Category Archives: Producer

Producer Ricky Cruz brings out the laughs with quirky characters in award-winning new film

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Photo by Arthur Marroquin

Ricky Cruz found his way into producing in an unconventional way. Rather than spending his early years dreaming of working behind the camera, he did the exact opposite. It was his love of acting that led him into the film industry, starring in the popular 2010 South African film Spud alongside John Cleese and Troye Sivan. It was one of the more celebrated local films and an incredible experience to be a part of. Cruz loved every second of it; he believed acting was where he could best help people, by becoming a character the audience could project themselves onto.

After Spud, Cruz found himself working in local commercial campaigns, practical joke television series and National Geographic documentary specials. It was the rewarding experience of seeing something he was a part of come together as a final product that ultimately hooked him and helped him decide that he wanted to pursue a career in entertainment and filmmaking, however, the more exposure he had to film sets, the more he realized his true passion: producing. Since that time, he has become an in-demand producer in both his home country and abroad, with a passion for what he does that translates directly into every project he takes on.

Known for films such as the documentary Improv a Saving Grace and the romance Mixed Orders, Cruz is an extremely versatile producer. Branching into the comedy genre, Cruz has another hit on his hands with the flick The Neighbor. The film tells the story of an offbeat and strange character who tries to befriend a new neighbor before finding a friend just like him. It explores friendship and the importance of being you.

The Neighbor is very much my signature tone of a quirky character in an honest situation comedy, but the deeper level of the character actually being considered an outlier by other inhabitants of the immediate world, gave the film a subtle nuance of real loneliness and rejection, which are two very powerful and very well understood emotions. The Neighbor is a comedy sketch yearning to have its message received via unconventional comedy,” said Cruz.

Currently on the festival circuit, The Neighbor has already won an Award of Merit at The indieFEST 2018, an Honorable Mention at The London International Comedy Film Festival and took part in The Battle of the Sketches 2018. It was an Official Selection at Battle of the Sketches, Portland Comedy Film Festival and Rock and Roll Film Festival Kenya. With the onscreen comedy chops of Willem van der Vegt (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and writer Zain Ashar, the comedy short has proven its appeal. It was also one of two projects produced by Cruz that was accepted and won an Award of Merit at the indieFEST 2018.

“The fact that The Neighbor has been such a success makes me consider all the other original and creative characters that have originated from things like off-screen improv comedy or jokes between friends. I think the origin of these sorts of characters has a lot to do with their ability to resonate so profoundly with people. They are an exaggerated but honest piece of someone’s personality and because of the respective truth involved in their creation, people tend to relate very strongly to the character. There are so many other interesting character creations that similarly explore different parts of our personality and with The Neighbor’s success, it makes me seriously consider the prospect of utilizing these empathetic and exaggerated characters in their own respective short films or one that explores many of the mentioned characters in an ensemble driven piece,” said Cruz.

Cruz was ready to produce such a unique comedy. As he started in acting, he has vast experience with improv, making him the ideal producer for this film, knowing just how to embrace elements of improv for a familiar character. He knew what parts of the character needed to be showcased best to get audiences to relate and support such an absurd creation as well as where the character would need to be further developed.

“The project really is a showcase to display the type of message I want to spread with the type of characters and humor I want to use. It’s an example of a stage sketch and improv character that translates really well onto screen and acts as evidence that material discovered or created off screen should be mined and explored and adapted if possible because, such comedically conflicted characters are excellent vessels to relay important information and messages in a way that people can easily understand and enjoy. This film offers the ability to escape and comfort simultaneously and those have always been my favorite kinds of films because it is effortless therapy and can help like-minded audience members through turbulent times without them even realizing it,” he concluded.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

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Walt Disney Animation Studios Hosts Bali: Beats of Paradise

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

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

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

Producer Chandra daCosta takes viewers around the world with ‘Cruise Buzz’

As a Producer, Chandra daCosta wears many hats. She is a manager, financial analyst, filmmaker, and storyteller. It is the latter that she most enjoys in her role and combining creativity with business drives her. Development is a large part of the process, which entails finding interesting stories, people, or cultures, as well as coming up with new angles/spins on ideas that are already successful. In production, it’s all about details, logistics and ensuring things run smoothly and everything is taken care of. DaCosta excels at all aspects of producing, and her talent has led her to being a respected producer in Canada’s entertainment industry.

DaCosta finds herself drawn to the “Lifestyle” genre when it comes to her work, working on shows involving real estate, food, dating, and more. Such projects include Oxygen Network’s A Wedding and a Murder, Global TV’s The Stanley Show, and Animal Planet’s Biggest and Baddest.

“Chandra is a pleasure to work with. She is a skilled negotiator and effective producer. She knows the television industry well and is good at leveraging her many contacts within the industry. She is also a remarkable creative producer. She was the driving force behind Cruise Buzz from both a business and creative perspective in addition to being the on camera host,” said Lori Massini, who worked with daCosta on Cruise Buzz. “Chandra is intuitive and knowledgeable.  She brings skills as both a business and creative producer to her projects. She has a sense for what works and doesn’t work and has great ideas for content.  In addition to being a skilled producer, Chandra is magnetic on camera and makes an excellent host.  Cruise Buzz was a terrific show and I have no doubt Chandra will continue to develop and produce top-notch content.”

It was Cruise Buzz that daCosta calls the highlight of her esteemed career. It was her show; she created it, developed it, found a production company to produce it, and put all the teams together. She was in charge of all the creative and business aspects for the show.

“I remember being on the Windstar cruise in the middle of the ocean and realizing that this was all because of my efforts. It was a real sense of accomplishment because it seemed like we were faced with road block and road block, but I just kept ploughing through. Being on the cruise ship, shooting our pilot episode was epic to me,” she said.

Cruise Buzz highlights the world of cruising, from big ships to small river cruises, all over the world.The premise of the series was “there is a cruise out there for everyone.” daCosta truly believes that. There are so many different types of cruises and itineraries to choose from, and daCosta wanted to show viewers their options. From a River Cruise through China, to the Baltic Cruise on a luxury liner, there is something that can win the heart of any traveler. Whether they want to explore the ports of call or visit foreign ports from the comfort of their stateroom deck. It’s a great and safe way to travel.

“This project was one of the best and challenging projects I’ve ever done. The idea of a travel cruise show was the perfect way to combine my love for travel and TV,” she said.

Every day daCosta worked on Cruise Buzz was an exciting and unique experience. She began with working on the pitch documents, episode ideas and brand integrations. Everyone she approached about being involved was excited about the show.

When she was trying to decide where to shoot the pilot, it was important to daCosta that the pilot episode was shot on a cruise ship that wasn’t the massive passenger cruise. She aimed to find a cruise that had an exciting and exotic itinerary and also show another side of cruising. She ultimately chose the Windstar in the Caribbean, a ship for 300 guests rather than the usual 3000 on large cruise lines. The ship had great visual appeal on camera, complete with sails, and an itinerary that visited ports that were familiar to many travelers, and also some hidden gems.

DaCosta spent almost four years of her life working on cruise ships, and she is extremely passionate about travelling. Being about to share this passion with the world was extremely rewarding for the producer.

“Getting the pilot episode made against all odds was a huge accomplishment. It was such a great feeling to know that Windstar was highlighted in such a great way that appealed to so many different travelers,” she said.

You can watch the pilot of Cruise Buzz here.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

Mariana Mendez on helping open discussions about important issues

Now, more than ever in society, it is acceptable to take important world issues and start meaningful conversations about them. With topics ranging from mental health and sexual assault, to human rights, education, and everything in between, individuals are feeling increasingly comfortable debating the moral and ethical conducts underlying each category. One of those individuals is film producer, Mariana Mendez. For as long as she can remember, Mendez has been passionate about starting conversations before the eyes of her audiences and doing so in such a way that allows the conversation to carry on beyond the screen. Ultimately, she wants to help contribute to a society that speaks freely about change while she freely changes society through the quality content she produces before her audiences. This mentality has made her a highly sought commodity in the film industry; however, she remains simply humbled by the fact that she gets to live out her dream every day and call it a job.

In 2017, esteemed director, Luis Téllez set out to complete a stop motion animation film that tells the story of a black pawn who watches the chessboard around him crumble when a game ends due to the battles it has been subjected to. This, in turn, creates a new opportunity for both sides in a “game” that gathers new dimensions. The character that Téllez was looking to portray was one he had had in mind for the better part of seven years. His issue was the he couldn’t seem to make the character fit anywhere. It wasn’t until he and Mendez began discussing the feelings that human beings undergo when something undesirable happens to them. They determined that the true signs of character show in the way in which an individual reacts to these situations and from there, Mendez and Téllez knew that they had to bring this character, and these realities, to life before their audiences. What followed ended up shaping one of the best experiences of Mendez’ career.

“After we decided where we wanted to go with the script, it was fascinating to watch crew members of all different ages, from all different walks of life, come together. I am a fan of animation, but it definitely amounted to a very significant learning process. In many ways, I learned to appreciate animators and the work that they do in ways I hadn’t previously understood. Animation sets are so different than live-action sets. There are issues that arise from the puppets or software that you wouldn’t otherwise encounter on a live set. This had a large impact on the day-to-day decisions we made and I’m so glad I got to be a part of it,” she described.

For the film, Mendez proved herself to be invaluable as she handled regular production duties that had to do with scheduling, organization, and more; however, she also managed to attract investors to the project and have them help fund she and Téllez’ dream for the script. Her philosophy, as a producer, is to always lead by example and set a precedent for everyone around her. She remains respectful and welcoming, always ensuring that she fosters an environment of open communication, hard work, and dedication. She also aims to hire people based on both their abilities, as well as their personalities. Above all else, however, she prioritizes the selection of projects that reflect what is going on in society and to help spread awareness of major and minor issues alike.

Mendez, being a very detail-oriented individual, gained a new-found appreciation for the level of detail that goes into producing a stop-motion animation. She dedicated herself to learning how to shoot a stop-motion scene properly and planned her timelines and budgets accordingly. Ultimately, what she loved most about the project, was the fact that every day on set served as a reminder that we have the technology and resources available to tell just about any story out there and given her passion for storytelling, she can’t think of anything more exciting.

“Production-wise, it was an honor to be able to immerse myself in the world of animation and I gained a new-found respect for all the animators, designers, and visual effects people working in the industry. Story-wise, I loved to be able to tell such a crude and real story via such an innocent art form. I’m a very detail-oriented person and I was impressed by the amount of detail that went into it. In general, I was reminded that due to technological advances and the software we used, our own imagination is the limit, which pretty much instilled in me that I could potentially tell any kind of story in the future,” told Mendez.

When Viva el Rey premiered at Sitges Film Festival in 2017, audiences were drawn to its relatable storyline and expert animations. It later screened at other film festivals around the world and is still completing a festival circuit today. Mendez’s success with the film is the reason that she was asked to work with the same team again for their latest project, Inzomnia. She is eager to learn how audiences will receive the new film and hopes it will be just as great as the result of their work on Viva el Rey. Keep an eye out when it premieres in festivals near you.

 

Written by Joyce Cameron

All eyes on Producer Sherry Du for acclaimed new film

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Sherry Du

From a young age, Xiangrong (Sherry) Du always enjoyed watching film. Sitting in front of the screen, she felt the ability to transport into a whole other world. As a child in Heilongjiang, China, it was her favorite past time, and as she grew, this love for the art form did not falter. Despite such a passion, she never thought of it as a career path. It wasn’t until she was a teenager that she realized she had to pursue her passion and decided to become a producer. She wanted to have the power to change the Chinese film industry and producing was just the way to do that.

Du has since made quite a name for herself as an industry leader. Having worked on several acclaimed films like Front Door and August, she aims to tell impactful stories that resonate with worldwide audiences.

“Filmmaking is a form of art exploration; they express a feeling they want to say to an audience; they form a connection in that moment,” she said.

Earlier this year, Du’s latest film Eyes on You premiered at the Oniros Film Awards where it took home the top prize. It tells the story of a lawyer named Gilbert. He knows that his wife is dating another man, but he does not hate his wife at all. Rather, he still loves her so much, even though he is a control freak guy. He has already decided to murder a man named Duke, as he thinks that this is the only way that he can keep his wife with him. Gilbert plans to meet with Duke as another identity, so that he can have him comes to his house. Unfortunately, Gilbert kills his wife before Duke comes to meet him. Somehow, Duke manages to survive.

“Even though it’s hard to finish the film, it was definitely worth it. Every time I complete a project, it just encourages me to keep doing more,” said Du.

Du had previously worked with the Director of Eyes on You, Guoqiang Sheng, on the film August back in 2017. Sheng was instantly impressed with the producer’s work ethic and asked her to take part in his independent film.

“Guoqiang is a really hard-working person, the exact type of director I like teaming up with. The moment he asked me to join his project, I said yes,” said Du.

When it came to filming, Du found it to be one of her favorite experiences of her career. Everything went smoothly on set, and one of the easiest ones she has worked on. The crew had worked together previously, and a certain chemistry existed that was unparalleled.

The one challenge was the location. Finding the ideal place, the shoot provided some obstacles that Du was quick to overcome. Her vast experience producing allowed her to get the permits she needed.

“Once we had the location all set, I didn’t need to worry about too many things since the crew knew each other. Once I got them fed each day, everything went perfectly,” she joked.

Growing up, Du could only dream of having the career that she does now. Producing is where her heart lies, and she encourages other children in China to never give up on the same dream if that is their passion.

“Make sure you love your job otherwise it’s a waste of your time. Producers need patience and need to know how to work under stressful conditions. Work hard but don’t give up your own story,” she advised.

 

Written by Sara Fowler

Olivia Jun helps Rain Zheng bring ‘Esther’ to life in blood curdling horror film

Olivia Jun headshot
Olivia Jun

Unlike many niche professions in the Arts and Entertainment industry, film producers wear many different hats under one blanket title. There is no one-size-fits-all version of their job and they tend to assume responsibility for a wide variety of different tasks involved in seeing a script through from inception to completion. For instance, some producers handle budgetary planning, whereas others oversee contracts, permits, and hiring duties. Some work on set, others do not. Despite this reality, one thing remains constant: they are always in charge of collaborating with each department involved in making the film and ensuring that each and every member of the production is on the same page in terms of how they want the film to turn out. Esteemed Chinese producer, Olivia Jun, understands these demands all too well. Throughout her career as a producer, Jun has learned that it is her job to find the ideal avenue to achieve the best possible result for any project she works on. She is a master at her craft and she knows that with the right amount of hard work and dedication, she will be able to continue helping tell compelling stories and entertain audiences for the rest of her days.

As a film producer, Jun has lent her talents to a number of successful films and commercials over the years. For instance, in 2017, Jun produced an advertisement for eHi Car Service, which featured the highly esteemed, professional basketball player, Stephen Curry. She is also no stranger to the movie world, having produced films like Luz, The Gift, and Donna. She has even tested her hand at the art of producing documentaries, music videos, and prestigious events such as Jackie Chan’s Yaolai International Cinema Open Ceremony/The Karate Kid Premiere. There are few limits to what she can achieve when she sets her sights on a goal and she is energized knowing that she gets to do it time and time again for each new project that comes her way.

Earlier on this year, an old colleague of Jun’s, Rain Zheng, requested that she join him in bringing his script for a horror film, Esther, to life. Her reputation, coupled with their shared interest and passion for the film’s script, made for the ideal team to make this dream a reality. Estherfollows the story of a teenage girl living in a remote, rural outpost in an undisclosed nation in the late 19th century. The events of the story kick off when the girl discovers a bloodcurdling message written on her bedroom wall: “you’re mine to kill.” The subsequent events that transpire are enough to send shivers down the spine of even the most avid horror film lovers.

Although Zheng was the brainchild of the film’s story, Jun helped him to develop the script and determine how best to bring the film success. Due to its historical elements, Jun ensured that she researched and studied the time period in order to determine the best shooting locations, product designs, wardrobes, hair and makeup looks, special effects, and cinematography. During her research, she came across a house called Cohen Bray House in Oakland, California, which accurately captured the type of house represented in the script. She then liaised with each department to bring them up to speed on her and Zheng’s plans for the film, detailing exactly what they’d need to do to keep audiences on the edge of their seat for the duration. She also satisfied the role of guiding Zheng through pre-production, selecting cast and crew members, whilst dealing with budget planning and scheduling matters. As a result of her contributions, the team were equipped with an exceptional shooting plan, schedule, permits, insurances, release forms, agreements, locations, equipment, transportation, and much more. She was instrumental to the entire process and Zheng quickly learned that he had made the correct choice when he approached her about the opportunity.

Upon completing the film, Jun distributed it to more than 50 festivals where it went on to receive an astonishing 16 awards/official selections and counting at a number of well-known film festivals like the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and the Top Indie Film Awards. She, Zheng, and the rest of their cast and crew were blown away by how well received the film was and felt an overwhelming sense of pride in knowing that their hard work and dedication had paid off in such a big way. Overall, what Jun enjoyed most about this experience, however, was the unwavering amount of passion and joy she shared with her fellow cast and crew members from the very start of the project to the very end.

“I loved my cast and crew. I could sense their passion and their efforts throughout the entire process. We may be from different countries, and we may all do different jobs, but we had one dream in mind for the film and we made it come true. All of the crew worked for free, donating their time and talent. Still, they came up with the best work that they could, encouraging each other and making each other love being present on the project every day. It was a passion project, and I could not be prouder of the outcome,” she concluded.

 

Written by Sean Desouza

Producer Chenlin Qian sheds light on difficult teenage years and importance of family in new film

Chenlin Qian was just three years of age when she started playing the piano. Growing up in Shanghai, China, she always found that music was a way to release all of her emotions. As she aged, she found that different artistic mediums had this effect on people all over the world, and she began to explore them. That is how she found her way into filmmaking.

When watching the movie Amour, Qian was astounded by how moved she could be from a film. She noted the director’s choices and how he chose to display something as harsh and sad as death in a warm beautiful way. She realized that filmmakers had the power to completely influence their audiences, in an even more immersive way than music, and she found herself developing a new passion. She knew from then on that she wanted to make movies and has since become an award-winning producer.

“Film to me, is not a product, it’s more like a tool to help me to express myself to others,” she said.

Qian is now internationally sought-after for what she does. Her film Cowards saw great success at several prestigious film festivals, a pattern that continued for many of her other projects last year, including the drama Sixteen.

Sixteen tells the story of 16-year-old Jennifer, a girl with a perfect life who discovers her early pregnancy, breaks the image of a good girl and looks for her real self. Throughout Jennifer’s life, every choice is made by her parents. When she finds out she is pregnant, Jennifer decides to take control of her destiny, and be herself for once.

“It’s a movie about a teenager’s loss. Everyone has experienced this period of their life, it’s a time where we can so easily get lost. This story showcases the really sincere love of a family during a trying and difficult time,” said Qian.

Sixteen went on to win Best Short at the California International Shorts Festival, the Silver Award at the North America Film Awards, and Honorable Mention at the Los Angeles Film Awards. Such acclaim could never have been possible without Qian, who is said to have saved the project. Without her, the production was at risk of delays and losing money, but she knew just how to rectify the situation and produce an outstanding film.

“Although there is not a very happy beginning, there is a good ending of this film, and a story that needed to be told. It was really thanks to everybody who worked on this project, didn’t complain during the tight pre-production, and instead worked harder for the production to ensure everything went smoothly,” she said.

Yiyun Zhang, the Director of Sixteen, had previously worked with Qian on Cowards, and after it’s immense success, she hired the producer immediately to take part in her new film. Initially, a different producer was working on the film, but left with just two weeks left before shooting was supposed to start. When Qian came on board, she knew she had to work both quickly and efficiently to stay on schedule. From there, Qian began her work, and in just half a month, she began conducting auditions, finding locations and getting permits, organizing the crew, scheduling the shooting plan and getting insurance on sets and equipment. Qian also supervised the post-production for this project.

Last year was a busy time for Qian, who on top of working on Sixteen and Cowardsalso produced WhirlwindandTake Me Back. The latter was the producers first comedy, a refreshing change from the heavy topics and pointed dramas she often makes.

Take Me Back follows a pair of roommates who greatly dislike each other, but after a ridiculous body exchange, they start to understand each other’s lives. The film was nominated by Direct Monthly Online Film Festival and by Newark Short Film Contest.

“It’s a happy ending. I think this movie can bring the audience a positive attitude to life, when you don’t like someone, think and look in a different angle, maybe you will find the shining part of them. After seeing this short, you remember the happiness it brought to you but also you will start to ask yourself, those who I don’t like, do they have some good part I never discovered? If we exchanged bodies, would I do what he did or even worse than he did? I think, this movie can help us to understand other people’s actions. It takes the classic mantra of living in someone else’s shoes and makes it literal,” said Qian.

As Take Me Back was Qian’s first comedy, she conducted a lot of research to see what sort of tone needed to be set to make the film a success. She realized that the new genre was another way to get the audience to feel something while they watched, reminding her why she got into filmmaking in the first place.

“It’s fun to work with people who can bring others happiness. It brought me a fresh filmmaking take, reminding me that movies can not only talk about serious problems, but also can just entertain people,” she concluded.

Written by Annabelle Lee