Tag Archives: Canadian Talent

Musician Kurt Szul is father of modern 9-String Guitar

There are two types of people in the world: those that like to listen to music, and those that feel music. There is a distinct difference between the two, and only the latter will truly understand what that is. Kurt Szul is one of those people.

Originally from Calgary, Canada, Szul has become an international musical sensation in more ways than one. He has performed alongside some of the world’s most talented musicians, led bands, recorded on tracks that make their way to the top of the iTunes charts, taught students, composed music, scored films, and travelled the world sharing his talent. He is an iconic guitarist, with a passion for both music and his instrument that transcends into every note he plays.

“I appreciate that I am doing something that makes me happy daily. I love the freedom as I can create my own hours and do other things in life to create a good balance. I have also had the honor of playing with incredible, world-class musicians constantly. I play music on a high level which is fulfilling and I think touches the listener on a greater scale,” said Szul.

What is perhaps the most outstanding achievement of his extensive and esteemed career, however, does not come from actually playing the guitar, but rather, building one. Szul invented the 9-string-guitar, which later led to the creation of both the 7-string and 8-string guitars. All three are used around the world on a daily basis. He was 18-years-old at the time.

“Kurt’s skill on the 9-string-guitar has garnered interest at every show he performs with me. Great musicians have quizzed him on his style and the instrument, wondering how he plays with such ease and deftness. It’s always a treat to watch Kurt,” said Jay Jackson, the celebrated jazz vocalist and pianist.

Szul, recognized for his musicianship and contributions to the industry, was added as an artist to EMG’s huge list of product endorsers. He was given custom 9-string pickups and electronics, which were installed in his 9-string guitars, and giving an unbelievably amazing change in his tone and volume. Other artists include James Hetfield of Metallica, Steve Winwood, Lou Reed and Mike Inez of Alice in Chains.

At only 17, Szul began to become curious about different tunings that are possible on the guitar, which led to him becoming fascinated with symmetrical tunings, meaning that each string to string interval is the same going up. Such a fascination is not the norm for guitar players, and growing up in a small Canadian city, Szul had no knowledge of anyone ever experimenting in such a way.

“I just trusted myself and ran with it. The tuning I chose though had a limited range on a regular 6-string-guitar, so I went on a quest to see if building an extended range guitar was possible. I was met with a lot of resistance with purists along the way. I took the hard road and stuck to my guns. I ended up designing the prototype 9-string-guitar and built it,” said Szul.

Szul says took a leap of faith when he first started on this journey. Not many teenagers have the ambition or drive to create and develop a new instrument. He was aware that early guitars had a few variations. His invention was seen by other guitarists and musicians as an oddity, a revolutionary idea and a curiosity. He is consistently approached by others, wanting to understand his thought process and what he is doing. Originally, he was met with resistance, but now the musician community has accepted Szul’s unique design because of the high level that he brought it to. It is now a valid idea, and EMG recognized his hard work and dedication.

“Anything that is new and bold will encounter resistance at first. But times are definitely changing. I feel that over the years, my 9-strings and playing have received so much exposure that some of the big companies such as Ibanez and Schecter have started producing extended range guitars. These are mostly genre specific though and still use the standard tuning. Information, trading ideas and creation has never been so easy as it is now. People seem to be very open minded now to innovations. I feel that my invention helped pave the way to making the guitar world open up to new possibilities. I have only noticed this ripple effect taking place in the past five to ten years, from my idea decades ago,” he described.

While creating his instrument, the prototype needed constant modifications, ultimately getting rid of the kinks. Even now, years after he first created the 9-string, Szul is constantly tinkering with them to make them sound and play better. While doing this, he became an expert in string types and gauges, experimenting over the years with string gauge versus pitch, finding the optimal tension for each string based on his unique tuning.

“I have always felt that the standard tuning was great at some things but not at others. Experimenting on different tunings when I was a teenager gave me a glimpse of different possibilities. At the time, I wasn’t always sure where I was going with this but now that I have a long career between then and now, my risk paid off. The tuning makes perfect sense to me and has allowed me to play many things that are not possible with the conventional tuning.

Szul has also received an artist deal with Arturia, a major synthesizer and software company. Initially, he thought about patenting the 9-string, and was encouraged to do so throughout the years, but he wanted to share my experience and invention openly. He would encourage people to dream, plan, work and achieve like he did.

“I think that if we listened to the naysayers and our own inner voice (when it’s skeptical), we wouldn’t get what we all need to do to achieve happiness done,” he concluded.

The 9-string guitar far surpassed his expectations. Years ago, Szul read a statistic in Guitar Player Magazine that said only six per cent of musicians that start off in the field make a great career out of it. Now, he is in that top percentile, paving the way for new musicians to make it there as well.

Actor Tim Hildebrand tackles important social issues in powerful film ‘BID’

Originally from the small town of Caronport, Saskatchewan, Tim Hildebrand always knew he wanted to be an actor. He remembers being just six years old, seeing the older children acting in the school play, waiting for his chance to step onto the stage. When he finally got his chance, he put everything he had into that first performance, singing a solo titled “When I Get a Flying Machine.” The applause he received was euphoric, and the rest, as they say, is history. Now, years later, Hildebrand is an internationally sought-after actor, acting coach, and writer.

With an esteemed resume, including roles in the crime series Deep Undercover, the film Embrace, and Lady Labyrinth, Hildebrand has shown the world how exceptional he truly is. He tells every story with a purpose, captivating audiences with his heartfelt performances. This was certainly the case with the film BID, which was released earlier this year. BID is an extremely timely film, addressing the scandal of billions of dollars stolen from the Brazilian government by illegal construction scams, which led to the recent impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff, and criminal investigations of eight ministers, 24 senators and 39 lawmakers in the lower house of Congress.

“This project is of such importance…. it’s a big deal. This film is the first, as far as I know, to really explore that event in a fictional format. It’s a grassroots film bursting with the heart of the Brazilian people who want reform and change,” Hildebrand described.

Hildebrand was the lead actor in this film, shot in Curitiba, Brazil. He played Bernard Leone, an American contractor who travels to Brazil to compete for building projects. He begins the film as a gruff but naïve businessman, but that soon changes as he finds himself caught up in a game he’s not prepared for, against people who will stop at nothing. Bernard’s wife and children are kidnapped, and he has to make frantic choices to secure their release.

To capture such a demanding role, he used Strasberg’s relaxation and visualization techniques to “help warm up his emotions and get them a little closer to the surface.” As cameras were being placed and lit to shoot the scene, he would sequester himself to imagine or remember scenarios that stirred similar emotions to what he would be called on to perform in the film. From there, he used a “Meisner technique” of performing a high-stakes activity (in his case, rebuilding a shredded airline ticket moments in an imagined life-and-death scenario, moments before takeoff), competing against a stopwatch. He timed the exercise to be able to take the resulting emotions straight into filming.

This kind of painstaking craftsmanship fit the urgent importance of the film, which producers called a “battle cry against corruption.” Hildebrand wanted to give the performance of a lifetime.

“It feels sometimes like democracy has become a spectator sport. We gripe and complain from our armchairs, but nobody does anything. This film is a call to action. It’s a protest. It’s a mirror held up by Brazilians to themselves and it asks the questions ‘Is this what we want? Is this the best we can do?’ And I believe it also answers that question,” said Hildebrand. “A lot of crewmembers were emotional on set.  This is real life to them.  Their country is at stake.  And anytime you witness a strong person standing up for what’s right, there’s a domino effect. Courage begets courage.”

After shooting the film in fall of last year, BID premiered at Warner Brothers Studios to great acclaim, and is now being marketed to festivals around the world.  It has so far been accepted to Festigious and the Palm Springs Film Festival, already winning two awards at Festigious. Undoubtedly, it will be accepted to many more. None of this could have been possible without Hildebrand’s honest portrayal of Leone.

“Tim was extremely committed to the character from the beginning. Since we had started working in Los Angeles way before travelling to the location in South America, and he was the only North American actor on a Brazilian movie set, he asked me for visual references from the Brazilian actors that he would be interacting with as family. Photos that he could create backstories with, etc.  He also asked for the contacts of actors playing family members so he could start communicating with them and developing personal bonds. We used real facts, situations and feelings from Tim’s personal history to create several layers for his complex character,” said Raphael Bittencourt, the director of BID.

“Working with Tim is very rewarding. He’s very professional, very dedicated.  He’s an actor in constant search of the truth of his characters…always intense, deeply intuitive, and yet very technical when the situation asks for it.  At the same time, he’s kind and generous as a person. He really was there to help make a film, and not to perform, you know, on a catwalk with spotlights on himself. He was the consummate team player.  I wondered sometimes if the naturalism of his interaction with his onscreen family came from me, as a director, and the efforts I made to create a comfortable working environment, or if it came from him being a truly great actor who simply made my life much easier. Probably more of the second,” Bittencourt continued.

Every person that worked on the film, like Hildebrand, knew the importance of the story they were telling. This led to a unifying rally against the unforeseeable problems that seemed to plague the film early on. At one point, a large shipment of film equipment that was flown to Brazil from Los Angeles was lost by the airline in Sao Paulo, causing shooting to be delayed. Lawyers had to be called in to fight with the airline, whom the producers suspected of confiscating the property for profit. After much back and forth the airline admitted it had indeed confiscated the equipment, claiming it had done so because it suspected the BID team of planning to illegally film the World Cup. The producers had to travel from Curitiba to Sao Paulo to get it all sorted out. Once they had finally had the  equipment, they were informed that the main shooting location for the following two days had suddenly fallen through. While the producers scouted a new location, Hildebrand would not let the time be wasted, and used it to meet his cast-mates and rehearse some scenes that otherwise would have had to be performed cold. In terms of the quality of the performances, he thinks it all ended up actually working out for the best.

“We all had a sense when the film wrapped that we had been a part of something important, that the troubles had come to stop us in some cosmic way, but that we’d beaten them. It really brought everyone together,” he concluded.

Photo: Tim Hildebrand in the film ‘BID’ photo by Priscila Forone.

Actress Claire Stollery tells her story in award-winning film ‘Who is Hannah’

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Claire Stollery as Hannah in Who is Hannah

Claire Stollery was never interested in anything other than acting. As a child growing up in Calgary, she always had this one passion. As she grew and moved around Canada, what started out as a childhood dream started to become a reality. There is no doubt that Claire Stollery was meant to be an actress, and audiences everywhere know this every time they see her on the big and small screen.

As an actor, being vulnerable is pivotal to opening yourself up to a character. Connecting with the story and allowing your experiences to come through is vital when it comes to connecting with an audience. Stollery knows this well. She starred in the award-winning film Who is Hannah, that she also co-wrote, and allowed the events in her life to guide her character, creating a cathartic experience for the actress.

“This film was very close to me. I co-wrote it with a great comedian friend of mine, John Hastings. We wanted to collaborate and create a great dark comedy, but we didn’t know what we wanted to write about. One night after a show we were sitting in my cold car, a couple days before Christmas. I told him the story of how I had met my biological father in Los Angeles when I was 21. I found his number and left him a message, lying about my identity because I wasn’t sure he’d call me back if he knew who I was. In the end I came clean and we decided to meet up. When he arrived at the coffee shop, he ended up calling me while he was standing right beside me. We had no idea what each other looked like! It was like a meet-cute you’d see in a rom-com.  John couldn’t stop laughing of the horror and awkwardness of the situation. We decided then and there we would write a film exploring that scenario and what could go wrong when you don’t know what each other look like,” Stollery described.

Who is Hannah is the awkward and unlikely tale of how one girl meets her dead dad. Stollery plays Hannah, a role that was written with her in mind. Because she helped write the film, she already had the character’s voice inside her. Hannah is a girl who just wants to belong somewhere and know where she came from. She feels lost and incomplete because she’s never known the identity of her father – only known pieces from what her mother has told her. The problem is, she discovers everything her mother has told her about her father is the plot to Indiana Jones. When she finds out that her mother completely lied to her about her father’s identity and that he’s alive and lives in the next town, she has new hope for self-completion.

“I can’t really relate to Hannah’s feeling of incompleteness because I was lucky enough to have a dad growing up. My mom met my father who raised me when I was six months old. But even then, you always wonder what that other person is like. Are you like them? Do you look like them? There are always those thoughts at the back of your mind,” Stollery described. “Everyone wants to know where they come from. We want to know our history; it’s a universal desire. For those people who are searching for their identity, we wanted a film that let them know they are not alone. Since making the film I have had a lot of people write me or come up to me after screenings telling me about their experience or a friend’s experience of meeting a biological parent. There are a lot of those stories out there, but people don’t talk about them that often. There’s a lot of shame in having parents abandon their children. For the kid, it is a terrifying journey seeking out and meeting a parent for the very first time. You’ve imagined and built up this person your entire lifetime. There’s a lot of pressure for fantasy to match reality. It was important for John and me to write a film that finds the humour in such a bizarre but impactful moment in someone’s life.”

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Behind the scenes of Who is Hannah

Because of Stollery’s deep understanding of her character, the film went on to do exceptionally well at many international film festivals. It was an Official Selection at The Atlantic Film Festival where it premiered last year, and then went on to be an Official Selection at The Hamilton Film Festival, The Toronto International Short Film Festival, Hollywood North Film Festival and The Toronto Independent Film Festival. At the Lakeshorts International Film Festival where it was also an Official Selection, Who is Hannah took home the Cinespace Jury’s Choice Award and the People’s Choice Award.

“When it finally premiered we were so happy people liked it and were laughing. Because we had been with it for so long, we had no idea if it was even funny anymore. And you start second guessing yourself and wondering, was it ever funny? Were we just delirious on set when we filmed it at 4 am?” said Stollery. “And it was amazing to receive the Jury’s Choice Award. They always have such talented and revered people on their jury, so their opinion meant a lot. I’m so tickled when anyone likes something I make. It was a great honour to receive it and even better feeling to receive the People’s Choice award. We didn’t know anyone at the screenings, and to have a room full of strangers resonate with your film was really a special moment for us. There really is nothing better than sitting in a theatre and listening to people laugh at something you wrote and eaves dropping on people saying good things about it afterwards.”

Part of what makes Stollery so good at what she does is her ability to improvise. Although this is sometimes not encouraged on set, the Director of Who is Hannah, Mark O’Brien, was all for it. He knew what Stollery was capable of, and knew what she could add to both the character and the film. His instincts were right.

“Claire is an extremely talented actress and writer. She’s a very open-minded artist who knows how to collaborate well, while at the same time making her work authentic and unique. She works hard, and that is a rarity in this business. There’s a lot of talk in the entertainment industry, but Claire goes out and gets it done. And really, that’s what you want most from someone you’re working with. And she does it well,” said O’Brien. “She’s a very natural actress, very real. Acting is a tough skill that can be improved through training, but I do believe that there must be some inherent talent in the person first. Claire has a foundation of incredible talent that will take her very far. Anyone who has the chance to work with her should count themselves lucky.”

It was more than just the story and character that Stollery could connect with, even the set meant something to her. They filmed in an old, abandoned farm house that the actress had actually grown up in, as well as a hotel that was the first place Stollery went to when she visited Toronto as a child.

“Even though the film is a comedy, it is rooted in real issues. There’s a fine line tonally with dark comedies. You don’t want to make it too comedic otherwise you lose the truth of the situations. But you don’t want to make it too dark, otherwise you lose the comedic release. It’s a balancing act doing those types of films” she said.

But the most important part of the process for Stollery was not the awards, accolades, or why she embarked on the project, it was what it turned into.

“Filming was therapeutic for me. I had just lost my father who raised me a couple years prior, we were filming in the house I grew up in, the story was loosely based on my experience with meeting my biological father. And I realized I never really talked about it with my father who raised me. I regret that I didn’t check in with him more about the whole situation and considered his feelings more. But he was great about it and knew it was something I needed to do. He didn’t interfere. Not to mention my mother wasn’t too happy I was making a film about a man who had left us, even though it was very loosely inspired by him. But that was how she saw it. So it’s safe to say there were a lot of emotions surrounding the project!” Stollery concluded.

Audiences can see Who Is Hannah at the end of this year on CBC.

Photographer Jennifer Roberts creates visual masterpieces for ‘The Globe and Mail’

From the time Jennifer Roberts was a child, she was always artistic. Originally from the small town of Port Hope, Ontario, she would travel to Toronto with her parents to visit art galleries and cultural events. Even then, at a young age, she was captivated, and understood the power that it was to create something beautiful. It was only natural for her to want to do the same, and that is when she found her way to photography. Now, she is an internationally celebrated photographer.

Roberts is a renowned editorial photographer who specializes in portraiture and documentary stories, and also does work for commercial clients. Her documentary style works well for newspapers while my more produced portraiture work fits in magazines. She truly loves what she does, and everyone she works with impressed with her talents.

“I’ve commissioned Jennifer on various shoots for Maclean’s magazine over the last two years. She is an outstanding photographer and my go-to for any high-profile portrait or reportage assignments. I fully trust her professionalism and ability to give the magazine what it needs on every shoot we give her,” said Sarah Palmer, Contributing Photo Editor Maclean’s Magazine.

In addition to Maclean’s, Roberts has shown not only Canada, but the world what she is capable of with her work in The Wall Street Journal, as well as Canadian Business, MoneySense Magazine, and Getty, including her work for the 2016 International Film Festival, photographing Oscar-nominated actors. Her success has been outstanding, and she believes her career truly began when she started working for The Globe and Mail back in 2008.

“Working with one of Canada’s largest newspapers is exciting. Some of my favourite Canadian photographers are regular contributors to The Globe so it feels great to be in such fantastic company. The Globe photo editors provide a helpful amount of direction so I know what type of photography they need for their story. However, they also leave lots of room for the photographer to be creative and bring their story telling abilities to the shoots. Shoots for The Globe are often for really interesting national and international stories that I’m very proud to work on,” said Roberts.

Initially, Roberts was hired by The Globe and Mail for a four-month summer contract. Before this, she shot a documentary photo project about refugees in Myanmar living in Thailand, which highly impressed the newspaper, and they wanted her to join their team. She relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia for the job. When she completed my contract, she moved back to Toronto, but the newspaper didn’t want to let her go, and kept her very busy with freelance work. She has been shooting for them ever since.

“I feel lucky that even when my placement was over I was given regular assignments with The Globe. Being a regular contributor is very exciting as it leads to so many diverse projects. The Globe work has allowed me to shoot a variety of celebrities, to shoot major news events, to shoot beautiful interiors, amazing food and restaurants and meet so many different people for portrait shoots. Working as an editorial photographer means every day is different. I feel like I have the best job in the world,” she said. “Working as a freelance photographer for The Globe and Mail is always interesting. I started my career there doing a lot of news stories but I now tend to shoot more food, lifestyle and portrait work. I make decisions about how to frame and light things based on what the story is and conceptually what makes the most sense. It’s important to always be true to the story you’re telling. Sometimes what makes the best picture isn’t the best way of telling the story and telling a true story is always the most important,” she described.

Since that time, Roberts has done a variety or large and important projects for the paper, where her photography was essential to the project. She did a large portrait of “Project of Women” during the March on Washington, in Washington DC. on January 21, 2017, something that she considers the highlight of her career. It started as an Instagram story but because the portraits were so successful they ended up running on A1 (the cover) of the newspaper and as a massive two-page spread in the interior of the paper.

“It was an amazing time to be in Washington and meeting and photographing all the women out demonstrating was so powerful,” said Roberts.

Roberts has done many more projects for the paper. She recently shot celebrities like -Recent Actress Kate Mara, Actor Stephan James, and Novelist Lawrence Hill, known for The Book of Negroes. She regularly shoots many features, including “My Favourite Room” for the Style Section, as well as business portraits, portraits for the news section, and a weekly shoot for restaurant reviews for the Saturday Edition, the largest edition of the paper.

“I enjoy the pace of this work and the process of being able to conceptualize and light the scenes. I like how working with The Globe is always different and always interesting. One day I might be shooting a story for the Style section about a beautiful living room and the next day it might be a CEO in their office. I like how every day and every shoot is a new chance to be creative and think of innovative and true ways to best tell a story,” said Roberts.

Readers of The Globe and Mail can keep an eye out for the visual masterpieces that are Roberts’ photos.

 

Makeup artist Jen Tioseco works with singer Dani LeRose on new music video

Jen Tioseco is a strong and passionate individual, and this has always translated into her work. From the time she was just eleven years old, growing up in North Vancouver, British Columbia, she always had a job. She started with a paper route, then became a cashier, and then a retail associate. She then decided life wasn’t about simply working, it was about doing what you love. That is when she became a makeup artist. It is her drive and determination that has gotten her to where she is today, as an internationally successful makeup artist, and nothing will ever stop her from continuing to live her dream. For Tioseco, anything is possible, and if you can dream it, you can do it.

Tioseco is truly extraordinary at what she does. She enhances natural beauty, and takes her clients favorite features and brightens them in a way where they still feel done up, but also like themselves. That is no easy task. In a world full of young girls making makeup tutorials on YouTube and Instagram, Tioseco aims to show the world that it doesn’t have to be that challenging to feel beautiful

“I would say my style is ‘Glam Chic’. With the social media makeup artist being so trendy right now, girls have forgotten that we don’t need to wear ten layers of makeup,” she said.

Tioseco manages to do just that when working on two recent music videos for alternative-pop singer Dani LeRose. She worked with LeRose’s ideas and then looped in with the stylist to ensure everything tied together in the end. Tioseco’s input was vital to the videos’ success. Given her background in fashion, she was actually able to make suggestions to the stylist that she ended up incorporating into the videos.  These little additions, whether it was a scarf or a jacket, really helped the makeup pop.

“Dani has such trust in me as an artist. She was able to convey what she wanted for each look, knowing I could execute each one with ease.  She was also very open to color on the lips and eyes, so I had a blast playing with her face,” said Tioseco.

Tioseco had worked on LeRose previously for a concert. The singer absolutely loved her makeup and asked Tioseco to come on board for her videos from that point forward, refusing to work with anyone else. LeRose recognized Tioseco was the best instantly, and since that time, the two have worked on two music videos, the first of which, Love U More premiered in November of last year.

“There were scenes in Love U More where Dani needed to appear as though she was crying or ‘worn out’. As Dani was not able to cry on que, I was able to use makeup to create the illusion she had.  It really set the mood for the different scenes,” Tioseco described.

The Love U More video was featured on Much Music’s emerging new artist category after its release. After Tioseco met LeRose and Director Chad Rook, she fell in love with their concept for the shoot. The video is shot in the middle of a sand dune with a drone filming from above, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the makeup artist.

“It was amazing, not only is Dani beautiful and talented, Chad Rook the director was incredible.  Chad is actually an actor as well, he can be seen as one of the top billed cast members in the upcoming Planet of the Apes.  His experience as an actor made the attention to detail in each video phenomenal.  From a simple shot beside a radiator to an explosively emotional fight in a hotel room, you are hooked from beginning to end of each video,” said Tioseco.

The second video, I’ve Told Lies, has been an instant success since its premiere earlier this month, with lots of media attention and tens of thousands of views. It was shot in a historic motel, one of Tioseco’s favorite locations to date. LeRose’s look, and therefore Tioseco’s work, was pivotal to the video’s success.

“Jen is a true professional. Her positivity makes her a great addition to any set I’ve had her on. Jens Attention to detail made working with her so easy.  I didn’t have to do any cosmetic adjustments post-production, saving me so much time on the back end,” said Chad Rook.

Working on music videos with singers is a slice of what Tioseco looks to continue doing with her esteemed career. She enjoys working with celebrities, creating a natural but enhanced look.

“I love to travel on press events, glam for the red carpet, and do magazine editorials,” said Tioseco.

Another exciting step for the makeup artist? She is in the process of designing a makeup tool that will eventually expand into her own entire makeup line. We can definitely continue to expect exciting things from her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can watch the FUJI commercials here.

 

Production designer Andrea Leigh is a visual storyteller

What started out as a love for building retail window displays turned into a successful career as a production designer for Toronto based Andrea Leigh. She always loved building something captivating from nothing, where passers-by would turn to see what was not just her work, but also her art. This innate talent turned into a career, and now she is one of Canada’s best production designers.

It seems like a long time ago that Leigh was fixing window displays, as she has worked on several celebrated projects as a production designer, including the award-winning film Friends Like Us. Leigh knew after reading just a few pages of the script that she needed to design for the film.

“The minimal and sleek vision the director had for the main home really drew me to the project. It’s always fun to work on a job where you actually enjoy the content. The script was funny. The dynamic was entertaining, and it was nice to work with the amazing and talented Toronto cast,” said Leigh.

Friends Like Us tells the tale of a struggling couple – broke and pregnant – who find success through ripping off their friends. The plot twists when one of the women finds out about the affair two of them have been having and they accidentally murder their husbands with a piece of modern art.

“I got to feature some of my favorite artists in the main location we shot. Huge pieces, some abstract, some minimalist. Overall, the opportunity to design a space that said so much by not having much in it was a nice challenge. It really reflected the characters’ sense of new found wealth,” Leigh described.

The film went on to have enormous success at many prestigious international film festivals, and was even nominated for “Best Short Film” by the Director’s Guild of Canada. The production design was vital to the success of the film, and the recognition the film received was amazing for Leigh.

“It’s exciting to know it made it beyond just a ‘project’. You never know what will come of features and shorts. Sometimes they don’t make it anywhere. Sometimes they get wide recognition and reviews. Toronto can feel like a small city sometimes, so when something truly great comes out of it, word gets out fast,” she said.

Success such as this follows Leigh with each project she embarks on, showing audiences around the world why she is so exceptional with what she does. While working with the popular cosmetics brand E.L.F., the commercial Play Beautifully was aired on televisions across North America, and went on to have more than 2 million hits on YouTube alone.

“I feel a lot of young women connected with this commercial, and connected with the brand. It feels like we really got the message across, and that it was more than a commercial. It was more of a story, following the girl,” said Leigh.

The commercial featured an all-female cast, and was shot at numerous locations across Toronto. Leigh says it hardly felt like work, going to coffee shops, bars, rooftops, and more in the middle of the day. Leigh, who has also worked as an interior designer, says designing rooms for young women came naturally to her, and her own living space was even used as one of the shooting locations. She truly felt right at home.

 I have worked closely with Andrea on numerous productions and virally popular commercials, and have become familiar with the level of professionalism and skills required to be a top tier production designer and art director. My experience has led me to believe that Andrea is one of the most prodigiously successful professionals in her field,” said David Quinn, the director of the Play Beautifully commercial who has worked with Leigh on many commercials with the production company Skin & Bones.

The idea was to make the commercial look more like a short film than an advertisement. This is what drew Leigh into the story in the first place. She is a story teller, and her designs play a pivotal part in any story, almost as an extra character. It was a story brought to life by what she describes as amazing cast members. It was also relatable in so many ways for lots of young women.

“You have a rough time, a bad break up, your friends are there for you and sometimes you just need to throw on some lipstick, build your confidence back up after a broken heart and head out on the town with your ladies,” Leigh concluded.

You can view the commercial here.

Cinematographer Colin Akoon’s Creative Eye Makes Every Shot Stand Out

Colin Akoon
Cinematographer Colin Akoon at home behind the camera

 

In the fiercely competitive film industry, it takes a lot more than some camera know-how for a cinematographer to stand out. Many people are skilled in the technical process but lack the artistic vision required to create compelling cinema. Others possess vivid imaginations but are unable to meet (or unwilling to yield to) the expectations of the director. A person with all of these traits is a rare gem, an invaluable asset with the potential to outshine all those around them in the highly saturated industry. Colin Akoon is just such a man.

An award-winning director of photography, or DP, Akoon is responsible for a countless array of critically-acclaimed film and commercial productions. He has been fascinated with storytelling his entire life, and at a young age discovered the power cinema can have on an audience.

“I remember being six years old, watching a horror movie at a neighbor’s house, one I probably shouldn’t have been watching at that age… I still recall the fear that paralyzed me… That night I slept in my parents’ bed. I made them put the radio on to distract me from the bumps in the night,” Akoon recalled. “Good cinema gets a hold of every part of you and doesn’t let go.”

In 2014 he was critical to the wild success of the award-winning “Canadian Tire Ice Truck” ad campaign. The campaign’s name is quite literal, as Akoon explained. To promote their new cold-weather battery, Canadian Tire contracted Ice Culture to build a fully operational truck out of ice. Ice Culture is internationally-known for making everything – from ornate sculptures, to exotic lounges around the world, from Thailand to Dubai – out of ice. But this project was their most ambitious undertaking of all.

Canadian Tire
Still of Ice Truck built by Ice Culture for Canadian Tire shot by Colin Akoon

“They were having a truck built out of ice, one that would actually start and drive,” Akoon said. “It was important that we tell the story of Ice Culture – a small family-owned business – and also get a sense of the small town where they’re situated… We really wanted to get across the idea that this incredible record-breaking feat was accomplished by hard-working, everyday Canadians.”

In addition to being used in commercials for Canadian Tire, a documentary-style behind-the-scenes film was made to detail the exhaustive process of creating a working truck out of ice. Akoon was the DP on the making-of film, which played a large part in the campaign’s overwhelming popularity — particularly among the judges at a number of high-profile awards ceremonies.

“The resulting video really shows the detail of the hard work that went into the making of this ice truck,” Akoon said proudly. “The ‘Ice Truck’ campaign went off to be nominated and win more than a dozen awards…  and our making-of documentary was a big contributor to the overall success of the campaign.”

It was a brilliant stroke of marketing genius to complement the campaign with a making-of documentary. A fascinating glimpse into the creation of the eye-catching ice truck, Akoon’s work captured the attention of consumers and advertising critics alike. The campaign’s laundry list of accolades include the Best In Show Award and two Gold Medals (for “Best Brand Building Campaign” and “Most Innovative Idea or Concept”) at the 2014 PROMO! Awards, third prize at the 2014 world-renowned New York Festivals International Advertising Awards, and the honor of being on the shortlist of contenders for the 2014 Cannes Lions Award, often considered the most sought-after and prestigious award in the advertising industry.

As a cinematographer, Akoon has his fingers in a lot of pies and doesn’t restrict himself to any one type of project. His exceptional work in advertising is widely-recognized, but his creativity and visual mastery shine their brightest in his work on narrative film and television productions. One such example is director Mateo Guez’s 2014 film “Together Alone,” for which Akoon was the DP. The emotionally-charged film looks at the love and lust within a group of three star-crossed young lovers. However, “Together Alone” is much more than the story of an ill-fated love triangle.

“Mateo assembled a very small team to make “Together Alone” a feature film about two young men and one young woman as they struggle through friendship, sexual relations, and self-identity,” Akoon said. “Mateo desired to make a film that did not strictly adhere to any one script or blueprint, but rather would evolve through improvisation and experimentation. As a result, the filmmaking was a very intimately creative experience.”

Of the countless projects he has been involved in, Akoon describes Lorne Hiltser’s “The Incident(s) at Paradise Bay” as among his personal favorites. Gripping and heart-wrenching, “The Incident(s) at Paradise Bay” is based on the real-world Tranquility Bay reform school in Jamaica, which became the focus of global outrage in 2007 after allegations that the facility’s strict disciplinary methods were actually child abuse.

“The moral question of whether the procedures… were just or merely abusive was an interesting one, but mostly Lorne and I were fascinated with the poetic style by which the short script was written,” Akoon said, describing what drew him to the project. “There was an eerie dreamlike quality to the script that Lorne and I knew we wanted to explore visually.”

Akoon captured that eerily surreal sensation flawlessly. Every shot of every scene was painstakingly planned and calculated to maximize that dreamlike quality of the film. His use of zoom shots as a nostalgic beginning and ending of the film contrasts seamlessly with the close, tight shots used to introduce Marcus, the film’s protagonist.

“The sequence that shows Marcus in the ‘solution room’ cage was a very important one. This was our real introduction to the character and to the harsh treatment of the academy’s disciplinary attrition,” Akoon said. “We wanted the audience to feel they were Marcus in that cage. Depth of field for this sequence was kept to a minimum, visually suggesting the claustrophobic feeling of being caged.”

Throughout “The Incident(s) at Paradise Bay,” “Together Alone,” and all of Akoon’s countless other films, his talent and experience are unmissable. Akoon has a natural gift for capturing the exact aesthetic a project demands, a deliberate manner of planning and setting up each shot, and is unsurpassed in his aptitude for collaboration, constantly working closely with each project’s director to conceive and achieve a shared vision. In an industry with so much competition, nobody can hold a candle up to Colin Akoon.