Tag Archives: Filmmaking

Filmmaker Vivian Ip’s shines light on underrepresented stories 

Growing up in Singapore with ancestral roots from Hong Kong, Filmmaker Vivian Ip aims to incorporate Asian and third-culture stories with underrepresented characters with every project she takes on. As a producer, director, and writer, she leans into stories about coming of age or people discovering themselves in dramatic, difficult circumstances. Her work can be described as a melancholic drama that percolates to the deep recesses of the human consciousness. If there is something that moves her, such as a meeting of minds or even a moment in time, she feels inclined to include that in her stories and films. 

“I aim to work on co-productions that merge the East and West together, as this matches my background and sensibilities. Having lived in Canada, the United Kingdom, America, Singapore and Hong Kong, I have some grounds to call any of these places ‘home’, but the truth is that regardless of how familiar any of these places feel to me, or how strong of a familial bond I have with people there, my experiences have shaped me in a way that is not homogenous enough to belong to any one of them. Others may challenge whether I can adapt and become one of their own because I do not look like them enough, or I do not share an accent of one who ‘truly grew up there’. However, I believe that my self-identity is molded in these different places, allowing me to tell fresh stories from a unique perspective,” she said.

Ip’s distinctive style, grounded in neorealism that often defies traditional notions of storytelling, is evident in the many acclaimed projects on her impressive resume. With a quieter, subtle approach to the story, characters, and themes, she has impressed audiences all over the world with her work on films like Lakeshore BluesFor the Love of Maud, and Caramel, to name a few. Her advocacy efforts for more camera support given to independent filmmakers in Asia inspired ARRI to create a program that awarded its inaugural grant to her latest film An Island Drifts.

Ip has been recognized at an international level for her talents behind the camera. She took home the Faculty Award for Best Producing and Winner for Best Social Change at the 2021 First Look, USA for her work on the poignant drama Headlock, a gritty, coming-of-age story that intimately follows Diego, an introverted, Latinx high school wrestler from East Los Angeles, who hides his true self from his father and wrestling coach, Carlos. After expressing his feelings for his wrestling partner and best friend, Travis, at a Lakeside party, Diego is rejected, and his secret sexual identity is made public. After losing his League Championship match, Diego reconciles with Travis and comes out to Carlos; wherein, Diego discovers that he has underestimated his father’s love. The story resonated with Ip; she too grew up in a different place, time, and culture where such topics were not openly discussed. 

“I understood the importance of the subject matter and wanted to handle with care; the dichotomy between the high school wrestler’s secret of being closeted and the perception within the Latino community should the truth be revealed. With such intersectionality in play, it reflects the realities of many people still struggling with their identities today. There is little representation for them onscreen and it weighed on my mind,” she described. “At the end of the film, the protagonist’s emotional journey leads to his self-acceptance and him standing up to his father. I think the film achieved its goals of connecting with audiences on a universal level and sparking conversations on masculinity and sexuality, not only in the world of men’s sports, but also in the Latino community.”

As Producer on the film, Ip’s work began the moment she received the script. She started with breaking the story down in terms of casting, crew, locations, budget and scheduling in preproduction. She then went on to tackle the physical production stage with the director, leading by example on set, to the postproduction stage of taking the film through editing, sound and color and eventually submitting to festivals. Her detailed eye was essential in shaping the film into a nuanced character study.

“Vivian was instrumental in making Headlock happen and worked tirelessly to go above and beyond her call of duty. She taught me to continue to fight for my vision despite all the obstacles we were presented with,” said Director Damon Laguna.

On top of Ip’s award in producing, Headlock saw great success at many prestigious international film festivals. It was an Official Selection at the 2021 Outfest Los Angeles Film Festival, 2020 Dances with Films, and 2020 Urbanworld Film Festival. It also was the recipient of the 2020 Annenberg Foundation Grant, 2020 The Caucus Foundation Grant, and the 2019 Panavision New Filmmaker Grant. Such extraordinary success could never have been possible without Ip’s stellar leadership.

Fitness Experts Tap-In Director and Producer Tom Edwards to Punch Up Content

Director and Producer Tom Edwards – Image by Varuj Chapanian

Creating compelling video content and staying relevant in the field of online education is no small task—actually, in such a competitive arena, such as online fitness, it’s a herculean feat. With so many content creators vying for viewers’ attention, it takes a special touch to stand out. That’s why the best of the best call upon the world-class production and directorial skills of Tom Edwards to help them rise above the crowd. 

So what makes Tom Edwards so unique? Perhaps it’s his diverse and complete understanding of the filmmaking process. Through his personal experiences as an actor, photographer, producer and director, Tom has learned first-hand how these disciplines function individually, and as a cohesive unit.

Tom’s natural talent also plays a huge role in his success. In fact, at the start of his career he solely wrote, shot, directed and edited his first narrative film, “Ninety One: A Tainted Page,” which won multiple awards at the Shanghai Student Film Festival in 2013, including the Best Overall Film Award.

But, according to Tom, the most important element of cinema, and his approach to creating it, is great storytelling. “Story comes before anything else,” he remarked. “If you have a good story and a message, the film can go far, regardless of its production value.” 

Since his early productions as a student, Tom has leveraged his talent, experience and story-driven approach to work his way up within the Los Angeles industry, directing and crafting branded content and music videos for the likes of Lamborghini, MenWithClass, Enrique Iglesias and Becky G. 

Tom’s plethora of experience culminated in 2019, when he branched out on his own to found Secret Film Service, a full-service production company focused on capturing compelling behind the scenes video content for film and television, as well as music and commercial productions.

“I’ve always encouraged productions to hire a team to shoot behind the scenes and help document the creative process,” Tom says. “After working on hundreds of sets, I’ve noticed a lot of teams haven’t yet tapped into this market, and I feel like they’re missing out big time.” 

As it turns out, Tom’s hunch was right. Secret Film Service has been a runaway success, filling the behind-the-scenes niche and working with high-profile clients such as Cardi B, Lamborghini, Shell, SLS Beverly Hills and Space X. 

With such an impressive resume, it’s no surprise that Olympic medalist and professional boxer Tony Jeffries hired Tom to bulk up the video content offerings for his fitness company, Box ‘N Burn. 

Recognized by Men’s Fitness as “The #1 Gym in California,” Box ‘N Burn is a global boxing academy that offers hardcore training in the gym, as well as online. Tony Jeffries, along with Box ‘N Burn co-founder Kevan Watson, brought Tom on board to produce multiple types of video content, from digital commercials and YouTube content to Online Video Programs. Tom has since produced over 100 videos for Tony Jeffries’ YouTube channel, which grew from 10K to 550K followers in under a year—making it one of the fastest growing accounts on YouTube. Tom also worked with other elite Box ‘N Burn trainers, such as Glenn Holmes and Stephen Cain, to create top-notch training videos and marketing materials.

“Tom has become an integral person on our team for his unprecedented talent for producing and creative skills,” Tony Jeffries remarked. “He has been a major factor to the online success of the Box ‘N Burn gym.”

Tom’s success with Box ‘N Burn led to more opportunities in the fitness world for Secret Film Service,  such as a partnership with Simon Ata, a fitness and calisthenics mogul with more than 600K followers who brought Tom in to create content for his online program focused on teaching students how to master handstand pushups. 

“Tom was a pleasure to work with, easy-going and very efficient,” Simon Ata remarked. “The final product far exceeded my expectations.” 

Tom didn’t just stop at fitness; he has also worked with prominent figures in the dance world, such as Richy Jackson, a creative director and choreographer to stars such as Lady Gaga, JoJo Siwa, Todrick, Zack Zilla and Trevi Moran. Richy hired Tom to shoot a two day Dance Master Class with over 40 students in attendance. Of course, Tom also captured tons of exclusive behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Richy and his students. 

Other dancers Tom has worked with include Jordyn Leann, and Samantha Caudle, who have danced with artists such as Chance the Rapper, En Vogue, Jason Derulo and Sage the Gemini. 

Tom Edwards has made a career of capturing the best of his clients and telling their stories in an authentic, compelling way. His mastery of the craft of cinema is without question; otherwise, the biggest influencers, brands, and celebrities in Hollywood would look elsewhere for a director and producer. So what’s next for Tom and Secret Film Service? That part of the story remains to be written, but if Tom is behind a project, it’s sure to be worth watching.

Communication is Key for Cinematographer Omar Ragab

The art of the motion picture has captivated audiences since its inception, but that final piece of magic, be it on the big screen or a smartphone, is a labor of love brought to life by many minds working as one. It’s an idiosyncratic machine that has to be speaking the same language, or the message will never be heard. Lucky for us, cinematographers like Omar Ragab are masters of communication behind the scenes.

Raised in the whirlwind of Cairo, Egypt, Ragab was in constant conversation with the city around him. At the crossroads of ancient and modern civilization, where deep-rooted family ties refuse to be swept up amidst big-city hustle and bustle, Ragab remained ever-connected to his community and environment. But it was the glimpses of nature that penetrated the chaos of Cairo that truly spoke to this cinematographer’s soul.

Omar Ragab shot by Devin Landgren

“I’ve always been infatuated with light, and how its presence, or absence, affects our perception,” recalls Ragab. “Once I realized that being a cinematographer gave a person the responsibility to tell stories through a visual language, I was hooked!”

Already fluent in Arabic and English, Ragab began his passionate study of photography, the language of light.

Immersion is the fastest way to fluency, and no job was too big or small for Ragab as he dove into Los Angeles’s film culture. His early work as a production assistant brought with it an appreciation for the importance of all positions on set. Even seemingly low-ranking posts carry the weight of the film production on its shoulders, and Ragab quickly understood that every crew member’s contribution was paramount to the project’s success. 

This understanding combined with his tireless work ethic, technical ability and family-oriented nature has brought Ragab success in every area behind the camera, from 1st assistant camera positions to stints as an assistant director. Experience not only as a crew member but as a leader in each department has equipped Ragab with a unique skill set that sets him apart from most cinematographers.

Ragab’s warm and confident demeanor, in combination with his enthusiasm and proficiency behind the camera, allows him to lead a production from a place of lived experience. His rise through the ranks has imbued him with a sense of duty to pass his wealth of knowledge on to aspiring cameramen and women on set.

Working in close collaboration with the director to uphold the visual integrity of the film, these qualities are crucial for a cinematographer to embody and exemplify. Also known as director of photography, the DP is responsible for overseeing all aspects of a film’s photography, and must have a comprehensive command of three different departments: camera, lighting and grip. To harmonize the efforts of each team and accurately capture the film’s intention, communication is key not only through the camera, but amongst the crew as well. 

Rebecca Hertz, showrunner and director for Netflix’s “Cooking With Paris,” was quick to praise Ragab’s constructive influence on set. “Omar’s positivity beams through his work and into others, creating a loving, friendly, and therefore, efficient work environment,” said Hertz. “He is highly intelligent when it comes to camera and production knowledge and is patient with others, teaching and directing them methodically.

When UberEats secured a coveted Super Bowl commercial spot, Ragab was called on to bring his creative expertise to the set. Featuring Mike Meyers’ and Dana Carvey’s beloved “Wayne’s World” characters, Ragab was tasked with invoking the broadcasting nostalgia of the 1980s. To achieve the desired effect, Ragab dug deep into his toolkit, using vintage lenses and 3 different cameras to capture the performance of each actor and provide a canvas for the special effects work in post production.

With Ragab’s magic touch, UberEats’ “Wayne’s World” commercial was a standout favorite amongst the heralded Super Bowl line-up. Ragab’s efforts left a strong impression on the commercial’s production manager Giovanna Giangregorio, particularly his commitment to the project’s creative vision.

“Omar is outstanding at his craft and an invaluable asset to any project,” said Giangregorio. “He worked without rest to make sure all of our creative needs were met and transformed into a visual far beyond what we imagined.” 

At the end of the day, a film crew is like one big family—some members are close to the heart, some are distant relatives, but no matter the person or position, communication is essential. Fluent in the language of light and leadership, Omar Ragab connects with every level of his team so they can let the camera do the talking.

New WWII supernatural thriller ‘Ghosts of War’ is a haunting tale about the trauma of war

When Writer/Director Eric Bress, known for such celebrated films as Butterfly Effect and The Final Destination 2, shared an early draft of his latest film with Shelley Madison, she was immediately hooked. The Canadian Producer loves a good ghost story, and the idea for Ghosts of War was that and so much more.  Set against the very real backdrop of WWII, Eric crafted a dark supernatural, psychological thriller with deep underlying themes about PTSD and trauma. Madison saw an opportunity to both captivate audiences and broaden the discussion surrounding mental health. 

Known for her work on Terminal, starring Academy Award nominated actress Margot Robbie, and Queen of the Desert, starring Oscar Winner Nicole Kidman and nominee James Franco, Madison is clearly no stranger to working on large scale, highly-anticipated movies. Ghosts of War follows five American soldiers holding a French castle formerly occupied by Nazis, who begin experiencing inexplicable events that transform their reality into a twisted nightmare more terrifying than anything seen on the battlefield. 

“What really struck me about the script was there was an emotional depth witnessing the soldiers battle physical and psychological trauma. We all know soldiers face significant hardship due to the prolonged trauma of war: PSTD, substance use, increased chances of overdose, homelessness and even suicide. When a story can connect information to emotions, it can be very powerful. It was my hope that this film would open the door to having more conversations about the issue,” said Madison.

The film stars Brenton Thwaites (Titans, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Maleficent), Theo Rossi (Sons of Anarchy, Luke Cage), Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist), Alan Ritchson (Titans, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Hunger Games), and Kyle Gallner (A Nightmare on Elm Street, American Sniper, The Finest Hours) as the five leading soldiers. It also stars Billy Zane (Titanic, Tombstone, Demon Knight) and Shaun Toub (Iron Man, Homeland) who round out some of the other characters. 

 “We were lucky to have worked with an incredibly gifted team. Our principal cast are very talented actors and have been in front of the camera for ages having worked with many notable directors already,” said Madison.

Shelley Madison - Ghosts of War
Ghosts of War film poster

They shot in Sofia, Bulgaria, which worked well for all locations for the story, and there was also access to authentic WWII military props and vehicles which helped with prep. The mansion interior was built entirely on a soundstage, the location for the mansion exterior was Vrana Palace, which Madison describes as a perfect fit, as it is grand and beautiful while also being quite menacing, and given the mansion itself almost feels like a character in the story. Between the ideal location, props, costumes, and the score, audiences will undoubtedly feel truly transported to the terrifying and haunting battlefields of WWII.

While the film is sure to entertain audiences, while diving deep into the soldier’s psychological trauma, it offers a chance to explore ways that people can heal. Most recently, as Partner and the Chief Content Officer of the OTT network Social Club TV, the largest cannabis lifestyle content distribution platform in the world, Madison has been producing content in cannabis and plant medicine. When she came across Ghosts of War, it had another layer to it that she wanted to highlight. Psychedelics such as psilocybin, a psychoactive compound found in certain mushrooms, are having a big impact on PTSD in clinical trials, and there is a big push to legalize these substances. This new film allowed Madison to explore those ideas, and Social Club TV provides a platform to continue the discussion.  

“In my personal life I have witnessed someone close to me find transformative healing through supervised, guided use of psychedelics for therapeutic purposes to address mental health and addiction. PTSD stems from many different traumas, and anyone facing it needs multi-faceted support to help manage the pain they endure every day. No patient should have to seek solutions in an illicit environment.”  

Ghosts of War was released as a DirectTV exclusive on June 18th, 2020, but will be making its way to several more media platforms on July 17th,  available here, both on cable and various online rental services. It will then hit Netflix in October. Madison is eager to share this highly thrilling supernatural psychological thriller that brings audiences inside the mind of soldiers who are trapped in a living nightmare caused by their traumatic experiences on the battlefield.

“We have to take faster, more courageous and progressive steps to help those suffering from mental health challenges. It is my hope that research will continue to prove the therapeutic potential of cannabis and psychedelics and that we will find a path to legalization to provide people new ways to heal. In the meantime, I hope Ghosts of War allows people to feel they are not alone in what they are experiencing,” she concluded.

Be sure to check out Ghosts of War on July 17th to see this poignant horror.

#GhostsofWar is now available on DIRECTV and on VOD/Digital July 17th!  Pre-order on Apple TV TODAY

Social Club TV: the world’s largest cannabis content library, available for free on AppleTV, Roku, Amazon Prime, iOS, Android and more. www.thesocialclub.tv

Sound Editor Jingjue Zhou works with Narval Films on impactful new film ‘Pier Las Vegas’

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.

 

By John Michaels
Photo by Tianyi Wang

Producer Helena Sardinha recalls award-winning film ‘Pumpkin’ and finding filmmaking passion

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Helena Sardinha

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.

 

By Annabelle Lee

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

A talk with renowned cinematographer Feixue Tang

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 presetWhen 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

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