Category Archives: Reviews, Interviews & Features!

THE SWEET DREAMS OF RICARDO CAMPOS

Artists suffer for their craft. For every self-important/self-indulgent creative type there are a thousand who are working in conditions that most of us would prefer to avoid. All of this is done for the sake of the creation of art. Cinematographer Ricardo Campos took this idea a bit too literally when working on the film “Sweet Dreams.” Because the story and the film’s cast and crew were so intriguing to him, he agreed to take on the DP position which was filmed in the North East of the US…overnight in the dead of Winter. A weekend shoot at the Beverly Hills Hotel this was not. While he admits that the experience was quite uncomfortable in terms of climate, the end product is what keeps him remembering more of the good than the bad. “Sweet Dreams” is dark and unsettling, which is an apt description of the physical sensation of making it.

The process of creating art can sometimes find itself positively correlated to the message it’s delivering. For a film such as “Sweet Dreams” this may not be a comfortable experience but channeling their emotions into their work is the positive manner by which artists deal with these occurrences. Like the postal service motto of old; neither rain, snow, freezing cold, or dark of night (all of which frequently occurred on this shoot) would deter Ricardo and the crew/cast of this film from their work. When the camera wasn’t rolling, it was quite common to find twenty or more people huddled together in a pop up tent with a heater. This energy and sense of desperation is palpable in the film. Eduardo Alcivar (director of “Sweet Dreams”) notes, “From the beginning of this project I knew it was going to be a difficult one to make but very rewarding. For starters, we began production on this show in the middle of winter in the North East which is as cold as it sounds. In addition to that, we were shooting overnight exteriors in the middle of the snowy woods so as you can imagine, things were a little more complicated than usual. I reached out to Ricky to shoot this project because he and I had been wanting to shoot a narrative piece together for a while and I thought that Sweet Dreams would be the perfect opportunity for that. He is a very driven professional. Once he understands what is needed there is no stopping him. He brought a high level of abilities and professionalism to the shoot that spoke to many of us.”

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The story of “Sweet Dreams” takes place over the course of one freezing night in the outskirts of New York. Two women, Carmen and Janie, are trying to discard a body. They are both call girls who work for a boss in the organ smuggling black market. Later that night when they find a suitable location and open the trunk to take the body out, they realize that the man inside is still alive. It becomes immediately clear to Janie that this man [Henry] and Carmen know each other and have been having a relationship. After a long argument in the snowy woods, and a message is sent to both of them by their boss with instructions to kill each other, both girls end up dead alongside Henry.

While everyone in the cast and crew had their hands full dealing with how the environmental conditions on set made them feel, Campos had to contend with how these factors affected what he was able to witness with the camera. Being aware of the possible outdoor conditions, Ricardo kept his lighting design decidedly simple but effective. A china ball on a boom was used as a floating key for the interiors. For the exteriors at the gas station scene, vapor lighting was used to match the practicals. Overall the lighting has a great deal of contrast and is punchy, as soft lighting would not be congruent with the feel of the film. Ricardo’s preference for natural organic imagery was the Alexa camera.

Fans clamored over this cutting and dark tale, which Campos confirms is always the goal. He concedes that he was quite happily surprised when the film was accepted to the 2017 Festival International de Cannes and was shown in the Short Film Corner. Cannes is perhaps the most prestigious festival on the planet and having your work accepted there communicates inclusion into a very noteworthy club. Ricardo states, “It was a huge honor to have the film show at the short film corner there. It was also amazing because it led to so much more work afterwards.”

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Michael Whalley steals the heart of ‘Jean’ and audiences in new film

There is a camaraderie that comes from playing sports. Everyone has the same goal, they wear the uniform, they experience the same victories and failures as a team. For New Zealand’s Michael Whalley, he experiences that same solidarity from acting. He represents the team while still shining on his own. He works with that team spirit to achieve the best result possible. He loves to play, and considers acting a serious game, as each new project brings a new match and a different opponent. To use such a metaphor shows how much Whalley appreciates the intricacies of his craft, and this understanding translates to raw talent for this celebrated actor.

With an esteemed resume and unparalleled versatility, Whalley is an internationally in-demand actor. While working on many acclaimed films, such as the 2015 award-winning feature Psychoanalysis, he has shown the world what he is capable of. His work on Slow West, alongside Michael Fassbender and Ben Mendelsohn, received praise from audiences and critics, and this trend occurs with almost everything Whalley takes on.

“To think I could be paid for doing the very thing I wanted to do every day was such an incredible thought, so I sought to make that my reality,” said Whalley.

Earlier this year, one of Whalley’s newest films was once again a large success.  The actor played the leading character of Beverly Shepherd in the historical romance Jean. The film tells the story of Jean Batten, New Zealand’s greatest pilot, heroine, celebrity, and mystery. Beverly Shepherd is the romantic lead in the film. Beverly is a man with a strong moral backbone, a sense of fun for life and a determination to challenge for the things he wants in both affairs of his career and heart. Despite being the only son of wealthy Sydneysiders, he lacks the pretension of wealth. He can read people and knows instinctively if they are being untruthful. Independent and modern, he is attracted by Jean’s adventurous spirit and mystery. His greatest struggle is attempting to protect Jean from decisions that would put her in danger, only to have to accept that she isn’t someone who wants or needs protection. He knows he has to play a long game of love to not scare her away. Jean had lovers in her life, but Beverly is the one man who truly captures her heart. In the story, audiences see how headstrong Jean is with her life and career, and when Beverley sweeps in and shows her glimpses of recreation, fun and love, he innocently threatens her focus, creating Jean’s ultimate emotional conflict. Therefore, the filmmakers required a seasoned actor to play such a pivotal role in such an important story, and Whalley was the obvious choice, with the talent and passion to go with it.

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Michael Whalley and Kate Elliot in Jean, photo by Ginnie Loane

“Especially in the past few years, it has been of growing importance to remind ourselves of the power women had in shaping the world. Too many films are one-sided in their portrayal of male heroes, and Jean was a heroine that defied the constraints of a male-driven world. The film, the first about Jean Batten, is a piece of entertainment, education and inspiration for New Zealand and the world to see. I had known of Jean Batten in the past, but this was a chance to see behind the tabloids and popular public image into the life of such a mysterious firebrand,” Whalley described.

After premiering earlier this year, the film has seen vast critical success. At the Film Awards New York 2017, Jean won an unprecedented nine awards, including “Best TV Movie” and “Best Drama Special”. These are immensely prestigious honors, as New York Festivals recognize only the best content from over 50 countries around the world. In addition, the film was successful commercially, airing on TVNZ, which reaches over 2 million people and has recently been acquired by distributor Banijay International for the ROW market. Such success could not have been possible without Whalley’s portrayal of Beverly.

“He brought a charm, wit and strength to the character of Beverly Shepherd that we could only imagine.” said the Producer and Writer of the film, Donna Malane.

Taking part in this period piece was enticing for Whalley, and as an actor he is always looking for new challenges and experiences to refine his talent. This story is set in the thirties, and Whalley researched the decade extensively to ensure he would completely transport audiences. Parts of this process were more fun than others, such as driving around an open top 1930s Model A Ford, and getting to know about the planes they were working with, which by a happy coincidence, were taught to Whalley by an old friend of his grandfather, Dennis. However, some parts of the preparation process were more grueling. Whalley had to take on the language, manner of speech and the classic nature of the period drama, and work to make that all ring true for his mouth, body and mind to create a genuine portrayal. To do this, Whalley infused his character with the parts of himself that fit best, which he tries to do for every role he can. This helps create an authenticity that captivates audiences, and what the actor is so well-known for.

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Michael Whalley in Jean, photo by Ginnie Loane

Whalley says getting into the mindset of the time was made easier by the incredible costumes designed by Kirsty Cameron. As soon as he put on his gear, he felt clean, classic and upright. “Putting on my costume became a very important part of my morning ritual to get into Beverly’s shoes, literally,” he joked.

Improvisation also was a great tool for the actor when preparing for filming. During rehearsals with his co-star, Kate Elliott, they would have a series of improvisations around the scripted dialogue, which he says was a sure-fire way to find out what they knew or didn’t know about their characters and the world of the film. These exercises were helpful as the role of Beverly was a refreshing change for the actor, who often plays “punks and public nuisances”, and the character of Beverly is very dependable and ethical.

The actor also uses music frequently to prepare for roles. For Jean, Whalley made a playlist specific to what Beverly may have been listening to at the time, mixed with songs from Postmodern Jukebox to “get in the zone to play”, once again, similar to an athlete.

Undoubtedly, Jean is a must-see, and Whalley is enchanting in it, as he is so well-known to be. His passion for the story is evident, and his passion for what he does is even more so.

“This was a chance to act in an historical and important story in both New Zealand and International history. The true love of Jean Batten, at one point the world’s most famous and respected women. To play a character who had the charm, wit, intelligence and pilot skills to win the heart of the Lady that kept it locked away,” concluded Whalley.

 

Top photo by Ginnie Loane

NOT YOUR TYPICAL FUNNY MAN: JAMES PRESTON ROGERS

Actor James Preston Rogers is tight lipped about the plot details of the upcoming 2018 release Benjamin (Darius Films). What he is happy to speak about is his enjoyment of being in this film cast alongside so many comedic heavyweights. Rogers is so often noticed and cast for action roles (with a commanding physical presence of 280 lbs. and over six and a half feet tall) that displaying his comedic abilities alongside Kevin Pollak, Dave Foley, Rob Corddry, Peri Gilpin, Cheri Oteri, and numerous others was a joyful difference for him. His appearance as Ulf, a Russian semi-pro hockey player allowed James to stay close to the accent he had developed for the “Siberian” in “Frontier” (on Netflix) playing the nemesis of Jason Momoa’s lead character. The accent is as close as James gets in this film to any aspect of the melee that the Siberian or the combative aspect of Ulf’s hockey career in this comedic role. The inference of Roger’s commanding stature might be the premise of a fish out of water but James takes his place evenly matched alongside so many recognizable faces in the comedic acting world. As director and costar of Benjamin Bob Saget states, “Simply put, James is impressive. His comedy talent is obvious. He understood the role of Ulf and added great depth to it. It would have been easy to present the character as one dimensional but James portrayed Ulf as sincere, deep, and of course with the imperfections that make real people so funny. It was a pleasure to work with him and we were lucky to have him in the cast.”

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Benjamin is the title of the film as well as the character which the story focuses upon. A teen who has decided to delve into drug use, a group of family and friends hold an intervention to dissuade him. During the act of revealing the skeletons in their own closets (in hopes of eliciting a similar response from Benjamin) these individuals all come to realize how they are perhaps living more chaotic lives than the young man they came to help. Rogers appears as the Russian hockey player/boyfriend of Benjamin’s mother Marley, played by Peri Gilpin (perhaps best known as Roz from TV’s “Fraiser”). ULF comes in as Marley’s boyfriend very supportive of her and her situation. Throughout the course of the story ULF realize that he doesn’t fit into this new world he has embarked on, and need to focus more on himself to make his dreams a reality. English is Ulf’s second language. He really loves hockey and Marley and will do anything for either of them as the wild side of the sport and this woman fulfill a part of him. Amongst all the other adults who appeal to Benjamin, Ulf is the character who is likely the most unlike them and therefore has an unexpected connection with the perspective of Benjamin.

Appearing as Ulf is the second time recently that James has appeared as a Russian (the first being in “Frontier”). The language and accent are nearly second nature to this Canadian born actor who spent his childhood and early adult years amongst a variety of cultures. His childhood friends in Toronto were German, Irish, English, Scottish, and originated from many other parts of the world. This was early training for his ears, training that Rogers put to good use in his acting career. In regards to his role in Benjamin, James describes, “The advantage I have over Russian actors is that English is my first language. You need to know that the script is written in English and is for an English audience looking for a Russian accent. It can be difficult for a Russian actor who learned English as a second language to hit all of the nuances of the jokes the writer is looking for. I’m sure it would be the same for me if I were in a Russian language film. Sometimes it’s about what you don’t say and let the space be taken up for the audience to complete the joke in their own mind. This comprehension gives me an advantage and I usually book these kinds of roles over the Russian actors. Like almost anything, you need to know your audience. If you put the accents on too heavy, you will lose your audience. You need to put on just enough and know the comedic timing for the joke to get across.”

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Being cast alongside so many famous comedic actors might seem intimidating, and James admits that it was at first. However, the process became so enjoyable and satisfying that any insecurities took an immediate backseat to the experience. Rogers tells that the scripted and non-scripted jokes were plentiful and the conversations off camera were intelligent and enlightening; proof that like James himself, his costars are far from one dimensional. Rogers feels drawn to roles that (similar to career courses of larger actors like Dwayne Johnson and Jason Momoa) dispel the idea that an actor who is cast in action roles does not possess the ability to be equally gifted in comedy or drama. He confirms, “Just because are tall or in good physical shape doesn’t mean that we don’t have life experiences and emotions that equip us to communicate through the camera and onto an audience. Most well-known actors get painted with one brush and it’s very rare that we get to color outside the lines. I love seeing a comedic actor cast in a dramatic role and present another side of themselves. My father was hilarious and I think that part of that comedy gene exists in me. When I was in 10th or 11th grade we’d have these things called ‘cut-fests’ at school. You’d square off with someone and trade insults. People would cut class just to watch. It was all for laughs. Between my father and the cut-fest I was working on my comedy timing through my entire childhood, I just grew into being a big guy. Benjamin has given me the chance to show that training and the fact that I’m standing alongside some of the best comedic actors in the present day entertainment industry is beyond exciting.” James Preston Rogers has taken his rightful place as the physically and comedically impressive gentleman alongside his talented cohorts and can be seen doing so in Benjamin.

FLIPPING THE SCRIPT WITH ROBERTO SAIEH

Honesty is one of the scariest things in our lives. At the same time, there can be no growth without it. One cannot move forward until acceptance of reality has occurred. This is both the core of the story of the film Asia A as well as the reason that director Andrew Reid worked with screenwriter Roberto Saieh on the project. Saieh has a talent for delivering a realistic perspective rather than the typical sanguine escapism which much of the industry is known for. While there is a time and place for both, the blunt actuality of Asia A (the title is derived from the American Spinal Injury Association classification of “A” for a person with no motor or sensory function preserved in the sacral segments S4-S5) causes it to stand out. Reid shares a strong connection to the storyline of the main character Marquise which made the film very personal for him. This makes it even more impressive that the director credits Roberto with flipping the story upside down in their initial meeting, a sure sign to him that this was the perfect screenwriter to help him create the intensity and realism that he demanded.

Asia A is the story of Marquise (played by London Brown of HBO’s “Ballers”), an athlete who has recently suffered a spinal cord injury which has changed his life dramatically. Without knowing whether this will be a lifelong change or a temporary one, Marquise is forced to deal with the uncertainty of his future and what he thinks it will look like. While the core of the idea may not be completely unique, the way in which the story is told is not the norm. This is not a film about events but rather about the characters and how their relationships are affected. The main character’s interaction with his (recent ex) girlfriend [Camilla] and his older hospital roommate [Noah, played by Emmy winner Pruitt Taylor Vince] present him with the choices of letting the actions of others determine his future or doing so for himself, during a very vulnerable and painful part of his life. Reid explains why he pursued Saieh to write the script stating, “Roberto’s creativity is what makes him unique from other writers. His goal is to create truly authentic stories that resonate with audiences. Storytelling is art, entertainment, and emotion all wrapped into one package and Roberto is a true storyteller. What ensures his success is his creativity and work ethic, which are unparalleled. Talent will get you into the room but it’s hard work that keeps you there.”

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An extremely benevolent impact of Roberto’s work in the eyes of the film’s director is that he flipped many of the key relationships in the film and by doing so changed the emotional kaleidoscope of it. A few expertly made adjustments completely transformed the way that the audience and even Reid was witnessing the characters and events. While most writers would fixate on what happened to Marquise, this writer focused on his response to them and those around him. Saieh came to this perspective by an unexpected association as he tells, “It occurred to me that Marquise, the main character, had to grieve the life he once had in order to accept the one before him. Using that as a starting point, I loosely modeled his journey based on the five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, & Acceptance; taking each as inspiration. It’s impossible for me to know what it feels like to be an Asia A patient but I have experienced different kinds of loss in my life. It is that sympathetic emotion that I overlaid onto the story and used to shape Marquise’s journey. I firmly believe that no matter what you’re writing about, as long as the emotional honesty is intact it will ring true.”

Although the injury happened directly to Marquise, the experience affects all of those around him and particularly those closest to him. In the original script, Noah is the hospital roommate of Marquise and becomes a protector to him. Wanting to present something with an inverse correlation to the norm, Roberto wrote Noah as crass and irreverent with an almost forced cheerfulness. Noah’s deceased wife pitied him and he used this as a crutch to combat the depression and anger of his situation. A diabetic, Noah is eating himself towards death and has already endured two leg amputations. Rather than a wise mentor, Noah becomes a textbook example of who Marquise does not want to become. Saieh describes, “To me, characterizing Noah this way seemed like a truer version of how people are lacking self-awareness and are self-victimizing while at the same time offering a harder-hitting narrative. I didn’t want to shy away from exploring the darker side of the themes. This isn’t the story of someone who successfully went through a similar experience and is now mentoring someone else through it. It’s the story of someone [Noah] who couldn’t do what life is asking of Marquise now.”

Further driving this point and doing so painfully for the film’s protagonist is the fact that his ex-girlfriend Camilla pursues what she believes to be the right thing in reuniting with Marquise. While the comfort of her support could be a band aid, Marquise is constantly confronted with the choices Noah has made and whether or not to face his difficulties alone but with honesty.

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Roberto began his writing career with Indie Dramas and desires to take this indie sensibility and attention to “character” that defined this early work to summer blockbusters and genre films. His fascination with romantic dramas comes from his belief that some of the worst wounds you can receive can be self-inflicted, which can seem even worse when they’re the right choice. This is perfectly stated in Asia A when Marquise rebukes Camilla’s offer in a self-aware understanding that her feelings resemble pity more than love. It’s a concept Roberto feels presents itself often in our lives. He remarks, “It’s a matter of digging into personal experience and those situations where you know a relationship is over but you also know it’s going to be up to you to end it because the other person, for whatever reason, isn’t willing to step up. Having the strength to self-inflict a necessary wound because it’s the only way to save yourself seems to be a recurring theme in some of my work; letting someone go, someone that you love to death, because they’re not right for you or because you know they will be your downfall. It wasn’t that much different writing Marquise in this situation, regardless of his status as a spinal cord injury patient.”

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

Ismaël Lotz on the honor of working alongside his childhood idols

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Ismaël Lotz

When Ismaël Lotz looks back on his inspiration to pursue a career as a Director of Photography, Lotz recounts a unique combination of motivators. He recalls watching television and films with his father as a child. In fact, at the mere age of 7, Lotz saw E.T., and it was his first time seeing a film on the big screen. He was left in complete and utter awe, eager to see many more films just like it. After E.T., came films like Indiana Jones and Back to the Future. Eventually, he began experimenting with photographs and with shooting film on an 8mm camera. Even at a young age, he was confident that he could build a future out of his passion. His fascination with telling these gripping stories through different lighting techniques, filming methods, and sound styles opened an endless amount of possibilities and creative outlets for him to channel his artistry. He promised himself that one day, he would produce films that audiences would love the way he loved films like Back to the Future. Little did he know, he would one day work with the actors who crafted these stories before his eyes; however, today, instead of being his idols, these actors are also his equals.

Over the course of his career, Lotz has built himself into a highly sought-after Director of Photography in the arts and entertainment industry. His creative process typically begins when he assesses the story of a script and determines which style of film would best suit its inherent messages, moods, emotions, and atmospheres. Once he develops a vision for the script, he works tirelessly to ensure that he brings it to life in such a way that honors every element of the writer’s vision. Lotz distinguishes himself by his ability to capture every detail of a storyline, no matter how large or small. In his free time, he researches and experiments different filming techniques used by other directors of photography to master new techniques and broaden his range of abilities in order to enhance his skill set for the better of his future projects. In fact, in 2016, he had the unique opportunity to test his hand at filming a documentary called I Am Famous, featuring the life of Tom Wilson.

After he developed the idea of I Am Famous, Lotz was extremely excited about the opportunity to work with an actor that he had admired and idolized ever since he was a child. Wilson, who played the infamous role of Biff in Back to the Future, built an entertaining comedy reel out of his experiences after Back to the Future stormed the film industry. His role was so well known and vehemently disliked by audiences across the globe that he became accustomed to strangers approaching him and saying, “I hate you!” For I Am Famous, Lotz was not only the Director of Photography, but also the film’s sole director and editor. His personal approach to shooting the documentary allowed him to unveil Wilson’s true self. Being able to get to know one of the actors who inspired Lotz to become a Director of Photography was an opportunity unlike anything else he had ever encountered. He worked tirelessly to ensure that the final product of the project was nothing short of perfect.

“The way I create documentaries is very close and personal. I think the closer you can get to your subject, the more honest and real you can present them in your film. I like getting close to my subject on an intellectual level, but also with my camera. The result of I Am Famous was more than I could have ever dreamt. It turned out to be very successful,” told Lotz.

On the other side of the camera, Wilson was extremely humbled by the project. He doesn’t often allow for filmmakers to tap into his personal journeys; however, he felt that he could trust Lotz to portray him in an honest, organic light. He developed a confidence in Lotz that allowed him to feel at ease on camera and that allowed Lotz to challenge him to open himself up before his audience. When Wilson agreed to the project, he had no idea that he would be so moved by the final product and he felt that it was a distinct pleasure to be able to experience working with such a well-established Director of Photography.

“Working with Ismaël was a pleasure, as he is kind, easy to collaborate with, and keeps his humanity of the utmost importance – which is sometimes a rarity in filmmaking. His friendly demeanor makes a fine foundation for his skills as a cinematographer and director who gets things done. His knowledge of the technical demands that underlie the complex technologies of filmmaking are at the highest professional level and he has proven that with a long list of impressive professional work. In my almost forty years of filmmaking, I must say that Ismaël combines the essential ingredients for a successful filmmaker; a high level of technical skill, a deep commitment to the art of cinematography, and the personal character that makes for a solid and lasting success,” noted Wilson.

I Am Famous premiered in 2017 on ShortCutz Festival in Amsterdam. It went on to screen successfully at a number of subsequent film festivals such as the Miami Independent Film Festival, the Los Angeles Film Awards, New York Film Awards, Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards, and many more. Knowing the film has done this well so early on in its screening life is a testament to Lotz’ prowess as a Director of Photography. He is motivated to explore the possibility of creating a follow up film.

For anyone aspiring to follow in Lotz’ footsteps, he cautions them to remain honest to themselves and to their environment. He understands that in his field, it is imperative to create as much as possible. With that, will come mistakes and ultimately, learning opportunities. By watching the work of other cinematographers, you can learn new techniques and gain an appreciation for all of the different styles present in the industry. The learning never stops and maybe one day, up-and-coming cinematographers will get to work with their idols and perfect their craft as Lotz has done in his remarkable career.

From High Tension Thrillers to Cutting Edge Emotional Dramas, Actress Daniela Junko’s Range Continues to Impress

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Actress Daniela Junko

When an actor brings a character to life on screen with such seamless believability, we’re sometimes led to wonder– is this character really just a natural extension of the actor’s off screen self? It’s when we see actors take on characters that are the polar opposite from one another and still deliver that same flawless authenticity (those such as Charlize Theron in “Monster” compared to “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games” series compared to “Silver Linings Playbook” and Denzel Washington in “Training Day” compared to “The Magnificent Seven,” to name a few), that is when we know the true strength of an actor’s craft. One such actor who boasts an undeniably impressive range that places her in the upper echelon of the world’s most skilled actors is Daniela Junko.

Tall, exotic and beautiful, Daniela Junko’s look gives her the coveted ability to easily portray leading ladies on screen ranging from the femme fatale to the damsel in distress and everything in between. Her physical attributes aside, it is what she brings to the table in terms of talent that has really made her a powerhouse in the industry.

Over the years Junko, who is originally from Brazil, has become known for her starring roles in films such as Frank Lopez’s (“Tangerine Sky”) award-winning crime drama “Three Kings Down,” the twisted thriller films “I Am Tommy Talbot” and “The Incision” with Delpaneaux Wills from the two-time Golden Globe Award winning series “American Crime Story,” the hit feature film “Rough Mix” with Asian Television Award winners Kay Tong Lim and Rebecca Lim, and most recently the emotional drama “Alone,” which screened at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.

When asked what drives her as an actress, Junko explained, “As funny as it may sound, humans. We are such beautiful and complex creatures, even if we were capable of living for hundreds of years we would still not go through all the emotions and experiences that life has to present us with. To be able to study, understand and portray those different emotions, perhaps even help someone open their mind is a gift.”

From her body of work it is easy to see Junko’s interest, aptitude and dedication to discovering and experiencing the wide spectrum of emotional responses available and the many ways each individual character’s past experiences frame those responses.   

Two of Junko’s projects that really shine a light on her inimitable capacity to bring two completely different characters in two totally different genres to life are the films “Alone” and “The Incision.”

In Tekin Girgin’s thrilling crime drama “The Incision,” which centers on an organ trafficking ring led by an unscrupulous entrepreneur looking to expand his business, Junko gave a chilling  performance as Jessica, the point person who leads potential victims (or ‘organ donors’ as her character might refer to them) into situations where they are drugged and operated on. The leading lady of the film, Junko carefully imbues Jessica with multiple layers that make her intriguing and scathing simultaneously. The way she initially comes across, mesmerizing victims with her beauty and appearing affable and trustworthy, to her true essence as an evil power hungry woman with no identifiable value for human life, Junko’s performance on screen is difficult to peel our eyes away from as we wonder what her character is going to do next.

Whereas “The Incision” proved Junko’s flare for playing the villain, her role in the 2017 drama “Alone” directed by Angelo Perrino (“Dirty Spaghetti,” “The Lost Samurai”) revealed the actress in a very different light.

Riddled with vulnerability and emotional turmoil, her performance as Emma, a beautiful woman struggling to cope with debilitating depression, earned Junko a prestigious Best Actress Award nomination at the Madrid International Film Festival– and to anyone who’s seen the film, it comes as no surprise.

Starring opposite Swell Soubra, who is known for his work on the multi-award winning film “Lost Angels” and plays Emma’s boyfriend in “Alone,” Daniella powerfully depicts the paralyzing struggles those diagnosed with clinical depression face on an everyday basis. The on screen chemistry between Soubra and Junko is evident throughout the film, which is understandable considering their a couple off screen as well.

I love working with [Daniela], she is a tireless worker who demands the most from herself and everyone around her and she’s always great to be around. She is an incredible actress and storyteller,” explained “Alone” director Angelo Perrino. “The whole film would not exist without her… She is the film.”

Incapable of being typecast, Daniela Junko is one actress who has managed to defy all genre limitations and pre-existing expectations concerning the kinds of characters she takes on. Up next for Junko is the film “Killer Issues,” which will be directed by Jonathan Cocco (“Abduction,” “Twice Blessed”) and is expected to begin filming in 2018.