Category Archives: Intetnational Films

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

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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.”

 

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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