Jackson Williams talks dancing with Whitney Houston, Magic Mike Live, and living his dream

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Jackson Williams is from Peterborough, England.

Coming from Peterborough, England, Jackson Williams never imagined that one day he would dance alongside the world’s biggest stars. Growing up, he never thought he would be a dancer at all. He was always an athlete, playing rugby, soccer, swimming, and boxing, but it wasn’t until he was a teenager, when he saw his sister dance, that he realized his passion. Since that moment, his passion turned into a talent, and a talent turned into a career.

Williams is fresh off touring the globe with pop-sensation Ellie Goulding and her Delirium World Tour. He previously toured with Kylie Minogue, Australia’s most successful artist of all time, and Take That, the chart-topping boy band. He has appeared on Simon Cowell’s show X Factor, and toured with the show, and was part of the Olympic Opening Ceremonies in London in 2012.

“This is the only job I’ve ever had. It is my twelfth year professionally. I love the excitement of being on stage. I’m a down to earth kind of guy, but there is something about having a personality on stage and you can be anyone you want and there is no judgement. I love performing,” said Williams.

Despite touring with The Alesha Show and Girls Aloud previously, it was in 2009 when Williams truly shot into a different category of dancers, and was recognized as one of the best that the United Kingdom had to offer. This was when he went on tour with none other than Whitney Houston.

“It said a lot, having the statement that such a high caliber artist wanted to work with you. They could have chosen anyone in the country but they chose me. They thought I was a friendly person who worked hard. These people who had been around for years wanted me around them. They trusted me. And in terms of a dancer, it put my name on the block and I have stayed there. I was the main boy in the show with one other guy. We were Whitney’s boys,” said Williams.

The promo tour went all over Europe, and sadly ended up becoming Whitney Houston’s last tour, as she tragically passed in three years later. Williams’ knows he was one of the last dancers to ever perform with the legend, and he knows it is an honor.

“She was one of the greatest and I feel proud,” he said. “She was a mega, mega, mega, mega, mega star. You are nervous, you are scared, and you are super excited, every kind of emotion. That first time that I was on stage, I got goosebumps when she hit a note. It was like I was cold but I was sweating. That had never happened to me before, and has never happened to me since. Humming, she still sounded better than anyone else in the world. She is the most incredible singer I have ever been on stage with. It is history. It is iconic.”

Jerry Reeve, the celebrated choreographer that brought Williams on the tour, says he did so because he is one of the most highly desired dancers in the industry in the U.K., with extensive experience and unmatched talent.

“Jackson stands out on stage as a dancer of tremendous experience and flawless technique. His years of success have perfected his craft on stage and make every concert at which he dances an inevitable success. Jackson dances very vibrantly and elegantly and conveys various moods with his performances, from comedy to romance. He gives every production a unique personality with his very original footwork, while he showcases his prowess in numerous styles, ranging from ballet, to hip-hop, to jazz, keeping audiences captivated and excited. Jackson serves as a valuable asset to every production for which he dances and most definitely contributes to their successes in retaining high viewership and high-ticket sales. His sheer eclecticism is always highly rewarding, and it is always a unique pleasure to choreograph such a distinguished talent,” said Reeve.

Reeve continues to seek out Williams for tours and shows he is putting together to this day, knowing that he possesses extraordinary abilities required to captivate audiences when he dances. For Williams, performing on Whitney Houston’s tour was the first time he really started to just enjoy what he was doing, without thinking too much about it.

“You become one on stage. It becomes second nature. When you are singing in a car but you are still driving, that is what it is like. You are doing it but you are singing along to it, without thinking about the song, that is what it was like performing on stage. I was dancing but not thinking about each move. I just got to enjoy what I was doing and take it all in,” said Williams.

And he hasn’t stopped since. It seems unbelievable that there was once a time when he hid that he was dancing from his father, going to dance classes after soccer practice. Millions of people have seen him dance, and he will keep doing it until his body won’t let him. With no plans on slowing down, the dancer will soon be taking part in Channing Tatum’s Magic Mike Live in Las Vegas.

“If I was on my deathbed now, I lived a good life. I am quite chuffed,” he concluded.

Dancer Anton Engel talks the BBC Music Awards, Magic Mike Live, and doing what he loves

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Anton Engel at the BBC Music Awards.

Last month, dancer Anton Engel performed for millions dancing at the BBC Music Awards. The experience was not necessarily new for the young dancer, who has been featured on many broadcasts in his established career, but it was thrilling none-the-less.

The show, which premiered December 16th, 2016, featured Britain’s best musical talent. Engel knew what being picked as a dancer for the show meant, and would not let the pressure of performing on live television interfere with his job.

“It is always a great feeling to have such a big audience in the auditorium and at the same time watching you on the television live. The crowd was absolutely amazing,” said Engel. “We made sure we knew our material inside out so that we could would only focus on delivering a great performance and presence on stage.”

Engel, who is also a model, was given the opportunity with the show to really focus on his appearance on stage.  He was playing the role as both a dancer and model, with the responsibility of accompanying the presenters on stage with the right timing and elegance. They needed a model who would be able to take direction from a director very quickly regarding counts, placement, timing and movement. Coming from a dancing background, this was not an issue for him.

“It can be very stressful, but at the same time it is what I love. It was all about having a good quality of movement with an elegant and jazzy walk,” said Engel.

The ceremony, being one of the largest music shows in the world, had an average audience of 3.9 million people watching live on BBC One. Engel worked closely with the world-renowned team at Black Skull Creative productions, including Ross Nicholson, Dan Shipton, and choreographer Jay Revell.

“Anton will always present a great final product while keeping a professional approach to it during the process. It is always a pleasure to work with Anton, since I know that my work is in good hands. He has always delivered a great performance with a personal touch that only Anton can create. His performance quality is very original and pleasant to watch while his energetic and positive personality stays very enjoyable to work with,” said Revell.

Originally from the countryside in Switzerland, in a small town called Ballen, Engel has come a long way. He has performed for the British royal family, danced with worldwide top-charting group Fifth Harmony, toured with the sensational glamor group The Dreamboys, and been featured on Alan Carr’s New Year Specstacular. No matter how big or small his job is, he is always doing what he is truly passionate about.

“Dancing is something that I have always enjoyed. I feel like I can express myself in a way that words would not be enough. It’s that moment where you and the music become one and everything around you stops. The dance world is such a nice atmosphere, when you meet a dancer you have a lot you can relate to since you are sharing the same passion and have the honor to experience the feelings that dancing can give you. Being lucky enough to have an audience to share my passion with is the best feeling ever,” said Engel.

Engel grew up speaking three languages: German with his mother, Swedish with his father and French at school and with friends. At 13, he and his friends formed a competitive breakdancing group. He moved to Sweden by himself at the age of 16 to study dancing. At 19, he moved to London to live his dream of being a professional dancer. He is now 23 years old and have a critical place in the dance and fashion industries all over the United Kingdom, and will soon be making his way to Vegas to dance in Channing Tatum’s Magic Mike Live.

“The feeling of knowing that I will be moving to Las Vegas working for Magic Mike is unreal, I still can’t believe it. I am constantly thinking about it and it puts a smile on my face. Knowing that I will be performing for thousands of people in the iconic Hard Rock Café in Vegas is a dream coming true,” he said. “It is a huge change of lifestyle for me and I’m looking forward to it. I feel like It is time for a new chapter in my life and I have never felt so ready.”

Engel will be working alongside the director, Channing Tatum, as well as choreographer and co-director Alison Faulk, who choreographed the Magic Mike films with Tatum. He will also work with choreographer Luke Broadlick, associate choreographer and director Teresa Espinosa, and all the other professional dancers in the show. But for Engel, it is just another opportunity to do what he loves.

“When I dance I feel like everything around me stops. All my thoughts and worries are put to the side and I can enjoy life and the moment. The feeling of you being overtaken by dance, whether it is you just improvising, performing on live TV or for a big audience, the feelings and the way it makes your body feel there is nothing else like it,” he concluded.

You can buy tickets to Magic Mike Live here.

Canadian actor Philip Moran stars in feature film Adam’s Testament

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Film poster for Adam’s Testament

Starring in a movie is every actor’s dream. To see their name in the lights and roll past their eyes at the top of the credits at the end of the movie, is often the end goal. However, it is easy to picture the end without the challenges of getting there. Actor Philip Moran had a challenge like no other.

Moran is the star of the film Adam’s Testament. The film is about an out of work ex-detective named Joseph Gable, played by Moran, who loses his wife to a fatal accident.  His son also goes his own path, which turns out to be the wrong one. One day, Joseph decides he is going to make good out of all the bad he has done. He is confronted with many obstacles and demons, but simultaneously he has the support of angels. Joseph seeks absolution and allows himself to receive God.  Through all this, Joseph contemplates suicide, has a heart attack, dies and resurrects.

The film is Moran’s first lead in a film, and quite a lead it was, as he alone had to memorize 65 per cent of the script.

“This film also pushed me in ways I have never experienced and made me a better actor. Being the star of this movie has been the greatest achievement to this day in my film world. I did my best and it worked effectively. I realized that I could be trusted with a big role responsibility and when faced with the obligation, I decided and conquered, something I never even fathomed before the time,” described Moran. “I am expecting bigger projects and success, and fear and doubt has left. I have the maximum 5000 friends on Facebook with people interested in following me and telling me how my success has inspired them to go after their dreams.”

This month, it was announced that Adam’s Testament has become an official selection for the Kingdom Film Festival, which has hosted films such as War Room and Miracles from Heaven. The film also had private TIFF Theater Screening in October of last year, and acquired a distributor in December. The film is expected to be screened to the public this November.

This is hardly Moran’s first venture to success. He was cast in the blockbuster film Total Recall in 2012, starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, and Jessica Biel. His work in Total Recall allowed him to connect with studio-head Rafael Kalamat, who is the producer of Adam’s Testament. 

“As a director, it’s ‘safe’ to work with friends. However, it’s never easy. You can work with them and ‘get away with it’ because they possibly know you will always make them look good. But with Philip it was a pleasurable and professional relationship. He had an Olympic work ethic and was more focused then some of the top talent in Canada that I have worked with. It can be very intimidating working with ‘real actors’ because they start asking difficult questions. What’s my character’s spine? Where is the arc in the scene? What is my emotional state when delivering these lines? Scene intention?
Although the cliché, ‘what’s my motivation’ sounds like actor nonsense, it’s certainly not with Philip Moran,” said Kalamat. “Trained actors like Philip desperately need this information to create a competent performance. His role in Adam’s Testament as Detective Joseph Gable is complex to say the least. As an alcoholic-faith-driven-father that dies and is resurrected, takes a lot out of you, lol. Not to mention he was on sixty-two of the one hundred-plus pages of the screenplay. He gave myself and co-director Jason Barbeck his 100 per cent every day, even on an off day. Now that says a lot about Philip as an actor and as a person.”

Moran impressed so many of the people on the set of the film, including executive producer Todd Yuill, and the writer, director, and producer Jason Barbeck

“Philip Moran was an extraordinary actor to be around while he was acting and most of all it was amazing, but he was able to stay in character for the entire time the movie was shot,” said executive producer Todd Yuill. Yuill shared the role of executive producer with his mother Elva Yuill, who passed away just after the film was completed.

“Philip was very dedicated to the role of Joseph and came to set each day ready and willing to work,” said Barbeck. “He was diligent with the script and the enormous amount of lines he had to memorize, being that he was the lead and was in pretty much every day of the shoot. Many people try to speculate as to what makes a good actor. In today’s world it seems that the audience dictates what that is. In my opinion a good actor is someone who is emotionally available and willing to go places most people would rather not. It’s the willingness to be uncomfortable and still keep going. To trust the directors vision and go with him on that journey until the end.  There are of course many degrees of this and it is a lifelong pursuit and a marathon but Philip was able to see the role of Joseph through to the end. For his first leading role I would say he did an outstanding job.”

For Moran, one of the best parts about being in the film was the people he got to work alongside with. These include Nick Mancuso, Art Hindle, Sebastian Mclean, Zoe De Grand Maison from Orphan Black, and Degrassi’s Luke Bilyk,

Adam’s Testament provided me the opportunity to work with other great actors in a much bigger capacity than other projects I worked on previously,” said Moran. “I learned so much from these actors, having done over 100 movies. They led me to grow and push boundaries unlike what I have ever done. The directors allowed for the actors’ input. We all worked in harmony to finish effectively”

Despite the success that is expected to come for the film, Moran still believes the film was a learning experience, and a great achievement.

“I learned that it’s just practice and planning your journey, and in a short while a person can live their dreams,” he concluded. “I definitely learned that I am becoming lead-actor ready.”

 

 

Canadian actress Tara Yelland hits The Target in short film

Every little girl dreams of being a princess. From watching the Disney classics at a young age, to twirling around pretending you are in a gown with a crown, it crossed many minds. Not many people get to experience the feeling, if only for a short time. Actress Tara Yelland is one of the lucky ones.

Yelland stars in the short film The Target and plays Princess Gwendolyn, a headstrong princess who refuses to marry. A challenge is arranged for the hand of Princess Gwendolyn and she finds an unlikely suitor in a poet who wishes to abolish the monarchy. The film recently premiered on June 25, at the Royal Cinema in Toronto and had an extremely positive response.

“I think being such a confident, self-possessed woman was a bit infectious. Gwen knows exactly who she is and what she wants and when you’re living in that head-space, you can’t help but take on some of those characteristics as well,” said Yelland. “It’s a really nice place to be in and I try to remember that feeling.”

The short-film was directed by Felix Gray, who has ample experience in this genre after working on the shows Reign and Beauty and the Beast, but also known for his work on the Oscar-winning film Chicago. It stars Jon Rhys (Reign, Young Badlands), Cliff Saunders (Chicago, Outlander), and Amy Lockwood (The Amy Lockwood Project).

“Tara is spectacular to work with. Not only is she a lovely woman with a stellar sense of humor, but she’s very giving as an actress. She is always prepared and enjoys rehearsing and making a connection with the other actors in the scene. I am very impressed with Tara’s ability to connect with others both onscreen and off,” said Lockwood. “Tara is fascinating to watch on set. I learned a lot from her. She takes direction very well. When she is given a direction she is able to adjust quickly and elegantly. There is a great depth and strength to her character in The Target.”

Gray agreed, saying that working with Yelland is quite a pleasure.

“Her manner going into a production is very inclusive, sharing her ideas freely and responding to the other actors as they work through a scene. She manages to put a part of herself in every part she plays. It has the unmistakable result of giving her characters have a very real base. She is responsive to direction and makes the set a Joy to come to. And she shines on camera. Her image on screen brings a glow that is hard to teach,” he said. “I love working with Tara and can’t wait for the next time we can work together.”

Gray had been impressed with Yelland’s work in the past and approached her with the script for the short film, wanting her to play the lead in the film he wrote with his father.

“I was touched that he thought of me and was happy to be involved with this family affair,” said Yelland. “Felix was very open to ideas and collaborative and I’ve known him for years, so there was an easy short-hand between us. Also, Amy played my lady in waiting and we became instant friends on set. Our sense of humors just gelled easily and we spent the whole time giggling.”

The set is regarded as beautiful, and Yelland said the costumes were one of the best parts of filming, talking about the several gowns she got to wear on set

“I couldn’t help but feel like a princess. Those corsets though, not so much fun,” she joked.

Princess Gwendolyn gave Yelland the chance to learn some new skills. The character and Yelland have many similarities, such as how she and the princess have no interest in settling in life or love, and they both direct and say what we’re thinking and feeling. However, there was an element to the character that was a learning curve for the actress.

“Gwen is an excellent archer in the film and I had zero experience with archery, so that was a bit of a challenge,” said Yelland, laughing.

Yelland had to take several lessons to make her character truly believable, and eventually got the hang of the sport.

“I nearly ruined a take when I shot an arrow and it actually hit the bulls-eye. I wanted to scream, but instead I had to pass it off like it was ‘no biggie, I do this all the time’,” she said.

The role exemplified the actress’s versatility and commitment, and The Target is expected to be selected for several film festivals next year.

“Besides, who doesn’t want to be a princess,” she said.

We couldn’t agree with her more.

Adrian Puan is first Malaysian songwriter to be signed to U.S. label

Some people are born with talent that they don’t realize right away. With no training, they can master something that someone else has spent their life studying. That is certainly the case with Adrian Puan.

Puan was born in a small town in a state called Melaka and moved to the capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur when he was 8. Now, he is recognized internationally as a songwriter and composer.

“To be honest, growing up, I never knew that one day I’d be involved in music or anything related to it, simply because I never had the interest in music, much less play it,” he said. “I guess it all started when I began organizing events in the university I studied in.”

Puan used to be an organizer during his studies, which required him to network with local musicians and constantly keep a lookout for upcoming talents to perform in my events.

“That was when I got to know the band Beat The System and we all became best friends. It wasn’t until in 2012 when Gerald, the drummer of Beat The System, asked for my assistance in writing some lyrics for a song the band was working on and he realized that I had the talent in songwriting. Gerald then began to push me to come up with melodies for a chorus, or a bridge, and subsequently a full song.”

The songs that Puan had co-written with the band went on to win multiple awards in the Asian region. “Shine” won Song of the Year, Best Genre Bender, and Best Collaboration at the Asian Voice Independent Music Awards in 2012, and another song titled “Hero” went on to win Song of the Year at the Asian Bite My Music Global Awards in 2013. Puan also won third place for a song that he submitted to the Malaysian Revival Songwriting Competition (MRSC) in 2013.

“That reassured me that I could actually write songs,” he said. “I didn’t have any sort of training. I used to write tons and tons of poems when I was younger and that’s the closest thing I did to songwriting at the time.”

Now, it is evident to everyone that works with Puan that he was meant to be a songwriter.

“Adrian has the ability to compose songs that are very relevant to the listeners now, he writes melodies that are catchy and it resonates with the listeners,” said Amelia Tan, director of Malaysian Revival Songwriting Competition.

“Working with Adrian was a great experience, he surely portrayed a very professional working attitude and took his craft very seriously,” said Mokhtaza Ahmad, head of A&R Warner Music Malaysia.

Songwriting allows Puan to write stories, to express his deepest feelings, and to channel his creative senses in melodically designed tunes that transport him to a place and time of familiarity or to a place that only he can imagine.

“It gives me no greater joy when the songs I create elicit strong emotional responses from those who heard them,” he said. “I always believe that music is an agent of cure to the human soul and I’m just glad that I get to be a part of it.”

However, the craft does not come without its challenges. Every writer experience a creative block every once in a while.

“As I don’t play the piano or guitar or any other music instruments, unlike most songwriters I can’t play some random chords and create melodies based off them. Melodies come to me by inspiration and imagination. It may happen at any time of the day like how ideas would. It comes when I’m sleeping or when I go for a walk outside or sometimes even when I’m taking a shower. There are times when I’d be able to write a few songs in a day, but there are also times when I won’t get a single song-worthy melody for months on end,” he described. “I also face certain challenges while songwriting especially when I can’t find the right words or a right tune to accurately describe what it is I want to convey. In writing lyrics, it’s particularly frustrating when the word you want doesn’t fit into what I’d call ‘a melody pocket’ whereby the sound of a syllable doesn’t pair well with a particular music note.”

He certainly overcomes all obstacles, being the very first Malaysian songwriter to get signed to a U.S. record label.

“My inspiration comes from many places. I’d say the love I have for God, my family and friends is the main inspiration for me to write music. Coming to learn of other people’s life stories and experiences inspire me to write as well. Having gone through much heartache and disappointment in my own life’s journey certainly do inspire me to write music that other people can relate to,” he said. “It’s funny how much less lonely we feel when we realize that we’re not the only ones feeling whatever it is we’re feeling and that somewhere in the world someone’s feeling the exact same thing as we are, and I believe music does that, it tells a story about the human life, its ups and downs, assuring its listeners that they’re not alone.”

Puan is now located in New York City, working with Beat The System on their upcoming album. He is officially a band member, coming a long way from being their “number one fan.” He says the music industry in American has many more possibilities for him as a songwriter.

“Coming from a small town in Malaysia where music is not as widely celebrated as it is here, my goal has always been to further my career in America as I know the people here deeply value the art of music. Back home, the English music market is too small and it’s saturated with delusional musicians who refuse to transcend the already low music standards. Instead of being supportive of one another and building each other up, they’d tear you down just to get ahead in the music scene. On the other hand, the music community that I’ve gotten to know in New York has been nothing but supportive and one can sense their genuine joy and pride whenever a musician they know has achieved something significant,” he said. “The music environment that the U.S. has created is unbelievably conducive and it is no wonder why every musician from any parts of Asia aspires to make music here. From music facilities to opportunities, no other country compares to the U.S. Like people always say, if you want to make it big in the global music scene, you’d have to make it big in America.”

Puan wants to continue to be the best songwriter he can be, and write for a variety of different artists across all genres.

“Despite pop being my absolute favorite music genre, I’ve had melodies recorded that lean toward rock, R&B, and even country music. There are also songs that I’ve written which I believe would be a perfect fit for certain artists that I look forward to working with and my goal is to make that happen,” he concluded.

Ishita Srivastava Uses Humour to Help Audiences Connect on Polarizing Topics

 

As a population we are bombarded with an influx of content and information on a daily basis, so much so that it becomes challenging to sift through the over saturated media and find stories that really matter. Regardless of whether someone wants to spread a message about an upcoming event, groundbreaking discovery, or just wants to make a YouTube video with the possibility of going viral, knowing how to produce the message in a way that will reach the most diverse audience and actually have an impact is the most fundamental building block; and, digital content producer Ishita Srivastava knows exactly how to do that.

Some of the projects she has spearheaded and produced digital content for include the “Deport the Statue” campaign that reached over 20 million people in 2013, and the “Be That Guy” campaign, which aired on the Jumbotron at the NASCAR Miami Speedway Championship in 2013 as well as every other NASCAR race across the nation over the course of 2013 and 2014.

What is even more impressive than the reach and effectiveness of the digital content Srivastava has produced to date is the fact that she uses her brilliant skill to create work that spreads awareness and mobilizes people to take a stand against injustice. The issues she focuses on in her work, such as immigration reform, violence against women and racial injustice, notoriously elicit a wide spectrum of opinions. Naturally, you are probably wondering how Srivastava has managed to create content that diverse audiences with clashing beliefs can connect with when it comes to polarizing human rights issues; and the answer is– humour!

As the Producer and Deputy Director of the U.S. branch of Breakthrough, a global human rights organization that she has worked with for the last six years, Srivastava has continually used humour and storytelling as a tool to magically transform issues like gender equality, immigration and race into topics we can come together and see as “human” issues that affect us all.

For the first video of the “Be That Guy” campaign, Srivastava was charged with the hefty task of creating content that would inspire audiences at NASCAR races across the U.S. (an event that notoriously draws a large group of beer drinking race fans, most of whom are men) to stand up against sexual harassment and violence towards women when they see it happening.

Instead of creating a PSA that vilified men (which would immediately turn off a vast majority of the audience), Srivastava created an animated short film that portrayed the sexual harasser in the video as someone we all probably know or have met in our personal lives. The video in no way tried to make us hate him, instead it made us feel a bit sorry for his ignorance, and called on audiences step up and intervene, letting him know “hands are for beer and high fives, to imply, “hey man, that’s not right.”

 

 

Over the years, Srivastava, who has directed and produced countless films including the powerful documentaries “Desigirls,” “Inside- Out: Expressions of Gender and Sexuality,” “Checkpoint Nation” and “Mansimran,” has proven herself to be a master storyteller. So, it’s not surprising that when she was asked to transform the initial NASCAR-fan targeted “Be That Guy” video into a video that would effectively spread the message to audiences at a Green Bay Packers’ tailgate party, she was up to the challenge. Set in an animated version of the Packers’ beloved Lambeau field, the video portrays a crude fan in the stands shaking a hot dog as he makes lewd sexual innuendos at the stadium waitress.

The overall message of these videos is that if an action promotes violence or sexual harassment against women, regardless of how small an act it is, then it is up to us to take a stand and let others know that it’s unacceptable.

About creating the “Be That Guy” campaign and producing videos that would make an impression on these audiences, Srivastava explains, “they were great challenge because they were totally outside of my comfort zone in every possible way.”

While using humour appears to be a seemingly simple approach that helps those with opposing views see eye to eye over issues that under normal circumstances are known to cause arguments, there are few other digital content producers, and even fewer human rights activists, who have been as effective as Srivastava in transforming the way we see many of these polarizing topics.

One of Ishita Srivastava’s most recent projects for Breakthrough is THE G WORD, a global storytelling platform that is transforming our perception of gender norms by inviting people to submit their personal stories and experiences with the subject. After launching in December, the platform has received hundreds of powerful story submissions from people of all ages all over the world, many of them are available on The G Word website: http://us.breakthrough.tv/thegword/

 

G Word homepage

 

In an interview with Sue Ding for Docubase, Srivastava explained, “We invited people, not just women but everybody, to share their story with the invitation that we all have a gender story. They range from everyday experiences of norms to really dramatic stories of discrimination and violence.”

THE G WORD brings together a collection of stories that span a wide range of subtopics such as consent, masculinity, dating violence, the women’s movement, greek life and many others, all of which are connected through the issue of gender. Besides giving people all over the world a platform to share their stories, THE G WORD has made it apparent that many issues that we might not think of as being gender related, actually are. The Chore Challenge, one of the many story categories Srivastava created for The G Word, asks audiences to contemplate what household chores they have taken on and whether they are rooted in gender roles. Simple examples such as young girls being taught to do the laundry, whereas their brothers are tasked with such things as fixing things around the house or mowing the lawn show how gender norms have been woven into the fabric of each and every one of our lives; and that these issues connects us all, whether we realize it or not.

“THE G WORD has been a dream project for me—it is characterized by all the things that I love, the things that get me to work in the morning, Some of the stories we get can be hard to read, but they’re honest and nuanced, and work so well to inspire empathy and make complex and intersectional issues relatable.”

THE G WORD  platform and the impressive collection of ‘videos for change’ that Srivastava has produced to date have not only been astonishingly effective in spreading messages about globally relevant issues, but her unique and thoughtful approach to digital content has made it possible for her work to break through the cultural and perceptual barriers that separate us, in turn providing us with a common ground where we can stand together.

Haisu Wang: From China’s Base-FX to Becoming a Leading Art Director in the U.S.

 

Tian-ran QIn
Art Director Haisu Wang shot by Tian-ran Qin

No matter how skilled the cast and director are, how polished the script is or how astronomical the budget may be, a film will never reach its full potential without an art director capable of bringing its visual essence to life. Haisu Wang has dedicated years to becoming one of the best in the industry, and has an incredible list of credits under his belt earned while working at some of the most prestigious firms in the world.

Wang, while in China, was an integral part of the Emmy award-winning BASE-FX visual effects production company. BASE-FX has worked with every major studio in the U.S. to produce some of the most stunning and revolutionary CGI effects in 21st century film and television. Wang worked on two of the three projects for which BASE-FX earned Emmy wins. The first was HBO’s gripping World War II series The Pacific, produced by Academy Award winners Tom Hanks (Best Actor – Forrest Gump, Philadelphia) and Steven Spielberg (Best Director – Saving Private Ryan, Best Picture – Schindler’s List). The Pacific won eight Primetime Emmys; the effects work done by Wang and the BASE-FX team was recognized with the 2010 Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Television Miniseries.

The second, Boardwalk Empire, is the critically-acclaimed HBO crime drama starring Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Reservoir Dogs, The Big Lebowski). Boardwalk Empire was nominated for 57 Primetime Emmys and won a total of 20 in an array of categories between 2011 and 2015. For its visual production work on the series, BASE-FX won the 2011 Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Television Series.

After two immensely successful years at BASE-FX, Wang moved to Los Angeles and was accepted into the prestigious Production Design program at the world renowned American Film Institute. It was there that he further honed his already sharp talent for visual production and established his reputation as an extraordinary art director.

In 2014, he was the art director for two films – Contrapelo and Day One – which were both honored with a long list of accolades and critical praise. Both Contrapelo and Day One also caught the attention of Academy Awards judges and were on the top-10 shortlist of nominees for the 2015 Best Live Action Short Film award.

Thanks in no small part to Wang’s position as art director, Contrapelo has taken the festival circuit by storm. It won the Phoenix Film Festival’s award for Best Live Action Short Film and was nominated for Best Overall Short Film at both the Calgary International and Oldenburg Film Festivals. At its core, Contrapelo is a philosophical film about the gray areas of morality. When he discovers that the man in his chair is a cartel boss, a Mexican barber grapples with his desire and opportunity to kill the vile man responsible for innumerable deaths and heinous crimes.

“Because the story is set in a small town in Mexico in the 1990s, the main challenge was recreating the Mexican barbershop interior and the abandoned travel agent office – the hideout used by the leader of the drug cartel – in a soundstage in L.A.,” Wang said. “My personal challenge was designing these two main sets in a short amount of time, and also quickly gathering a really effective construction team to build them in one-and-a-half weeks.”

With his extensive 3D computer design skills, Wang was quickly able to create a digital mock-up of the sets. This enabled the director to visualize blocking and plan shots in earnest, and allowed the crew to prepare camera and rigging placements to meet those demands. Construction crews used Wang’s designs to begin building the sets while all of the planning was being done simultaneously using the same shared computer layouts. Rather than having to wait until the sets were completed, Wang’s quick thinking shaved weeks off of the tight production schedule.

Day One, the emotional true story of an American interpreter in Afghanistan, was also a top-10 Academy Award contender for Best Live Action Short Film. Though the film was set in the Afghan desert, it was filmed in the desert outside Los Angeles. The terrain proved a significant hurdle for the production, but once again Wang was able to apply his high-tech know-how to navigate the situation with ease.

“One of the main challenges of this set build was the uneven ground condition in the desert,” Wang said, describing another instance where his technical expertise proved essential to a production’s success. “I was able to use my digital skills to analyze the topography of the desert location, and I created a 3D model of the real location. I then helped the designer create the set in my 3D replica model.”

A huge critical success, Day One centers around a recently divorced woman joins the military and is deployed to Afghanistan as an interpreter. On her first day in the country she encounters a terrorist bomb-maker and his wife, who has just gone into labor. Her life is forever changed when she must help the woman deliver the child. At the 2015 Academy of Television Arts and Sciences College Television Awards, Day One received Emmys for both Best Drama and Best Directing. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Los Angeles (BAFTA/LA) also awarded the film’s director, Henry Hughes, with the 2015 award for Best Director.

Hughes says, “Haisu’s vision and rare skill using digital software to create some of the most challenging sets for ‘Day One’ was invaluable to our production, especially considering the geographic challenges of the location. Without his contributions it would have been nearly impossible to construct these sets in the amount of time and within the allotted budget. He is definitely a huge asset to the film industry.”

Wang’s skill, experience and qualifications put him in the same class as many lifelong industry veterans. A person with Wang’s talent and drive is a rare and precious asset in this business, and his awe-inspiring list of credits and accolades continues to grow every day. He is a master of the craft, gifted with an instinctive ability to visualize and execute both the subtle and the overt artistic and creative nuances of a film. A film is only as good as its art director, and when a film calls for the very best Haisu Wang is will be there to surpass even the highest expectations.

Q & A with Leading Canadian Actor Ian Fisher

Fans of the hour-long action-packed crime series Covert Affairs will probably recognize Canadian actor Ian Fisher immediately from his recurring role as Patrick on the fifth and final season of the Golden Globe nominated series, which aired internationally on USA Network last year.

While Fisher undoubtedly displays his capacity for drama in the fast-paced series, an aspect of his craft that he has shown through his performances in multiple other high-profile productions as well, the actor is also equipped with an unparalleled sense of humor and incredible comedic timing—something that easily shines through the text over the course of the interview below.

Last year Fisher both co-wrote and starred in the acclaimed production of “World Pride and Prejudice,” which ran during the 2014 World Pride Festival in Toronto at The Second City. He also recently wrapped production on the film Glory River directed by Black McWilliam, who produced the film The Little Deputy, which was nominated for awards at the Sundance Film Festival and SXSW Film Festival earlier this year.

Fisher’s unique upbringing, which he reveals in the interview, has allowed him to understand some of the most challenging characters and bring them to life on both the stage and screen with seamless precision. To find out more about this dazzling star, make sure to read below!

You can also find out more about his work through his IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3965339/?ref_=fn_al_nm_2

 

Where are you from? When and how did you get into acting?

IF: I’m originally from Vernon, a small town in the mountains of British Columbia. I’ve lived in Toronto for the last six years though.

I was always a pretty big dreamer. When I was a kid, I wanted to do it all. I wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, a spy, even being a jewel thief looked pretty intriguing. I was pretty disheartened when I learned that even in a best-case scenario I’d likely have to pick only one of those things to dedicate my life to, since pursuing any of them would take so much time. So I decided if I wouldn’t be alive long enough to do everything, why not just pretend to do everything. Plus I didn’t really know what any of those jobs really entailed outside of what I saw on TV, so I guess the answer was in front of my face the whole time.

My father died when I was three. He was this local legend in terms of athletics; he was one of those guys who was good at any sport he played. We had tons of photos of him skateboarding, surfing, skiing, playing baseball, and that’s pretty much all we knew of him, so growing up, my younger brother and I had this desire to become that in a way. And my brother was, he was the best natural athlete I’d ever seen but unfortunately for me, I wasn’t. I really had to work hard to get good at things. Eventually, by persistently practicing I got decent enough at most of them that I could compete but on the way up I was on a lot of losing teams, if I even made the teams at all. In university, during a pick up game of basketball or something, I heard someone describe me as a natural athlete–I kind of scoffed at that. None of it was “natural.” It was all hard work. I was never really a natural anything until I started acting.

I’d always done voices and accents for as long as I can remember, and once I started doing plays, it started to all come together. I finally knew what it felt like to stand out in something. I quit the high school basketball team to do a play and since I’m not 6’8, I haven’t really looked back.

I booked my first paid job in 2009, the first TV audition I ever went to, and within a few years I was working consistently, so I guess that’s when I became a professional technically.

Can you tell me a little bit about the film and television projects you’ve done?

IF: My most prominent role was a recurring role on the fifth and final season of Covert Affairs where I played a young CIA agent named Patrick who was the personal assistant of the director of the Domestic Protection Division, Calder Michaels (played by Hill Harper from CSI: New York, Limitless.) At first I approached the role with the mentality, and I stole this line from Ocean’s Eleven, but it stuck with me: “you want him to like you, but forget you.” So I’d always enter the room with that in mind. Since there are so many classified conversations in a CIA office, I wanted to get in, and get out before I heard something above my pay grade. My main job on the show was to show up and deliver bad news.

During the later episodes, since my character was so involved in his boss’s life, I was one of the few characters who knew that Calder was having an affair with an escort. So in addition to managing a CIA director’s professional life, I was also juggling his personal one. Since so many characters get killed on that show, I was always nervous that I would get a script and it would say that my office would get blown up or a stray bullet would come through a window. Unfortunately for everyone, the show ended on a cliffhanger so we’ll never really know the fate of Patrick. But I like to think he’s out there in an alternate universe, stressed out and delivering bad news perpetually.

I’m very excited about a film I did recently called Glory River, which is about a small town obsessed with its hockey team. It’s kind of along the same lines of what Friday Night Lights did with football. The film, which is actually intended to expand into a series after the festival circuit, shows that even if you’ve been the best on your team your entire life, the odds are still so small at actually making it professionally. I play Noah Gallagher, the town’s star player who, for as long as he’s been able to walk, has been told he’s destined to make the NHL. He has the entire community’s hopes and dreams on his shoulders, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to pan out after all.

As good as he is, he’s still not good enough. It’s tough since there’s never been a back up plan for him, if he fails at this then he feels he’ll have nothing else left, which is a lot of pressure for a teenager. My character has a working class single mother whose played by Rachel Hayward, who’s sacrificed her entire life for this goal for him by working a brutal job on the oil rigs up in northern Alberta, so if he fails, he also feels like he’s failing her. She’s a drunk who’s relentless in the pressure she puts on him to succeed, so there’s also that weighing on him on top of everything else.

I had worked with the film’s director, Blake McWilliam, on another film called Camp about a year ago, and when I heard about this project I was really interested. I never actually played hockey myself, nor did I really follow it, but it’s still such a part of Canadian culture that it’s impossible to be completely removed. The fictional town, Glory River, for which the film is named after, for me that was my hometown of Vernon. I knew these people, I knew this world, even if I wasn’t directly involved in it.

I was also very interested in Noah’s relationship with his mother, since I was raised by a single mother myself, this really resonated with me. Initially there was a concern about casting me since they wanted someone who had actually played hockey, since there would also be a lot of in-game footage. Because I had this relationship with the director from our last film, I was lucky enough to have a line to talk to him. So as I was testing for the part, I was also able to talk to him about the story, and I was able to share with him my personal experience with my mom. I think that really helped me get the role, because even though hockey had never been a part of my life, I knew this character better then anyone. What he was going through was similar to what I had gone through in my own life in a way. Hockey can be learned, what it feels like to be raised with one parent cannot.

A lot of my training has been method based, and I always like to draw from my own life for my characters. This character and I shared so many similarities that I already had a head start, and I was really dying to bring him to life. After I booked the part, I actually hired an All College Hockey America player to work with me privately on my own hockey skills. I knew I’d never really be able to become a great skater or hockey player in only a few weeks, however I wanted to be able to cheat it enough in between stunt double footage that I didn’t look like a complete idiot. So I got her to make sure I was never holding a stick in a way that looked awkward, or doing things that they would never actually do. I still have a little scar on my ankle from skating in brand new skates as much as I did during those prep weeks. I’m very proud of this film and excited to see what happens with it, and if it does become a series, I would love to remain involved with it in some capacity. It’s currently playing at the Calgary International Film Festival on Sept 29th and Oct 4th.

The Epitaph is a film I co-wrote and produced with funding from the BravoFACT foundation and Bell Media. It’s directed by Kris Holden-Ried (The Tudors, Lost Girl) and will air on Bravo. The main concept of the film is: “What would you do if you knew the day you were going to die, but not the year.”

It’s a unique twist on a story about fate. This was a very cool experience because it was the first time that something I had written, was being produced and will air on a major network. Plato Fountindakis, who was an executive producer on the SyFy series Lost Girl for five seasons, came onboard early as our executive producer and was a really great mentor for me. I had produced small films and web series’ before however this was the first time I was involved in something this big.

I initially had the idea for the concept while bored at a bar one night and I turned to my friend and asked “If you could know the day you are going to die, but not the year, would you want to know?” It all grew from there. My co-writers Jason Gosbee, Scott Cavalheiro and I really started exploring that concept. Since we use a 365-day calendar, I’m fascinated by the fact that every year we pass the day that will eventually be our last without giving it a second thought. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, all these days with so much meaning, but the one that will have the most effect on us and our loved ones, remains a mystery –until it happens. Your kids or friends or family will be aware of a day that you pass blindly every year, that right now means nothing to you, but they’ll never forget. So in the universe we’ve created with our film, this day is no longer a mystery. We get to see the effect that knowledge of your own fate has on the world. Ideally, we want to expand it into a full-length feature or TV series. I do also make a cameo in the film. My own little ode to Hitchcock.

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

IF: I’m often excited to play all kinds of characters, and I’m confidant playing a range of different people. What’s harder for me is putting my ego aside and turning things down when I’m not right for it. I think as young actors we sometimes just want to be working or we feel like we can do anything, even if the character is not right for us. So sometimes I have to reevaluate a script, or a project and say, “No, I’m just not the guy,” even if I really want to be. It’s way more beneficial than trying to force something that isn’t working. A great script or a great director can be a game changer too. After Glory River, I’ll do anything Blake McWilliam wants me for. He’s truly an actor’s director and I did some my proudest work on that film because of the freedom and environment he created on set.

Can you list some of the theatre projects you’ve participated in up until now, and the roles you’ve played?

IF: The last live show I did outside of comedy clubs was a sketch show called “World Pride and Prejudice” at The Second City. We wrote and performed it over the course of a year through the Second City’s signature style of writing through improv. It ran during the World Pride festival in Toronto in 2014. That was lots of fun. Being on the same stage that John Candy, Dan Akroyd, Eugene Levy, all these great comic actors have been on, that was really an honor.

For the most part, outside of comedy, I stopped doing live theatre a few years ago. I’m such a big fan of film as a medium and the spontaneity of doing it authentically or differently take to take. Once you do it once, you don’t have to try to recreate anything, the camera’s already captured that moment, so you have room to play and try new things. I find that happens in the rehearsal process of a play, but is often lost in the performance since you might find something great once, but then you try to hit that again 8 times a week for 3 months. Too many actors make the mistake of trying to get it right again, instead of just working moment to moment. There are actors who can pull it off and love doing it but for now, I want to work with the camera.

What has been your favorite role so far and why?

IF: That’s tough. I don’t know about a favorite but right now my top 3 would be, Covert Affairs, Glory River, and Reign. All for different reasons. Playing Patrick on Covert Affairs gave me an opportunity to work with some great actors who really knew their characters. I came into that show for the final season so by the time I was there some of them had been playing these characters for four or five years, so it was really valuable to see how they would talk things over with the writers or directors. Because the nature of episodic TV, almost all of the episodes have a different director, so that gave me an opportunity to see a range of styles and work with a variety of different people. Even though we were the same characters, on the same sets, each director had their own take and vision for their episode. It was also cool because by the time I got there the crew had been making this show for five seasons so it was such a well-oiled machine. They already had a system in place, I was coming into their world and they really made me feel welcome.

I loved playing Noah in Glory River because of the personal connection I felt to him, we came from very similar worlds. We were both raised by single mothers, both from small towns and both have big goals. I knew I could do him and that story justice. It’s a story that is so engrained in the lives of Canadians, and I was really excited to be able to bring it to the screen. That was a really great set experience and it gave me a chance to see parts of the country that I had never been too before. We shot it in Red Deer, and Edmonton Alberta, two cities I had never been too prior to doing this film. It was great to work with these local crews and seeing Alberta’s film industry first hand. Working with the director Blake McWilliam and the Director of Photography Mike McLaughlin is always a lot of fun. Because we’d already done one film together in the past, it was like being on set with your friends. Both of those guys are so good at what they do; it was really great to not only have respect for them as filmmakers, but to also enjoy being around them as well. Because we know each other, and each other’s work, we already have a trust built in. We never have to doubt what the end product might look like, so it’s one less thing on the mind. That gave us all the freedom to take some risks and find some really nice stuff for this film.

Reign was a great experience because that was the first time I got to play a character from a different time period, so even on the level of costumes and accents it was unique to me. It’s not everyday that you show up to work and there are horses and castles everywhere, at least it’s not for me. I’m a big history fan and this show allowed me to go back in time for a little bit, or as close as I’ll ever get to being able to actually do that. Director Jeff Renfroe was really easy to work with, he really trusted what I prepared with for the character, which gave me the confidence to just go to work.

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

IF: Drama and comedy are my favorites; I’m lucky enough that I happen to be a strong dramatic actor, who is also funny. In a perfect world I’d love to do what Jamie Foxx or Robin William’s can do and have done. These guys are Oscar Award winning actors, who are also great stand ups and have done great comedies. You’re telling me Ray is that funny in Horrible Bosses? The fact that that’s the same guy is very impressive. Two very different skill sets and to be a master of both is incredible. I love making dramatic movies. I’m a big fan of subtlety and working with people who live as truthfully as possible under the circumstances. But comedies are also great, and they seem to stay in people’s consciousness in such a lasting way. I love going to the movies in the fall when all the Best Picture nominees are coming out, those are my favorite type of movies to watch, but comedies touch people in a different way. People from my generation still quote Anchorman, Mean Girls, or Superbad. Those are the movies people watch over and over again. So I’d love to be able to have a career in both. I’d love to be in the kind of films Paul Thomas Anderson or Wes Anderson make…maybe I just have a thing for Anderson’s…

What separates you from other actors?

IF: I’m not afraid to work for it. A lot of actors I know sit around and wait for the phone to ring. Which is so deadly. I did that for about 2 months after I got my first agent and I started to go crazy. That’s when I first started taking classes. Now I’m always training because whether or not I’ll get auditions or offers is out of my control, but if I’m always practicing, then I’m always getting better, and when those opportunities do come up, I’m even better and more prepared then I would have been. Actors are often entitled and they feel like they don’t need to work for it. If a musician never worked on their strings or a basketball player never took shots outside of games they would be awful, but often actors think they’re an exception. If I’m not shooting anything then I’m taking a class, writing or doing stand up, or producing my own stuff; but I’m never sitting around. I don’t want to look back in ten years and think that I could have done more or blame anyone else for how my career went. If I’m up against someone for a part, they better have done their homework, because I definitely did. I’m also in a smaller boat because I’m not a comic actor who also does drama, or a dramatic actor who also does comedy. It would be hard to box me into one category. It’s two separate stands for me and I’m lucky enough, or have practiced enough to be exceling at both at the moment. In a dream world, I’d love to have careers like Marlon Brando & Dave Chappelle. I guess Jamie Foxx pretty much did that…and he also sings right…that guy’s a talent.

What would you say your strongest qualities as an actor are?

IF: I’ve been told that it’s interesting watching me think. Which I think is a great compliment for an actor– that there’s lot happening behind my eyes. Whether we’re doing a comedy or a drama, if we’re doing a scene together I’m going to really be listening to you. I’m also an experienced improviser, which allows us to go off script and improvise dialogue or situations if desired. Comedy and drama are obviously different but at the same time, they aren’t, so much of it is about good listening.

What projects do you have coming up?

IF: The Netflix original series Between has been picked up for a second season, I guest starred in one of the last episodes of the first season and it looks like my character is potentially coming back for season 2. I play John, a devout Mennonite who finds out one of the lead characters, Gord (Ryan Allen) has been having an affair with my wife Hanna. (Rebecca Liddard.) My character shows up and creates quite a conflict and we haven’t seen how it’s resolved yet. It ends on a cliffhanger, and I’m very curious about what happens next and am excited about the possibility of coming back and exploring that further.

A new episode of my series The Party Show will be coming out soon. We’re always in a state of making one of those when we can.

What are your plans for the future?

IF: Planning to move to L.A for 2016, in addition to TV & films, I’d like to take some UCB classes and to start doing stand up regularly in L.A. And also surf a few times a week. It’s been awhile since I’ve surfed without a wetsuit. In-N-Out Burger, that’s on the list.

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

IF: I have some big goals, but at the end of the day I want to make the kind of movies or TV that I like watching. When I was a little kid my mom used to dress up to watch the Oscars. I would love to be able to take her there someday.

Why is acting your passion and chosen profession?

IF: Being funny is like having a super power. I was never the bravest, best looking, fastest or strongest, but I’ve always been able to make people laugh. That separated me and gave me something special. I attribute so many of the good things in my life to my sense of humor. Most of my friends or my relationships, professional and personal, wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for that. I don’t want to just be a really funny stockbroker, or the funniest guy at the party. If I don’t do something with this it seems like it’s such a waste. Quite simply, I’m good at this, I love doing it and I work very hard to be better and better. I truly believe I’m not suited better for anything else. Oh and the money.

Q & A with Genius VFX Artist & Motion Graphics Designer Vitaly Verlov

Eric Roberts
Actor Eric Roberts (Left) and Filmmaker Vitaly Verlov (Right) shot by Maria Artos

Living in the modern age we are bombarded by hundreds of commercials per day. As viewers when most of these ads hit the screen we often tune out in order to deal with the overwhelming overload of these messages.

So what does it take for a commercial to stand out and strike the interest of an audience in a world oversaturated with visual sales pitches?

Well, having a seasoned motion graphics designer like Vitaly Verlov behind the screen has proven to be an integral factor in the success of campaigns for global companies like Max Factor, Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Volkswagen, Nokia, Samsung and countless others.

Over the years Verlov has amassed prodigious knowledge in terms of the technical methods involved in creating everything from multi-layered motion graphics to seamless visual effects. Beyond his technical skills though, his creative vision has made him a highly sought after talent in the industry. In fact, earlier this year he handled all of the visual effects on the upcoming film Redux, a sci-fi film starring Oscar nominee Eric Roberts from the films Inherent Vice, The Dark Knight, The Cable Guy and many more. What is even more astonishing is the fact that Verlov also wrote and directed the highly anticipated film.

His prowess as a motion graphics designer and visual effects artist have allowed him to take on projects that others in the industry who are only skilled in one of these two areas could not.

While you may not know the face of Vitaly Verlov, if you’ve ever tuned into MTV, VH1, Friday! Or Russia’s RUTV, then there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve seen his work more than once over the last decade.

To find out more about Vitaly Verlov’s captivating work make sure to check out our interview below!

You can also see some of his work through his website: http://primevalues.ru/

 

IFR: Where are you from?

VV: My name is Vitaly Verlov and I was born in the city of Novosibirsk, Russia. After graduating in 2007 I moved to Moscow to work as a motion graphics designer and visual effect artist for television and film.

IFR: How and when did you first get into doing visual effects work?

VV: In high school and university I did a lot of computer programming because I was a computer geek back then, and even before that I came across an international computer art subculture called Demoscene. Essentially it’s a community where young programmers, artists and musicians get together – for fun – to make demos: computer programs that produce audio-visual presentations in real-time. The visual side of creating a demo implies that you actually program algorithms to achieve a certain artistic effects on screen. To put it short, it’s awesome. As soon as my programming skills got up to speed, I started making graphical demos with some cool looking visual effects and showcasing them on so called “demoparties.” As a matter of fact, my thesis work was focused on developing a toolset for real-time motion graphics and visual effects production.

Later on I became more interested in non real-time photorealistic imaging and switched from computer graphics programming to producing visual effects, design and animation in a more traditional industry-applicable form and started doing broadcast motion graphics for television.

IFR: What inspired you to pursue this profession?

VV: After seeing some television channels that were neatly designed from a graphical standpoint or motion pictures packed with great visual effects, I really wanted to become a part of it.

IFR: Are there any particular artists that inspire you?

VV: In my early days I was fascinated with some of the broadcast design graphics on TV and dreamed about getting to this level of quality and impression. That’s what basically inspired me to learn, more than personalities. However after moving to Moscow, I had an opportunity to meet with some of the great guys behind those outstanding designs and work with them.

IFR: What kind of training was involved in order to become a VFX artist? How important is formal education to getting a job in the industry?

VV: I personally don’t have any special VFX related training. Nor do most of the other artists I know. Basically, to become a VFX artist or motion designer, it’s important to have a natural artistic sense and a good eye plus the ability to efficiently handle technical tools and software. On the other hand, it’s also a matter of specialty in the industry, for instance: environmental concept artists or matte painters often have a background in fine arts. One thing is true for everyone working in VFX: you don’t stop learning, no matter what your specialty is.

IFR: What is that you love about being a VFX artist?

VV: The ability to create something impressive out of nothing; and the ability to impress girls at parties, of course.

IFR: What is your specialty in the field?

VV: As a VFX artist, I consider myself a generalist which means that I can pull off a wide variety of tasks myself, including modeling, texturing, animating, rendering, compositing. There are fields that I prefer more, and there are fields I’m not involved in at all – like character modeling and rigging.

As a motion/broadcast graphics designer and art director, again, I can do a lot, starting from initial creative concept to final delivery.

IFR: What is your typical workflow like in terms of collaborating with other artists on a film?

VV: It depends on a project and/or studio. Sometimes workflow is precise, broken down into stages and compartmentalized with strict deadlines, sometimes it’s a complete mess and overnight hell. The most positive experience is of course when you focus on something specific you really like and are good at. This way of collaborating is very efficient and creative at the same time.

IFR: You also work as a motion graphics designer, can you tell us a little bit about what that entails?

VV: Sure. Essentially motion graphics design is an animation-oriented subset of graphic design. Graphic design is just a single picture. Motion design is graphic design in sequence, in motion, and you see it pretty much everywhere: opening sequences for TV shows, film titles, game console menus, or photo-realistic 3D smartphone magically spinning in mid-air in a smartphone TV or Web commercial, or even user interface animation within that smartphone. In other words, any animated piece in visual medium is a subject of motion design.

That’s what I’ve been doing for various television channels including MTV, VH1, Friday!, and others. Sometimes there is client input on the initial concept of what we’re trying to achieve, sometimes there is no input. When there is no input, I also work as a copywriter where I suggest different ideas or scripts on how an end result might look and what meanings/themes it might have behind it. When the concept is approved, we move on to actual motion design.

IFR: How does being a motion graphics editor differ from working as a VFX artist?

VV: Motion graphics is a general term. It’s something that visually can be executed in different ways and styles. It can be two-dimensional, flat design-ish/illustrated looking as well as filmic three-dimensional. I think my direction is more filmic/three-dimensional oriented, that’s why it depends substantially on the visual effects techniques. For example, for a commercial spot for Peugeot the idea was to make a realistic car driving along a stylized miniature street – stuff like that directly relies on VFX techniques because it requires 3D modeling, rendering and compositing as a part of the workflow. In a sense, for such projects VFX is a way to implement the creative idea. That’s where motion graphics and VFX come together.

On the other hand, there are motion graphics projects where VFX techniques are not required for natural reasons. For instance, I have experience making on-screen graphics as a part of graphics package for several television stations where the task was to design the look and feel of info graphic elements that pop up during a broadcast. While these elements look pretty minimalistic, they should have a thought-out motion behavior and structure that keeps the integrity of the overall design. Sometimes the way these elements pop up on screen, interact with the viewer, and disappear is hard to conceptualize. That’s where “design” in the “motion graphics design” title comes to the forefront.

IFR: How has having skills as both a VFX artist and a motion graphics designer separated you from others in the industry?

VV: I think VFX and motion graphics are storytelling devices, and I always try to approach projects from the storytelling perspective. So for me the primary task is not making a neat looking animation or effect but supporting and enhancing the context it is a part of. Motion graphics is about guiding the viewer’s attention and it’s also very important for visual effects shots. What separates me is a good understanding of these aspects which, in real life, means that a client is usually happy with the timing, pace and accents I put into designs during the early stages of production, which is cool because it eliminates the need to reiterate on that so I can spend more time perfecting the visuals.

IFR: What companies have you worked with in the industry?

VV: Since I consider myself motion graphics oriented, I have more experience working on commercials and on-air broadcast design.

As a lead designer and VFX artist, I worked for the Russian branch of MTV and VH1 Networks and nation-wide entertainment television channel Friday! As an art director and motion graphics designer, I’ve done quite a few projects for a major music television channel, RUTV. Specifically, I created motion graphics and the overall design for the RUTV 2014 annual music awards ceremony, and some pieces for its 2015 installment.

As a freelance designer and VFX artist, I’ve done a bunch of commercials for international brands, including Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Volkswagen, Max Factor, Nokia, Samsung, Eurovision, Sensation, plus a variety of Russian brands like Beeline (a major mobile operator in Russia).

As a lead VFX artist, I have several projects done for the US-based boutique postproduction company Coat of Arms. Also, I have great experience working for the international visual effects company Pixomondo (Game of Thrones) as a lead 2D effects artist.

Working for various international companies and clients gives a pretty solid understanding of how the global industry works as well as flexibility in the way you approach projects in terms of planning and workflow because the process makes the result.

IFR: Can you tell us a little bit about the television and film projects you’ve worked on; and the specific contributions you made?

VV: I’ve done a lot of TV show openers and channel idents, in a team of designers and by myself, including works for MTV Networks, nation-wide channels Friday!, and RUTV.

While working for Friday! I had a positive interaction with the broadcast design department of Les télécréateurs (Paris) who designed overall on-air look of this station. I’ve made a few show openers and extra identity pieces based on the existing visual style of the station. And for RUTV I created motion graphics and design for the RUTV 2014 annual music awards ceremony which was a pretty huge amount of work (a show opener, a set of nominees, promo spots, press materials) on a tight schedule – that’s where the ability to sit focused for 18 hours came in handy.

Also, recently I had a chance to work as a lead 2D VFX artist on a Chinese big budget sci-fi feature film called Impossible, which is scheduled to hit the market sometime this year. I came in when the postproduction was in full swing, and my job was to complete a bunch of VFX shots, mostly energy fields and portal effects.

I should mention that I’m a filmmaker myself with two sci-fi live action films already under my belt. The latest one, Redux, features the well-known Hollywood actor Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight, The Expendables). It’s a short character-driven story with the ’80s/retro-futuristic vibe to it. I wrote, directed and edited this film and did visual effects.

IFR: Why is motion graphics design important to modern filmmaking?

VV: In its pure form, motion graphics design is critical for television and Internet – that’s for sure. Filmmaking also takes advantage of it, particularly big budget sci-fi & fantasy films and movie trailers, which are a marketing device. Film credits or sleek futuristic computer interfaces you see in a sci-fi flick is a product of motion graphics design. Sometimes it enhances the narrative story of a film, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s in there. Moreover, since motion design and VFX are somewhat interrelated fields, motion graphics can be essentially found in any film featuring visual effects. That’s also a good way to save some time and money during production, which is important, especially for independent narrative filmmakers like myself. Can a modern live action film be done with no VFX and motion design? Probably yes. But if it’s a mainstream (commercial) film, there should be a marketing/ad campaign involved and that’s where motion graphics comes for you again.

IFR: What has been your favorite project so far and why? What projects do you have coming up?

VV: Not sure about all-time favorites, but I can name a couple of recent ones. I was a part of a team who made a STRAFE® promotional spot for a successful Kickstarter compaign. STRAFE® is an independent old school first-person shooter video game. On this commercial, I worked as a lead VFX/motion design artist.

And of course I loved working on my second film Redux because I think it looks pretty neat, has a coherent story and stars well-known Hollywood actors.

As to the projects to come, some of my past TV clients have a brand new music channel in the works, and while there’s not much info available at this point it looks like I will be creating an onscreen design and several VFX heavy idents shot on green screen.

IFR: Do you have a passion for working on a specific kind of film or project, if so what kind of project and why?

VV: In the TV world, I would say, a show opener. When making a TV show opener, you’re actually making a focused 10-15 second piece which tells a story visually, and that’s what attracted me to the visual medium in the first place.

In film, I have a passion for working on my own films.

IFR: What would you say was your first foot in the door to the industry, and what advice would you give to aspiring artists?

VV: In 2006 I believe, I started making what I called the daily images: the goal was to make one new artistic image every day, just for fun and training, and post it on the Internet into a corresponding design community. I ended up making just a couple of images a week, but after a year of this marathon I was invited to work full-time at a prominent postproduction studio in Moscow, N3, because they liked my pictures. That’s basically how I got into this industry. So I guess my advice would be, stop being aspiring and start actually making something just for the sake of it, start the process and watch how everything unfolds.

Alexander Davis: A Child Actor That Needs to Be On Everyone’s Radar

Alexander Davis
Alexander Davis shot by Denise Grant

To find one’s calling can take a lifetime, but Canadian actor Alexander Davis found his in acting when he was just three years old.

Since then, the eight-year-old prodigy has already played lead roles on stage (A Christmas Story, The Little Mermaid) and in film (The Closet, Volition).

Davis portrayed the lead character of Randy Parker in A Christmas Story, which ran for 48 shows in just six weeks at the Neptune Theatre in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Davis’ portrayal of the quirky Parker was so well done that it earned him a 2015 Young Artist Award for Best Performance in Live Theatre.

Though Davis’ work in A Christmas Story was a resounding success, it was not without its challenges. Just before intermission of one of the shows, Davis fell on the set’s stairs and hurt his leg. He was bleeding, in pain, and his next stage direction was to walk out the door. That’s when he learned the meaning of “the show must go on.”

“My acting mom was amazing. She just carried on with the show and picked me up to carry me out the door,” Davis said. “I don’t know if the audience knew what had happened was real or not. During intermission, I put ice on my leg and went back out and finished the show. Now that’s show business.”

Despite working through injury, Davis was hungry to act again when the show’s run ended. On the flight home from Halifax, he asked his mother if he could go back for more.

“I feel like I was born to perform,” Davis said. “I loved performing to sold out audiences and making the crowd laugh. I think my role at the Neptune Theatre really prepared me well.”

But Davis’s budding brilliance has not been confined to just the stage. He played the lead character in The Closet, a film in which he flawlessly executed the difficult proposition of playing his own twin.

“I had to be exact with where I stood to make sure the shot worked with both of us in the scene,” Davis said. “They edited it or layered the scene to make it look like there were two of me. You learn a lot being an actor.”

Davis’s rapidly expanding reservoir of acting knowledge continued to expand when he played the lead character in Volition, a film about a terrorist who saw the world through a different lens after he met Davis’ character on a train.

The film’s production schedule forced Davis to adapt, which he did with flying colors.

“We filmed late every night on the train, so I had to change the time I went to bed,” Davis said. “It was worth it and so much fun.”

Volition co-star Romaine Waite (Antisocial, One Night a Stranger) liked Davis’ performance so much that he asked the emerging star to be in a music video for rapper Pas Da’ Millz that Waite would later direct.

From stage to film, Davis has achieved more before his ninth birthday than many actors do in a lifetime. But the young Canadian has barely scratched the surface of his brilliance, and is already taking his career to the next level.

While in L.A. to receive his Young Artist Award earlier this year, Davis caught the attention of veteran Hollywood executive producer Irene Dreayer (The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, The Suite Life on Deck, Smart Guy).

Dreayer’s known as an honest-but-tough executive producer who’s often told parents of young actors that L.A.’s not a starting point for a growing career, but rather an end result of a successful career. She’s usually recommended to families they go home, but that was not the case for Davis, according to the young actor’s parents.

Instead, Dreayer spent a lot of time convincing Davis’ parents that L.A. was where the sought after actor should be, according to Davis.

Most recently, the young thespian used his voiceover chops to portray the characters Brownie and Checkers in the animated TV series Super Why!, a popular, animated kids show about the magical adventures of reading-powered superheroes on PBS.

Whether on stage, film or television, Alexander Davis has proven himself to be a talented, reliable and dedicated actor who will no doubt make his presence felt in Hollywood and beyond for many years to come.

One of Canada’s Hottest Stars: Actress Jessica Huras

Over the last decade Canadian actress Jessica Huras has established herself as a sought after talent for high profile theater productions, TV shows and award-winning films. While her versatility and capacity for seamlessly tapping into even the most challenging roles have definitely helped her create the dazzling reputation she has today, it doesn’t hurt that she is undeniably beautiful as well.

Early on in her career Huras appeared on the two-time Gemini Award winning series This Is Wonderland. Shortly after she went on to guest star on the Lifetime TV series Missing alongside multi-award winning actress Vivica A. Fox. An investigative crime series that focuses on finding missing persons, Huras played the roles of Caroline Dunn and Luke Thompson, two characters who at first appear to be separate and unrelated, but over the course of the episode are revealed to be one in the same.

When it comes to choosing one role over another, Huras says, “I look for smart scripts that feel original in some way and that have interesting and complex roles for women.”

In Missing, Huras gives a heart wrenching performance as a transgendered college student who struggles to find his identity as a man born in a woman’s body, a challenging role that only further proves the actress’s affinity for tapping into complex characters.

Audiences across the world will also recognize Huras as Leandra from the first season of the hit television show Being Erica, where she starred alongside Erin Karpluk (Rookie Blue, Reasonable Doubt, Supernatural, Saving Hope, Flashpoint) and Reagan Pasternak (Masters of Sex, Heartland, Cake).

“This was a very theatrical role, allowing me to tap into my darker side and channel my inner Goth,” explains Huras about her character on the three-time Gemini Award and Leo Award winning series.

Similar to the way that Jamie Lee Curtis has become synonymous with the horror genre through her role as Laurie Strode in Halloween, Huras has also become something of a notable “scream queen” on film.

Through films like The Deadly Pledge where she played the role of Nikki Evans alongside Gossip Girl star Leighton Meester, James Isaac’s action packed 2006 horror film Skinwalkers, and NYC: Tornado Terror, Huras has displayed a rare talent for evoking fear within audiences through her believable performances.

Although she has carved out her place as an actress in film and television productions starring alongside some of the best in the industry, the silver screen has by no means taken away from her work as a dedicated performer in the theatre.

In 2009 Huras starred alongside Sebastien Heins from the TV series The Listener, Cracked and Darknet, and Mikaela Dyke from the films Blood Boars and Sight Unseen, in the production of David Levine’s “Reflections On Giving Birth to a Squid.” The production, which opened in Montreal and toured across Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Edmonton as part of the Fringe Festival, received the Centaur Award for Outstanding Production from the Montreal Fringe Festival.

In 2010 the actress also founded Heart in Hand Theater company in Toronto – a revolving collective producing rare plays in need of a comeback, as well as developing new works of their own. Through Heart in Hand, Huras has produced “The Commune,” “Cowboy Mouth” where she played the starring role of Cavale alongside Broken Social Scene member Jason Collett, and “Trout Stanley” where she played the role of Grace Ducharme.

About what drives her to perform, Huras says, “I love telling stories and sharing the human experience. I think it’s the most palpable way of connecting and it’s never dull, not for a second. I’m forever challenged and inspired in this field.”

With each of her characters being completely different from the next, Huras’s dedication to continually pushing herself beyond her comfort zone as an actress has allowed her to amass a wide range of roles on both the stage and screen.

With an astonishing career already under her belt and several productions being released this year, it is clear that we will be seeing a whole lot more of Jessica Huras for years to come. Currently, you can check Huras out in the role of Natalie on the History Channel series Gangland Undercover, which began airing in February. She also wrapped production on the films Anxietyville and Teeth earlier this year, both of which are set to debut later this year.

Cinematographer Johanna Coelho Pulls Us In with Powerful Imagery

Cinematographer Johanna Coelho
                 Cinematographer Johanna Coelho

French cinematographer Johanna Coelho is not only a phenomenal director of photography who has a background working with an array of different genres, but she is capable of shooting on any format, a feature that sets her apart from the masses.

“Film and digital have the same purpose: create images for telling a story. There’s a lot of discussion going on about what is best between shooting on film or digital. For me in a sense, it’s like having a discussion about which lense to use. It’s a decision that concerns one’s choice, taste and style,” explained Coelho.

With the global technological advancements we have experienced over the last two decades, the most noticeable shift when it comes to the film industry can be found in the format in which films are shot.

For instance, feature films that were once shot on 35mm filmstrips are now predominantly shot on digital, the reason being that digital technology is cheaper to reproduce, and easily transferrable.

The question of whether to shoot on digital or 35mm will always come down to the aim of the director and what the film’s director of photography (DP) feels is the most viable option for producing the director’s vision. However, for the DP to even consider taking one of these two routes they must first be capable of shooting on both formats, a skill Johanna Coelho can accomplish in her sleep.

“I think it’s amazing to want and know how to shoot both, because today we still have a choice, ” said Coelho. “I pick one over another depending on the project, story, shooting conditions, and visual style. There is a sharpness to digital that is really appreciated nowadays, and film will always give you this beautiful grainy image that gives a really cinematic aspect to your film. They do not look the same, and that’s the great thing about it.”

Coelho’s talent as a cinematographer and her ability to choose whether to shoot on film or digital depending on what will be the most compelling for the overall project, has allowed her to be far more creative than most in the craft.

The film Broken Leaves, which was directed by award-winning director Sasa Numic, follows two teenage best friends, Lana and Annie, as they go on a picnic with three boys in the woods. The film focuses on Lana’s jealousy over the attention Annie is receiving from the boys, a feeling that quickly turns to anger and leads her to do something that she immediately regrets.

Coelho worked her magic as the director of photography for the film, which was shot solely in the woods using 35mm film. Coelho’s use of the perfect filter and film, in addition to the way she captured the sunlight breaking through the trees creates a hazy, almost dreamlike feeling, one that visually supports the film’s storyline of Lana’s rash actions being grounded somewhere outside of reality.

Broken Leaves is a story that is supposed to feel like it was shot in the 70’s, so I felt shooting on film was appropriate in order to give a realistic and beautiful grain to the images,” explained Coelho.

“Also, there is a really nice warm look created with the filter I used in the camera throughout the whole film. This particular color created with the filter worked because of the type of film I chose to use, Kodak Vision 3 5213, 200T. So it wasn’t only about the grain, but also about the choice of emulsion. Colors on film can be truly amazing if you know how to use them.”

As the director of photography for the film The Black Room, which was also shot on 35mm film and follows a convicted woman who dances away the reality of her jail sentence by imagining she is a cabaret dancer, Johanna Coelho shows her finesse and versatility with the camera. Because The Black Room was based on the incredible camera tricks invented by French illusionists and cinema genius Georges Méliès, Ms. Coelho chose to shoot on film in order to remain authentic to Méliès’ discoveries.

Creating a mesmerizing sequence of imagery using double and triple exposures on film, Coelho draws audiences in with the way she captures the character’s movements to a place where they too forget that the woman they are watching is in jail.

Concerning the use of double and triple exposure, Coelho admits, “We can do that with digital now, but it’s not as challenging or as fun! Making all of your effects happen in the camera is an incredible experience that shows you the real power of shooting on film.”

While the up and coming generations will most likely switch to shooting solely digital, there are elements of 35mm that continue to be widely cherished throughout the film industry today, and Johanna Coelho’s films serve as a testament to the importance of cinematographers having the capacity to work with both.

“Film is the very first format of cinema, and I think there is something really special about that,” said Coelho.

WALTON CREATES A MODERN ROMANCE BY FLIPPING THE GENDER ROLES IN “THE DATING RING”

Boxers are tough. They are visceral creatures who are quick to physical action and known for few words (with the possible exception of Muhammad Ali) and disconnected from their emotions. The antithesis of this type of person is the calm, well learned, and eagerly helpful librarian. Those who find themselves in this profession are soft spoken professionals who appreciate a good razor for their beard. Wait…were you thinking of a female librarian and possibly a male boxer? Sarah Walton was likely hoping you would make this mistake when she wrote the screenplay for the film The Dating Ring. This film flips the gender roles that we have come to expect. Exploring the dynamic of a relationship between a female boxer and a male librarian, Sarah wanted to challenge both herself and the audience to see these characters as unique and not just another gender assumption. The Dating Ring won worldwide acclaim and was an Official Selection for the Lumiere Film Festival, Italy (2015). Romantic Italians loved the idea which Walton presented that every female/male relationship should be considered at face value; a lesson we’d all be better off learning. Sarah has a pedigree which includes many romantic comedies but The Dating Ring presents its action with a goal of making the viewer ponder just as much as being entertained. The ultimate question asked by this film is, “What is strength?”

When Sarah went through a bad break-up and experienced a betrayal, she did what all artists do…she created. She saw her own dating experience as combative and took the pugilist metaphor to a literal place in her screenplay. To make a clean break from her normal romantic comedy method, she wrote the initial draft without dialogue to challenge herself. This approach gave her a radically different tone for the film and exhibited a fresh approach for Walton. The gender role switch of the two main characters might sound odd on paper but works amazingly well on screen, no doubt due to the incredible performances of Emily Goddard (Shayne) and Nick Farnell (Benji). Shayne is a thirty-three-year-old female boxer, bred by her retired boxing champion mother to be a fighter but it was never Shayne’s passion. She has a maternal mother inside her dying to get out, but her tough exterior and mannerisms belie her true desire for intimacy. Benji is a gentle and compassionate man in his mid 30’s, raised by his strong single mother and two older sisters who taught him the importance of strength and compassion after they escaped from his con artist father. His Achilles heel is being lied to because he watched his mother cry herself to sleep night after night as a result of his father’s lies. He wants true love, not a ruse. Walton states, “In society, the pressure for males and females to focus predominantly on their masculine or feminine traits can be psychologically unhealthy for us as individuals, our self-expression, and the way we interact with one another. Gender role reversal in film challenges this division and promotes equality for the sexes. Within a melodramatic film it’s difficult to stray from the traditional expression and repression of female characters in stereotypical feminine behavior, in which non-diegetic music plays a role. A way of solving that problem is gender role reversal. Steering away from the historical portrayal of masculine and feminine in film will allow us to challenge stereotypes and potentially ease the pressure for men and women to feel limited by their genders in society.”

Donna Hensler (Supervising Producer on The Dating Ring) Recognized the magic in Sarah’s script immediately. She recalls, “As soon as I picked up the script for The Dating Ring I was captured by the voice of the lead character Shayne; a female boxer struggling with the trials and tribulations of love. Sarah’s writing, though commercial and mainstream, is extremely honest and original. She thinks outside the box and isn’t afraid to take a risk. Sarah is a passionate story teller and her stories reflect her unique view of the world and positive view of humanity which is perfectly suited to the romantic comedy genre.”

The Dating Ring still copy

The core of The Dating Ring is designed around fighting. The reveal of the plot is that what you think you are fighting for may not be what you really should be fighting for. With 10 years out of the dating game, Shayne gets back in the ring. She’s training for a big fight and she’s losing her game, so focus is imperative. Her boxing coach mother lets her in on the family secret to winning championships…sex the night before the fight, because it will help her loosen up and focus on the game. Shane meets a male librarian named Benji to whom she is surprisingly attracted. The fact that he’s a male librarian and has a child (she thinks children are the devil) intimidates her, causing her insecurities to flair. She struggles to break the ice with him and finds herself acting out and screaming obscenities like a Tourette’s syndrome victim. Before she knows it she has a fist full of lies to cover up and she’s in too deep. Her fighting increasingly suffers culminating in a choice between the sport she’s loved her whole life and the man of her dreams. When they kiss for the first time Shayne reveals her true self. Benji, hurt that she lied, breaks into tears. She does what any woman in her position would do…she runs off to the boxing ring for the big game. Shayne finds herself in the ring and set up for the wining punch but she can’t do it anymore. Her love for Benji has changed her and she feels compassion for the first time in a long time. She throws in her boxing gloves right then and there with the realization that gentleness is strength.

Just as profound as the role reversal for this story is the idea presented that we cannot judge ourselves by the way that others see us. For Shayne, it is her judgmental and pushy mother who envisions an idea of what her daughter’s life should be. Discovering your sense of self is a thread that runs through much of Walton’s writing. Consider this piece that she penned about other well-known romantic comedy characters of present times; Sarah wrote, “Bridget Jones perfected the art of imperfection.  We love watching her and characters like Carrie Bradshaw, Nina Proudman, or Ted Mosby take chances, put themselves out there and fall down (often literally) because when they make mistakes it makes us feel better about our failures.  It reassures us that it’s okay to be flawed. Mistakes and failures are merely learning curves and opportunities for growth.  Bridget and her fellow imperfectionists show us how making mistakes can lead to happiness because they always succeed in the end.  But what if happiness isn’t at the end of the film or T.V. series.  What if happiness is right now?  Not when we get that dream job, lose weight, finish a degree, earn more money, find a partner, have a baby or move house… but right now. If success is happiness and we can only achieve true happiness through mistakes and failures, then surely we should be welcoming and celebrating failure rather than trying to avoid it?  I know I’ve made a million mistakes and I’ll make a million more.  And I wouldn’t change a single one because they are part of what has gotten me here… And here is pretty great.”

The Dating Ring IMG_3997 (2)

There is a deluge of romantic comedies to choose from if you want to be entertained and feel good. If you want all of the former as well as to be challenged to consider who we are as individuals rather than easily categorized tropes, watch a film that was written by Sarah Walton.

Young Ambition Leads to International Success for Duarte ‘Duda’ Figueira

Duarte 'Duda' Figueira
Production Coordinator Duarte ‘Duda’ Figueira

Whether it’s being in the right place at the right time, unceasing ambition and unwillingness to slow down after hearing a dreaded ‘no,’ or a combination of the two, some people discover their dreams and go to work paving the way for them to come true much earlier than most of the population.

Like the inspirational and semi-autobiographical story Cameron Crowe brought to life in the Oscar Award winning film Almost Famous, which follows a talented teenage journalist who joins the band Stillwater on tour in the 70s and covers the journey for Rolling Stone, music industry aficionado Duarte ‘Duda’ Figueira experienced a similar rise to success back home in Portugal at the ripe age of 16.

Today Duda, as he is known affectionately throughout the industry, is known for his impressive achievements as a production coordinator and major force behind some of Portugal’s best known artists such as reggae/dance hall singer Richie Campbell, the rapper Regula and producer Lhast, to name a few.

Duda, who is now 26, took a leap of faith in his early teens and reached out to Lisbon’s leading reggae promoter at the time, Fernando Cabral, with an e-mail pitch that would come to change his life forever. Duda knew the market for reggae music in Portugal was huge, but he felt that the information about reggae events was not reaching the country’s fans as effectively as it should– so he offered himself up as a flyer boy. He was immediately given a one-time job postering the cities with flyers about an upcoming concert featuring the bands No Joke Sound, Stepacide, and the one and only Gregory Isaacs who sadly passed away in 2010.

“My mom drove me there. I got a chance to meet [Cabral] and the rest of the partners, and I was given a bunch of flyers and posters, and a guarantee of having a free ticket for the show. And that was great!,” recalls Duda.

The following week what began as a one-time job turned into much more when, fuelled by a rare level of confidence for someone his age, Duda decided to pop over to Cabral’s office to thank him for the ticket, have a chat about music, and ultimately offer his services on the public relations side of the business. There he was introduced to the members of the band No Joke Sound, who were on site recording a live set.

“As an aspiring Selector and MC, bumping into them was kind of a ‘star-struck’ moment,” admits Duda. “The moment I walked in Fernando said to them ‘this is the kid that sent the email!.’ They were surprised.”

The band members’ understandable surprise at seeing a kid so young walk nonchalantly into the country’s leading music promotion agency with big ideas of how they could better reach their target audience quickly faded once Duda began to speak about the music industry and what fans were looking for, but not necessarily getting. Duda exchanged contacts with No Joke Sound member Bernardo “Ben” Miranda, who subsequently invited him to come along the following week to the No Mercy Soundclash, Portugal’s first ever reggae soundclash event.

“I met Ben’s cousin, Gonçalo Leitão, also known as ‘Krpan.’ After the event, we went to Ben’s house, and inside of his kitchen, Ben looked at both of us and said: ‘You and you! You are going to have a sound system together.’ And the rest is history… From that week until today, Ben has been my ultimate mentor. He was the one who pushed me to have a career in music,” Duda recalls fondly.

Fyah Box Sound
Krpan (left), Duda and Lhast (right) of Fyah Box Sound

At only 17 Duda, along with Ben’s cousin Krpan, created Fyah Box Sound, a reggae/dancehall sound system, which is a style of music collective that originated in Jamaica and includes a DJ,  MC and engineer. Duda geniously developed the “Triple Threat” concept for Fyah Box, a series of weekly videos that include everything from artists freestyling to debut song releases. Upon inception the concept helped make Fyah Box a huge success in Portugal, and it has since become a leading source of music for reggae and dancehall fans across the world.

Building Fyah Box Sound up from the ground floor, Duda created a recognizable name for the collective by bringing in world-renowned artists such as Anthony B, Ikaya, Richie Campbell, Regula, Short Size, Blasph, Dillaz, Xeg, JLZ, Kristoman, DJ Nelassassin and several others to collaborate. What started as a reggae/dance hall collective quickly turned into a cross-cultural music platform thanks to Duda’s decision to open the collective to other styles of music such as  R&B, rap, and hip hop.

Now, a decade later, Duda has definitely carved out a prominent position in Portugal’s music scene as a highly sought after production coordinator. Considering the extent of what he does for the artists and projects he oversees, which includes everything from working as a booking agent, manager, fashion advisor and lead A&R man, Duda’s production coordinator title is the only one that fits, as he coordinates literally everything that goes into both the planning of a production and the artist’s overall career.

A year after starting Fyah Box Sound, Duda began working as the production coordinator for Portuguese artist Richie Campbell, who started the band Stepacide and was also a member of No Joke Sound prior to going solo. With Duda production coordinating everything from planning releases, coordinating events, deciding on singles and album art, and crafting his image and musical approach, Campbell has been met with incredible international success as a solo artist.

Richie Campbell’s manager Bernardo “Ben” Miranda explains, “Duarte is someone we know we can always count on for both the creative and strategic process as well as the execution. Over the past 9 years that we’ve worked together it was a joy to see him grow into the person and the professional he is today. His ambition, creativity, commitment, loyalty and organization make him one of the most desirable professionals in the Portuguese music industry.”

Duarte 'Duda' Figueira
Duarte ‘Duda’ Figueira (left) and Richie Campbell (right) in Berlin

As Campbell’s A&R and production coordinator, Duda has played a major role in the production and release of each of the artist’s albums since 2010, including “My Path,” “Focused,” and “In the 876,” as well as Campbell’s 2010 EP “Richie Campbell” and the album and accompanying DVD “Live at Campo Pequeno.” Fans across Portugal went wild upon the release of Campbell’s 2015 album “In the 876,” which quickly topped charts and became No. 1 on the digital store sales chart within a few hours of its release– something that hadn’t been seen in the country since the release of Beyonce’s 2013 self-titled album.

Over the years Duda has also production coordinated a slew of high-profile events featuring Campbell, such as Campo Pequeno 2011 and 2013, Sumol Summer Fest 2012, which pulled in 25,000 people, as well as Sudoeste 2013 and Festival do Crato 2013, which each had more than 50,000 people attend– astronomically large numbers for Portugal!

Duarte ‘Duda’ Figueira

In 2016 Duda was the A&R man on Campbell’s hit song “Do You No Wrong,” which has garnered over 10 million views on YouTube, and earned a Gold and Platinum Award on the Portuguese market. A major hit in Portugal, “Do You No Wrong” was produced by Lhast, who Duda also works with as a production coordinator. Duda also coordinated the release of the artist’s 2017 single “Heaven,” as well as the music video, which has garnered more than two million views since being release at the tail end of April.

Campbell says, “What I appreciate the most about working with Duda is his versatility as a career advisor/manager and the way he can balance a deep understand of the current music business while never forgetting that an artist needs to be in touch with his audience. This enables him to provide great input on how an artist should work the business aspect of his career without ever jeopardizing the relationship with his fans.”

In 2014 Duda formed Bridgetown Talent Agency with Bernardo Miranda, Afonso Ferreira and Richie Campbell. Today Bridgetown Talent Agency, which has become one of the most successful booking agencies in Portugal, represents a wide range of artists including Dengaz, Mishlawi, Curt Davis, Plutonio, DJ Dadda and the comedians Luís Franco-Bastos and Pedro Teixeira da Mota.

In 2015 Duda also started DGF Agency, an imprint agency that handles counseling, A&R, management, releases, PR and promotions for its artists. Some of the major artists Duda oversees as a production coordinator through DGF include Lhast, Karetus, Krativ and Andre Melo. He is also working as a lead production coordinator and A&R man at Rebeleon Entertainment where he is handling the release of several upcoming albums, EPs and a few highly anticipated singles for artists such as La Santa Cecilia, Gloria Trevi, Alejandra Guzman, Mon Laferte, and Enjambre.

A well-known name throughout the U.S. music industry, Rebeleon Entertainment partnered with BMI last year to produce the 6th Annual ‘Los Producers’ event in Las Vegas during the Grammy Awards, which included performances from Latin Grammy nominees and music from other trendsetters in the Latin music industry.

After 10 years in the industry Duarte ‘Duda’ Figueira has not only managed to rise to the top of the music industry in Portugal and make his name known across the world, but he continues to bring the same level of fervor and adept skill to every project he takes on.

In the end Duda says, “I would love to look back to my career and feel proud of the work that I have put in, the results of it, and the impression that it had on society. Hopefully someone can feel inspired to create more and take some energy out of my experiences.”

 

JOHN ALBANIS BECOMES A GLOBAL SENSATION WITH HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS

There are times when you hear about someone taking on a task so difficult, so trying, that you wonder, “Why would you put yourself through this?” Mind you, we’re not talking 127 Hours/James Franco difficult. The film Hector and the Search for Happiness (starring Simon Pegg as Hector) is truly a global experience in terms of the action on the screen and the filmmakers journey to create it. A virtually army of professionals (numbering nearly 600) shot on four different continents, dealing with differing time zones, languages, and currencies to create this masterpiece. To coordinate as well as lend creativity required a very special producer, which is exactly what John Albanis defines. The film’s director, Peter Chelsom, brought John onto this project because of his practically inhuman ability to coordinate and facilitate, all while lending an artistic eye. In order to keep the integrity of the script, a number of producers contributed financially to the film while Albanis’s role was to be the “boots on the ground” in charge. Attesting to the accomplishment of the film’s intact vision are the many awards and nominations it received. These include: 2015 nominated for a Canadian Screen Award, 2015 Leo Awards – nominated Best Motion Picture, nominated Best Production Design in a Motion Picture, nominated Best Musical Score in a Motion Picture, and many others (including a win “Jury Prize” for Peter Chelsom at the Monte-Carlo Comedy Film Festival and a win for Best Foreign Comedy Trailer by the Golden Trailer Awards). A truly stellar cast including: Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Toni Collette, Stellan Skarsgard, Christopher Plummer, Jean Reno, and others was required to deliver incredible performances. Peter Chelsom was required to direct and guide the performances while Kolja Brandt captured them on camera. All of this would have been for naught if John Albanis had not set the table perfectly for all of these artists…and the table required was massive!

When Chelsom requested Albanis to join the film as a producer, it was primarily because of their successful work history (the two have worked together on multiple feature films). When you are about to spend a year of your life biting off more than you can chew, you want someone you trust sitting next to you chewing even faster than yourself. Proving that he was much more than a coordinator or purse string guardian, the relationship between John and Peter would be based on encouraging and advising creatively. Albanis notes, “I had a history of working with Peter and by this point, we’d also become close friends. I wanted Peter to bring more of his personal artistry into this film. I’m a huge fan of his early two films, which were European indies: Hear My Song and Funny Bones. His direction is masterful in those films because the tone is so unique to him. The films he’s made in Hollywood are also fantastic (and certainly financially successful), but they didn’t showcase everything that Peter was capable of achieving. For Hector, Peter needed to get back to his roots and be more creative. This mandate spilled into every decision we made. A lot of the more creative aspects of the film were brainstormed between us early on. A good example of this is the treatment of Hector’s travel journal, which we decided to animate because it afforded us some wonderful thematic and editorial transitional opportunities.”

It’s impossible to separate the diversity of stories in Hector and the Search for Happiness from the diverse situations in which the production was placed to create it. The essence of the story is that Hector (Simon Pegg) is a psychiatrist who feels disillusioned by the mundane nature of his life and emotional experience. On a quest for his own happiness, he seeks out what it is that cultivates this emotion in others. He travels the planet, interacting with and experiencing lifestyles and people completely unlike himself…only to discover that the source of happiness was always with him. The filmmakers were insistent on not using soundstage trickery to “resemble” the feel of each location, meaning that the production travelled to each location, spanning the planet with John Albanis leading the charge. Because he was in charge of scouting locations, this meant that John travelled the globe twice for this film. He explains, “We felt it was crucial to the film’s success to physically go to each country to follow Hector’s journey. And yes…we all wanted to prove it could be done. Hector was an extremely ambitious project with a modest budget — yet we still managed to film across 7 countries and 4 continents including: Vancouver (Canada), London (UK), Johannesburg (S. Africa), Shanghai (China), Los Angeles (USA), Ledakh (India), and Germany. From the very beginning, we viewed it as four indie films that made up one larger story.” A larger studio may have requested a different tone for the film so, rather than rob it of its heart…multiple entities were called upon to aid a financial hand to the artistic integrity. Ultimately, London’s Bankside Films understood the filmmakers vision and agreed with it.

Travelling to exotic destinations with world famous actors may seem glamorous, and it is at times. Producing is a demanding job that requires a clear head and split second decisions at times, especially when in foreign lands. Sometimes the situation calls for a calm demeanor in the most troubling of circumstances. Relating a particularly unsettling experience during the filming of Hector and the Search for Happiness, Albanis recalls, “There’s a section in the film where Hector travels to a Tibetan monastery. We were originally going to film the monastery sequence in rural China. During my initial scout, I sourced the most beautiful monastery in the remote Kangding, Sichuan region of China, which we’d planned to shoot immediately after Shanghai. However, upon arriving at the location, there was unrest between the local monks and the Chinese military police (unrelated to us), so we could no longer film there. This was disastrous for the film and a horrible way to end the production. We went on a hiatus for a few months to game plan how (and where) we were going to film the monastery sequence, which was pivotal to the story. Ultimately, we discovered similar-looking monasteries in Ledakh, India. However, by this time, due to budgetary restraints and cast availability, we were unable to get our entire crew to India. So we decided that I would go to India to produce and direct all of our wide exterior shots, working with a 100% Indian crew and casting a double for Hector (Simon Pegg). I then met back with the rest of the crew along with our cast in the Bavarian Alps in Germany to shoot the interiors, mid-shots, and close-up shots. Coordinating how these shots worked together was quite complicated and each shot had to be precise and storyboarded in great detail.”

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Hector and the Search for Happiness is a warm and tender film yet; it is also uncomfortable. What happens to Hector and those around him is sometimes joyful and affirming and sometimes frightening and unsettling. The adage, “It’s about the journey, not the destination” is accurate and somehow too simplistic to convey the tempering which we humans need to be forged into thankful creations. If the experience solidifies a sense of self, then John Albanis might be the most actualized producer in the film industry today as a result of Hector and the Search for Happiness.

ALEXANDRA HARRIS HAS AND DOES NOT HAVE “MISSED CONNECTIONS”

Alexandra Harris - Missed Connections 2

Sometimes when things go wrong it can be very right. Consider Alexandra Harris. By all accounts people who know her consider her to be very positive and upbeat. There’s no implication of a duplicitous nature in regards to Harris but, opposites can play very well in cinema. As an acclaimed actress in a wide variety of productions, she exhibits all of the acting skill of the notable peers in her industry. The filmmakers of Missed Connections wanted to use Alexandra’s inherent goodness to drive a less amiable character in this production. Missed Connections is a Zero Film Festival Award-winner and was screened at esteemed events like the Raindance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival. The protagonist of the film is Jamie (played by Joseph Cappellazzi), a man who gets ruthlessly dumped by his girlfriend Sophie (played by Harris). The fallout and aftermath leave him incredibly heartbroken and bitter. In an attempt to get back at the world (and to satiate his friends who tell him to start dating) he begins responding to the “Missed Connections” section of the paper, showing up to dates pretending to be the desired person…with less than fantastic results. Through this process, Jamie actually meets a girl he likes, Emma (played by Rebecca Perfect), and then has to come clean about what he’s done. Even more conflict arises when Jamie must decide whether he’s going to keep trying to get back together with Sophie or move on with someone new.

As Sophie, Jamie ex-girlfriend, Harris is cold but not completely unrelatable. Jamie has some maturing to do and the inherent likability which Alexandra possesses makes the audience question whether some of the blame falls upon his shoulders. It’s precisely because of this quality that Rory O’Donnell (casting director on Missed Connections) was adamant that Alexandra would bring depth to the character of Sophie. O’Donnell professes, “I knew she’d be a great fit. Here we were in London, with all these serious Brits and this bright bubbly American (yes, yes, I know she’s Canadian) came bouncing in and just sort of blew us all away. As a casting director, that’s what you hope for. She’s just very, very good, and very easy to work with. It’s quite simple really. She doesn’t make the production about herself and is able to roll with whatever punches may come her way.”

   Sophie has left Jamie bitter and heartbroken but instead of taking responsibility for his part in the failed relationship, he goes about trying to blame other people. Understanding that her portrayal could easily sway the view of Sophie in the eyes of the audience, Harris took care to present her as someone whom the audience could project their own ideas onto. She relates, “I saw Sophie as one of those girls with a five-year plan. The type of girl who knew where she wanted to be and was constantly evaluating herself and those around her to make sure she was on her way to achieving it. There’s nothing wrong with that but I think sometimes it makes people less flexible with the those who are in their lives. Sophie would describe herself as ‘career oriented’ for sure.”

While her performance is magnetic in Missed Connections, there were a few substantial hurdles for ALexandra to overcome in being cast for the film. It seemed highly unlikely that she would be Sophie in this production. Chris Presswell (writer and director of Missed Connections) confirms, When Rory O’Donnell (our casting director) read the script, he thought Alexandra would be great for Jamie’s love interest (Emma), however, I wanted to keep the cast British as it was supposed to be a British comedy. When Alexandra came in for a read through, I knew I wanted her in the film somehow. She’s such a talented actor, and also a genuinely good and decent person; the perfect combination. Rather than Emma, I liked the idea of her for Sophie (Jamie’s ex-girlfriend) because I knew she’d bring some vulnerability and depth to her. While Sophie’s technically the bad guy of the story, it’s boring if the audience flat out hates her; casting Alexandra was the perfect solution to that. It’s pretty hard to hate her. She’s also very fun to have on set and all that positivity was needed when shooting during the British winter as it gets dark at 4pm!”

To hear Harris tell it, the audition wasn’t as much of a cinch as the director implies. It is a testament to her abilities that an early misstep during the audition did not derail Presswell’s desire to use her in the film. It’s often said that bad choices lead to great stories and this aptly applies to Alexandra’s initial choice in the audition. Ever self-effacing, she reveals, “When I was called in, it was for Jamie’s love interest, Emma. Rory had told me it was supposed to be a British dark comedy, so I thought ‘Right, I’ll be British then.’ Keep in mind, I had only been living in the UK for about 6 months and was still under the impression that all British people sounded like Hugh Grant. I’d also never performed with a British accent (I played an American in The Last Man, which Rory had cast me in pretty much as soon as I arrived in the UK). I went in and did THE WORST British accent. It was cringe worthy. Chris was so polite and kept a straight face but I remember Rory just looking horrified. He was nice enough to take me aside and say gently ‘Why don’t you try it with your American accent.’ which I then did. I immediately felt the energy in the room change. Both Chris and Rory relaxed a lot! That experience is something that the two of them still tease me about to this day. The positive result was that I started taking accent work seriously, studying with a teacher and performing as a Brit towards the end of my time living there. I remember being so proud to invite Chris to my performance of ‘The Cherry Orchard’ where I was playing a British Charlotta and afterwards I questioned him and he just looked at me and said “Well, Alex, I’ll give it to you, for a second I thought you were British, but I’ll never forget your Emma”. It’s true what they say, first impressions are real!”

Missed Connections was Alexandra’s first time shooting in London and second time filming in the UK. Her first British film, The Last Man, was shot in the woods outside of London in Essex. Filming in London proper is a much different experience than in Essex, her Canadian homeland, or even Hollywood. The Brits are some of the best actors in the world and Harris took every advantage to soak up the experience of the unique British approach. UK productions are more grass roots and unpolished compared to other film centers, on purpose. The feeling on UK shoots of “we’re all in this together” permeates all levels of production. This lack of hierarchy was something to which Harris was unaccustomed but welcomed. This however does not mean that it was any less challenging. The actress notes, “Chris [Presswell] is soooo British. When I say that, I mean that he doesn’t’t suffer fools and really doesn’t overpraise. When he offers a compliment, it’s genuine and it means a lot. We were on the same page from the beginning so we didn’t’t have to talk about the character too much. I would say ‘I’ve been that girlfriend’ and he would say ‘I’ve dated that girl’ so we knew where to go from there. We knew we didn’t want Sophie to be a bitch but rather someone who was at their ropes end.”

The short days and the brutal London winter temperature were unsuccessful in squelching Alexandra’s well-known positivity. Through her performance and a shrewd stroke of casting, she presented Sophie as an emotionally complex character. What might have originally been a secondary antagonist for this film became a stand-out character which captivated audiences. Mentioning how being different was a prominent facet of her character and her involvement in Missed Connections, Harris recalls, “It became the running joke on set that I had to be called the ‘evil American’ because Canadian’s can’t be mean; however, I think my character proved them wrong.”

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Anja Ellam captivates audiences with her writing of new film “The Woods”

There is one thing about her that shines above all else: she is an entertainer. She is extremely multi-talented, and uses her writing and acting skills to captivate audiences around the world, whether through film, YouTube, or various social media platforms. There is truly no limit to what she can accomplish.

Ellam has tens of thousands of followers on her Instagram, with a strong impact on Twitter as well, and as an influencer has helped many companies and shows gain a following and audience. Working with AwesomenessTV, both her writing and influencing skills have boosted the show to have millions of views. With the extremely popular app, the ArsenicTV Snapchat story gets over 500,000 views daily, and as a host and influencer for the show, Ellam is a large part of that. However, it was with the film The Woods where Ellam’s impressive natural writing talents became truly evident to worldwide audiences.

“Relationships between siblings can be complicated, especially if they’re teenagers. I wanted to show why the older sister in the film was so angry, because this is a common conflict between sisters,” said Ellam.

The Woods tells the story of two sisters at a party, who get lost in the woods while leaving. The film is about two sisters who get lost in the woods while leaving a party. They quickly realize they’re lost and will have to work together to get out, and push through the fighting and angst between them.

“I wanted to do something simple: two characters, one location,” Ellam described. “The sisters’ relationship is based on my sisters and my relationship.”

Ellam wrote the film entirely by herself. Originally, she wanted to experiment with her writing and work on a project that her friends could be a part of. She wrote the script while trying to think of the simplest way to make a short, but the story developed the more she wrote.

“The story is all dialogue driven which is a fun challenge for me as a writer. I also ended up directing it, which is something I’m not familiar with but my team believed in me, and I did know the script and the vision, so I hope the viewers can see it too,” she said.

Viewers definitely see the vision. The film has gone on to be shown at several prestigious international film festivals.  After premiering at the UK Monthly Film Festival, Ellam won the new filmmakers award at the Mediterranean Film Festival (MedFF). It also was just selected as a semi-finalist for the Miami Epic Trailer Festival.

“It’s a really amazing feeling that the film has been so well-received. It’s one thing to write something that people like ,but actually making it and still having people want to watch it is really cool. I know that sounds weird to say, but we did this on a very small budget with only one shooting day. It’s nerve racking because if something doesn’t work it’s almost like you can’t redo it. I’m glad people think we were able to do a good job. It’s had to get your vision across so I’m glad people saw what we were going for,” Ellam said.

All those that worked with Ellam on the film immediately saw that she was an extraordinary writer, and all of the success that the film has received could never have been possible without the vision and talent she brought with her. Maxwell Peters, a Los Angeles based Screenwriter, Director, and Producer, produced The Woods. He says her commitment to the film made it the success that is it.

“Over the course of the past two years I’ve worked with Anja on multiple projects. Most recently I produced her short film The Woods, which she wrote and directed. Anja is easy to work with and had a firm grasp on what she was doing. She worked with her actors with ease and was able to get wonderful performances out of all of them, aside from that she was able to work with crew in an effective and efficient manner,” said Peters.

Even without all the accolades and awards, the experience of writing The Woods was unforgettable for Ellam. She knew what she wanted to do from the beginning, and using her creativity, she was able to make something unforgettable for audiences as well. The film even has a twist ending, which was just plain fun for Ellam to write.

“I liked writing the ending the best. I didn’t know how I was going to end it at first, but I knew I wanted it to be unexpected. I had a lot of fun experimenting with different ending options,” said Ellam. “I took this ending honestly because I think happy endings are boring. I considered having them not make it out but I thought leaving it a little more open ended was a bit more surprising. I love twist endings.”

Be sure to check out what happens to the two sisters by seeing Ellam’s fabulous work in The Woods.

VISHNU PERUMAL: EXPERIMENTING WITH EDITING

Vishnu Perumal loves editing. In fact, he loves it so much that he is constantly challenging himself. Yes, he challenges himself to do better and better work on each project but it goes much further than this. He is constantly seeking out new ways of using editing in a production. He is vigilant is this approach. Sometimes a unique idea comes from pondering and sometimes simply by coincidence. You have to keep your eyes open in order to spot your opportunity and Perumal has his eyes wide open. The old adage “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” aptly applies to Perumal as he is constantly in search of differing ways to force himself to think outside the norm and how both he and the community view the role of an editor. Because of this, he often uses his work on smaller film productions to create an approach that he can access for larger ones. For this professional who has numerous award-winning productions vetting his abilities, complacency is a dirty word.

Something as mundane as listening to a friend describe a time when she accidentally hit the no tip button on her phone after getting a Lyft ride home sparked an idea for Vishnu. The discussion evolved into a debate on the virtues of tipping. Recognizing a universally relatable experience, Perumal decided to approach some of his fellow filmmakers and use it as a challenge to create a one-minute short. Vishnu would take a short story and condense it to a two act structure like that of a joke: setup and punchline. This was presented to a number of festivals that had a category for one minute films (like the Miami Short Film Festival). The film, titled Tipping Point, was a hit and proved that sometimes smaller is better.

The action of Tipping Point starts at a restaurant with a man and a woman in mid-conversation about the virtues of tipping. The man explains that he rarely tips, to which the woman begins to lecture him on the importance of tipping. The man begins to throw out scenarios on which no tipping may be fair, and mentions an outlandish one involving a horrible Lyft ride. Unbeknownst   to him, she had experienced that exact same scenario and in the end reveals to have accidentally pressed the no tip button after sneezing. Comedy, conflict, and a surprise reveal at the end…all within one minute! The impact of the performances cannot be communicated (a trait it shares with full length feature films) by a simple description; yet, what stands out here is the idea that Perumal is on a staunch search for ways to hone his craft.

Vishnu confirms that even in a film this, being succinct is a virtue. He states, “Brevity is a useful tool in editing short films, especially comedic ones. As in “Sexcapades” [the award-winning series on which Vishnu served as editor], brevity was used in this film to cut out all unimportant aspects, lines, moments, etc. When a film is stripped clean of all the fat and the spine of the narrative is laid bare, it becomes easier to add on moments and embellishments. Unlike “Sexcapades,” this film did not have the luxury of adding awkward moments. It was solely focused on getting the joke out as cleanly and efficiently as possible.” In a revealing statement about his constant quest for improvement, Perumal mentions, “If the story and concept of a film is simple and straightforward enough, you will be able to cut that down to however short you want it to be. Thinking back now, I may have been able to trim this one-minute cut to an even shorter 30 second cut.  This film was a really positive experience in my editing techniques and ability to focus on brevity. It has helped me identify how to trim the fat when editing pieces that seem too long winded or excessive.”

In a much darker subject matter, Vishnu utilized his talent on The Devil I Know. Inspired by a Jim Jones video (the infamous cult leader how led his followers of the People’s Temple to a mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana) the film saw Perumal using his editing skills to present the life of Jones in an anachronous order. In an approach similar to “found footage” the whole aspect and style of editing was instrumental in underlining the plot of this film. The result was a visually challenging story with an engaging narrative, leaving audiences mesmerized.

The film begins with the preacher amongst his congregation in the beginning of his sermon. As the sermon ramps up we witness cuts to a later point in his life where he meets up with a woman from the street. The two leave to an undisclosed location and make love. It is revealed (when the action returns to the original setting) that the woman is actually one of his congregation members. When the woman attempts to leave, the preacher won’t let her. As she fights back, the preacher becomes violent and strangles her to death. As the preacher stands over her body, the words from his sermon play in the background.

Vishnu comments, “The intention was to juxtapose the preacher’s private life with his public life, creating an initial sense of confusion for the audience. I wanted the audience to look through this initial sense of confusion and come to realize and identify what it is they are watching. By presenting the events out of chronological order, I also wanted to emulate the message that things aren’t always what they seem as well as the main character’s duplicity. Having the film told out of order also enabled a significant reveal of the female character as one of the congregation members.”

For those who wish to excel and succeed, constant self-assessment is a requirement. The professionals who are very good are challenged by the industry; those who are great challenge themselves and the industry. It is apparent which side of this Vishnu Perumal resides on.

Director and Producer Ron Grebler talks living his dream and captivating audiences

Ever since Ron Grebler was a child, he knew he wanted to direct for the big and small screen. Growing up in Toronto, Canada, he loved watching movies. He always enjoyed being transported to a new world through a film, with each image impacting his emotions. When he would watch, he felt fully engaged, and knew from early on that he wanted to be a cinematic storyteller. Now, he is a top Director and Producer in Canada.

While working with AXE and “Canada’s MTV’s MuchMusic”, Grebler helped take a revolutionary advertisement to the next level. Promoting AXE Hair Products, Grebler produced and directed a series of branded videos for the network’s “Spring Break Special.” The first of its kind on the network, three segments were seamlessly integrated into the hugely successful special to look like programming, not commercials.

“It was flattering to be chosen to work on a new concept of content with such an entertaining and iconic brand. As a commercial and branded content producer and director, it’s a rare opportunity to be asked to launch a new product for a successful brand. AXE was known for its body sprays and very entertaining commercial spots. When they were launching their first line of hair care products it was hard not to jump at the opportunity,” said Grebler.

What made the project fun for Grebler was the “hidden camera” aspect of the commercial. Part of the videos featured the main talent of the commercial asking vacationers questions about his hair, and the unsuspecting vacationers were unaware they were being filmed. This created a fun energy that was maintained throughout the three videos.

“It’s easy to work with Ron. He genuinely loves the craft of producing and directing and wants to put as much as possible into every commercial. We continually chose Ron because of his reliability, professionalism and his creative style. He was a ‘one stop shop’ for production, and we were confident that the final product would be engaging and of high quality. He has a producer/director’s ‘personality’. He’s creative and quick thinking, clear-headed, and dedicated to crafting the best programming possible with the budgets he’s given,” said Randall Graham, the Creative Director of Brand Partnerships and Commercial Production at Bell Media.

The campaign went on to be a large success for both AXE and MuchMusic. Despite the challenges that arose from shooting in Cancun, Mexico, the most popular Spring Break vacation destination, Grebler rose to the occasion. Without him, the campaign could not have achieved what it did.

“Working with Ron is often a fast paced and well thought out environment. Ron is always determined to exceed the expectations of his clients which often means maximizing every available minute. Being in a foreign country with limited tools at our disposal outside of what we brought allowed Ron and crew to think and operate outside of the box yet maintain high standards of production. Working with Ron is, at its core a job but also a classroom. Ron is a vast vault of production and creative knowledge which he is happy and eager to share. In all my years of knowing Ron, he’s always had the mentality that learning never stops and teaching others is always an available opportunity. Ron is always encouraging, positive and motivational on set which makes the complicated and sometimes unpredictable production days not just manageable but fun as well,” said KJ Fuhrman, the Production Coordinator of the campaign.

Grebler is known for his outstanding and memorable commercials. In addition to the AXE campaign with Much, he recently worked on a group of national  commercials for Belair Direct. The campaign was seen by millions of viewers across Canada and was highly successful for both Belair Direct and Grebler.

“Working on a commercial of this magnitude was a lot like juggling 300 hundred balls at once. There were so many little details, all time-oriented and interconnected, and if one falls, the others fall too. It was crazy but it was fun,” said Grebler. “There’s also that satisfying feeling of turning on the TV and seeing the spot I worked on for 3 months appear on different major networks. It’s also cute when my mom and dad call me to say they saw my spot on TV.”

Working with FUJI, Grebler reached an even bigger audience than Canada, as his advertisements were seen all around the world. Working as the director for the campaign, Grebler created two separate commercials, one for national television, and the other for internet use.

“It was an intense, short project that necessitated a lot of focus and particular attention to detail. I was strongly involved in the pre-production and production design, especially when it came to sourcing props and building sets. I was very hands on because for both the agency and client, the overall look of the set was extremely important. Since the concept included having a hand built craft to be used as a ‘hero’ prop, I specifically chose the artist to construct it and oversaw and approved the construction and color scheme,” said Grebler.

The decisions that Grebler made for the commercials led them to be immensely successful. FUJI then decided to launch the commercials in Japan, and are considering a roll out to other international markets.

Ron brings a fresh creative perspective as well as a lot of focused energy, enthusiasm and organization to every project. He has a depth of experience across many different brand categories and demographics and knows how to make every video unique, visually appealing and successful in its goal. He excels at translating the agency creative and client brief and crafting it into engaging video content that will keep consumers and audiences tuned in … and that’s the whole point of a commercial,” said Rebecca Hamilton, Chief Executive Officer Fish Out of Water Design, the agency that created the commercials.

Grebler’s reputation of being extremely thorough while working extremely quickly make him extremely sought-after not only in Canada, but internationally as well. He is truly exceptional at what he does, and his passion for what he does shows in every project he works on.

You can watch the FUJI commercials here.

 

International Entertainment, and the Talents that Leave us Buzzing….