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.

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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.

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

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Photo by Arthur Marroquin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

Mozhi Li on storytelling through fashion and new film ‘Where Dreams Rest’

In her teenage years, China’s Mozhi (Leila) Li was obsessed with Broadway shows and historical films. She was transfixed by what she saw on screen, with characters in elaborate costumes reflecting their personalities. Li instantly was fascinated by how fashion could be presented through the screen and on stage, and she knew she was meant to pursue a career in costume design.

“I use my gift and knowledge to help my clients pull their characters from the script to reality. Through communications and understanding of the story, I also use my aesthetic gift along with design principles to work as a team member with other visual departments, together to create a perfect frame in film. It’s more of a team job than individual success but that’s what makes me so determined with my job,” she said.

Throughout her career, Li has proven time and time again why she is such an in-demand costume designer and wardrobe stylist. Millions have seen her work in music videos for Jason Zhang and Yitai Wang and the films ZeroUnder Heart, and Where Dreams Rest. The last of which is one of the highlights of Li’s esteemed career.

Where Dreams Restfollows a young Chinese woman who crosses the US-Mexico border to chase after her American dream. It was an Official Selection at the Lady Filmmakers Festival, where many connected with the timely and dramatic story.

“The film talks about a strong feminine figure, who has this devoted love to her partner, which is touching. There are other immigrants with different races and characters in this film. Even though some of them are non-speaking roles, I love the details of the story given for each character, it gave some vulnerable feelings when I went through these supporting roles,” said Li.

Li was touched by the script and knew instantly she wanted to be a part of the film. The story is based on a working-class background. This created a unique challenge with choosing and aging costumes for the main character, while still ensuring her presentation would work well on cameras with all the colors balanced with the scene.

“Costumes can reflect large amount of details and stories behind each character. Especially for this project, the background is very realistic. It’s important to deliver the real-life texture to each costume by distressing and aging them professionally,” Li described.

The best part of the experience for the costume designer was the team she worked with. She thought the director was thoughtful and gifted, and the actors were passionate. She enjoyed her interactions with the art department, discussing ideas of color and fabrications.

“The story was touching, and all the characters have colorful personalities. I really enjoyed exchanging ideas and thoughts when I first met the director and production designer, they are talented and passionate young filmmakers. Everybody is devoted and played a great part in a team, that’s always the project you look forward to working with. All these factors made me feel it would be a project worth my time,” Li concluded.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

Animator and Graphic Designer Andrea Mercado honors celebrated YouTubers with new film

As an animator, Andrea Mercado is tasked with bringing characters to life. It is one thing to make a character move, but something entirely different to make it look like it is truly alive. This is where she excels. She appreciates that the character needs to have physicality and transfer feelings to the audience, making sure they are always rooting for the protagonist, no matter how small a story. It is such a deep and thorough understanding of her craft that makes her a formidable leader in her industry, and her passion for what she does is evident in every project she takes on.

Often working on projects that inspire both herself and her audience, Mercado’s work as both an animator and graphic designer has been seen and appreciated by millions around the globe. She finds meaning in what she does with companies like NeuroNet, which manufactures learning software for children, and a recent mobile application she created for pediatricians that allows doctors to quickly find the best dosage of medicine for various conditions. She also helps to tell stories through her animation, whether for the web series Paradigm Spiral or girls video games for Driver Digital.

“I like bringing characters to life. I like knowing that people will see the animations and feel for the characters. More importantly, I like bringing joy into people’s lives, and animation is a nice way of doing that,” she said.

Recently, Mercado also debuted one of her passion projects, the film PINOF Animate! It is a film of her own creation, which features animations from various artists from around the world to recreate, shot by shot, PINOF 9. The reason for this project is to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the PINOF series, created by Mercado’s favorite YouTubers, Daniel Howell and amazingphil.

“We are just a bunch of artists from around the world who really like and admire two British dorks from YouTube,” said Mercado. “The film showcases talent from people from different ethnicities, ages and perspectives. Not all of them are professionals in the field. In fact, some of them are still in middle-school. I even received a message from one of the artists who worked with me, thanking me because now they know animation is something they are really passionate about and that a career in it is an achievable goal. At the end of the day, I think inspiring young people to follow their dreams and create their own projects is the most important thing that has come out of this project,” said Mercado.

Creating PINOF Animate! was the most fun Mercado has had working on any project in her career, but it was also very stressful. She had the opportunity to work with over 30 artists from around the world and before she could assign each of them their shots, she had to group the people based on their experience and quality of work. Advanced animators got longer shots, intermediate animators got shots that were only a few seconds long, and beginner animators got the shortest shots. She also received messages from artists who didn’t know animation but who wanted to join to project, so she gave them a few shots that would work perfectly as illustrated stills.

“Working with Andrea was a very relaxed and easy experience. She was very organized on this project, and kept the collaborators involved frequently updated with full transparency. She demonstrated full understanding if an artist was having trouble meeting their deadline. She also encouraged and supported the idea of artists showcasing to their social media any progress made along the way. I would definitely work with Andrea on any future projects,” said Victoria Putinski, Layout Artist at Wild Kratts Animation Studio who created several shots for the film.

Once PINOF Animate! was completed, Mercado uploaded it to YouTube. It did not take long for Daniel Howell and amazingphil to discover the film and tweet the link, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of viewers who quickly became fans of the unique project. Mercado was touched by such a response.

“It feels incredible. It was stressful and a lot of work, but in the end it paid off. All the fans that watched our video gave us amazing reviews and kept asking if we were going to do another one next year. Some people even emailed me saying they are ready to join the next project, even though I won’t be recruiting new talent until July. And of course, Phil Lester (amazingphil, one of the youtubers), linked our animation in one of his tweets and said it was amazing. Everyone started congratulating us and we felt very validated,” she concluded.

You can watch PINOF Animate! here.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

Industry leading Casting Executive Helen Finnimore provides insight and advice

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Helen Finnimore

Helen Finnimore always envisioned working in the creative industry. As a child, growing up in Bristol, United Kingdom, she had a fascination with everything that happened behind the scenes. Even at a young age, she would sit and watch the credits at the end of a film or television program, seeing all the different roles it took to make a masterpiece. Now, years later, she still watches the credits, but she sees several familiar names among them, including her own.

In her youth, Finnimore joined the prestigious ITV Television Workshop in Bristol, England, their motto: “training tomorrow’s talent, today!” The workshop was established in 1985 and a resource offering experience for young people aged five to 25 in performance and production skills required for Film, Television, Theatre and Radio. Some very famous faces have walked through its doors! While at the workshop, she secured a children’s presenter role fronting a Channel 5 educational programme for two-five years olds called Look.

“In each programme I would pop up at a different location and chat about where I was and what I was up to,” said Finnimore.

Some 300 programmes later, as well as fronting the programme, Finnimore did everything on camera from feeding penguins, giraffes and lemurs and holding a lion cub to making Easter treats and Christmas crafts.

“I even got to travel to Wilmington in America and present an episode at Peggy Farrell costumes. I absolutely loved it, and it was here that gave me a real sense of what it’s really like in front of the camera,” she said.

Now, Finnimore is currently a Senior Casting Producer in the UK, and a leader in the industry behind the camera. Soon, she will be heading across the pond to Los Angeles to take on the role of Casting Executive for Lazy Bear Productions Inc., and she could not be more excited.

Lazy Bear Productions, based in Los Angeles, has headhunted Finnimore to work on a number of upcoming projects. One of which will be as a Casting Executive on Chatterbox, a new family primetime game show, and another of which is Off the Scale!, a large-scale entertainment show following a cappella groups around the United States. She will be working across both series, from pre-production through to filming.

“I’m looking forward to what the future has in store. 2019 is going to be an exciting year ahead as I’ve been approached by a television company in Los Angeles to work across and head up some of their new major projects, which I’m really excited about. Although I’ll never tire of working in casting in the UK, I am keen to broaden my horizons and pursue other opportunities,” said Finnimore.

While new opportunities and challenges lie in wait across the pond, Finnimore has made quite a name for herself on British soil. She has worked on countless successful film and television projects, and had the honor of sitting on the RTS Awards Selection Panel. She’s also interviewed the likes of Pierce Brosnan, Jake Gyllenhaal and George Clooney on the red carpet at the BAFTAS. She was responsible for securing talent on the UK’s debut series of The Voice Kids, something she never grew tired of, as was constantly amazed by the children she came across.

“I’ve always loved working on children’s programming and of course jumped at the chance to work on The Voice Kids. A big brand format with quite a reputation, I couldn’t wait to take on the challenge,” she said.

After meeting with the Creative Directors at ITV, one of the UK’s largest networks, Finnimore was tasked with finding the best casting talent to join the team, and once they were secured, she had the challenging task of figuring out how to approach the series, from an already well-established format. Word of the UK launching its first Voice Kids series got some serious attention and the pressure was on to deliver, and with Finnimore at the casting helm it did just that.

“We uncovered some remarkable talent over the series, some of which have continued on making an even bigger name for themselves, such as Courtney Hadwin, the Janis Joplin phenom with YouTube clips viewed over 50 million times,” said Finnimore.

Despite her vast success, Finnimore credits working on a bunch of educational programs for a company based in Sweden as the highlight of her career. She was able to travel the world doing what she loves most, casting for what the company deemed as the “project of all projects”. Finnimore had to cast 12 different teenagers living in different parts of the world, ready to tell the story of their life. She worked on her own, scouting and securing the cast, setting up shoots, securing licenses and permits, coordinating with film offices and tourist boards, managing the budget, booking the crew, and more. Once the cast was signed off, she spent weeks liaising with the scriptwriters and talent. When it came to film, she flew out and worked as the sole Producer/Director on location as well as the location stills photographer. She was the driving force of the show and got to meet some incredible teens with captivating stories.

“I met with local crews and filmed in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Nassau, Ottawa, New York, and Los Angeles. When I returned back to the UK I continued to work for the company, casting shoots in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and India – it’s the most I’ve ever learned in my career. Having all that responsibility and workload, working out of an office at home, certainly gave me some incredible skills. It has to be the hardest job I’ve ever done – but I’m so glad I had the opportunity to do it,” she said.

Undoubtedly, Finnimore has had a career many can only dream of, just as she did as a child staring at the names moving across the screen on the credits. Although it is a hard path, she encourages all those looking to follow in her footsteps and achieve their dream of working in the creative industry to never give up, just as she did.

“Don’t let anything stop you. It’s a fantastic career; it’s challenging, relentless, ever-changing, exciting and fulfilling. No two days are the same, no two projects are the same and if you’re good at what you do, you’ll get plenty of exciting offers on the table,” she advised.

Be sure to check out Off the Scale! and more of Finnimore’s exciting new projects throughout the year.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

Daniel Berini on “Promised”

It’s a rainy morning but Daniel Berini has brightened up our press room, charming every assistant and journalist with his warmth and self-deprecating sense of humour.

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Daniel Berini never fails to charm an audience.

The young actor is here to discuss his latest feature film, Promised, a new Australian work which boasts a standout cast. In the lead role of Robert is Daniel himself, another addition to a long list of projects which have consistently showcased the Perth-native’s gripping screen talent, among them, film projects like Madhouse and Terminal 1. When talking about Promised however, it’s clear that Daniel hasn’t developed an ego that would otherwise be expected from a young leading man.

“We were nearing the end of the shoot, on location, in the middle of nowhere and it was ridiculously hot. All I had to do, on this particular day, was pretend to play a game of cricket, and then notice someone back at the house and walk off. But for the life of me I just could not swing the bat…”

Daniel continues the story with a laugh. “…I’ve never been a cricket fan, but I’ve certainly watched a game or two and get the general gist. But, no matter how hard I tried to look cool swinging this bat (and I was supposed to be pretty good at it) I just made it look so wrong. What should have been a quick scene became a half day ordeal, with nearly every member of the crew stepping in at one point to show me how it’s done. It must have been the heat but the more I tried the more I laughed uncontrollably, and so on it went. They ended up cutting that part of the scene I think.”

Despite funny anecdotes such as this, Daniel’s latest role in Promised reinforces the trend of him being a remarkably capable film actor, as many in the Australian industry will attest.

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Daniel Berini and Aquaman actress Sophia Forrest on the red carpet for the premiere of Oscar-winner Russell Crowe’s movie, The Water Diviner.

“Daniel has always shown a great emotional capacity within his work. His ability to connect with a character in an honest and authentic way is extremely compelling, a skill that has resonated with audiences,” said prominent Australian casting director Micaeley Gibson when contacted to comment.

Daniel’s performance in Promised combines sensitivity with an ardent understanding of Australian masculinity as it was in the 1970s, fuelling his portrayal of Robert to be more than just another representation of a ‘coming-of-age’ saga. Indeed, the storyline about a young couple’s arranged marriage called for a more demanding understanding of love that would generally be beyond the reach of someone as young as Daniel, but it’s clear his refined understanding of craft – coupled with that aforementioned wit and sense of humour – came in handy during the filming process.

“I found it easy to identify with Robert. He’s the oldest son in a traditional Italian family living in a place that has inherently changed them but also allowed them to thrive. He loves his family, family is everything to him, but he is also driven by his own ambitions and desire to make something of his own… It was quite refreshing to read a script that celebrated Italian culture in Australia but didn’t make fun of it. This is a story that follows two people from two Italian families in Melbourne, but it doesn’t feature Italian cliches that are so often presented in film.”

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Daniel in a still from Promised, with co-star Antoinette Iesue

Daniel also experienced the bonus of working with entertainment legend, Tina Arena.

“Working with [her] was an absolute treat. She plays my mother in law, Rosalba, and despite this being her maiden foray into film, Tina’s 40-plus year career in the entertainment industry brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the set. She has such a playful quality, her personality shines through Rosalba, it’s wonderful to watch.”

In scenes opposite his The Good Place co-star Antoinette Iesue, Daniel’s performance evokes genuine selfless involvement with a measured subtlety, allowing an audience to follow his character with ease. This is in stark contrast with the tense grit that has become the norm in so many other actors’ performances in recent pedigree films that have been born out of the current socio-political discourse of anxiety.

The WAAPA-graduate’s understanding of how to build character in film has been sharpened over many years and projects. Daniel is credited with Home and Away actress Felicity McKay in Jennifer’s Coming Home, in which he’s listed as one of the cult members in the home belonging to the titular character’s mother. The reveal of the cult is the dramatic climax of the story, and represented a dark story that stands in strong juxtaposition to a feature film like Promised.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have not been typecast into any particular category, and constantly find myself playing a variety of characters.”

In the 2015 project Madhouse, Daniel is credited alongside Secret City actor Aleks Mikic, himself known for his turn opposite Oscar-nominee Virginia Madsen in Safe Neighbourhood.

Daniel is listed as the character of Silvio, who tries to break into Max’s new ‘bachelor pad’ where all the action unfolds.

The role allowed Daniel to show off an understanding of action and comedy, something which he hopes to do more of in the near future.

“They’re obviously good fun.”

And nothing was perhaps more surprising than Daniel’s refreshing turn in How to Beat A Spell, a musical-comedy shot in its entirety in one full day within the backstreets of Perth city, his hometown capital. Daniel played the humorously named ‘garbage guy’ who intercepts the protagonist Will and sends him on a different path in search for his love, the Music Lady. By directly intervening in Will’s trajectory, Daniel’s character represented something of an antagonist which is in the vein of another archetype he’s interested in pursuing further.

“Actors like Ben Mendehlson have grown into playing antagonistic characters later in their career as they’re so interesting and so much fun, so I’m looking forward to actively chasing those types of characters and stories in the future.”

With Promised making waves, it would be surprising that those artistic challenges don’t come any day now.

“As challenging as this industry can be at times, I can think of no other job that would bring me greater satisfaction. I’ve never met harder working, more passionate, creative and brilliant people in my life, and it feels like a huge privilege to be able to do what I do. I get to explore characters so different to myself, and be apart of stories so different to my own. It is such a ride at times, and I absolutely love it. I can’t wait for what’s next!”

Karlisha Wrapped Up in Success in More Ways Than One

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Karlisha Hurley, starring in the new feature film Wrapped, at the G’Day USA Gala in Los Angeles – representing another Aussie success story in Hollywood.

While award-winning actress Karlisha is still young, as she sits down to discuss some of her latest projects with us, it’s clear this Australian is no naive ingenue. In fact, Karlisha is well-known amongst industry insiders for her wise-beyond-her-years quality that has propelled her to the top of casting directors and producers’ lists when it comes to casting young screen talent.

“I had to grow up quickly as one of two siblings of a separated parent. I hadn’t even started school when my mother took us on a world trip to ensure I grew up with an understanding that the world was vast and full of opportunities and I could go anywhere and do what I wanted.”

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Karlisha in a promotional shot for Wrapped.

In many ways Karlisha, currently appearing in feature films Wrapped and a new Rob Malenfant film still being kept under wraps, has forged a place in the select few of edgy, young actresses once occupied by stars like Dakota Fanning and Amanda Seyfried. Comparisons aside, Karlisha’s Australian heritage (she’s originally from the small city of Darwin near where Crocodile Dundee was spawned) and gripping talent has meant she’s quickly built a reputation that belies her less-than-two-decades on Earth.

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Karlisha with fellow Aussie A-lister, Margot Robbie

“As a kid, I was inspired by Rose from Titanic. I grew up believing I could do anything and be anything no matter what anyone else thought of me because of Rose, who had a chance to embark on an adventure within herself that the rest of the world was against, or fall in line and have no real feeling of purpose. I feel really blessed to have the career I’ve had.”

Perhaps best-known for her acclaimed role in the gripping film project Karlisha & Morgan, for which she won Best Actress awards at the Accolade Global Film Competition and the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, Karlisha had already been acting in Australia for 8 years prior to moving to the United States. A childhood comprised of auditions, acting classes and taking days off school, soon jettisoned into film shoots, rehearsals and eventually, accent lessons.

“Once you start working in Australia at a young age and travel to LA for training which I did each year since I was 11, agents in the US become interested in you. I was very lucky that the transition to the US was so smooth.”

After booking roles with Ventura Court Productions and the web series Sharing is Caring, Karlisha solidified her place as a vital component of that production company, as she also joined the cast of Hostages Don’t Take Another Step and The Safe Zone. She has also been cast in the company’s series, ‘How to Identify a Serial Killer’ which begins shooting in March. While booking any acting job is an accomplishment, building creative partnerships is often the hallmark of an indie film star. Once those actors partner with either a director or producer early in their career, the track record of other stars suggests that those creatives usually grow together. One only need look to the collaborations of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo Dicaprio, and more recently Ryan Coogler and Michael B Jordan (from Fruitvale Station to Black Panther) to understand how lucrative such professional relationships can be.

The critical nature of Karlisha’s role in Kristine May’s career is mirrored by the importance of Karlisha’s position in David Raynor’s company Bad Hat Films, as she has also worked with him on numerous occasions. These projects include Hello Tom Sullivan, Dark Angels, The Birthday Party and Karlisha and Morgan.

In this regard, Karlisha marks her position at the top of casting agents’ wish-lists.

Karlisha’s upcoming lead role in the series, How to Identify a Serial Killer, follows the path of a paranoid teenager Alice who struggles to distinguish the difference between reality and her imagination in a world full of serial killers and murderers, particularly while living with her best friend and crime reporter Jemma – played by star of 1, Kylie Riddle.   

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Karlisha on set filming one of her many projects.

Adding to her filmography, Karlisha’s preeminence as one of the brightest stars in independent film has recently been confirmed in her appointment as Program Director of the Port Stephens International Film Festival, a position which calls for her to judge numerous films with a focus on bullying and the acting performances of her contemporaries.

“The festival topic of bullying is something I experienced and I used acting to deal with it. I now draw on that pain; it empowers me; it gives me something to connect to; and it allows me to take my acting to a completely different level. It’s timely with the Me Too and Time’s Up movements making ground and I hope the festival will give strength to other victims and make them stronger, too.”

The Port Stephens International Film Festival is partnered with the Singapore Film Festival and winning films are screened internationally at the festival of its UK partner, Out of the Can Film Festival in England.

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Karlisha is not only a regular attendee of film festivals around the world via her leading roles; she’s also judging at the Port Stephens International Film Festival as an Artistic Director.

Festival Director Guy Perrine: “We were excited to bring Karlisha on board for this role. Her international award-winning success as an actor and experience in filmmaking for both the Australian and American film industry, writing and producing, as well as her contribution to AusPol Media as a Junior Producer and regular attendance at festivals and director Q and A sessions, have made her an enormous asset to the Port Stephens International Film Festival in her role heading up the judging of our program dealing with bullying.

Professional resume builders aside, at the core of Karlisha’s success is an imitable craft that continues to reveal an understanding of humanity that only true artists demonstrate. Much like a young Natalie Portman in the Al Pacino film Heat, Karlisha’s natural instincts on camera consistently demonstrates a creative fierceness that’s balanced with a deep understanding of technique.

This is clearly demonstrated in a scene in one of her upcoming films, Sister Mercy, in which Karlisha plays a street waif abandoned by her mother and abused by her father, Phoenix. Phoenix, ran away from her grandmother and is looking for a family and someone to trust when she dates a man who tries to get her addicted to drugs so he can prostitute her. The scene where Phoenix later sees her friend Mercy again for the first time – played by actress Dominika Van Santen – is an emotionally difficult one because of the depth Karlisha has to go within the character to make her reactions real; she is disorientated, frightened, hopeful and determined. Karlisha’s skilled use of technique balanced with natural instinct is masterfully portrayed through the look in her eyes – seeing a friendly face amidst all this doubt and chaos – and  draws in the audience to connect with her character in a way that has everyone willing her to succeed.

As we sit and discuss Sister Mercy, directed by the editor of Sharknado, William Boodell, Karlisha draws on a quote from Annette Bening who once said ‘acting is not about being famous, it’s about exploring the human soul’ and she says that is what she tried to do here.

This comment leads us on to a discussion about filming her most recent project Wrapped, which has already attracted media attention and interviews with Noah Wilson from iHollywood TV.

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Karlisha post-interview with iHollywood TV host, Noah Wilson.

Wrapped, directed by Calen Coates, is a coming of age film that explores the journey of an ordinary girl in an extraordinary position, who comes to terms with the value of overcoming her insecurities, despite the people who tell her otherwise.”

Karlisha continues: “I play the lead role of Abby, a young teenager who learns to stand up for herself by taking back the one item her now deceased mother had given to her, from a drug dealer. I’m a teenager dealing with many demons in my closet – as well as a victim of abuse – but I manage to find both mental and physical ways to not only fight back against the perpetrators but also to combat my own mental health issues. I also believe the film tackles the theme of grief. This present is the last thing Abby has of her mother. By fighting to get it back, we see what a teenager is willing to deal with in order to find a sense of closure. The journey I take – which is full of emotion, car chases, guns and fighting – is  both funny and tragic; just like life itself.”

Karlisha’s proven track record would suggest her future is even brighter. She has lots of projects coming out in 2019 – in which she mostly plays female empowering, gritty roles – including Bet the Demon wins, now in post-production, and Stitched Up  and she will appear in a regular role in the co-host series 2 of the web TV show #Me4TV. Karlisha is also in discussion with other US and Australian producers and directors. Wrapping up our chat (no pun intended), she says she can’t wait to share more about other upcoming projects and is excited about the busy year ahead.

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Karlisha Hurley: focused and ready for the busy year ahead.

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