Tag Archives: Filmmaking

Australian Actress Sunny Koll helps sheds light on cyber-bullying in ‘Zach’s Story’

Sunny Koll doesn’t just tell stories, she embodies them. She brings a story to life. As an actress, she tries to find within her character a commonality, a humanity, that connects each of us together. From that connection, people are able to see themselves within the story. That is what makes her one of the best, and that is why she is recognized around the world for her talents.

This ability to connect with audiences transcends to every project Koll embarks on. She takes audiences with her on her path of ending human trafficking in the series Traffik, and in the comedic television show Flat Whites, viewers feel for her character Stacy, as she has been duped by the two main characters in their attempt to win her affections. However, in the film Zach’s Story, Koll not only connects with her audience, but she helps to tell the impactful story, raising awareness on the important and timely issue of cyber-bullying.

“The script was empowering for kids who have experienced cyber bullying. Within Australia, there has been a lot of action taken within schools to stop bullying and celebrate differences, as the Australian government is getting behind this, I really wanted to be a part of it,” said Koll. “I liked how important this project is. Today’s world moves at such a fast pace and there’s so much pressure on teenagers, I can’t even imagine what it’s like to have the speed of the internet added into the mix of bullying. I really liked that this campaign offers answers with how to deal with these situations, so you don’t feel alone, which only breeds more pain and long-term shame.”

Zach’s Story is part of the “ReWrite Your Story” campaign, an anti-cyberbullying campaign for the Australian Government Office of Children’s eSafety Commissioner. “Rewrite Your Story” consists of a series of short films focusing on different cyberbullying scenarios. Zach’s Story tells the story of Zach, a high school student who is being cyber bullied. The film highlights various ways a family unit can deal with these situations.

“The message is incredibly important. Bullying of any kind erodes self-esteem and is usually done to the most sensitive of people. The effects of bullying can take years to heal. The real tragedy is that the bullies themselves have something broken within them and are usually dealing with some horrific power plays of their own in their family homes and are only acting out to gain power somewhere else,” said Koll. “It’s very satisfying to know it’s reached so many people and that people want to make a change. It’s also so incredibly brilliant for Christopher Benz for taking out the Best Director’s Award in an Online Drama Project for his work on Rewrite Your Story at the Australian Director’s Guild Awards. He really is a brilliantly talented artist who continuously gives and works very hard, never resting on his laurels and I can’t wait to see what he brings out next. To also win Gold at the World Media Festival and the Bronze World Medal at the New York Festivals Television & Film Awards is so fantastic for him and his team at Brave TV.”

Zach’s Story premiered online, on the “Rewrite Your Story” site and on the “Rewrite Your Story” Facebook page. The Rewrite Your Story campaign has had almost one million views online with 133 thousand of them being for Zach’s Story. The film went on to win the Bronze World Medal at the New York Festival’s Television and Film Awards, and the campaign won the Gold Award at the World Media Festival 2017.

“It’s very satisfying to know it’s reached so many people and people want to make a change. To also win the Bronze World Medal at the New York Festivals Television & Film Awards, and for the entire Rewrite Your Story campaign, to win Gold at the World Media Festival, is fantastic as it means these topics are getting the air time they deserve,” said Koll.

Koll played the vital role of Leanne, Zach’s mother. Due to the cyber bullying, Zach was withdrawing, which caused concern for his parents. After his father discovered the cyber bullying pages, the parents worked together to create a safe family atmosphere where Zach could talk openly about his feelings and they could work out a plan of action. She’s doing her best to keep a normal relaxed home life, so Zach feels safe to express his feelings. For this role, Koll researched bullying in all its aspects, including the effects it has not only on the person being bullied, but also the entire family, as there can be radical changes within the person being bullied. This commitment to her performance was appreciated by all she worked with.

“Working with Sunny was a breeze. She is very much a team player and in tune with cast and crew. She’s also very open to direction, which is important. Sunny is a dedicated, passionate actress. She puts time into her preparation and turns up ready to work. She’s driven to create and combines working hard with natural ability, to find the layers, truth and need within each of her characters,” said Christopher Benz, Director of Zach’s Story.

The accolades and the awards, however, are not why Koll is proud to be a part of the project. For her, she wanted to educate, knowing that education can heal all parties involved with bullying. Showing young children that their actions can have such effects is important, as Koll knows firsthand.

“My uncle is a holocaust survivor, and regularly goes to schools to talk with the students. At one school a student approached him after his talk and said that his entire life he had treated people very badly and since hearing about the holocaust first hand wanted to make changes. It works out this boy was the school bully and nobody had been able to get through to him, but for whatever reason on this day in this moment he was reached and forever changed. This is what the power of continuing the message of compassion and acceptance does,” she said.

To learn more about the “ReWrite Your Story” campaign, and to watch Koll’s performance in Zach’s story, you can click here.

Composer Peter Lam creates comedy through music in ‘(le) Rebound’

Training as a violinist since he was a child, music has always been important to Peter Lam. Now, he has worked on over forty film and television projects, and with each one, he leaves his mark. As a film composer, he creates imaginative sound worlds that help transport audiences to another time and place. There is no limit to what he can do and achieve.

Throughout his career, Lam has shown audiences time and time again why he is such a sought-after composer. Working on award-winning films such as The Ballerina, The Shoemaker, & His Apprentice and Lovebites, Lam’s music has acted almost as an additional character, pivotal to telling the story.  When working on the new film (le) Rebound, Lam’s music perfectly captures the quirky comedy, adding to the humor in several situations.

(le) Rebound was definitely a very attractive project. I am a big fan of Woody Allen movies and I always wanted to write music for witty comedies that carry that sort of poetic European sentiment with them. (le) Rebound turned out to be the perfect opportunity. It has a very clever and imaginative concept, and I felt it could be something really fun to work on,” said Lam.

(le) Rebound tells the story of a heartbroken young woman who follows a hipster fling to France, where she falls headlong into a hedonistic romp. It premiered at the Aspen Film Festival in April of this year. It was praised as a piece of ‘cinematic genius’ by an Aspen Times review. It then went on to the Palm Springs International ShortFest 2017, Clemont-Ferrand, the Achtung Berlin (in competition for the New Berlin Film Award 2017), and the International Cinematographer Guild, winning Emerging Cinematographer 2017.

“It’s a great honor to hear that the film is doing so well, both domestically and abroad. It feels wonderful to know that the film I have scored will be screened at so many prestigious festivals around the world,” said Lam.

The film is yet another project that proved what a versatile international talent Lam is. Adding to the success in dramas and animations, this attempt in scoring for comedy shows he is limitless, and the film’s success across the world could never have been achieved without the composer’s skill. Laura Beckner, the writer and director, could not agree more.

“Discovering Peter was a sigh of relief in the post-production process.  It is a director’s dream to find someone this professional, talented, and collaborative. Peter is intuitive, communicative, flexible and full of ideas. Even though he nailed it with the first few pieces of music he created for us, I have no doubt that he would have tweaked and explored as necessary until we found the perfect composition,” said Beckner. “Peter was able to articulate the mood of the piece as well as filmic references and production ideas all very clearly.  I can tell he has an extensive classical music background; those influences are apparent and the skillset he is working with transcends anything trendy or ‘filmic’ even into something quite unique and sophisticated.  I was impressed that he knew how to enhance the score with more”

After Lam discovered the project, he reached out to Beckner and she was impressed by his previous work and credentials, and quickly invited him on board. They had to work remotely, as Beckner was based in Berlin. This did not cause any problems. The director had total trust in Lam, and approved everything he did immediately.

“It was a very enjoyable experience writing music for (le) Rebound. It’s a cleverly crafted comedy and the acting was top notch. It was just a fun process composing quirky gypsy jazz music that subtly played alongside the dialogue. I was very proud of the final project as I felt my music marry perfectly with their respective scenes. It is often said that, scoring-wise, comedy is the most difficult genre to tackle, so I am glad that I nailed it,” said Lam.

And that he did. Music plays an essential role in film, especially comedies, and in (le) Rebound, Lam’s work helped to highlight awkward tensions and comedic moments throughout the film that would have been overlooked otherwise. The music also plays against the picture in several instances, addressing the subtext of the story and injecting new meanings to the scene. Due to the setting of the film, Lam worked to create a ‘French-ness’ in the music, which helped to transport the audience from their seats straight to France. The music is truly the soul of the film, as the story reflects Claudia’s hedonistic trip to France after a heartbreaking break-up.

“As for most cases for comedy scoring, being attentive to dialogue and timing is essential. Instead of starting with sketching themes or overall musical structures, I tend to focus on specific scenes and familiarize myself with the precise pacing and comedic context of the scene. It is like solving a puzzle – trying to fit the music between the dialogue, action, and silence,” Lam described.

Lam definitely solved the puzzle for the score in (le) Rebound, as he does with every project he takes on. His distinct sound adds to every film and television show he works on, totalling over forty throughout his esteemed career. Despite his vast success, however, he remains humble, and is happy to do what he loves.

“I just want to write expressive music that tells stories. I think film is a very beautiful medium as it transcends time and space by bringing the audience from the cinema into an extended reality. Equally, music plays an important role in shaping the soundscape of the film and is a very powerful device in connecting the viewers to the story emotionally. Unlike theatre plays and concerts which may be one-off events, films are easily accessible to a much wider range of audiences through screenings and streaming. It has always been my goal as a film composer to contribute to unique film projects that can inspire and move audiences,” Lam concluded.

BEHIND THE CAMERA AND THE SEA INSIDE

Back in 2004, when Juan Matias Ramos Mora received an invitation to be the Steadicam Operator on The Sea Inside, he had no idea that he would be part of an Academy Award-Winning film (the film received the Oscar for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards in 2005 and several European prizes in 2004 and 2005) as well as witness the evolution of an international star in the performance of Javier Bardem. If the truth be told, the only two factors that enticed Juan to join the film were his constant pursuit of challenging work and the opportunity to work with director Alejandro Aménabar. The tipping point in the career of artistic individuals like Juan Ramos often happen when it is the most unexpected and when accolades are not a factor in the equation. Now more than a decade later, The Sea Inside is just one of the many award-winning productions which Juan has worked on but it is possibly the one which delineates that point when many began to recognize his talent on an international scale. Recent series such as “Fear The Walking Dead” and “Mozart in the Jungle” display the eye and skillful camera work which brings a larger than life look to the small screen; one which Juan has used so many times on the big screen.

It is a common analogy but, pressure turns coal into a diamond; it can also refine professional skills. While Juan was already a respected camera operator prior to his work on the Oscar-Winning The Sea Inside, the experience of working with famed cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe was both inspiring and challenging…in other words, pressure! Aguirresarobe is internationally recognized as one of the contemporary greats in cinematography. He has worked with the best camera operators and he expects the best. More than a decade ago, Juan admits that there were lessons for him to learn and Javier was a masterful teacher. Prior to The Sea Inside, the two had worked together on El milagro de P.tinto, which was the first film by Javier Fesser, a rather famous director in Spain. The fact that Javier wanted to work with Juan again speaks to his belief in the then young camera operator. Aguirresarobe comments, “As a cinematographer, I must sometimes rely on a Steadicam and Camera Operator for the crucial element of frame composition; it builds the visual narrative of the film and I must entrust it to someone who understands my vision, the director’s vision, and can deliver exactly what my critical eye demands. It’s not easy to find someone whom I can trust with this important role but Juan is one such professional. He has a keen eye for seeing things the way that I need them, even in very complex situations. When we were working together on Alejandro Amenabar’s Academy Award-Winning Film The Sea Inside, Juan was our Steadicam Operator. The complexity of the film would be a challenge for anyone and I am demanding as well. Juan delivered to perfection every time. Neither myself nor the director could have been more pleased with his incredible work on this film. I have worked with Juan on a number of films and he continuously brings this exemplary performance on all the productions he is a part of.”

The films’ director Alejandro Aménabar and Aguirresarobe work well together in part because they are both so discerning and scrutinizing.  Alejandro is a director who carefully picks out every tool he wants to use to tell the story. He’s young but he’s very classic in his language. His careful study of the greatest directors in film history has given him the perspective which created his reputation. Juan Ramos credits Aménabar with inspiring both panic and a call to greatness in his early career.

One of the unexpected pleasures and respite of his involvement in The Sea Inside was that it gave Juan the opportunity to work with Javier Bardem in one of his most important performances, and the one that would catapult him into international stardom. Juan recalls, “The extent of his preparation and dedication to the performance was pretty huge, which is why this role opened up so many opportunities for him. Watching such an actor at work was truly amazing. The only resource he had to convey in the movie was his face, and thus his performance. That means you have to be extremely precise. The camera has to be respectful of the internal process the actor goes through to get to those levels of interpretation. He was so immersed in the role that nothing really could go wrong. That made everyone in the film, who were already working at really high standards, deliver their best work. This ultimately meant that Bardem and Amenábar were the only ones in charge of bringing the character from one point in the story to another one. To see that depth of commitment was truly inspiring.”

The notoriety that the film and Juan’s work received opened numerous possibilities and productions for him both in his homeland of Spain and internationally. He was quickly invited to work on Jonathan Glazer’s first feature film, Sexy Beast, for which Ben Kingsley was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. More than a decade later as he looks back on his work on The Sea Inside and contemplates the most important lesson he learned, Juan confesses, “One of the things I realized was that this really young director was surrounding himself with the best people available, and that was a life lesson for me. There’s no better experience than working with people who know more than you and are more experienced than you.”

Producer Albee Zhang talks her award-winning film ‘Caged’

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Albee Zhang

From the time Albee Zhang was a child, growing up in Shanghai, China, she knew she wanted to make movies. The entertainment industry always fascinated her, and her creative senses were always strong. As she grew, this dream turned into both a passion and a reality. Now, Zhang is an internationally sought-after producer, living her childhood dream.

Throughout her career, Zhang has achieved what many still dream of. She has worked on hit television shows around the world, such as the British game show The Cube and the Chinese home renovation show Mei Hao Jia. She has made many successful commercials such as the series for Alpine Dairy. She has made films, such as Bride: Shanghai, I Love You, that have gone on to premiere at international film festivals. However, despite all of this, the highlight of her career was just last year when she made the film Caged.

“For a very long time, I was surrounded by fantasy, drama and science-fiction stories. When I was approached about this project, my eyes were brightened up. I had never done any sort of masculine project like this. Brotherhood versus self-ego, money versus fame, blood and underground fighting, all these elements had so many possibilities to be an outstanding project. I knew I had to challenge myself and see how much I could pull out of a project like this,” said Zhang.

Caged is a short film that follows James, a young man who fights in underground cage matches to make ends meet. In the film, James gets the life-changing opportunity to fight professionally, but when his brother Marco crosses a desperate drug dealer, James is forced to choose between his obligations to his brother and his dream of a better life.

“It is a very strong and straight forward theme for a narrative film. By looking at the character struggling through his life, at some point it kind of reminds me of the filmmaking life. Until the day we shine, we are always struggling. The character inspired us, we made the character. It’s a story about MMA fighter, but truly it’s a story to everyone who is fighting for their dreams,” said Zhang.

The film premiered at the New York City Independent Film Festival in May, and went on to have tremendous success. At the 2016 Media Awards it was recognized for Achievement in Film Direction, Achievement in Production Design, and won Best Male Actor. It was an Official Selection at some of the world’s most prestigious festivals, including the Festival Corner of Festival de Cannes, the Auckland International Film Festival, and the London Lift-Off Film Festival Online.

“It means the world to me and my crew that the film has done so well. It proved that everything we risked was worth it. Most cast and crew worked on this film because of friendship. Some of them even volunteered to work on this film. We all had the faith that this project would carry our enthusiasm to somewhere. It didn’t let us down. The honor belongs to the whole Caged family,” Zhang said.

As producer, Zhang managed the cost of the film to fit in an extremely tight budget and schedule. She also acted as production manager for the project, and ensured the crew was always safe and well taken care of on the set. Half of the sets were built in an abandoned basement of an ancient apartment to create an underground style, beat-up looking environment. It was a very bad condition location for filming as it was moist, very dusty, bad air-circulation and completely in the dark, pretty much like a dungeon, but it was perfect for the feel and look of the film. yet it’s exactly we wanted for the film set. Zhang made sure everyone was safe and happy, taking on yet another role.

“I was worried it would be too depressing to work in this kind of environment for four days in a row. We started working when the sky was dark in the morning, we walked out of the location and it was still dark but it was at night. Not seeing daylight for four days could be very intense and uncomfortable. I received zero complaints,” said Zhang.

Zhang made sure any dangerous spots were labeled and blocked, masks were provided, hanging wires were well placed and taped. She oversaw the crew and the fierce fighting shots were shot in the safest but most realistic way. She also arranged a crowd funded online campaign for the film, and received 20 per cent more than what she was aiming for. There is no doubt that she was pivotal to the film.

“Albee was indispensable to the making of our film and bringing it in not only on budget but under budget. She is an energetic, diligent and down-to-earth person who always speak for her crew. People work for her again and again. I also look forward to working with her again,” said the Director, Nick Powers-Gomez. “She has the drive to roll up her sleeves and do whatever needs to be done and fill up whatever position that needs her.”

All those that work with Zhang are continuously impressed by what she brings to the table, not just as a talented and committed producer, but also as a kind and thoughtful person. She not only understands what it takes to make a film a success, but she aims to do more than win awards. She is a storyteller, and constantly seeks to challenge herself. Her passion for what she does is always evident.

“Making film is utilizing a visualized universal language tool to bring out our mutual emotions. I put a lot of attention and work building up character relationships and finding the universal themes, such as love, family, fear, and friendship,” Zhang concluded.

Editor Minghao Shen helps terrify audiences in award-winning horror flick ‘Emily’

Growing up in Beijing China, Minghao Shen always loved film. Unlike many who enjoy watching a movie, he would think about how it was being made. The details behind how each scene was put together were what captivated him; he wanted to be a filmmaker. Eventually, the nuances and strategy behind editing caught his attention, and he knew that was where his future was. Now, he is an internationally celebrated editor.

Shen has worked on countless critically-acclaimed projects, earning him a reputation as one of China’s best recent film editors. His work on films such as Inside Linda Vista Hospital, Stay, Cartoon Book, and Red String has allowed worldwide audiences to see what he is capable of, showing without a doubt why he is so respected in the industry. His work on the horror film Emily perfectly encapsulates what the editor is capable of.

“It is a simple but tense horror film. The movements of shots and the whole visual style are really outstanding. I knew that there would be challenges, but that it would be a great chance for editing,” said Shen.

The film tells the scary story of a woman named Emily. Emily dies giving birth at home after her husband, John, abandons her. However, she will have her revenge from beyond the grave when she returns as a ghost set on killing her widowed husband.

“My favorite part of the whole production was talking about the story, because we found out that there were multiple options would work for it. Although each of the options would have been great, but couldn’t mix them all together, otherwise the tone would be chaos. As an editor, having to narrow this down and figure out how to properly tell the story and convey the right tone was great,” said Shen.

Shen’s instincts proved to be spot on, as Emily went on to do very well at several prestigious film festivals. It was an Official Selection at the Los Angeles CineFest, the SoCal Creative and Innovative Film Festival, the Pittsburgh Independent Film Festival, the Action on Film International Film Festival, the California Independent Film Festival, and the Columbia Gorge International Film Festival. It won Best Overall Micro Film at the Indie Gathering International Short Film Festival and at the Accolade Global Film Competition it won the Award of Excellence.

“I had many complex feelings when I discovered the film was getting a lot of awards. It was a blend of excitement and satisfaction after the hard work everyone had done. We know that we took a bunch of time and work on the film, so I was so glad that our hard work got such encouragement from the festivals,” said Shen.

None of this could have been possible without Shen’s editing talents. He spent his time taking notes every time he met with the director, ensuring he still achieved the vision of the film while bringing his own touch to it.  After the first rough cut, there were a lot of points that needed to be ironed out and redone, but based on notes he did originally, it greatly assisted to the time it took.

“Horror film is always about beats, so the director worked really hard with me to specify each second to make the film the best,” said Shen. “I talked with the director about our thoughts and he trusted me for the style based on my previous experience. There were always some different editing choices between me and the director. He is a talented and continuously brainstorming how to make the film better, so I always let him know more than one choice to let our minds be more open, so that we could avoid some useless change and waste of work time. We actually had some different thoughts in some parts. After a lot of meetings, we finally compromised our differences and both of us thinks this made the finished product better than what just our own ideas would have.”

The director, Jun Xia, agrees, and knows that without Shen his film could not have achieved what it did. The two have worked together on multiple projects since Emily, and Xia knows that Shen’s talents are essential to making a good film.

Minghao and I had worked together for a few times before, and he is always a good listener. He can take feedback and produce more ideas all the time. Minghao is an experienced editor. We talked a lot about a lot of different ways to make Emily better, and it did. He can always come up with unique thoughts when it comes to editing,” said Xia.

Everyone that works with Shen is continuously impressed by his editing skills. Without his work on Emily, audiences may not have been on the edge of their seats, terrified about what would happen next.

You can watch Shen’s impressive editing work on the short film Emily here.

Production Designer Shuhe Wang talks award-winning film ‘Red String’

Born and raised in Taiyuan City, China, Shuhe Wang was destined to be a production designer. Design was always her passion, and she never questioned what it was she wanted to spend her life doing. She understands every aspect as to what it takes to be an exceptional production designer, and that is why she is so highly-respected around the world for what she does.

Despite any challenges that arise, Wang loves what she does, and always shows audiences what she is capable of. Her work on the films Stay, Dancing for You, Cartoon Book, and Inside Linda Vista Hospital helped earn the respect of international audiences and win awards at several film festivals. However, despite this success, she considers working on the film Red String the highlight of her esteemed career.

“With each screening, people are really interested about the story and what is the background of creating the story. As a film, it is always the most important target that let people think about the meaning and something related in society after watching it,” said Wang.

The film tells the tale of an illegal Chinese immigrant who wants to keep his last line of his privacy in a terrible restaurant where he works. However, when he finally goes against his dignity, he finds that he even makes his life worse.

“This is a film about low-level class Chinese immigrant’s life. To make the film reliable and vivid, it relies on the production designer to create the atmosphere about Chinese culture and low-level people’s life. I did a lot of research about what exactly their life had going on, and created some characteristic elements in the film,” said Wang.

Making its way to several international film festivals, Red String impressed critics. It was an Official Selection at the Los Angeles International Shorts Festival, the Festival de Cortometrajes “Jose Francisco Rosado” Pacas, My Love Michelle Short Film Festival, and the Lift-Off Film Festival. It screened at the Festival de Cannes Short Film Corner, was a finalist at the Miami Film Festival, was nominated at the Golden Knight Malta International Film Festival, and was the winner of the Asians on Film Festival.

“I feel excited that the film got a lot of attention by telling a small and rough part of our traditional culture, and glad that the true and hard life of normal people is still being considered and cared a lot by universal audiences. This is a story about my national country’s culture, and it happens in some low-level class people. That is kind interesting to do because I can show audience a different angle of Chinese culture that not very noticeable in real life. And the story is absolutely tense and strong,” said Wang. “The director was very creative and open-minded. It was really great to work with him. He fully trusted me in my department’s process. It makes the work smooth and well- communicated. We were sharing all the thoughts and brainstorming without any concern. We were on the same page for each step.”

The director, Minghao Shen, knows Wang’s commitment to the film and her talent as a production designer largely contributed to the success Red String saw. The two had talked about the script and had found out that they both had a lot of deep thought and ambition regarding the story. Shen trusted that Wang totally understood the story and would create the sets perfectly.

“Shuhe is a designer that does not just care about how to make set pretty, but also about telling a story by the designing, due to her directing skills, so that actually helped the film be better. When Shuhe was working, she was always focused on the details and she was always careful about each single image,” said Shen.

While keeping true to the message of the film, Wang wanted to show some of the key elements to the world without over dressing them. The overall tone is a small bakery and restaurant in old Chinatown of an American city. Wang would go to Chinatown in Los Angeles to simply observe, and to capture the feeling of life there. She would see how they liked to dress and what they liked to eat, what they believed, what way they connected with the outside of Chinatown, what the difference was between the new and old immigrants, and more to truly understand what she needed to create.

“Once I locked each character’s personality, I chose the key elements of each of them and made it into the entire set,” said Wang. “However, the most impressive part of filming Red String was that everyone was so engaged in the story and helped to make it better. The lead actor even gave us some impromptu action with the props as the character and it worked very well. Sometimes we shared the thoughts based on our position to make the film more complete.”

The film was a collective effort by everyone involved, and Wang’s work helped to turn it into a masterpiece.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound designer Randolph Zaini talks award-winning film “Paper Tiger”

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Sound Designer Randolph Zaini

Only someone who is truly passionate about what they do can talk about it the way that Randolph Zaini speaks about sound design. He explains the intricacies and nuances to the craft as if they are the elements in his poem. Sound design is more than a passion to him; it is a lifestyle, and it is one that he loves living.

When working on the award-winning film Paper Tiger, Zaini showed audiences around the world what he is capable of. The film went to several international film festivals after premiering at the 2015 New Filmmakers Festival, and won the IndieFeast Award, Award of Recognition 2016. The film is also in discussion of being distributed through SCA channel.

“It is incredibly encouraging that the film has done so well. There were many risks that the director and I took in our approach of creating this movie, and receiving so many accolades and distribution only strengthens our belief that we take risks for the right reasons. Chances were either we’d be received with open arms or shunned out of the gates, but it wouldn’t be anything in between, which would be a more regrettable position. Luckily, we were received with very positive reactions,” said Zaini.

Paper Tiger is about a Shaolin monk undergoing an internal conflict after refusing to help a victim of assault. He is part of a traveling troupe promoting Chinese martial arts, yet at the same time, he doesn’t do anything when witnessing an actual act of violence in front of him. In this film, not only does the main character not have any line of dialogue, but he also doesn’t emote very much, coming from a stoic Shaolin background.

“I wanted to do the project because at the core, it is a story that speaks to me. Not that I am a warrior monk of any kind, but that issues of identity crisis and often feeling as if I don’t belong are two things that keep recurring in my life. I am a Chinese-Indonesian; a Chinese by ethnicity, but an Indonesian by birth and citizenship. The feeling of being displaced has always lingered at the back of my head, as well as the cry for help to be accepted without judgment. These emotions are something that are relatable to what the main character of Paper Tiger is going through. Empathy then became a gateway to my involvement in this project. It is a story, or more specifically a state of mind, that needs to be told,” said Zaini.

As a filmmaker, how do you facilitate a character who doesn’t speak and doesn’t indicate with facial expressions, yet at the same time goes through a difficult time? This is where sound design shines, and Zaini was more than up to the task. He approached this by heavily utilizing ambiance design. Introspective moments, volatile moments, anger, despair and frustration is communicated by what is heard surrounding the character. There was one moment when the monk had just performed a martial arts routine, received by a round of applause. As he walks away backstage, the announcer gives a very commercialized version of the cultural history and the business manager sells the cardboard image of the Shaolin, but slowly all that dies down, and all that can be heard are the monk’s footsteps. He is isolated, if not excluded from this world. He is displaced; a man out of his time. Through such sound treatment it becomes painfully obvious. The entire film is filled with this style of sound design that Zaini accomplished so well.

“When given free rein on the sound design process, I was able to experiment with countless techniques I had never done before. That was such a liberating feeling you don’t find that often in ambitious film projects like this. I was also performing every single sound cue for the foley effects. In that sense, I was able to construct this fully realized, complex character by how I would direct the sounds he would make in the story; be it the movement of his monk garb, his prayer beads, and even his footsteps, everything became an audio cue that I instilled into this character. It was tremendously exciting to be able to have a hands-on approach in the story to such level,” said Zaini.

Zaini’s contributions are directly linked to the film’s success. The director, Marshall “Chu-Jen” Wu knew what the sound director was capable of, and knew there was no other person that could achieve the sound he was looking for. Zaini was given complete creative freedom. As the sound design process is very abstract, many of the techniques Zaini used would usually raise questions from directors who are not experienced with ongoing sound projects, but Wu had full faith in Zaini’s capabilities.

“Throughout the entire production of the film, Randolph was able to bring in references from other films, animation, music video, and concerts. Many of those references are not known to the Western market, yet precisely on the point of the vision that I tried to create. One of the most memorable examples of this was Randolph using Japanese Taiko drum performance as the referential suggestion for the soundtrack during the climax martial arts fight in Paper Tiger. The end product is nothing but phenomenal,” said Wu.

Everyone that worked with Zaini on the film was impressed with his skill and commitment to produce flawless sound. The producer of the film, Alexander Moscato, says that every idea Zaini brought to the film only made it better.

“Randolph is an absolute pleasure to work with. He comes to work with a smile and a great sense of humor, and his dedication and passion are quite inspirational. He truly cares about the projects he works on. He takes great care to understand the director’s vision, contributing innovative ideas and insights. When you work with Randolph, it is a collaborative process of discovery, filled with lots of laughs, new insights, and stellar sound design. Randolph is an artist in every sense of the word. He has an ability to bring you into the world of the story by creating dynamic soundscapes. He knows how to tell a story through sound, as he masterfully uses sound to advance the plot, as well as the emotional experiences of the characters that drive the story,” said Moscato.

For a small taste of why Zaini has such an esteemed reputation, you can view his work on the drum scene from Paper Tiger here.

Production designer Andrea Leigh is a visual storyteller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can view the commercial here.