Prolific, versatile a nd boundlessly engaging, actress Scherrikar Bell is one of the most well established and recognizable forces in contemporary British television. From her earliest appearance small screen on venerable BBC series “EastEnders” Bell’s gift for creating authentic characterizations has made her a familiar and in-demand talent.
With an impressively spectrum-spanning skill set—uniformly adept at comedy, drama, action or horror—the London born-and-bred Bell is also equally at ease doing feature films, TV commercial spots and cutting edge hip-hop music videos (her mesmerizing performance as the lethal hit girl/assassin in rapper SL’s viral “FWA Boss” clip has been viewed almost 5 million times).
Along the way, Bell has become somewhat of a staple at the famed BBC network. Following her “EastEnders” debut, she graduated to roles on popular soap opera “Doctors” and currently co-stars on top sketch comedy series “Famalam” (the program earned both BAFTA and Royal Television Society UK Awards nominations in 2019).
Bell’s appreciable renown and popular cachet with viewers made her a natural choice for another significant BBC assignment, the leading role of narrator on “The Victorians.” Produced by the networks educational online Teach division and aimed at elementary school students. the collection of cross-curricular films explores contributions made by innovative 19th century Britons in the fields of science, geometry, history, arithmetic, art and music.
While the concept may sound dry as dust, the series focuses on both the familiar (Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Queen Victoria) along with lesser known characters (Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Pablo Fanque) and Bell’s light-hearted delivery—deft, loaded with charm and easy going appeal—is anything but tedious.
The presentation may seem deceptively casual but Bell, throughout, is actively involved with the instructive aspect and its particular subject—she slyly interacts with each historic figure via quips and conversational asides—creating a captivating overall tone that affords each topic an ideal showcase.
Bell’s knack for impeccably timed witticisms, put over with irresistibly cunning ease, creates a perfect persona for her youthful audience, one that thoroughly engages and informs the viewer—and making over Industrial Revolution-era civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel into an intriguing character is no small feat.
Bell pulls it off with a low-key yet spirited joviality that not only holds the viewer’s interest, it enhances and elevates each episode to a level where education and entertainment coexist with delightful effect. “The Victorians” is both a significant addition to Bell’s already notable resume of credits and an impressive first entry to the world of children’s television. Marvelous stuff.
Producer Summer Xinlei Yang appears to have the golden touch when it comes to filmmaking. There are equal portions of passion and commitment applied to her work, the results of which speak for themselves. Her films repeatedly become Official Selections of Academy Award Qualifying Festivals and are met with overwhelmingly enthusiastic responses from the audiences who view them. As with anyone in the film industry, success is met when talent chooses the stories that they are most suited to tell. These days, Hollywood is discovering more than ever that certain individuals are perfectly suited to tell a certain kind of story. For Xinlei, this often means the tales of people involved in multicultural situations. As a native of China who has experienced success in both her home country and the US, Summer always finds the connective tissue of her experiences and that of the characters in the lauded films she has worked on.
The Way Home is director Yiran Zhou’s heart wrenching tale of the modern day immigrant and an Official Selection at Academy Qualifying Film Festivals, including the 35th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, the 10th BronzeLens Film Festival, and winner of the International Vision Award at the Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival. The Way Home is the story of two immigrants; 18-year-old Chinese-American Jimmy who seizes the opportunity to prove himself to a Chinatown hooligan and thirty-year-old Haiyang who followed a Coyote through the US-Mexican border years ago while his younger brother [Bin] fell ill. As Jimmy and Haiyang venture toward their own goals, it becomes clear that there is a very high price to pay. The film intimately follows them on their emotional, physical, and moral journeys, providing a timely exploration of family, identity, and sacrifice. The story was inspired by the director’s acquaintance with some Chinese factory workers in a Chinese food warehouse. Most of the employees at the establishment worked ninety hours or more per week. Contrasting the misconception that they were looking for a free ride, these workers came to America for the opportunity to make money to send home and support their loved ones. The film’s producer informs, “This story is about two different generations of Chinese immigrants is relevant and meaningful for the director and I as we are both from China. From the beginning of creating this story, both of us were adamant that the film should have a retrospective and dark tone to show the gap between the reality and immigrants’ American Dreams.” The Way Home was also selected by the 22nd Shanghai International Film Festival for its longest running competition, the Golden Goblet Award.
Xinlei worked with director Angela Chen on the film Our Home Here which was an Official Selection of the 22nd Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival (Past winners and attendees include Oscar nominated actress Rosie Perez; Emmy nominee JT Takagi; Sundance Film Festival nominee Terence Nance; Golden Globes and Emmy nominee Issa Rae, Ebony Jo-Ann, Screen Actors Guild Awards nominee Margot Bingham). This story centers around four individuals in a Texas city; nineteen-year-old Dylan, his older sister Rose, fourty-three-year-old fast-food worker Celine, and a twenty-one-year-old addict named Sean. Unbeknownst to these four, their lives will soon come together in a violent clash at the Sunny Meals drive-thru when Sean’s drug-bender takes a sinister turn, forever changing the trajectories of their lives, their careers, and their relationships. The film explores the desires for control, identity and family, as we intimately follow these characters during the day leading up to the incident. Although the story takes place in Texas, the actual filming location was in Los Angeles.
An even darker tale is found in the film When the Shadow Falls which Summer produced for director Jeseung Woo. After witnessing the suicide of a stranger, a woman named Jane becomes overwhelmingly haunted by the question of whether she could have done anything to help. Inspired by the director’s actual witnessing of a stranger’s suicide in Seoul, the subject matter hearkens back to the idea of many of Summer’s films which asks, “What is the pain that other’s experience which I am unaware of and how would this knowledge allow me to change my view of them?”
If there is one unifying thread here, it is empathy. Film may be the most powerful tool in helping society feel what goes overlooked in the challenges of its members. To this end, filmmakers like Summer Xinlei and her peers offer the most benevolent choices for us all. The producer plans on maximizing this with her talent on an upcoming project, the documentary feature tentatively titled Frozen Fertility. She relates, “Soon after I decided to make a documentary about reproductive rights for women in China, a director friend of mine forwarded me the news of Teresa Xu, a women rights activist who hopes to freeze her eggs while she works to save money for a future family. Since China bars single women from the procedure, she decided to mount China’s first legal challenge of a law that limits fertility treatments to married couples only. I was so excited when I saw the news, and right away I reached out to her lawyer and herself about my documentary. Our shared understanding and first-hand experience with the subject immediately led her to agree to join our documentary filming. We were able to capture her story of going through the court and facing both local and international media. Her unique story appeared just as I was looking for subjects for my documentary feels like fate. I am just following my heart. The minute I saw the news I thought ‘I must take action now to film this significant moment.’ Summer is prompting all of us to take action with the incredible films she produces.
Sound. It is 50 per cent of the movie watching experience. A simple rain drop to a massive explosion would not be made possible without the hard work of the sound editors behind-the-scenes that work tirelessly to create an authentic sound that allows audiences to be immersed by what they are taking in on screen. China’s Jingjue Zhou knows this better than most. This celebrated sound editor has worked on all genres of movies and television shows and is always refining her talents. She is a true storyteller, using sound to subtly enhance a script, creating drama and emotion through the sense in a beautiful and natural way.
Whether taking in her work at SeaWorld Orlando’s “Sesame Street Land” interactive game plays, or through award-winning films such as Spring Flower, millions around the world have appreciated Zhou’s extraordinary sound work. Her versatility and commitment to storytelling through sound make her a force to be reckoned with in the industry, and despite her success, she remains committed to her craft, simply enjoying what she does.
The highlight of her esteemed career came when working with Narval Films LLC. She has worked on several films for the renowned production company, including the documentary Road to Olympia, which tells the story of a Chinese bodybuilding athlete. Long Wu is a celebrity athlete with millions of fans on social media. He is the first Chinese IFBB pro card holder and first Chinese to compete professionally in Olympia. It’s a story about his career journey over the past 10 years. The film was broadcast on China Central Television, the biggest TV platform in China, and the social media platform Weibo, achieving 1.5M views and 6.9K likes.
“From this film, I got to learn all the hardships Long Wu has been through and the essence of success in one’s career. Long Wu, though successful, is still very humble, hardworking and extremely self-disciplined. I am proud to be on the team telling this story so more people can get to know such a cool person and sport,” said Zhou.
Zhou’s favorite project with the production company, however, is the film Pier Las Vegas. The story is about Gao Xing, a hearing-disabled and vocally impaired person from a small town in China, who works as an ordinary housekeeper at a Las Vegas casino hotel, and always rummages through the guests’ luggage secretly while cleaning the room to search for clues about his sister who was adopted by an American family long ago. However, Gao’s life changes one afternoon when a massive shooting occurs at the music festival outside of the hotel.
“This fictional story takes place during the real life event of the tragic Las Vegas mass shooting. The people killed are not numbers. They have their own life stories and families. The movie is a portrait of one of them. It’s a powerful story that helps people remember those who die in these events and reflects on our society,” said Zhou. “What’s the problem and how can we change it? This film evokes those questions.”
Pier Las Vegas is a drama with an experimental storytelling style. It is directed by Yun Xie, a talented Chinese director. Her award-winning movie Truth or Dare has had a very successful theatrical release all over China. Zhou was happy to work with her on such an important film as Pier Las Vegas.
The sound editing in the film is very heavy and challenging as the main character is constantly in and out of a dream state. Zhou had the chance to play with lots of interesting plug ins and synthesizers to generate her own sound palette.
“It’s fun and challenging when it comes to sound editing for dreamy sequences. The director always said to me that it was my moment to shine. We wanted to create a feeling of being out of place in these dream sequences. We were really happy that all the sound came organically to make the audience feel the same way the character feels,” said Zhou.
Zhou’s hard work more than paid off as Pier Las Vegas has seen immense success all over the world. The film premiered in China’s top art house film festival earlier this year and has been an Official Selection at six prestigious festivals so far. It was also nominated for several awards, and Zhou is thrilled to see where it will go next.
“I am so happy it got the recognition internationally, especially in my home country of China. It’s selected to be in the competition of First International Film Festival, taking place in Xining. Every year, all the top artists and first-class Asian film committees will attend this film festival. Some people tell me that my sound work helped them so much on understanding the style and story of the movie, and that couldn’t make me happier,” she concluded.
Before pursuing her now prolific career in filmmaking, Helena Sardinha was a professional dancer. The more she danced, however, the more she realized it wasn’t what she wanted to spend her life doing. She had always been passionate about the various forms of artistic expression and found filmmaking to be one of the most complete art forms there is.
“If you breakdown a film, you find elements of every single art in it. In screenwriting, you have literature, poetry; in acting, theater; cinematography, painting, photography; in original scores, music; in set and costume design, architecture, sculpture, fashion; in the camera and actors movement, dance. To make films is to reproduce life the way you want it to be, and to be able to do that, I feel very privileged,” she says.
Now, Sardinha is a celebrated producer in her home country of Brazil and abroad, with many acclaimed projects on her decorated resume. Films like That Girl and Walter have gone on to win several awards at prestigious festivals around the world, a pattern that occurs with most projects she takes on. Her success as a producer is undisputed, and she believes that her experience in dance has allowed her to understand her role in filmmaking that much more.
“I believe that growing up in a dancer’s discipline environment and having an early start on my artistic endeavors was key for my development as a producer. Being connected to diverse content made me develop artistic skills and sensibility to art forms that accompanies me in my career,” she says.
One of Sardinha’s first major success stories after transitioning from dancer to producer came back in 2016 with her film Pumpkin. The film follows Alice and her best friend Dan, who lives in another country. When he tells her he’s been diagnosed with cancer, she faces the scary feeling of being away and powerless. So, Alice tries to show him support and love. Even if that means pushing away friends that are physically close to her.
“Pumpkin is more than a project, it’s a life statement about love. But it’s also about pain during a time of our lives that is definitive for building our characters and notions of values. It’s not often we see teen films talking about those issues, about grief, dealing with pain. It’s important for other teens to watch this film and be able to feel a sense of belonging. To understand that pain is a part of life, and it’s healthy to talk about it. It’s a real story based on the director’s life and it really resonated with me. Losing a friend is not easy, and that was the way she found to cope with it,” says Sardinha.
The film was written and directed by Paula Neves, who was telling a true story based on events in her life. She knew she needed a talented producer to do her story justice, and reached out to Sardinha. They worked very well together, as Sardinha felt extremely close to the story and the project, knowing its background and the inspiration. Sardinha understood quickly what was fundamental to deliver Neves’ vision, and she put a crew together quickly and efficiently.
“It is always great to work with Helena, she is really pro-active and organized. Being on set with her or on a project produced by her is always an easy and fun experience. She is really responsible and smart-thinking. She always looks for a way of making things better without compromising time or money. Also, she is empathic to others, making sure everyone around her is well and in the best mindset. When she commits to something, you know she’ll be giving her ultimate best,” says Neves.
Pumpkin had its premiere at the world-famous Short Film Corner at Cannes in 2016, and went on to win awards and receive great praise at countless other festivals over the course of the year. Those rewards were secondary, however, for Sardinha and Neves, as they had a financial campaign to help kids with cancer through the project.
“I believe working on a project that generates awareness to any kind of issue and makes audiences move and try to change something is just a blessing. Pumpkin was one of those. Our goal as filmmakers is to be able to reach out to audiences and emotionally connect with people. Being able to receive so many notes and comments from people on the film, really pays off the entire journey of making a film,” Sardinha concludes.
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.
The creative mind of the filmmaker requires a complex mixture of aesthetic vision, deep technical capability and a passionate devotion to the form itself. For New York-based editor-creative editor Haansol Rim, these are defining characteristics, a dynamic formula which constantly propels him forward.
A true international force—born in Germany to Korean parents—Rim came to cinema through a particularly rich background in the arts, which has ingrained a far reaching depth of knowledge that colors all of his endeavors. It’s been a lifelong pursuit for Rim and his mastery at multiple disciplines provides him a significant advantage.
“I was always an artsy kid, since I was really young,” Rim said. “I used to paint a lot, and I played cello professionally. I went to college for fine art. Simultaneously, I started to produce and compose music—I really enjoyed the two, and didn’t want to give up one over the other, so I found a medium that would allow me to pursue both—motion pictures. I decided to pursue film, since I could focus on both visual and sound art.”
The course was set; after completing training in editing, directing, cinematography and production design and earning a BFA at the Academy of Art University, Rim wasted no time in relocating to Manhattan. The ambitious young editor quickly landed a position at the prestigious creative agency-production company MATTE Projects, where a successive series of film and video assignments—each expertly complemented by the advantage of his sophisticated fine arts background—served as a very fertile proving ground.
Rim demonstrated impressive capabilities as a creative editor and editor on numerous productions, both at MATTE and well known international production company 37thdegree, but the driven young talent was also launching his own personal projects, and his work on Seoul-based electro-pop star Sailli’s 2018 music video “The Light” provides an insight into both Rim’s impeccable methodology and limitless ingenuity. While the project turned out to be far more arduous than anticipated, Rim rose to the challenge with verve and aplomb, creating a unique visual achievement that was chosen as an Official Selection of the famed San Francisco Film Festival.
“I knew Sailli from back when I was producing music,” Rim said. “We ran in the same circles and once I became a creative editor and director, he asked me to make his music video.”
“He explained that the song is about self–discovery—finding the inner light of one’s true self. I held onto that intention and started brainstorming.”
Rim’s invaluable blend of instinct and artistic simpatico—a rare intellectual and emotional proficiency—enabled him to really analyze and elevate Sailli’s concept, refining it to a strikingly impactful and collaborative creation. As editor on the video, Rim undertook a fascinating, less-is-more approach, one reliant on pure visual design, a fixed camera and a single, continuous shot.
“In this work, I wanted to express the sense of a motion picture,” he said. “I wanted to make the film feel literally like a single moving photograph, to encapsulate the idea of ‘a picture paints a thousand words.”
The simplicity and affect of this idiosyncratic, minimalistic work is arresting and heightened further by a very unusual graphic design element, one that broke some important new technological ground, another key aspect of Rim’s far-ranging skill and vision.
“The 2D collage effect was something completely new,” Rim said. “Even my team was hesitant of the feasibility of it, since it was something they hadn’t seen previously.”
While the finished product seems deceptively simple, for Rim it became a trial by fire.
“Pre-production was perfect, but the post-production creative editing was pure hell,” he said. “It was a very effect heavy edit, and as an editor with no experience in CGI, it was painstaking and miserable. I literally cried at one point.”
“Since this was a single take shot film, there wasn’t any room for trial and error–if I was unsatisfied with a frame, I couldn’t simply transition to another one. I had to be very intentional with the whole project and understand the confines of the footage.”
The dedicated auteur nonetheless saw it through, rising to meet each challenge head on and always refusing to accept anything but the full blown realization of his own perfected intention.
“It was very tough, and definitely different from my other works,” he said. “It was also such a memorable process, with lots of emotional ups and downs, efficiency and strain. There is no room for error, and no way to edit the flaws out. You just have to stick it through, and make sure that each frame is as great as could be. We worked on 5000 individual photographs that ended up making this great motion picture. Ultimately, it worked out and all these elements and challenges made this work enjoyable.”
Most importantly, he remained true to himself: “I was able to convey my vision as I had pictured it—which made it all the more satisfying. I made it work, and my first true baby was born into the world.”
Although still at the dawn of his career as an editor-creative editor, Rim has already established himself as a powerhouse force in New York’s highly competitive film and video arena, one whose ability to stand out—from the start—is his professional calling card. Rim’s winning combination of uncompromising creativity, technical knowledge, aggressive trouble-shooting skills and steadfast dedication to pure artistic expression places the editor in a league of his own and accounts for impressive, and his steadily rising, reputation.
“My personal creative philosophy is that there is no single right answer to anything,” Rim said. “The world isn’t black or white, its shades of grey—anything and everything can happen. I think good art is that which you can hear the artist’s unique voice, see the artist’s unique color and perspective. Most importantly, the artist must stay true to himself.”
When Feixue Tang thinks back to growing up in Beijing, China, she recalls her middle school and high school years as being extremely dull and oppressive. The school system only cared about high grades, and students are then rated, ranked, and sorted based on academic performances. As an escape, the young Tang started watching a lot of films in her own time. She felt her life expand through immersing herself in all those different movies around the world.
“When I was in high school, I watched Elephantby Gus Van Sant. I was very impressed by the film as it showed me the great possibilities of what film as an art form could be like. I really loved how Elephantplayed with narrative structure and perspectives to tell the story artfully and creatively and how it utilized the form to serve the best of its content. While watching behind the scenes of the film it fascinated me seeing all these different crafts and creative minds going into the making of a film,” said Tang.
As a young teenager, Tang knew she wanted to one day go on to making movies. She wanted to tell stories and share a part of herself with the world through her work. Now, she has achieved all that and more. She is an award-winning cinematographer, internationally in-demand with a series of decorated projects highlighting her resume.
Throughout her career, Tang has shown what she is capable of as a cinematographer. Earlier this year, she made headlines with the multiple awards she took home for her outstanding cinematography on the film Here & Beyond. The experience of making the film, for Tang, was one of the best of her career, and the awards and recognition are secondary to simply loving what she does.
“I would say the highlights of my career are the moments when as a cinematographer, you meet a director that you can communicate so well with and with whom your collaboration is so spontaneous, fluid, inspiring and creative,” said Tang. “The collaboration with director Colin West on Here & Beyond was definitely one of my highlights. We talked day after day in pre-production discussing how to create the visual world for his film Here & Beyond. That collaboration, the continuously mutual inspiring experience was definitely why I chose and love this job.”
Here & Beyond is just one of Tang’s many success stories. She was also recently nominated for Best Cinematography of a Documentary Short Film at the Asian Cinematography Awards for her work on Lumpkin, GA, which dives into the issues surrounding America’s immigration policies by documenting the stories of a small town with a huge immigration detention center right next to it.
Lumpkin, GA’s praise is hardly Tang’s first success story in the documentary genre. Her film Who We Are, a film that starts in the midst of America’s Opioid Epidemic when a Southern California family searches for meaning in the wake of their son’s death, received critical acclaim at many international film festivals.
Undoubtedly, Tang is a force to be reckoned with as a cinematographer, and she understands the intricacies of the artform more than most. She did not always know this would be her path, but she knows she is just where she is meant to be and worked hard to get there. For those who are pursuing a similar dream, she offers the following advice:
“I think in general to work in film you need to be really passionate about what you do. It’s working long hours, it’s challenging physically and intellectually, and compared to other jobs it has so many turbulences and unknowns. I think feeling that you honestly love the job and enjoy being emerged in it is very important. And then just continue learning and never stop,” she advised.
Be sure to keep an eye out for Tang’s future projects. She is about to begin work on a new feature length documentary, as well as a fictional movie. You can stay up-to-date with her work by checking out her website here.
By John Michael
International Entertainment, and the Talents that Leave us Buzzing….