Tag Archives: Entertainment

Director John Wate lives childhood dream when making ‘Samurai Warrior Queens’

JW Samurai Warrior Queens
John Wade, Photo by Roberto Vivancos

Growing up in Berlin and Munich, Germany, John Wate found a passion in Manga comics at a young age. He was intrigued by the style of the Japanese graphic novels and began drawing his own at just ten years of age. Even then he knew he was meant to tell stories, but as he began transitioning away from drawing and into filmmaking, his innate drive to be a storyteller never wavered.

Now, Wate is a renowned director in his home country and abroad. Two of his past films, The Sword of the Samurai and The Samurai Bow, made it for 4 years into the top twenty of National Geographic Channel’s worldwide most popular documentaries. He is known for his unwavering dedication to his craft, and his work on projects like Epic Warrior Women, Samurai Headhunters, and Samurai Warrior Queens, projects that reminded him just why he got into filmmaking in the first place.

“One of the first manga stories I ever wrote when I was a teenager was that of a female samurai kicking ass. When I was sitting in the edit room watching Samurai Warrior Queens chasing inslow motion across a bridge towards the enemy with their blades drawn, I felt as though I was having my teenage wishes fulfilled,” said Wate.

The drama documentary Samurai Warrior Queens tells the real-life story of Samurai woman Takeko Nakano who in 1868 fights for her clans’ independence in a final battle that marks the end of the Samurai era. The legends of the Samurai seem to be an all-male affair; but contrary to popular belief, Samurai women stood their ground in countless battles and castle sieges. Takeko Nakano fights for her clans’ independence in a final battle that marks the end of the Samurai era.

“It is almost unknown that female samurai existed, let alone that they stood on the battlefield. Recent DNA from battlefields found that 30 percent of the sampled bones belonged to female fighters. However, for proud male samurai it was regarded as a shame if you had to rely on women to win your battle, so their presence was hardly ever recorded. The film can give them their place in history,” said Wate. “Takeko’s life provided a great arc and was pretty much a metaphor for the end of the samurai era as a whole. The role of female heroes has not received much attention until recent years, especially in Japan, and the story sheds a very different light on what in the West is often perceived as the general submissive and weak, moon gazing Japanese female persona.”

Wate enjoys strong female characters and had already come across different accounts of strong female samurai and wanted to show what their life was like. Their education, their ability to stand up against the more famous samurai in battle, it was all an intriguing topic that Wate wanted to really dig into.

Extensive background research of local folk tales and chronicles eventually led him to choose the life story of Takeko Nakano. She grew up in Aizu, a proud province in northern Japan where education, etiquette and martial arts were held in high esteem. Her father was a commander in a clan that understood itself as the protector of the Shogun. When the Shogun was threatened by other clans, supplied by Western firepower, the Aizu fought their last battles that eventually ended in the end of the samurai era. Takeko was very talented with the Naginata, a polearm or a samurai blade with a meter-long grip at the end. She was an instructor and took it on herself to recruit other female combatants to charge against the enemy but was eventually killed during the assault by a bullet.

To understand how she lived, how she might have seen her daily duties, why she refused to marry and fight instead, Wate traveled to her home province, went to research local archives, see their castle defenses, and really explore what her life would have been like. He then developed the script, cast the film, and got to shooting.

“I loved showing the world of the samurai, their attitude, ideals of honor and courage from a female perspective. In some ways they had to endure more than their male counterparts. Not only because they were often the pawns in the marriage game, but also because they had to fight and stand in for the actions of their husbands, their clan and the Shogun. I also found it fascinating and horrifying at the same time how they were taught to pursue grace even in death. Female samurai carried a dagger with them at all times once they reached womanhood to defend their honor. If they were in danger to be captured and raped, they would often have to commit suicide and were taught already as teenagers to tie their knees together with their belts, so that their legs would still look graceful after their death,” he described.

The film was distributed worldwide and nominated on the short list for the IMPACT Award, losing to the Academy-Award winning film Lincoln. It aired in the United States on the Smithsonian Network in 2015 where it still plays regularly, and is available to stream currently on various platforms, including Amazon and Hulu.

By Sean Desouza

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Producer Gaurang Bhat terrifies audience with horror flick ‘Vengeance’

As a celebrated film producer in his home country of India, for Gaurang Bhat, the most fundamental aspect of his role is simple: storytelling. Every captivating film tells a powerful story, and Bhat never takes on a project unless he believes in the script. He knows that the filmmaking process is a collaboration, and he always makes sure his team has the same goal as he does, to create a great film that entertains the masses, and to tell a great story.

This devotion to his craft is evident on every project he takes on. He has been pivotal to the success of many acclaimed films, including Never Too Late, Sushi Man, Nimbus, and SPARSH: A Leprosy Mission, which has received great praise at many prestigious international film festivals. He also has contributed to popular television shows, including Netflix’s hits Chefs Table Season 6and Street Food Asia as a consultant.

One of Bhat’s first tastes of international success came back in 2015 with his film Vengeance. The horror flick tells the story of four friends who, when a common friend dies in a car accident, decide to go in a house away from the city to film their own eulogies before the funeral. The situation turns dark when a fifth person menaces to kill them.

Vengeance“I always wanted to be part of a horror film. I have been a fan since I was a kid. I wanted to try my hand at a fun slasher movie, but this film has so much more than just gore, blood, and violence. That’s why as soon as Luca Ripamonti completed the script, I knew I was working on the film. This story takes a little bit of a different approach as its more about the creeping human fear of a mysterious masked figure. You rarely see the masked figure in the film. It’s all very grounded and psychological,” said Bhat.

From the moment Bhat began working on Vengeance, everything was smooth sailing. He and his team completed the project with ease. Bhat had a lot of creative inputs on the project. He worked on securing the funds and marketing and was involved in making sure that they completed the film as efficiently as possible, overlooking the whole development and production of the film. Based on the ease of filming, he more than did his job.

“It was a very good experience and it’s always great to work with friends. Luca and I have known each other for the longest time now. We still speak every day discussing films and new projects,” said Bhat.

Bhat’s work in marketing the film made it a tremendous success, as the film was selected for many prestigious film festivals, including Infinity Film Festival, Roma Doc and Visionaria, and the world-renowned Cannes Short Film Corner.

“I am ecstatic that the film was such a success. Not everyone can say that their project has been to Cannes. It’s such an honor. I am delighted beyond words. It’s sure been a long project but we got there, and it was great. It was always a dream to have film at Cannes,” said Bhat.

Needless to say, Bhat is at the top of his game as a producer, constantly creating successful projects that captivate audiences in India and around the world. He spends every day living his dream, and although it wasn’t always an easy road to get to the esteemed point in his career he is at now, he knows that working hard does indeed pay off.

“If you too want to be a producer, just keep working and do whatever odd jobs you get. Keep making connections in the field, keep being productive. You never know when you’ll meet someone who might offer you their next project, sometimes it just depends on luck and being there at the right moment. Also, be nice to everyone and be patient, it’s the most important thing in this industry, I can’t stress enough. When I was young, I might have burned some bridges, but I hope others don’t make the same mistake,” he advised.

 

By John Michaels

Graham Fortin talks passion for editing and working on ‘Roam’

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Graham Fortin, photo by Katrin Braga

Growing up in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Graham Fortin enjoyed putting puzzles together from a young age. He felt a rush when he would connect two pieces together, slowly creating a beautiful picture. As a teen, when he was taking a film class in school that required him to make a match cut of someone opening a cupboard door, he was instantly satisfied. He felt the same thrill from when he would make a puzzle, and he knew in that moment he found his passion in life.

Now, Fortin is an internationally sought-after editor, working on many hit films and television shows. Best known for his work on Viceland’s The Wrestlers and Mister Tachyon, Khalid’s Free Spirit, and the award-winning Pour Retourner that premiered at the iconic Tribeca Film Festival, Fortin has had a tremendous career, living his childhood dream.

Fortin enjoys working on many different types of projects, which is evident when you glance at his resume. Whether working on a hit film or unique passion project, he puts his heart and soul into his work. The 2017 drama Roam is a perfect example of this determination.

Telling the story of one dark night on the road to adulthood, where a teenage boy must choose between his friends and his future, Roam is a passion project of Writer/Director Michael Milardo. Milardo had a very clear vision as to what he wanted and Fortin enjoys that as an editor. If he knows what the director is going for ahead of time, it helps him feel incredibly comfortable signing on, knowing he is in good hands.

“I like Michael’s story, that it reminded me of my own youth. It reminded me of moments where I was peer pressured into being part of the group. I think it’s important to reflect on those moments and consider that maybe you’ve got to fight that even as an adult. It’s easy to just go with the flow in life. Sometimes you’ve got to listen to that inner voice and create some conflict to move forward,” said Fortin.

Fortin heavily related to the story, who had similar teenage years and tapped into that. He remembers roaming the streets as a teenager aimlessly with friends. He wasn’t the alpha male of the group, so he related to Jacob, the main character. At the end of the film, Jacob kind of stands up for himself a bit, or is at least on the road to it, and Fortin used his own experiences to hit those emotional beats.

roam_short_film_bobby_shore“I liked the subject matter of the film. I liked the vulnerability of the main character. The project was well thought out look and style wise, and I had a lot of options in terms of footage, so it was a great puzzle to put together. I’m into films that take place during one night, as I find it’s a cool headspace to be in. The role technology plays in our lives is also part of the story. It takes place in the 90s and you forget what it was like to have to rely on landlines,” said Fortin.

Fortin’s connection to the film ended up touching the hearts of its audience. The project was a Vimeo Staff Pick, and for the editor, it was amazing to see all that hard work pay off. He always hopes that his projects will be a success, but seeing that “Staff Pick” sticker on the corner of the video was an amazing feeling.

“I’m happy to get it out there and hear people enjoy it. Having people connect emotionally with the story is the most important thing. I think people related to the main character and cared about his arc. I’m incredibly proud of the story we told and how it turned out. Sometimes you work on projects that don’t quite connect and this one did,” he said.

Watch Roam here and see Fortin’s heartfelt editing.

 

By John Michaels

Editor Shuo Wang tells impactful LGBTQ story in award-winning documentary

Film is a window for audiences to feel emotions and experiences that they may never have the chance to otherwise. The editor plays a fundamental role in the filmmaking process, the storyteller behind-the-scenes. Whenever Shuo Wang sits in the editing room to begin her work, she feels she is in her own space to create a compelling story. It is her time to express her creativity, where she can explore endless possibilities to captivate audiences all around the world.

As a sought-after editor in her home of China and abroad, Wang knows just how to tell a good story. This is evident with her films like A Mistake, Outlander, Mire, 100 Days Under, and more. She uses editing to entertain and educate her audiences on various concepts and loves every moment of it.

“As an editor, I like to try different possibilities and to see different results. Under my editing, I want to make the individual clips into a live and vivid story. The story may have some life experience, suggestions and principles that could share with the audience and give them inspiration. Every time I am editing different narrative films or documentaries, I also meet different characters and real people with their own stories. I want to use my editing ability and thoughts to make every story look more alive,” she said.

Wang strives to tell impactful stories through her work, which is just what she did with her recent documentary Somewhere Between. This true life story is about a Christian living a double life. On one side, she is a devote Christian, and on the other side, she is homosexual. Her life is battled back and forth, and she continues to find the answers of it. The story is about self-identification and finding the balance between two different sides in one person’s life.

“The interviewee Farrahn is not the only person in this situation that has this confusion about her life. There must be a large group of people in similar situations and might have different struggles in their life. This is an ordinary everyday story that could happen to many people around the world. People who see this story will hopefully feel some encouragement and hope to overcome their struggles and difficulties and become who they want to be,” said Wang.

Wang was there during shooting over the course of two months, understanding Farrahn’s life and how to best tell the story when it came to editing. When it came time to create the first cut of editing, she had a good idea of the interviews and the timeline which made for a seamless editing experience. However, after watching the film, she realized there needed to be more information about her life before the documentary started shooting, and wanted to include information about her childhood that Farrahn described as horrible. Therefore, Wang added b-rolls and included more of Farrahn’s internal struggles and changes. B-rolls are the cutaway shots that play an important role in any documentary. After the second cut, she decided to add a scene of the interviewee singing, to allow audiences to truly understand the emotion behind the story. Her editing played a fundamental role in the shaping of the story.

“As the editor in this project, I am the visual storyteller and kind of the second writer to create a live and vivid story. Sometimes, I am more familiar with the footage than the director. Therefore, under most circumstances, I have the accurate ability and observation to make decisions about shot choices. And also, as the editor, I have the ability to find a unique story through all the footage I received and put all useful clips together to create the story in a visual way,” she said.

Somewhere Between premiered early 2019, and has since gone on to win several awards, including Best Documentary Short at the London Independent Film Awards and an Official Selection at the Oceanside International Film Festival. Wang is thrilled for the success of the film, but the greatest reward for the editor comes from sharing such an important story with audiences around the world.

“Although it is a sad and heartbreaking story from the perspective of an outsider, it is also a story that shows how she struggles and tries to find herself from the perspective of the interviewee. As an editor, I consider myself a visual storyteller behind the scenes. Making this documentary is not only about getting awards, but more importantly, this emotional story could have a positive influence on those people who see it,” she concluded.

 

By John Michaels

China’s Yihan Xu animates for sold out European concert tour

As an internationally sought-after motion designer, Xu combines her passions of animation and illustration to bring captivating and artistic graphics to various projects all over the world. She specializes in two-dimensional character animation, which involves bringing small characters to life on every project she embarks on. She begins by taking a script or basic description of the character and plays with lines, shapes, and color until she eventually has created an all new being. It is truly magical.

Xu had worked as an animator with many high-profile design and animation studios for countless renowned clients, including Apple, Samsung, T-Mobile, HBO, AirBnB, and more. However, one thing she loves about her job is that in addition to working on television shows, movies, commercials, and videos, she also gets to work on concerts for some of the world’s biggest stars.

Pop music has always been one of my interests. I am a sucker for almost all the mainstream music. I love listening to music and I am usually stuck in one to two hours of traffic every day, so I pass the time by doing car karaoke while driving. It is exciting to get to work with well-known pop stars on their music videos and graphics projects,” she said.

Xu worked with Possible Inc., a leading design company, as one of the lead animators/compositors on the project. She worked closely with Creative Director Michael Figge to design, shoot, animate, and edit together 27 custom full-song scenics for artist Chris Brown’s European tour. The concept was to use different graphics elements and textures for each song to convey different moods to the fans at the concerts.

Each artist was assigned five songs and needed to create visual elements for the music videos first and combine those elements into After Effects software for compositing. Xu was responsible for “Don’t Judge Me”, “New Flame”, “Five More Hours”, “Ayo” and “Loyal”, some of Brown’s biggest hits. She combined visual elements for the songs and put them together onto one screen, making sure that all those elements were part of the same scene and matched with the themes of the music videos.

“I like Chris Brown’s music. It is thrilling to get to work on some animation and compositing for something you listen to every day. Also, I like doing composting work for music videos. It is amazing to see how visual elements synchronize with the beats, tempo, and the whole style of the music. For example, in the song “New Flame”, we created lots of different shapes and forms of flames for the song. It was fun to composite different shapes of fire to get the best result for the music videos,” said Xu.

Xu’s graphics were played in 15 different cities in Europe during the “One Hell of a Night Tour” including Munich, Paris, Hamburg, Oslo, and more. The tour and its animation received a lot of public attention and they delivered a successful sold out tour to the fans. For Xu, knowing so many around Europe saw her beautiful artwork is reward enough, because she simply loves doing what she does.


By John Michaels

Hair/Makeup Artist Zuleikha Stevens brings in the morning with Australia’s number one breakfast show

ZulheikaAs an industry leading hair and makeup artist in Australia, Zuleikha Stevens does not simply apply some makeup and style hair, she transforms people. Every day, she makes people feel like the best version of themselves, enhancing one’s natural beauty and allowing them to feel good on the inside as well as out.

“You can really change someone’s day or moment in their life. As a makeup artist, there is a beautiful trust that your client enlists in you to transform their face,” she said.

From sporting events like Big Bash and Supercars to renowned channels including MTV and Network 7, Stevens has conquered the beauty world in Australian television. She loves the versatility of her chosen career, with something different to look forward to on every new project.

“You can be a part of so many different and exciting things from red carpet, to live music, sports, advertising, editorial, news, TV drama, breakfast shows, etc. You can take your makeup skills anywhere in the world,” said Stevens.

Stevens mentioned breakfast shows because of her work with Sunrise, Australia’s number one morning show. As one of the main makeup artists for the breakfast show, she is a pivotal part of the team to make sure the looks are current, appropriate and on trend and that everyone gets to air on time and ready for a three and a half hour long live show.

“I love working on Sunrise and have for years; the challenge of live TV is exciting. It’s the number one rated breakfast show on Australian TV. The show covers everything from news, sports, the days hot topics, entertainment and current affairs to everyone right across the country,” said Stevens.

Stevens personally takes care of Entertainment Main Host Edwina Bartholomew, Sport Host Mark Beretta and Co-Host David Koch every day, as well as a variety of guests. The guests vary every day, and can be famous musicians, celebrities, doctors, journalists, specialists, politicians and more.

“It’s people telling their story. I love the variety of people we meet and get to do hair and makeup on.  I learn a lot from everyone that sits in my chair and knowing everyone’s story brings so much more to my life. It is so nice to have someone in my chair and watch them transform with makeup. This is vital for them to feel confident and good when going on screen,” said Stevens.

Stevens thoroughly enjoys working on Sunrise as she gets to use her hair and makeup skills, and get the talent looking and feeling good. She makes decisions with the hair and makeup depending on what the hosts are wearing, what their look may be, what they are talking about and basically the overall feeling of the day. She even sometimes utilizes her fashion stylist/wardrobe skills if anything needs to be steamed, changed, or mended. To do all of this, Stevens always has to stay on top of trends and work quickly. Working with the talent and wardrobe department in regard to looks and trends is extremely important for a live morning show. All of the hosts need to look good together. On top of this, Stevens and her team start work very early every morning and are often some of the first people the hosts see, so they need to be energetic and ready for anything live TV can throw at them.

“It is so nice to be part of such an ongoing successful show, seeing your makeup work up on the screen day after day and showcased all over the country.  Seeing something that I do that I am passionate about every day is so great, it makes getting up in the middle of the night worth it, especially when the hosts are happy, and you meet so many amazing and talented guests and make them feel good. Being part of a team that brings so many stories and news to everyone’s lives is a great feeling,” she said.

Sunrise is on Network 7 every day at 5:30 a.m. Be sure to give it a watch to see the touching stories and Stevens’ beautiful work.

 

By John Michaels

Alex Stewart composes island themed music for ‘Temptation Island’

As a musician, Alex Stewart knew that performing never intrigued him. Instead, it was the avenues of music that didn’t involve a stage. With a passion for television and the movies, he found himself drawn to the power of a score and its ability to alter the emotions of a scene. He realized at only 16 years old that he wanted to be a part of the aspect of movie magic and has never looked back. He is now a celebrated composer with countless esteemed projects on his decorated resume, and as the masses enjoy his work, he knows this is what he was destined to be doing.

Stewart has made quite a name for himself in his home of Australia and in the United States, composing for hit shows like Paradise Hotel, The Contender, and The Curse of Civil War Gold, and films like Cosmic Fling. He knows how to entertain through his music, and how to tell a story. Composing for reality television requires a unique touch, as it is real people’s lives you are conveying through each note. He executes such a large task with perfection with every project he takes on.

“I believe that a piece of music is only as good as its fundamental idea. If your melody, chord progression, or original idea is bad, then there is no way the piece can be good. I often spend the most time working on just the idea because it’s easy to build the piece if the idea is good. Badly written music can easily ruin a project,” said Stewart.

Music is an essential part of the experience when watching any film or television show, and Stewart knows this well. On Fox’s acclaimed reboot of the reality show Temptation Island, Stewart knew that his score was of the utmost importance to keep audiences engaged.

In this social experiment, four couples at a crossroad in their relationship put their love to the test by giving “single life” a try. On the Hawaiian island of Maui, they’ll take a break from each other while living in separate houses with sexy singles to discover if there is another partner with whom they are more compatible. In the end, will the couples leave together? Will they leave with one of the island’s “tempters”? Or will they break up and go home alone? Whatever the outcome, there is plenty of drama along the way.

“As we watch the events and drama that unfolds, it raises questions that many people might not normally ask themselves about their own relationships, both intimate and not intimate. Some of the people in this show rediscover a love and value in their partner, and others realize that maybe they’re better off taking different paths. It’s important for us to question why we choose to have certain people in our lives so we, as individuals, can thrive and not let others stand in the way of us getting to where we want to be,” said Stewart.

Stewart works with the immensely popular music production company Burnett Music Group on the show, who constantly reach out to the composer for contract work, knowing he is one of the best. Burnett was looking for a modern pop style sound with elements of tropical music that underscored the drama. This presented a fun challenge for Stewart, as these are two styles of music that do not typically go together. Therefore, a lot of the music he wrote for the show is electronic, but with instruments that make one think of the beach, like ukulele, steel pan, bongos, and conch shell. They were also looking for a vast range of emotions, everything from deep sadness, to upbeat dancing music, and Stewart delivered. His music captured the show very well, letting the audience be taken away with the cast to the tropical island through the sound, and also amplifying the emotions in each scene.

“I liked the challenge of combining modern pop with tropical/island sounds in various emotions and energy levels. But outside of that, I really liked working with the other people on the project. Everyone involved was an awesome person and easy to work with. I thought it was a fantastic opportunity to get better at writing quickly. Sometimes I struggle with getting things done fast, so I used this project to practice getting music written and mixed within a day. I always enjoy challenging myself,” he said.

Temptation Island premiered on the USA Network on January 15th, 2019. It was a weekly episodic show that ran for 11 episodes, with extremely high ratings. For Stewart, that success is secondary, as he just likes to make music that audiences enjoy listening to.

“It feels nice to know that I was able to be a part of a show that so many people enjoy. It was a great project to contribute to. Seeing all the ads and hearing people talk about it online has been awesome and I’m certainly happy that most of the reviews and talk around this show has been positive. I look forward to the chance to work on another season,” he concluded.

 

By John Michaels