but Ria finds another man, Amit, who’s identical to him and negotiates a deal with him to pretend to be her boyfriend in exchange for money, which he needs for his sister’s wedding. Bhandari’s character Geeta comes into play as the man’s soon-to-be-wed sister, a key character in the plot who helps further the love story that eventually develops between Ria and Amit, who’s played by Rajbeer Singh (Who’s There?, Ishq Junoon: The Heat is On).

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Still of Raja (left) and Karishma Bhandari (right) as Geeta in “Club Dancer”

In the film, which Bhandari traveled to India to shoot for several months, she acts alongside notable Bollywood stars such as Filmfare Award winner Shakti Kapoor (Hungama, Musafir, Raja Babu) and Stardust Award nominee Zarina Wahab (Vishwaroopam, My Name is Khan), as well as actress Judith Shekoni (The Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn Part 2, Ice, Ordinary Lies).

Although she was raised in London, Bhandari’s parents are originally from Punjab, India and she grew up speaking Punjabi– something that created a challenge for the actress as Club Dancer was made in Hindi. However, Bhandari trained diligently, learning a new language and adapting her accent for the role, and she seamlessly delivered her performance as if Hindi was her mother tongue.

One of the highlights of Bhandari’s performance as Geeta came towards the end of the film when she performed an intricate Bollywood dance routine, one that few other actresses could have pulled off with the same level of grace and style she brings to the screen.

Bhandari admits, “I had already had Bollywood dance training, but to do it on a massive set in front of a lot of people was challenging… We had rehearsals every day for about two weeks and when it came time for the shoot date I had the heaviest outfit to wear. It was a wedding song and I was literally covered in jewels, which made it difficult to dance, but I pushed through and made sure my movements were seen… the song was definitely the most memorable as it was amazing to see how it was edited together.”

Karishma Bhandari
Sill of Karishma Bhandari (center) surrounded by background actors in “Club Dancer”

Some of the other film credits Bhandari has become known for over the years include BAFTA nominee Jon Jones’ (Da Vinci’s Demons, Cold Feet) 2013 drama Lawless with National Television Award winner Suranne Jones (Doctor Foster), the Empire Award nominated comedy The Inbetweeners 2 with Simon Bird (Drunk History: UK, Friday Night Dinner) and James Buckley (Zapped, White Gold), Asko Pati’s (Love Station, Super Micchua) romantic action film Aashiqui: True Love with Ankush Hazra (Romeo Vs Juliet), the 2016 sci-fi drama The Conversations with Daniella Down (The Wedding Party), and more.

Having already made a name for herself in the UK and Bollywood, actress Karishma Bhandari is currently planning to make her move to the states where she will undoubtedly be in hot demand in Hollywood as well. Bhandari is currently in production with the upcoming series The Corner Shop where she plays the lead role of Maleeka, as well as the series Emergency: LA where she plays Nurse Persis Chadra. A supremely talented actress, we have no doubt that we will be seeing a whole lot more of Karishma Bhandari in the future!

TUNA’S INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

Producer Tuna Erturk’s films and commercial work is widely recognized with awards and their prevalence in the industry. If you don’t know of him that’s likely because you don’t live in Turkey. Fame and recognition does not typically transfer internationally unless you are an actor with a marquee name. This doesn’t bother Tuna as he has always preferred creating behind the scenes. Still…he has been a part of some productions in the US which means it’s likely that you’ll start hearing his name more often, at least if you are in the industry. As the world’s communication becomes more immediate, our interest in different cultures and the stories we share cross international boundaries. Established and creative professionals like Erturk are increasingly becoming sought after to lend their skills and sensibilities to an entertainment thirsting public.

Erturk served as a producer on Dervis Zaim’s Fish which won a Crystal Apricot Award, a SIYAD Award, and was an official selection of the Istanbul International Film Festival. The film is an excellent example of the rich storytelling that is found outside of the US. Fish follows the story of a poor fisherman who, desperate to cure his daughter’s muteness, tries to catch a fabled magic fish. As the film’s producer, Tuna played a huge role in the creation and ultimately ensured their fantastic degrees of critical and commercial success. The film was shot in Golyazi/Bursa, Turkey (a peninsula) where the spectacular views and natural beauty complement the mythical hopes of the main character. Tuna concedes that coordinating a location shoot there was more than worth the effort. Having done only one feature project prior to Fish, Erturk was overwhelmed by Zaim’s insistence that he come aboard the project. He notes, “I was so busy with shooting T.V. commercials at the time. Dervis Zaim came to office one day to meet and asked me to work on Fish. I said that I really wanted to and then he replied to me with this Turkish idiom ‘There is no wedding without the orchestra. You must be there!’ He was stating that I was the orchestra in the wedding. With that kind of confidence, I found a way to make my schedule work and I’m glad I did.” As proof of the positive working relationship and Erturk’s work, Fish won multiple awards at the Malaysia International Film Festival and was nominated for Best Film at Nuremberg Film Festival.

Commercial Shooting 1

Tuna was already in LA amongst the Hollywood industry and experiencing it firsthand when he was hired as producer for the film Uzun bir Gun or “A Long Day.” This film is about a sick father who is accompanied by his son to find the patriarch’s childhood home was filmed in Turkey. Having served as producer in both the US and Turkey, the difference in the two industries was redefined for Erturk. He states, “There is a very close connection between the film industry and school in LA. It’s not just directing or production, technically that is the way it is. Active people working in the sector give lectures on light, sound, visual effects, and many other topics. They share with you all their experiences on set. This makes it possible to educate qualified personnel in every way. There are university graduate set workers and assistants, production assistants, sound assistants in LA. Everyone is very professional and educated in their work. There is great support for students. You can rent the finest cameras, the best equipment, and the most amazing team almost for free. The working rules here are much stricter than in Turkey. For instance, the health and rest time of the team working on the set is very important. In the simplest case, you can call at least 12 hours after the last worker who left the set. I can count many other rules for protecting the workers like this. I think these rules make things work better quality. It was with great pride that I applied my experience here in Hollywood to producing in Turkish films.” “A Long Day” received awards from First Run Film Festival – Wasserman Award, Golden Orange Film Festival, and Tehran International Short Film Festival.

Most recently, Tuna was enlisted as the producer for Noah Tree. Set to be shot in Bursa (Turkey), it tells the story of a man named Omer who goes to his dying father’s childhood village to fulfill his last wish: to bury him under the Noah Tree which his father claims to have planted long ago. But the villagers believe the tree to be the first tree Noah planted after the Great Flood and they will do anything to stop Omer from debasing their sacred tree. The production has already received a Cannes Film Festival Residence invitation.

Choosing to focus on films these days, Erturk has a long history in producing with various formats. Every producer and director gets their start in commercials and Tuna is no exception. He has no disdain for them, in fact…he quite liked the work. What’s not to like when you’re working with international stars like Megan Fox and for massive brands like Coca Cola and Doritos? It does however not come without it’s challenges as he notes, “We shot the Doritos commercial with Megan Fox in Istanbul. When she arrived at the Istanbul International Airport all the paparazzi were waiting there for her. She was very famous in Turkey like the rest of the world. The commercial was about a celebration of new product of Doritos “Fritos Shots”. There was an academy in commercial that brings together the young bright brains. So one of the teachers was Megan Fox. We shot the commercials for 3 days in one studio. The most challenging part of the commercial was Megan’s fame. She was so famous and it was hard keep paparazzi and media attention away.” Erturk adds, “My tasks during these productions were: making budgets, hiring crew, and keep it running smoothly. I was reporting every process to the executive producer Emre Oskay. We were finding solutions together if we had a problem. He was a friend more than a boss. That positive working relationship grew into twenty-three commercials together and film work.” Oskay adds, “In addition to our commercial work together, I have also worked with Tuna on a pair of feature films, both of which he produced. These films, 2014’s Fish and 2013’s Cycle, have each accrued a fantastic degree of commercial success and have drawn the acclaim of audiences and critics. Neither film would have garnered such a significant degree of international acclaim if not for Tuna and his fantastic gifts as a producer. Tuna Erturk stands among the top tiers of Turkey’s film producers.”

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