Category Archives: Reviews, Interviews & Features!

Chinese Producer Yuxiao Wang Solidifies her Name in Hollywood

Producer Yuxiao Wang
Producer Yuxiao Wang

As international partnerships between China and the U.S. continue to rise, filmmakers in Hollywood are in need of more Chinese producers who are able to liaise between the differing audiences within the U.S. and China.

“Chinese film history has evolved very differently from Hollywood. If you want to make films for the Chinese market, you need to understand that history as well as the different genres and aesthetics that work in China. What works in terms of narrative with Chinese audiences is not always the same as works in other markets. It’s essential if you want to make a film for the Chinese market to have somebody that really understands the Chinese film world, culture, aesthetics and censorship in China. So it makes perfect sense to have a Chinese producer on board,” explains Michael Berry, Professor of Contemporary Chinese Cultural Studies at UCLA and the author of Speaking in Images: Interviews with Contemporary Chinese Filmmakers, and Boiling the Sea: Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Memories of Shadows and Light.

One such producer who has been sought after by productions within China, the U.S. and co-productions between the two, is Yuxiao Wang. Over the past few years, Wang has produced an impressive list of films, television series and commercials that have aired in both countries.

Wang has become known throughout the industry for her work as the producer of the films “Harmonica,” “Locked,” “She Gives Me Sight,” “Wasteland Walker,” “Dustin & Toilet,” “Successor of the Southern Star,” “Los Angeles Kidnapping” and more. She also produced the series “West Journey,” which was shot in the U.S. but is geared towards a predominantly Asian audience. The series takes viewers around Los Angeles and across the country on Route 66 with featured guests such as NBA star Shaquille O’Neal and Metta World Peace.

“Since most of the crew traveled from China, I was the only local person who helped them with shooting. It was tough persuading different location owners to agree to let us shoot, but I managed to make it happen,” explains Wang about producing the series “West Journey.”

It’s clear to see through her past work as a producer that Wang knows how to pick award winning projects. The war drama “Harmonica” took home the Grand Prize from the Carnegie Mellon Film Festival and was awarded at the Los Angeles International Underground Film Festival, the dramatic crime film “Locked” earned several awards from the Los Angeles International Underground Film Festival, including two Best Actor awards, the Best Film Award and the award for Best Narrative Short, and the film “She Gives Me Sight” garnered several awards at Hollywood Boulevard Film Festival, Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, Direct Short Online Film Festival and the LA Underground Film Festival.

In addition to her cross-cultural experience, Wang’s extraordinary ability to find the perfect people to head each department on a production, find locations that fit both the story and budget, and pitch the project in a way that effectively gets each production the funding it needs to not only be completed, but gain distribution on an international scale, have made her a highly sought after Chinese producer in the Hollywood film industry today.  

The story of what led Yuxiao Wang to become a producer is both ironic, and telling as to the kind of tools she brings to the table. As a transfer student in Japan, before she became a producer herself, Wang was involved in the production of a film where a mishap with one of the grips happened on set, and what followed was a little out of the ordinary.

Wang recalls “The Japanese mafia came and threatened to destroy our camera, the producer, at that time, went up and tried to settle things and find a solution to the problem. That was the first time I noticed the importance of a producer, they are always ready to solve any problem.”

Like any producer, Wang has undoubtedly encountered her share of problems on the productions she’s produced, however her quick problem solving skills and ability to think outside of the box have come in handy every step of the way.

Talentik
Film Poster for Talentik

Sky Culture Entertainment hired Wang last year as a producer on the new sci-fi feature film “Talentik” starring California Women’s Film Festival Award winner Lee Chen (“Veep,” “Girl Meets World,” “Before I Got Famous”), Nick Culbertson (“Ahimsa,” “Julie and Her Friends”), Edward L. Green (“Savageland,” “First Timers”) and Jessica Treska (“Broken Pines,” “Silver Lining”). The film, which was released in China in February through the popular internet platform Sohu, quickly gained traction with audiences and garnered upwards of nine million views. While working on “Talentik” Wang was also busy producing the upcoming sci-fi feature film “Rift” from One All Entertainment.

“Rift” is yet another film that Wang was heavily involved with from the beginning of production, which was shot in the U.S., but made for Chinese audiences. The film, which is slated to be released in China within the next few months, includes a cast of both American and Chinese actors and revolves around a Chinese astrophysicist who is caught between two parallel universes. The film stars Asians On Film Festival Award winner Jack Yang from the films “Seven Pounds” starring two-time Oscar Award nominee Will Smith and “American Ultra” starring Oscar Award nominee Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, Greg Depetro from the Platinum Reel Award winning film “For All That We Are” and the IIFC Award winning film “Abducted.” and award-winning actor Allen Theosky Rowe from the series “Hawaii Five-0” and “Far Cry 4: Fallen Country.”

Wang’s skill at creating a bridge of communication where language and cultural differences were concerned, as well as raising funding and solidifying shooting locations across Los Angeles were all integral to turning the film “Rift” into a reality– as they have been for all of the projects she’s produced to date.

As the film industries between China and the U.S. continue to join forces, having multi-talented producers like Yuxiao Wang who are well-versed in both cultures has become increasingly important.

 

MACBETH’S MODERN COOL LOOK, COURTESY OF AWARD-WINNER JANE JOHNSTON

Only the brave (sometimes the foolish) fear to tread upon the hallowed ground known as Shakespeare. For centuries the works of the playwright have been treated as gospel for actors and all those involved in their production. Their rhythm and essence of these storylines have been the base and inspiration for much of modern cinema and theater. While the stories have been retold in their basic original form in film, on seldom occasion they have been reimagined. Such was the case with Geoffrey Wright’s Macbeth starring Sam Worthington in the title role, produced exactly 400 years (to the year) from what is considered the play’s original premier. Set in modern day Melbourne, this Australian production of Macbeth is a gangland interpretation. In a congruent fashion, Worthington (as Macbeth) is convinced by his drug addled wife to seize his destiny and assume power by killing his close friend Duncan, setting into play a domino effect of tragic events. This modern interpretation of a classic called for slick cars and suits while also wanting to give a nod to Scottish themes and touches of a more historic Macbeth. The film’s design has pops of color throughout the tones of greys and blacks. Once he became King, Macbeth owns his look donning color and texture. By the end of the film he is battling for his life in a more military garb. When a tale is as well-known and loved as Macbeth, the audience knows what to expect, just not the accent it will be presented with. It was paramount for this presentation of Macbeth to visually be set apart and above all others. To great means this was achieved through the talent and artistry of costume designer Jane Johnston. She readily admits to being terrified going into the production but her plan was to bite off small chunks and manage these bite sized pieces. The plan worked to the delight of Johnston, the filmmakers, the audience, and critics. The film’s director Geoffrey Wright professes, “I very purposefully sought out Jane Johnston to create the costumes and look of Macbeth. Her resulting vision of combining old world styles with modern fabrics was instrumental to its themes and moods. From a visual-textural point of view it remains the richest and most complex film I’ve directed and I was thrilled by Johnston’s planning, communication, and execution of craft. Johnston’s work was especially impressive in enhancing the character portrayed by the star, Sam Worthington, whose next film was as the lead in the biggest budgeted and most profitable film (up to that time) ever made – ‘Avatar’ by legendary director, James Cameron. Cameron’s company was impressed by Worthington’s impact in Macbeth and Johnston’s work was a critical part of the reason for that assessment. Worthington had never previously looked as good as he did in Macbeth. His elevation to an international star was made certain and Johnston received an AFI award, the highest Australian accolade possible, for her accomplishment.”

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Jane’s very tried and true process involves reading and dissecting the script and coming up with tear-sheets to piece together her thoughts for looks. Meetings with producers, the director, etc. follows as a cohesive form evolves for each character. It’s essential to have conversations with the hair and makeup departments to see what they are thinking. Taking advantage of the city’s location itself, Johnston notes, “Melbourne has some interesting public art and some great locations which I think that added to the production design value but as far as costumes were concerned I think the fact that we were shooting in winter definitely added to the look. Needless to say, we would have made a very different film had we shot in Sydney. Melbourne is also known for its fashion and I tried to use interesting Melbourne designers whenever I could and mix them up with pieces of vintage clothing. There was one particular men’s label called Calibre who were incredibly helpful. I also found some really obscure independent fashion and jewelry makers whose products I incorporated into the designs.” She continues, “I remember sitting in my car outside a bar in Sydney with Sam Worthington ‘doing my pitch’ and hoping that he could see it too. Thankfully he was totally on board and excited by the character. I think it was one of those times that the look and clothes helped the actor feel grounded, and helped them see who they were. I started having fittings and our ideas evolved. Once we felt we had our character, I could develop it further and add certain touches or details to the point where I knew it was right.”

This Film Finance production of Macbeth received six nominations and two wins, one of which was Johnston’s Australian Film Institute (AFI) Award for Best Costume Design. The AFI Award is the highest honor in Australia and a massive achievement for anyone involved in the film industry. Describing the experience, Johnston recalls, “The event went over two nights with the first night being the technicians’ awards, which was our night. The second night was the more glamorous red carpet event where the actors turned up. The experience itself was quite surreal. A lot of people around me felt quite confident for the production designer and myself but you never know. David’s award (David McKay won Best Production Design for Macbeth) was called out first and he made his speech and then costumes were announced and I think I really stopped hearing anything in that moment! I gave my speech and thanked my fabulous team and met David out the back to have our photos taken. Then of course we celebrated! I think that the film overall had a strong impact; it was visual, had a great soundtrack, and it really hadn’t been attempted on this sort of budget before. The production design and the costumes worked really well together and I believe that helps for a film to receive recognition. I put Sam Worthington in a suit and that hadn’t been done before! I also put him in a kilt. I think it was a stylish looking film and it happened to stand out amongst the other films of that year.” Proof that with talent and quality material, you can excite and expose different generations to the most classical of stories.

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Actor Varick Addler: One Talented German on Everyone’s Radar

Varick Addler
Actor Varick Addler shot by Chris Janik

Germany has a lot of claims to fame. The country has produced innovative scientists, ground-breaking philosophers, brilliant artists and composers, not to mention some of the best beers in the world; and with award-winning actor Varick Addler on the list, they can count captivating screen talent among their many notable attributes.

In 2012 Varick Addler took home the Audience Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role at the Nuremberg Human Rights Film Festival (NIHRFF) for his remarkable performance in the film “Mimikry – Upside Down.” Early on in his career Addler honed his skills at some of the most recognizable acting school across the globe, including the NYFA New York Film Academy in Los Angeles, the William Esper School in New York, the Munich Film Academy and more.

With a plethora of lead roles in film and television projects that span virtually every genre, Addler’s brilliant repertoire of work reveals him as an actor with impressive range, one who easily inhabits his characters and seamlessly brings them to life on screen.

One of Addler’s first professional roles on screen came nearly a decade ago when he played a key Soldier in the 2008 action film “The German,” which took home the Nando Award from the Novara Cine Festival. Directed by Nick Ryan, whose 2012 documentary “The Summit” was awarded at the Sundance Film Festival and earned the Irish Film and Television Award for Best Documentary and Best Feature Documentary, as well as the Boulder International Film Festival’s BIFF Award for Best Adventure Film, “The German” gave viewers the first taste of Varick Addler’s unparalleled skill in the action genre– an area of his craft that he’s become increasingly well-known for on an international level in years since.

Since his debut action role in “The German,” Addler has gone on to give memorable performances in a pretty impressive list of well-known action-packed films and series including the 2010 Golden Globe nominated film “Red” starring Golden Globe Winner Bruce Willis (“Die Hard”) and Oscar Award winner Helen Mirren (“The Queen”), CBS’s two-time Primetime Emmy Award winning series “CSI: Miami” and the Primetime Emmy nominated crime series “NCIS: Los Angeles” starring Golden Globe nominee Chris O’Donnell (“Batman & Robin”), “Law & Order: LA” and Germany’s long-running cop drama “Tatort,” which has earned over 96 award including seven Bambi Awards and six Adolf Grimme Awards, one of the most prestigious awards presented in German television.

Varick Addler
Actor Varick Addler

While Addler’s appeal as an action star is undeniable, his magnetism on-screen is by no means limited to the fast-paced, heart-pumping genre alone.

German audiences will immediately recognize Addler for his recurring lead role as Johnas Schneller on the hit romantic drama series “Verbotene Liebe,” aka “Forbidden Love,” which earned the Golden Rose Award at the Rose d’Or Light Entertainment Festival. The long-running series initially centered on the wealthy Anstetten family and the middle-class Brandner family– specifically on the forbidden love between Jan Bradner and Julia von Anstetten which, although unknown to them, are twins separated at birth.

As the series progressed “Verbotene Liebe” moved away from the drama of Jan and Julia’s love affair and centered instead on a new family, the Lahnsteins, and that’s when viewers really get to see Addler in action. A family with dark and dirty secrets by the plenty, Addler’s character comes onto the show as the unpredictable and abusive father of series star Tanja von Lahnstein, played by Miriam Lahnstein (“The Peppercorns”).

Over the course of the series Addler reveals his ability to go from charismatic to manipulative and downright scathing. Addler breathes such vile life into Johnas Schneller that he easily became the show’s character everyone loved to hate. Out of all his atrocious acts though, the worst and most defining comes when Schneller who, in the middle of beating his daughter Tanja, pushes his son Thomas down the stairs to his death. To make matters worse, Schneller blames the murder on Tanja, a key plot points that sends Tanja into a mental institution for several years after her brother’s death.

It was a very challenging role, since it is not easy to deal properly with the issue of child abuse. I am now father myself of two little boys and the thought that something could happen to my children makes me very sad and angry. More incomprehensible how a father can torment his own child in such a way,” Addler admits.

“I don’t have much in common with that character, however, as an actor I must be able to getting into the character and understand their motivation. Preparation is more than knowing your lines. It is embodying the life of the character.”

While fans of Tanja’s character were understandably thrilled when Addler’s character was reported to have died as she did time in an institution, Tanja was far from being free of her noxious father. The series brought Schneller back again and again as a ghost returning from the dead to haunt Tanja with repeated attacks, which says a lot about the character, and the actor, as he was clearly too strong of a draw factor for audiences for the show’s creators to let him die out.

With a number of riveting performances in both European and U.S. productions, Varick Addler has established an indelible reputation for himself as a captivating and dynamic performer whose boundary pushing talent allows him to portray characters within every genre.

Up next for Addler is the highly anticipated action film “Out for Vengeance” directed by Angel Film Award winner Salar Zarza.

AFTER 30 YEARS IN THE BIZ ACTRESS NATALIE PAGE STILL CAPTIVATES US

Natalie Page
Actress Natalie Page shot by Andrew Rouse

Since first taking to the stages of Australia in the starring role of Scapin in The Rock Players’ production of “The Scoundrel Scapin” back in 1987 actress Natalie Page has created a marvelous repertoire of work, spanning both the stage and screen, which reveals her as an unstoppable performer capable of taking on any role.

On screen Page has captivated audiences several times over through critical roles in popular crime series such as “Water Rats” and “Australia’s Most Wanted,” where she showcased her ability to play the victim, “Deadly Women” where she took on the starring role of Marie Noe, a villainous murderer, and “White Collar Blue” where she played a key role as a judge.

Aside from being an undeniably gifted actress, one of the aspects of Page’s career that makes her unique is the way she has managed to steadily maintain her success over the course of 30 years. Many may ask how she’s accomplished such a feat in an industry where the competition is exponentially higher than virtually any other, and everyone seems to be looking for the next hot young star to sell their project to viewers. The answer is diversity. Page’s unparalleled ability to embody an astonishingly diverse range of characters, coupled with her magnetic on screen presence, has been key to the sought after actress’ continued success.

Page has accrued an impressive list of film credits including “Hydra,” Donovan Renn’s (“The End”) ‘“They Were the Ones,” “A Sense of Syntex,” David Frtenik’s “Fret Not,” Steve Anthopoulos’ (“The 21 Conspiracy,” “Farid in the West”) “How Long Can You Hold Your Breath” and Caleb Shaffer’s (“One Word”) hard hitting thriller “Finding Polish” where she acts alongside Javed Khan from the BAFTA Award nominated series “Coming Up.” Out of all of her film work though, the one that substantially sticks out and shines a light on her innate talent is undoubtedly the riveting feature film “Nude Study.”

Directed by Stefan Popescu, who won the Best Director Award at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival for his film “Rosebery 7470” and the Monster Jury Award at Monster Fest for the film “Vixen Velvet’s Zombie Massacre III,” “Nude Study” takes place in the wild Canadian arctic and follows a young filmmaker who’s desperate to leave the old version of herself behind– and she gets her chance when she meets Sarah, an alluring local girl who will change her life forever.

In the film Natalie Page takes on the lead role of Sarah’s mother Glynnis, an aging woman whose family’s hostility towards one another is causing them to fall apart. Although her health is clearly failing, we see Page’s character Glynnis put on a ‘happy’ face as she pretends that every is okay; and, while she is painfully close to death, her illness does have one positive impact, and that is that it helps bring a broken family closer together.

Page explains,  “She brought a family together that previously shared little to no affection or understanding for each other.”

With a collection of powerful performances already under her belt, it’s not at all surprising that Page managed to deeply immerse herself into such a challenging character and flawlessly portray Glynnis’ slow deterioration, even if the character is the exact opposite of herself.

About the process of getting into her character Page admits, “I needed to remove myself from much of the activity around me… my usual vital energy needed to be contained as I moved closer to filming, as  death and energy was definitely waning.  It was quite a solo experience, one where I imagined reaching the final stages of life, visiting the local graveyard and getting in touch with grief and the inevitable departure of this earthly existence we call life.”

Natalie Page
Behind the scenes of Natalie getting into character for “Nude Study”

In the film Page gives a captivating performance starring alongside Jackie Alixander from the hit Primetime Emmy Award winning series “Xena: Warrior Princess,” the Indie Series Award winning show “Keith Broke His Leg” and “Dark Knight,” and Marty Rhone from the 12-time Logie Award winning series “Neighbours.”

“Nude Study” had its Australian premiere at the popular Revelation Perth International Film Festival and was chosen as an Official Selection of the London Underground Film Festival, Buffalo Niagara Film Festival, the New York International Film Festival and the OutLook Film Festival, as well as screened at the Dawson City International Film Festival.

Natalie Page
Film poster for “Nude Study”

From taking on lead roles in hit crime dramas to portraying a deeply burdened dying mother in “Nude Study,” actress Natalie Page is one of Australia’s best talents, one who will undoubtedly continue to captivate us for years to come.

From Commercials to Film, Director Roberto Escamilla is a Visionary Artist!

Director Roberto Escamilla
Director Roberto Escamilla

Many directors find success directing commercials and/or music videos and choose to stay there throughout their careers; and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that as artists and brands need someone who can direct great commercials and music videos in order to keep their audience engaged. In the same breath though, there are many directors who have chosen to use their experience directing commercials and music videos as a stepping stone into directing narrative films, and Mexican director Roberto Escamilla is one of them.

Since beginning his career many years ago, Escamilla has become known for his work as the director behind a slew of popular commercials and music videos, as well as for his work as the director of the opening sequences for the hit telenovelas “Pasión y Poder” (aka “Passion and Power”) starring Jorge Salinas (“Que Bonito Amor”) and Fernando Colunga (“Soy Tu Dueña”), “Corona De Lágrimas” (aka “Crown of Tears”) starring Victoria Ruffo (“Triunfo del Amor”) and Alejandro Nones (“La Piloto”), and the romantic drama “La Que No Podía Amar” (aka “The One Who Couldn’t Love”) starring Susana González (“La Candidata”) and Anna Brenda Contreras (“Blue Demon”).

Over the years Escamilla’s reputation as a skilled director has spread far beyond Mexico as more and more international audiences have had the opportunity to see his work. In 2015 Escamilla was hired by Mexico-based production company Curiosity Media and award winning advertising agency Y & R to direct the “”Hot Cakes de Película” commercial for leading maple syrup brand Karo. The commercial is modern, funny and so visually enticing that it will make you want to smother your pancakes in Karo’s maple syrup the next chance you get! As the director of the commercial Escamilla definitely nailed the mark.

In 2012 Escamilla gained quite a bit of attention for his work as the director of the promos for the hit Mexican biographical series “El Encanto Del Águila” (aka “The Eagle’s Spell”) starring Carlos Corona from the multi-award winning film “Cantinflas” and Ariel Award nominee Emilio Echevarría from the Oscar Award nominated film “Y Tu Mamá También.” The stunning promotions Escamilla directed for “El Encanto Del Águila” earned the Gold Award of Excellence for Total Package Design at the 2012 PromaxBDA Awards, one of the leading awards events recognizing innovations within the marketing and design industry around the world.

While his work as a commercial and music video director has brought him extensive praise, what drives Escamilla to direct is his passion for delivering stories that touch the audience on an emotional level– those with an impact that lingers longer than what’s possible within the confines of a music video or commercial project, where the end goal is more concerned with sales than delivering a powerful story.

Escamilla admits, “I see cinema as an art medium. Yes people that work on it need to make a living from it, but we need to always remember that this is a profession that allows us to express ourselves and also to deliver a message.”

Even from Escamilla’s early work as a commercial director it’s easy to see his flare for narrative storytelling, so it will come as no surprise to those who know his work that he has progressively moved into directing more and more film projects.

Film poster for "Changes"
Film poster for Roberto Escamilla’s film “Changes”

“Changes,” Escamilla’s latest film, is a coming of age dramedy starring Joshua Furtado from the upcoming film “Charlie, Charlie” (starring Golden Globe nominee Tom Sizemore), Jade Lorna Sullivan (“Simple Lives,” “Camelot”), Chaz Kao (“Lucifer,” “Fall Into Me”) and Danny Parker-Lopes (“Minority Report,” “King Rikki”). Written and directed by Escamilla, “Changes” portraits one boy’s transition into “manhood” on the eve of his 16th birthday.

“I know how important is for a young man to prove himself in front of his friends…. That’s why I wanted to create a film that reflects this and at the same time I wanted to deliver a message about diversity and acceptance,” explains Escamilla about his inspiration for the film.

Under the heavy influence of peer pressure from his friends, the film’s main character Mitchell (played by Furtado) is taken to a brothel where he loses his virginity to a prostitute named Destiny (played by Sullivan), or at least that’s what his friends think. Filled with twists nobody would expect, “Changes” offers as a beautiful insight into the peer pressures of becoming a man, staying true to oneself and the importance of compassion.

Escamilla’s highly anticipated film “Changes” is slated to have its U.S. premiere at the UCLAxFilmFestival in Los Angeles on May 6 where it has been chosen as an Official Selection. The Mexican Consulate in LA will also be screening “Changes” on May 25th.

About the completed film, Escamilla says, “I feel it’s a big accomplish, it looks great, the casting is perfect and the message of love and acceptance it delivers touches me every time I see it…. and I’ve seen how it moves the audience which is the most important thing.”

While Escamilla has undoubtedly made a name for himself as a sought after director in Mexico, his ability to create powerful narrative film stories has clearly struck a chord with audiences around the world; and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!

Editor Fei Zheng Uses Her Skills to Create Captivating Visual Stories

“Editing is not a technical process. It’s an artistic process. It’s about storytelling. What editors do is the final rewrite of the script.”

                                             -Jack Tucker (editor of “Shogun” and “Winds of War)

From selecting the best shots from hours of footage to creating seamless transitions and deciding the pacing for the story, a film’s editor truly does determine the way a story plays out on screen; and nobody know this better than film editor Fei Zheng.

Zheng explains, “A bad structure will ruin whole story– it will make the story boring, unclear and you will quickly lose the  audience’s attention. The structure is really important to the story because it is the basic element that helps the audience to understand a story.”

Originally from Hangzhou, China, Zheng began her career directing and editing the popular Chinese television series  “Ye You Shen” and “Xiao Yaer,” which aired weekly on the national station Hangzhou Television. After carving out a strong reputation for herself as an exponentially talented and sought after editor in China, Zheng moved to the U.S. where she took her skills to the next level and completed an MFA in Motion Pictures and Television Editing from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, CA.

Ye You Shen
Still from the series “Ye You Shen” edited by Fei Zheng

Zheng’s experience spans the gamut– from working on television series, where she had a little more than three days to deliver the episodes from the first day of shooting, to commercials such as the recently released Alpine Dairy “K-Drama” and “Marble Game”  advertisements, and music videos for Madelaine Minx’ songs ‘Rabbi of Rap,’ ‘Sushi’ and ‘Feminem,’ as well as editing a multitude of narratives, Fei Zheng has clearly done it all. But not all animals are created equal, and some projects are more complicated than others– and that’s where Zheng’s skill stands out.

“In a large crew, the shooting process is very complicated and there are always some oversights. In this case, the editors use some ‘tricks’ to make the scene play out on the screen more smoothly. Sometimes, I prefer to watch the film that I did without sound, and pay attention to it’s feeling for story the first. Then I can figure out the problems concerning sound, and select the right music to match the scene,” explains Zheng.

“I have become more and more familiar with the environment of filmmaking, and the significance of both image and sound since I first began editing. Editing is the second creation of the film, and for me, the interesting part is helping to create a better story, which is based on the script.”

Film Editor Fei Zheng
Film Editor Fei Zheng

Anyone who’s Zheng’s work in the realm of narrative films would be hardpressed to call her anything but a true artist. Her work on the thriller film “She,” which was released last year and chosen as an Official Selection of the QFest New Jersey LGBT Film & Digital Media Festival where it was nominated for an award, is a perfect example of how Zheng is able to come in and rewrite the story with her edits.

“She” director Yuxin Zhang explains, “For ‘She,’ Fei Zheng was both the lead editor and the color corrector on the film. She made quite a lot of changes with edits. She reorganized the footage in a way that made the plot more compact and the overall story more attractive. She definitely drew out and established the anticipatory suspense elements within the film with her edits, and those are important for any thriller film.”

Starring Nika Burnett from the two-time Golden Globe Award winning series “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and the four-time Primetime Emmy nominated series “Castle,” Lissa Keigwin from the series “Wives with Knives” and the film “Love Pyar Whatever,” and Sabrina Ranellucci from the film “The Selected,” Zhang’s film “She” portraits a twisted love story between two young women with one of them harboring a dark secret that may prove to be fatal in the end.

In it’s final cut, the film pulls viewers in from the opening scene and keeps them guessing what is going to happen next; and when it finally comes to a close, audiences are given an ending that few would have expected. But as it is with most productions, the final cut went through several transformations on Zheng’s editing screen before turning into the powerful piece that screened at festivals across the country.

“The problem I met with ‘She’ was that the structure and emotion were not strong in the rough cut, so I changed the order of the scenes, which made the story more meaningful and easy to understand. After I speeded up the pacing, the emotional intensity also became much stronger than before,” explains Zheng.

She adds, “I love editing thriller and suspense films. The challenge is to create suspense and attract the audience’s attention. I am interested in creating puzzles with the story and showing hints but not exposing all the elements… leaving enough space to give audiences a breath to think.”

"She" film poster
“She” film poster

Aside from the actors’ performances, what keeps viewers engaged throughout the film is the way Zheng chose to sequence the shots for each scene, inserting close-ups and slowing down the footage to help us connect to the emotions of the individual characters where necessary, and speeding up the footage when things become intense. Zheng’s work as the editor of the thriller film “She” was paramount to creating the markedly high-paced energy of the story that keeps us on the edge of our seats.

For someone who began their career editing television shows, Fei Zheng has quickly become a strong narrative film editor whose work is creating quite a buzz in the U.S.; and we can’t wait to see what she lends her editing wand to next!

 

Q & A with Actress Francesca De Luca!

Actress Francesca De Luca
Actress Francesca De Luca shot by Lionfly Studios

First taking to the screen as Countess Albrizzi and Albrizzi’s ghost, in the UK’s hit ITV seriesStrange But True” alongside famed English presenter Michael Aspel, actress Francesca De Luca has carved out an impressive reputation as a performer whose magnetic energy on screen keeps audiences engaged in every role she plays. Over the years she accumulated a pretty extensive list of credits that includes the films “Orpheus & Eurydice,” “Lateshift,” “Taxi,” “Anna and Modern Day Slavery,”  as well as the TV series “Down & Out” and “Leenden University.”  

For Francesca De Luca 2016 has been a major success with the actress taking on a critical role in five-time Oscar Award winner Francis Ford Coppola’s (“The Godfather,” “Apocalypse Now”) recent film project “Distant Vision,” which also stars Lou Volpe from “The Bold and the Beautiful” and Francesca Fanti from the four-time Oscar nominated film “Nine.”

De Luca gave a memorable performance as iconic English ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn in the docudrama “Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent,” which had it’s world premier at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. De Luca also starred in the film “Passports,” which earned awards from California Women’s Film Festival and the Accolade Global Film Competition, in addition to being chosen as an Official Selection of several other prominent festivals including Atlanta Shorts Fest, Laughlin International Film Festival and Film Invasion LA.

Francesca De Luca has earned quite a bit of attention for her finesse when it comes to taking on boundary-pushing dramatic roles, as well as for her spot-on portrayals of historical figures such as Countess Albrizzi and Margot Fonteyn; but her strengths on screen don’t stop there. She is also a master of comedy, something she proved with her performances as Fiorella in the Royal Television Society award winning series “Sundae” and Sonja in Robbie Moffat’s (“Sisters Grimm,” “Dark Side of Heaven”) comedy film “Heckle,” as well as with her role in the series “Down & Out” where she acts alongside A.B. Farelly from the film “There’s Something About Mary.”

While the dynamic nature of De Luca’s craft has helped her make a name for herself in film and television, she’s also been featured in several music videos including one for DJ Goldroom’s hit song “California Rain,” which was featured on MTV’s Snapchat and helped launch the Snapchat Snap Channel in 2015. You can also see her in a national commercial for Turner Classic Movies as well as the music video for Olos’ “Real Talk.”

To find out more about Francesca De Luca, what it was like working with Francis Ford Coppola and what’s next for her, make sure to check out our interview below!

Where are you from? 

FDL: London, England. I was born in Hammersmith, London and am of Italian origin. My great grandparents came over from Italy in the late 1800’s. I was brought up by my mother with the help of my grandfather, as my father left when I was two. My grandfather was a real inspiration to me as a person and I feel very lucky to have had him in my life.

When and how did you get into acting?

FDL: My mother took me to dance classes from the age of 6, ballet, tap and modern, which I loved. Then I started competing in poetry festivals reciting poems. I felt at home and confidant on the stage, it gave me the space to express myself. I became more serious about acting at the age of 16 when I auditioned for the school play and was offered the role of the flirtatious nurse or the main role of the hunchbacked German owner of a lunatic asylum who goes mad at the end of the play! Guess which one I chose?! I loved the challenge of that role, even though the nurse would have made me more popular with the boys! In fact my best friend did not initially recognize that it was me on stage! –which I was always amused about as it was a complement to my acting ability! I won the school’s award cup for the best actor that year. After this experience I was hooked on real acting and knew it had to be my vocation.

What is it about acting that drives you to perform?

FDL: I love to make an audience feel something whether it’s through comedy or drama, and the emotion and truth of a character. I love making people laugh, feel and think, and I love to get my teeth into a script where the character has depth, contrasts and experiences an emotional journey.

I love to bring characters to life on both the screen and the stage. I love to explore all parts of myself and bring my life experience to a role. I am interested in psychology and feel I understand how complex we are as humans, with all of our quirks, patterns and vulnerabilities, no matter how tough we appear on the outside.

I like to make a role come alive in the present, and am excited by the challenge and process of bouncing off the other actors and seeing what happens! When I started acting I thought it was about hiding myself until I realized that it was completely the opposite, it’s about showing who you are, your vulnerability and all that it encompasses is what I feel makes an actor really watchable. We are all complex and have contradictions within us and we all share many of the same fears and want to be loved and to love.

Can you tell us about the film “Passports” that you recently shot?

FDL: The film follows Tanya who returns after six wild years of travelling. Once home, her mother and grandma make her join an online dating site and go on a date. The date is a visit to a psychic. During the visit unexpected events occur and the guy hits on the psychic secretively sliding to her a piece of paper saying ” Call me.” The psychic ignores him and tells Tanya her fortune and after Tanya shows the psychic a ‘new’ game of magic in which she makes her date’s car keys disappear. From then on things get heated between the three.  This film is a dramedy with beautiful cinematography and interesting characters.

How does your character fit into the story?

FDL: My character is the psychic who the other main characters in the film, who are played by Ekeobong Utibe and Coty Galloway, go on a date to visit. However the guy shows his true colours and ends up hitting on the psychic and emotions get heated. My character comes across as quirky and puts on a front of mystery and that makes for some comedy when she is reading the girl’s future.  She gets more than she bargained for when a game of magic starts and mayhem ensues.

What was your favorite part about working on this film?

FDL: I enjoyed working with the two talented writer/directors Jeremy Pion Berlin and Adam Linkenhelt in making my character three dimensional and in bringing the comedy out from the truth of the situation. The psychic was a woman just doing her job with the same spiel day after day. She’s bored by all of the guys hitting on her, and the same old “I see love in your future” line she gives. The magic that happens in the scene excites her and when the guy loses his temper later  she makes sure she is still paid and handles the situation well. I created a backstory of her life in my head so that the character was more real and the comedy would come from the truth of the situation. Jeremy and Adam encouraged improvisation.

When I first auditioned I did an American accent and then told them I was British and did a cockney accent and then my own accent which is standard British. They loved my cockney accent and then decided on using my own natural accent. They asked me to improvise in the audition as if I was a psychic giving a reading to them which went very well. They told me soon after that they wanted to cast me, which was great and I loved the way we all worked together. They are talents to watch out for in the future and I look forward to working with them again later in 2017 on their first feature film “Illynger” in which I will play a lead role. I can’t wait!

Has the premiere date for “Passports” been set yet?

FDL: Yes we had a Hollywood premiere in July at Raleigh Studios Hollywood, The Charlie Chaplin  theater.

You were also in Francis Ford Coppola’s film “Distant Vision,” can you tell us about the story the film brings to the screen?

FDL: “Distant Vision” is about a multi generational Italian American family set in New York whose history spans the development of television. I believe some of the characters were inspired by his own family. I play one of the Italian relatives.

 Francis Ford Coppola
Francesca De Luca (left) and Francis Ford Coppola (right)

What was it like working with Coppola?

FDL: It was such an honour working with Francis. A dream come true for sure as he is a such a master director. He showed immense passion for this project and was a very humble genuine man.

I couldn’t believe it when he was actually there in person at my first audition. I had to hide my nerves at first but soon relaxed. We got on very well and he asked me about my Italian history. He told me I looked like one of his relatives. I told him I understood the perspective of immigrants and how it feels, and I joked that while I am born in London my Italian roots show through as I use my hands when talking, a gesture that I was doing at that same moment! It was easy to talk to Francis and he reminded me of my grandfather with his warmth. When he talks to you he looks you right in the eyes and really listens. It felt like I had known him for years. Such a lovely man. He spoke about how important it is to be yourself and how the character becomes us. He used examples from actors like Al Pacino when he was filming “The Godfather.”

It was amazing being one of the first actors in the world to be  part of his innovative ‘Live Cinema’ experiment, something no other filmmaker has attempted yet!

Live cinema utilizes feeds from several cameras, instant replay servers, which he switches live with very advanced broadcast equipment. It is an ongoing project that will take several years to complete I believe. It’s a hybrid of theater, film and television.

As a director he was very direct and calm. He is so highly intelligent and creative and it felt like I was in “The Godfather” especially as we all looked so Italian and the actors he chose were very entrancing. It was like he was painting a picture with every shot and his attention to detail was amazing. It was clear he wanted us all to be relaxed and he let us bond naturally with each other. It felt like a real family on set.

Can you tell us about some of the film projects you’ve done?

FDL: In the film “Orpheus & Eurydice” I played the sorceress Aglaoniki, one of the leads alongside Oliver Reed. It was filmed around Athens, Greece. My character was the baddie in the movie. She kills Orpheus and Eurydice. Oliver Reed was the narrator. Oliver Reed was one of my favorite actors and I was so happy to be in a feature film with such a great iconic actor. Aglaoniki was a fun role and I enjoyed giving her layers, not just being evil. She is in love with Orpheus and he rejects her and she feels that pain of rejection but going to stronger lengths than we would usually go, by killing him and his love Eurydice by putting a spell on her so she gets killed by a snake!

We filmed a lot of the scenes in a cave outside Athens and my character had an altar. There was a scene in which Orpheus was supposed to get angry with me and the director told the actor to hit me with his lyre! I remember the actor looking at me in shock, wondering how we would do that without me actually being hurt. I think he ended up trying to ‘strangle’ me as that was easier! I had just done a film acting course in London with director Bob Bierman and relished the idea of using what I had just learned in this film; however I soon realized the director did not like the subtle acting I was hoping for, he kept asking for me to go bigger!

It was Oliver Reed’s second to last film around the time he shot “Gladiator.” I feel fortunate to have had the chance to work with him before he died. The movie was shown in theaters across Greece and had a mix of American, British and Greek actors. I was featured in the Greek version of Hello Magazine and newspapers in London and interviewed on radio in London about the film.

I played Margot Fonteyn in the feature docu-drama “Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent,” which was produced by Zero Point Zero and Anthony Bourdain for CNN Films. It has been successful in major film festivals such as Tribeca where it premiered this year, and it will be shown on CNN in 2017. Directed by Lydia Tenaglia, “Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent” is a story about the life of Jeremiah Tower, one of the most controversial and influential figures in the history of American gastronomy. In one section of the film set in the 60’s it documents his well known dinner parties in which the famous ballerina Margot Fonteyn, my character, was an anticipated guest.

“Taxi” is a film in which I played a taxi driver and the film follows her throughout her day giving the audience a day in the life experience of what it’s like to be a female taxi driver. This film was largely improvised which was an aspect I enjoyed. This film was shown at The Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner a few years back. I had the opportunity to see it at the festival in Cannes and see other films at the festival which was a great experience.

How about television projects?

FDL: I played an Italian Countess, Countess Albrizzi, in the seriesStrange But True,” which was shown on London Weekend Television, one of the UK’s three main tv stations,  and had very high ratings which was great. The story was set in the 1800’s and my character is killed by her husband who found out she was cheating on him so she could get pregnant as she had thought him to be infertile. He got so angry that he chopped off her head! You didn’t actually see that in the show though… we just hear her scream as he comes towards her with an axe! Very gruesome! My character then turned into a ghost and haunted the palace. This was based on a true incident and Joan Collins was filmed telling this story in between the reenactments, as it was actually her who had seen my character’s ghost when she stayed in Venice at the Palazzo. The ghost was seen walking out of a painting of herself.

In the comedy tv series “Down And Out” I played one of the three leads alongside A.B. Farrelly, the daughter of Bobby Farrelly, one of the Farrelly brothers who directed several great comedy movies like “Dumber and Dumber” and “Something About Mary.” A.B. is a well respected comedy actress and stand up comedian and she was so lovely to work with. My character was Margo, an attractive lipstick lesbian, a successful go getter who gets herself in trouble by speaking before she thinks. She is one of three women who are coming out. My character has a very funny scene with her crazy therapist played by the talented Malcolm Matthews. I loved working with him. It was a fun scene to film. “Down and Out” was written and produced by Annie C Wright.

The show was chosen as an Official Selection of Webfest and LA Cinefest, and was featured on the front page of the One More Lesbian website, the leading platform for high quality Lesbian film and TV.

In “Justice For All with Cristina Perez” I played an American litigant. I can’t reveal more as it has not been shown yet! It was filmed live and the questions from Cristina Perez were not given to me before filming so I had to know this character’s backstory inside and out! A good challenge for me!

In “Sundae” I  played Fiorella, the daughter of an Anglo-Italian Family in London. “Sundae” was the Runner up in Royal Television Society Awards for Best TV Pilot. My highlight in the show is when I get angry with my boyfriend and squash a big plate of spaghetti on his head!

You get approached all the time to work on projects with people, what makes you pick one role over another?

FDL: Firstly the script. If it’s well written and also if the character develops throughout the story. I have to feel that I can’t wait to get my teeth into this script. Then the director. If we click at the audition and I can see us working well together.

Actress Francesca De Luca
Actress Francesca De Luca shot by Lionfly Studios

Do you feel that you get cast to play a certain type of character more than others?

FDL: Yes– evil, mysterious, bitchy, quirky, strong are possible adjectives to describe the roles I’ve played. The psychic I played in “Passports” is quirky and comedic. My comedic role in “Down And Out” was a strong woman discovering herself and I played a bitchy Northern English heckler in “Heckle.” I play a bitchy mother in “Your Move,” a new series coming out in 2017 and I played a mysterious Russian secret agent in “Anna and Modern Day Slavery.”

Out of all your productions, what has been your favorite project, or projects, so far and why?

FDL: Of course being part of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Distant Vision” project has been the pinnacle of my career and I loved working in the presence of such a master. One of my favorite acting experiences has also been being directed by Sir Timothy Ackroyd. I feel he helped me hone my acting craft. Playing Carla in the stage production of “Kennedy’s Children” was wonderful as I hired an accent coach to help us all with the American accents and I feel I perfected my Texan accent which was good so that I could forget about the accent and focus on the acting alone. She was an interesting character with flaws and insecurities that she was trying to surmount while going for her dream in Hollywood. And finally working as the psychic on “Passports” was a challenge as I wanted to make her real, three dimensional and  not hammed up.

What is your favorite genre to work in as an actor?

FDL: Comedy and drama, dramedy and also fantasy. I like all of these. I have a well developed sense of humor and have a strong feel for comic timing and seem to make people laugh with my choices! I remember one of my acting teachers recently saying “You could make a fortune out of comedy!” I love drama too with emotional situations. I like paying a villain who people love to hate or people pushed to their limits or in difficult situations. The list is endless, I love a challenge. If people tell me I have moved them or made them laugh or uplifted them or made them think, I feel fulfilled and happy that I have done my job. I feel I have a lot to give.

What separates you from other actors? What do you feel your strongest qualities are?

FDL: Depth of character. I am good at showing contrasts in characters. I take direction very quickly and I can improvise well. I am good at getting great results on the first take. I have a large range of emotions and life experiences that I can draw upon and have taught me about myself and other people. I am excellent at accents and changing the tone of my voice and physicality. I give my all to any role I play and am always looking to learn and become a better actor. I have a genuine love for my craft and am easy to work which helps bring out the best in others I work with. My presence adds to making the production a success.

What projects do you have coming up?

FDL: Later in 2017 I will be shooting the feature film “Illynger” with the directors of “Passports.”

I’ve also just started freelancing with one of LA’s top Voiceover agents and look forward to auditioning and booking some great roles. It’s highly likely you will hear me in some big animation movies and TV shows over the next few years! Bill Ratner, one of the US’s busiest voiceover artists, heard my voice reel and immediately recommended me to his agency.

What are your plans for the future?

FDL: To keep on working on my craft and take classes at studios like Groundlings and work further with other world renowned  LA acting teachers like Lesley Khan. In London,  I was one of the founding members of the Anthony Meindl Acting Studio. I was inspired by Anthony Meindl when I first saw his Youtube videos and when he visited London I made sure I did his masterclasses. Then he opened his London Studio helmed by Mitchell Mullen, a seasoned actor from Boston and I never missed a class till I left London for LA in 2013. In London and LA I  did scene study and worked on a variety of scripts. Tony gave me added encouragement to make a career for myself in LA.

What do you hope to achieve in your career as an actor?

FDL: I aim to continue working with talented writers, directors and actors, to make high quality films and tv shows that people will love and to reach a large audience. I want to feel I have made a difference to this world. I want to feel that I have become the best actress I can ever be and keep my sense of humor!

If you weren’t an actor what other profession do you think you would have pursued?

FDL: A fine artist, designer or even a life coach! I am good at painting and am creative and I am good at seeing people’s blocks and weaknesses and would want to help them become happier people.