Tag Archives: Filmmaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

By John Michaels

Canada’s Michael Shlafman talks importance of music in documentaries

Always a musician, Canada’s Michael Shlafman found himself drawn into the world of composing and orchestrating for film and television because of its limitless possibilities. There are almost no creative boundaries when working in the medium outside of what is dictated by the needs of the project. He can go from working on a score that features a jazz trio one day to a symphony orchestra the next, and that is what excites him; he simply aims to make authentic and sincere music, with endless flexibility and an eagerness and willingness to always be learning and growing.

“I like to think that my style of composing is whatever it needs to be for a given project – after all, that’s what I love so much about working in this medium in the first place. Though I really love to write music that combines traditional acoustic instruments with electronic elements such as recorded and manipulated sound effects, synthesizers, etc. into a hybrid sound that blends sound design with more traditional styles of music,” he said.

Throughout his esteemed career, Shlafman has become an internationally sought-after composer and orchestrator. Millions around the world have heard his work, whether in the multi-million dollar movie Pet Sematary (orchestrator) or the television shows LARPs: The Series (composer) and Best. Worst. Weekend. Ever. (additional music). He has also worked on several acclaimed documentaries, like La Guerra, My Indiana Muse, Botero, and more, knowing just how music can enhance the genre though it needs to be done with a little more care and respect than may be required for a fictional story.

“I think there’s a really interesting distinction to be made between working on documentaries versus working in fiction, especially regarding the music. For starters, documentaries are real. They’re about real people/events, and as such they require a slightly different treatment that is perhaps more careful and respectful. When you’re working on a movie based on a fictional story, of course you still need to be tasteful and respectful, but the characters in the film are never going to watch it. I feel that there’s a lot of pressure to do right by the subjects of a documentary, as there should be. You can’t just throw any music over some painful moment of someone’s life that was caught on camera as though it were a soap opera, it needs to be handled delicately,” said Shlafman.

Music can be a very manipulative tool in documentaries if not used responsibly, and Shlafman always makes sure to do the film’s subject justice when he works. Music changes how an audience reacts emotionally to a piece of film, and for a documentary, where the filmmaker’s job is to present fact and truth as cleanly as possible, music can sometimes be too leading. Shlafman makes sure not to taint the story through the music and does his best to help the director present a perspective as unbiased as possible.

“Music can also really help with the pacing of documentaries. No matter how interesting the subject is, sitting through over an hour of interviews or ‘talking heads’ can get tiresome, and music can help make it feel faster,” he said

David Bertok’s score for Botero, which Shlafman orchestrated,is a perfect example of how a score can set the pace of a documentary. The film is a poetic documentary profile of Colombian artist Fernando Botero and provides a behind-the-scenes chronicle of the life and art of this painter and sculptor – the world’s most recognized living artist.

“I wanted to work on Botero because it’s a very engaging and thrilling story about a world-renowned artist, Fernando Botero. I think it’s important to share these stories so that they’re not forgotten and so that their legacy lives on,” he said.

As an orchestrator on the film, Shlafman played a pivotal role in the post-production process. When a composer creates a mockup on a computer, it is designed to sound as convincing and realistic as possible. The issue then lies in translating that data to a piece of paper that a musician can perform from and achieving a better version of the intended sound through the use of professional musicians with decades of experience. That translation is at the crux of what an orchestrator does, and his role with this project was to help take the data from the mockups and create scores that could be read by the musicians, fulfilling the composer’s vision of the score. In the end, they had a live string orchestra, and with Shlafman’s dedicated work, it turned out beautifully.

These thoughts were echoed by critics, as Botero went on to win several awards at festivals all around the world. Shlafman is proud to have been part of the film, especially one that tells the story of such an iconic artist.

“It’s always a good feeling to know that something you worked on was successful, and even more so when you really believe in the importance of the story. I think it’s important to honor great artists, and this is an excellent way to help preserve Botero’s legacy,” he concluded.

 

By John Michaels
Photo by Erin Ramirez

Cinematographer Omer Lotan recalls creating award-winning drama ‘Remains’

When Omer Lotan first began pursuing filmmaking, he thought he wanted to be a director. At the time, he was new to the industry and was not aware of the many positions, so directing seemed like the obvious choice. However, he soon discovered a love for cinematography, and he knew that was his destiny.

“I learned to understand that from all the positions on a film set, this would be the most interesting, challenging and rewarding one, since the look and feel of the film is truly in your hands. I found out how much I could learn about original cinematic ideas from working together with a range of talented directors,” he said.

Lotan was right to trust his instincts and pursue cinematography, and he is now at the forefront of his industry in his home country of Israel. Having worked on many acclaimed projects, from the films Thunder From the Sea and Last Round, to the hit music videos “Time to Wake Up” by Hadag Nahash and “Childhood and the Big City” by Ivri Lider, to the viral commercial for Viber, Lotan has shown audiences everywhere that he is a master at his craft on whatever the platform.

One of Lotan’s first taste of international success came back in 2013 with the film Remains, which tells the story of Itamar and Thomas, who share a bed, walls, an apartment and electricity bills. Thomas commands, manages, and criticizes; Itamar is silent and listens. In the face of the couple’s confinement and the abysmal feeling of suffocation, and in the face of the power struggle that permeates their daily conversations, Itamar is forced to take action – an action that briefly allows him to feel things through the body, through the concrete world. The story was influenced by Writer and Director Yotam Ben-David’s personal experiences.

“Power, domination and oppression are in the heart of the story, and I found it very interesting to understand how to translate these topics into a cinematic language. I think the film has elements, which everyone can relate to and be moved by, and since I personally know Yotam well, it was even more interesting for me to take part in his very personal and emotional film,” said Lotan.

When working on Remains, Lotan knew he had to come up with creative ideas and search for original ways to bring his and the director’s vision to life. The director wanted the intimate film to have an epic ambience, which is why they decided to have a lot of wide shots, as well as many camera movements. The camera work and the lighting, with the long wide shots, the dark and contrasted interiors, as well as the quiet urban night shots, enhance the main emotions of the film. Lotan used the architecture of the urban areas and the apartment’s spaces to tell the story and describe the character’s feelings, feelings that create a tension and sometimes might even be uncomfortable to watch.

“Both Yotam and I share similar aesthetic visions, and our previous collaborations led to a deep creative dialogue throughout our work together. He is very clever and original with his cinematic approach, which always encourages me to bring creative ideas to the table as well,” said Lotan.

Remains had an impressive festival run. It was screened and competed at various film festivals in Israel and around the world and won the Best Short Film Award at the Evolution Mallorca International Film Festival, as well as Best Short Narrative Film Prize at the Jerusalem Film Festival, none of which could have been achieved without Lotan behind the camera.

“After screenings of the film I received a lot of positive feedback about the visual impression left by my work. It is always exciting to be complimented for your work, especially when these kind words are coming from a variety of audiences from around the world,” said Lotan.

So, what’s next for Lotan? The upcoming documentary Homeboys is set to premiere next year. He travelled to Uganda to film the musical-documentary that follows Samuel and Isaac, South-Sudanese teenagers deported from Israel who dream about being musicians. Be sure to keep an eye out for it.

 

By John Michaels

Samuel Lam captures heartbreak and comedy through song in new film

There is no greater feeling in the world for Samuel Lam than to hear his music played by other musicians. As a film composer, this is something he gets to experience on a regular basis, and why he loves what he does so much. Every musician adds their own personality into his music and interprets it differently in their own ways, and he believes that is the true artistry to his role, and every day he gets to work with musicians from all over the world.

Throughout his esteemed career, Lam has shown why he is such a renowned composer and orchestrator in China. With celebrated projects like Crazy Alien, Who Lives My Life?, Delay of Game, and more under his belt, he has continuously shown the world what he is capable of, and he has many more plans to keep doing so. He is currently working on several exciting new projects, including Paramount’s Playing with Fire, starring John Cena, Judy Greer and Keegan-Michael Key.

Lam’s new film My Ex-Girlfriend is a Shovel will be having its official world premiere later this month at the Palm Springs International Shortfest on June 21st, 2019. It is also an Official Selection in numerous film festivals, such as the Montana Film Festival, Calgary International Film Festival, Reel Shorts Film Festival, Creative Artist Agency Moebius 3, and the Bogotá Short Film Festival so far, with many more expected to come later this year.

“I am really glad that this film can reach out to so many audiences. It is a truly unique story, and I hope the audience will not only have a good laugh, but also be moved by the story. That is the real reward,” said Lam.

My Ex-Girlfriend Is a Shovel tells the compelling story of a woman named Coral after her girlfriend of three years breaks up with her. Coral soon realizes that her ex wasn’t actually a person, but was in fact a shovel. Ultimately, Coral must confront her shovel ex- girlfriend to be able to move on.

After Lam read the script, he was immediately interested and touched by it. The heart of the story is very relatable, and the director had his own unique way to tell the story.

“It is a story about a woman who is in love with a shovel, but the more honest answer is this is a film about the way we remember our exes, and the way we objectify the people who we loved and who have hurt us. So even though it is a comedy, it has an emotionally relatable side as well,” said Lam.

My Ex-Girlfriend is a Shovel obviously tells a very unique story, using an extreme and comedic way to portray the hardship of getting over a devastating breakup. The choice of music greatly affected the emotion and meaning conveyed by different scenes.

Dezi Gallegos, the director, had a very clear voice in his mind. Together, Lam and Gallegos spotted the film, which had already been filled with temporary music. They discussed the concept behind the film, and Lam pushed for the music to have a serious tone, even for the comedic parts, and maintain an indie feel within the score. For example, during a comedic montage sequence in the project, which is showing the memories of the main character with her girlfriend “Shovel”, instead of scoring the scene with comedy music, Lam took this scene very seriously, and scored the montage with a beautiful piano solo. As a result, not only do audiences have a good laugh during the screening because of the contrast, but they also have a bittersweet feeling from the momentous scene.

“Nothing makes me happier than writing music for an interesting story. It is a very fun collaboration, and the director gave me a lot of freedom on the music. My favorite part is seeing the reaction of the audience during the screening,” said Lam.

My Ex-Girlfriend is a Shovel perfectly captures what Lam is capable of as a composer, and is a can’t miss.

 

By Annabelle Lee

Producer and Director Yuanhao Du dives into mother/son relationships in new film

Filmmaking, for Yuanhao Du, is magic; it is the ability to turn the impossible, possible. As an industry leading producer and director, Du is an extraordinary magician. His ability to take words on a page and turn them into a beautiful cinematic production is unparalleled, and as his name continues to become more and more recognized around the world, his passion for what he does only intensifies.

Throughout his esteemed career, this Chinese native has continuously impressed international audiences with his work. Award-winning films like Patrick, On the Other Side, Off to Care, and more encapsulate what a talent Du is, often working as both producer and director for a single project, taking on a vast amount of responsibility to ensure each and every film he works on is a roaring success.

Du’s acclaimed hit A Mother’s Love is just another example of what this filmmaker is capable of. The film is about a young man and his control freak mother after she discovers the son’s one-night stand died on his bed. Together, they have to find a way to fix this catastrophic problem. The story dives into deep-rooted themes like responsibility and, of course, a mother’s love.

“I guess some people have those types of moms who always try to help you do everything and make all decisions for you. We love that but we also don’t like it. We enjoy doing things without taking any responsibilities, but at the same time, we also hate to be controlled by other people. If you want to control your own life, you have to take responsibility for yourself. We can’t run away from that, no matter what,” said Du. “All parents love their children. They would do anything to protect their kids from anything. However, if parents do that too often, it will cause their kids to become either spoiled or weak. Both of these things are not good for them when they grow up. So, parents accept the truth that eventually kids will have to take responsibility for themselves. This film explores that notion.”

Once Du found the script, he took the time to find the perfect team. He had already done the extensive preparations necessary to turn the script into a film, planning the shot list, storyboard, and researching the themes in other films and literature. Once he had that completed, finding his crew was seamless, as he knew just what to ask of each and every individual.

“I enjoyed the tension that we created. We challenged ourselves and pushed ourselves to be better filmmakers. I love creating a story and being part of story development, but this time I just got a final draft script. It’s quite interesting because as director I need to respect the script and also put my ideas, my point of view into it as that helps make a good movie,” he said.

A Mother’s Love premiered last year, and has recently started making its way to several renowned film festivals. It was an Official Selection at both the Jersey City Popup Film Festival and The Brightside Film Festival 2019, a Finalist at the ONIROS Film Awards and a Semi-Finalist at the Utah Film Festival. Although Du led the team, he remains humble in the wake of the film’s continued success.

“The biggest success is that everyone in my team knows each other well and that is the cornerstone of the whole production. Those experiments when preparing and shooting this project became a valuable resource for me when making even bigger projects in the future. At the same time, this project tested my limitations. It’s a good example to measure my directing and producing abilities,” he said.

A Mother’s Love shows the commitment and talent Du brings to every project he takes on, two fundamental aspects of filmmaking. He directs and produces because he loves it, and he knows that is the key to his success.

“If you just want to be famous, don’t become a filmmaker. There are many things you’ll need to do, and you always need to be ready for the coming challenge. Directing is not just a job, but also a big part of your life. You need to learn how to get those inspirations from your daily life and be ready for suffering when you don’t have inspirations. Your inspirations will come from your life, just be patient and pay attention to the little things. Learn everything you can about film, and always be a student to learn from every filmmaker you work with. Don`t be afraid to ask questions. Filmmaking is teamwork. Nobody really works for you; they work with you. Be nice to everyone, but also be strong as a leader,” he advised.

 

By John Michaels

Actor Evan Marsh talks the importance of storytelling and loving what you do

For Canada’s Evan Marsh, acting is, at its heart, storytelling. Whenever he embodies a new character, he focuses on the story in the script and the untold story of his character’s life and their world. It isn’t just about believably saying the words on a page, it is becoming someone entirely new, living what they are living and going through entirely new life experiences. With that singular goal in mind, Marsh has quickly risen to the top of Canada’s entertainment industry, becoming a celebrated actor in his home country.

Throughout his career, Marsh has shown audiences all over the world just what he is capable of. Whether he is acting as the comedic relief/heartthrob in the Netflix Original Northern Rescue, or antagonizing the hero in DC’s newest hit Shazam!, Marsh’s versatility and talent is always on full display.

“As a man who gets bored of repetitive things quickly, I think the main thing I love about acting is the excitement of ‘what’s next?’ No single production is the same and each experience is so very different from the next. I also love meeting new people so walking onto a set with 10 new cast mates and 100 new crew members is a dream come true,” said Marsh.

Marsh is always looking for unique and often untold stories to put his touch on, and he found that with the 2017 comedic drama The Space Between. Amy Jo Johnson’s debut feature film is a heartfelt comedy about a proud new father who learns that his wife took his infertility into her own hands with a 19-year old university student and sets out on a journey to find the biological baby-daddy.

“I like this story because it brings both comedy and drama to the screen in a very unique and interesting way. It deals with the very real problem that people deal with that is infidelity but manages to discuss it in a way that still ultimately warms the heart. Amy Jo Johnson is incredible at writing in a way that is bigger than life, but never has a false note and I think that is why I myself and so many others really loved the story of The Space Between,” said Marsh.

On top of its compelling story, Marsh was attracted to the film because of the likeness he shared with his character, Danny Baker. When he first read the script, he was shocked at their similarities and knew there was no one better to play the role. Johnson agreed.

Danny is a very gentle and innocent kid. He is very smart, and when audiences first meet him in university, he explains that he is on his way to becoming a doctor. He cares about his family and puts them before everything. This is all a surprise to the audience because as the lead is trying to find him, they are naturally picturing someone completely different.

“It could be argued that this story wouldn’t even be possible without the character of Danny Baker. When I first read the script, I was surprised at how significant of a role the character played to the entirety of the story as the entire cast are trying to locate Danny. As this is going on the audience is creating its own idea of who my character might be along the journey,” Marsh described.

Because the storyline revolved around his character, Marsh felt a tremendous amount of weight on his shoulders. He loved that feeling and it allowed him to test his ability in a way he hadn’t yet had the chance to do at the time for a feature film. He sat down with the writer and really figured out what she wanted from the character and was sure to bring her ideas and thoughts into his scenes.

“I enjoyed so much about this project, but in particular I enjoyed working with Amy Jo Johnson the director/writer. I believe that because she has held such a long successful career in front of the camera that she developed a great ability to talk to her actors on set and discuss where a scene should be going or why something may or may not be working. She also has an infectious joy that she carries with her every day that made working on this project so fun and rewarding,” he said.

The Space Between was released in theatres on July 6th, 2017. On top of resonating with its audience, it went on to win awards and recognition at many film festivals around the world. Marsh was thrilled to be such a vital part of the film’s commercial and critical success, and still feels grateful to this day.

“It is great knowing a project that read so beautiful in the early stages was able to keep its heart throughout all the filming, editing and cutting. I think each cast member did such a wonderful job bringing their characters to life without losing any of the larger than life comedic aspects and I believe that played a significant part in the film’s success,” he concluded.

 

Written by Sean Desouza
Photo by John Bregar

Q&A with Leading Colombian Actress and ‘Therapy’ star Juliana Betancourth

Juliana Betancourth, industry-leading actress in Colombia, is known for her talent and versatility. She has starred in countless acclaimed productions, from Bite! to La Reina de Sur. Her most recent project, Therapy, allows worldwide audiences to once again appreciate her outstanding acting capabilities.

After the great reception that the short theater play Terapia had, winning several awards of the Short & Sweet: Hollywood 2017, an adaptation of the script was made. Betancourth in the lead role of Marina, is a self-sacrificing wife who during couples therapy is discovering disturbing secrets about her husband, which causes a turning point in the story to show us a darker side of this character. Each one has a secret to reveal that seems to indicate that there is no way to fix the marriage, but the perverse sexual hobbies and fetishes of both end up uniting them and committing the greatest monstrosities; impacting the life of the person who tried to help them: their therapist. Betancourth develops an exquisite multidimensional, sensual and violent character.

The film crew is composed of successful filmmakers in Los Angeles, such as director Jhonatan Tabares, director of photography Jaime Salazar, Producer Yaniv Waisman, among others. A group that has been developing different audiovisual pieces for the Latin American industry in Hollywood.

The premiere was at the Panamanian International Film Festival, where the film took home the top prize. It then did the same at the Panamanian International Film Festival 2018 and the ELCO Film Festival, with many more expected this year.

We had a chance to sit down with Betancourth to talk about the making of this critically-acclaimed film.

IFR: Why did you want to work on this project?

JB: I already had an emotional connection with the project, and with the character of Marina who had allowed me to access very deep places acting wise.

The premise of this artistic piece was wonderful. It had a completely unexpected turning point, which was exciting for me, and as an actress it allowed me to play practically two roles in one.

I also liked working with the team involved that was composed of producers, director, cinematographer, and actors whom I’ve always admired.

IFR: Why did you want to work on this project?

JB: Therapy started as a theater play, and was directed by Jhonatan Tabares. Due to the great success it had, the Super Hero Latina production company run by Tanya Mordacci wanted to turn it into a film.

Everyone involved in the project already knew my acting work. They had seen me in the lead role in the Virginia Casta movie, and many other projects that were seen in Mexico and the United States. Also, with Jhonatan, we had already worked on previous pilots for TV shows. He knew me personally. We had already worked together in the stage version of Therapy.  It is very important when accepting a project to not only like the script, but also the quality of people who are part of it.

IFR: What do you like about the story?

JB: The story of this project is one of the most interesting in which I have worked. It is fiction, but it is an experiment that brings us closer to the understanding of human psychology. To that infinite universe of our mind, of the decisions we make and our behavior towards society.

I love that the story is transgressive. That it is perpetuated in the mind of the audience. That they want to stop seeing it, but they cannot look away. I am fascinated by social experiments.

This is why the premise of this story is important, it is also not far from reality. Within our communities are these types of dangerous individuals that are the product of our shortcomings as a society; of our injustices and oppressions; but each viewer is free to draw their own conclusions.

IFR: What was it like working on this project?

JB: The process with the director Jhonatan Tabares was special. There were many hours of rehearsals, finding the characters, their motivations, their actions, and their arcs through the written words and physical work.

I studied the behaviors of the most dangerous serial killers in world history, especially couples like Charlene & Gerald Galician, Raymond Fernandez & Martha Beck, Bonnie & Clyde, among others. I wanted to know the reasons why they killed their victims, the way they did it, and the satisfaction they found in it.

One of the things that I liked most about this project was working alongside my colleagues Ramón Valdez and Fernanda Kelly, two great Mexican actors. Also, the producer Tanya Mordacci, producer Yaniv Waisman, and the always supportive Vange Tapia. Director of photography Jaime Salazar, still photo Elena Rojas, and all those who were part of this family made this an unforgettable experience.

IFR: What was your character like?

JB: Marina is a supposed self-sacrificing woman. A Latina who lives in the United States, and who depends economically and emotionally on her husband, but this is just an act and part of a macabre game she carries out with her partner. At the turning point, we will see the real Marina, a psychopath, who finds sexual pleasure in seeing her victims die.

It is a dark character, with complex psychology, special motivations and very different from conventional characters. Marina all the time is playing at being another woman different from who she is. She is a kind of actress, but her performances hide macabre intentions.

It was very interesting to work on this character because the unexpected turning point leaves the audience surprised based on how Marina was from the beginning.  She plays the role of a sheep beautifully, but in reality, she is a hungry wolf.

IFR: How did your character fit into the story?

JB: There are only three characters in the whole movie. Marina, although initially playing the role of victim in therapy with the couple’s psychologist, crying and accusing her husband of being abusive, ends up being the mastermind with a criminal plan.

Driven by her desires and impulses, she mentally dominates her partner to commit the homicides while she enjoys the process and destruction it causes. It is an incredibly complex character, one that generates uncomfortable feelings from the audience when they realize the true objective of the two main characters.

Without Marina, there is no Therapy.

IFR: What did you like about working on this project?

JB: Working on this project has been one of the best experiences of my life. Connecting with so many talented people, who have become my friends, and will be people I plan to work with again in my future projects. It was great to work and build this character, to keep experimenting until we found what worked best, and have direct and honest communication with the director.

Art projects fascinate me because it is not about business and how much money we can make, but more about character, story, and connections with the cast and crew to make a film or TV show that moves people and makes them think. That is always a beautifully motivating factor for me.

IFR: What else did you like about working on this project?

JB: We filmed in one location. The office of the psychologist. The final scene was exhausting and dramatic, that we could only film in two sequences. We both were spent when the director finally called cut.

In the play, there was no character of the psychologist. It was just a voice, and we broke the fourth wall when speaking to the voice, which made it feel like to the audience that we were speaking with them. In the film, Fernanda Kelly played the role of the psychologist, and she was marvelous in it. It was amazing to act opposite her, and it lifted our performances to another level.

IFR: How does it feel knowing the project has been such a success?

JB: I knew it would be a resounding success since I had first read the script, and saw the reaction when performing it as a theater piece. I fully trusted the director’s work, and my own. I had no doubt about the success it has had and will have for the next few years.

When you do a project, you do not think about prizes, you know if the project is good or not regardless of the recognition or criticism you receive, but I would be wrong if I said that it is not rewarding to receive the accolades.

Each time we have received these awards for Therapy I have celebrated them. I feel proud. It fuels my fire, and I long to do more great work with excellent projects.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee
Photo by Vinny Randazzo 

China’s Ranran Meng uses VFX to take audiences to dystopian future in ‘Fahrenheit 451’

When Ranran Meng was just a young, artistic child growing up in China, she became enthralled by the possibilities of the movies. She would sit in front of the screen in awe, blown away by the infinite possibilities that the medium offered, taking audiences to different places in time, and making the impossible, possible. The more films she watched, the more she began to wonder just how every element was made, and she found herself intrigued by the idea of creating something that wasn’t there during shooting and making it very real for viewers.

“The world has no limit, we can produce an image from the past or from the future, from down the road or other galaxies. Films present these worlds that are so real to us and show us something we would not experience in our day-to-day, or even our lifetime. I told myself as a child that I would one day be a part of creating these new worlds,” said Meng.

Meng now is living her childhood dream. As a compositor, Meng uses advanced visual effects techniques to create the impossible, which she has done for revolutionary projects like The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them VR Experience, making the world of Harry Potter accessible to fans through virtual reality. She has also vastly contributed to the success of many award-winning and critically acclaimed productions, from HBO’s hit show The Deuce to Showtime’s Golden Globe winning mini-series Escape at Dannemora.

Another career highlight for Meng was working on the award-winning film Fahrenheit 451. Starring Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon, the film is based off the dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury, a story that Meng was a big fan of before the film was even announced.In a terrifying care-free future, a young man, Guy Montag, whose job as a fireman is to burn all books, questions his actions after meeting a young woman, and begins to rebel against society.

“The story talks about a future American society where books are outlawed and ‘firemen’ burn any that are found, focusing on the historical role of book burning in suppressing dissenting ideas. I like this story because it satirizes the society that tries to control and restrain people’s minds. This society phenomena actually still exists in our world, and it is important to present this to the audience and make them think and do something,” said Meng.

Fahrenheit 451 premiered at the world-renowned Cannes Film Festival in 2018 and aired on HBO on May 19th, 2018. Not only did it captivate audiences, but it wildly impressed critics, and went on to receive several award nominations, including five Emmy nominations. Such success makes Meng very proud, who worked tirelessly to make the film the success it became.

Rather than using VFX to create the impossible, for Fahrenheit 451, Meng used various software to refine every shot, creating an immersive experience for the audience. For this work, the goal is for viewers to not even realize she touched up a scene at all, removing background images that would take away from a shot or inserting important elements into the background to maintain consistency. For example, for the full view of the city shots, there were a lot of lighting boards on the top of the buildings; Meng removed the boards and created new building tops. Also, they shot the film during Christmas time, but that is not when the actual story takes place. Therefore, Meng had to go through every shot and eliminate any Christmas decoration or element that would imply it was the holiday season. It takes a refined eye to catch every detail, but Meng was more than up for the task.

“I like stories that are based in the future and have a science-fiction theme. This is new to me, as it was my first time working in the genre. The images are different and fun to watch or work on. They have a lot of effects in it,” said Meng. “I like the creative work in this project, I needed to change the environment from Christmas period to just a regular time of year, so I used elements in the footage to erase or fill out the scene. It was interesting for me, kind of like creating a whole new environment.”

Meng’s work for Fahrenheit 451 allowed audiences to travel from modern day to the future, just what she envisioned doing when she was a little girl. Creating a clean and complete environment for the film was pivotal to its success, and Meng was more than happy to be a part of such a moving and inspiring cinematic work of art.

“I am very happy to see this film presented to the audiences. To show this satirical story to more people and introduce such a good novel to a larger audience, it’s great. Maybe it can make people think about how knowledge is important. I think this movie is a good influence on the world and shows people what a free world should be. I am proud that I could be a part of it,” she concluded.

 

Written by Sean Desouza

Canada’s Chandra Michaels and Myke Bakich talk upcoming film ‘Nail Bait’

One of the most beautiful and complex relationships in this world is that of a mother and her daughter. This theme has been explored throughout time through art and literature, and Canadian filmmaking power couple Chandra Michaels and Myke Bakich have now contributed to that extensive and distinguished list with their upcoming film Nail Bait, which takes a unique and compelling look at the bond between a mother and her daughter.

Nail Bait, written by Michaels and Bakich, tells the story of Emma and her mother Carol, who head to a nail appointment only to discover the salon is a front for a rub & tug massage parlor. It doesn’t take long for Emma to discover that Carol has ulterior motives for their day. Emma is baited and dragged into infiltrating the underbelly of the salon with her mother to prove her father is a paying client there. After stumbling on some “hard evidence” but no sign of Dad, the women confront their issues and discover other illegal and dangerous enterprises. Before they can sneak out, they are caught, cornered and threatened, discovering they would do anything to protect one another, surprising both themselves and each other.

“We wanted to portray an honest mother-daughter relationship, that despite its challenges, when put to the test reveals how unbreakable that bond can be. We like that we’re breaking new territory exploring a location with weight and stakes we haven’t ever seen before in a mother-daughter buddy story. The story straddles a few genres; drama, comedy, action which was tricky to execute but rewarding to do,” said Michaels.

Michaels acts as writer, producer, and leading actress in the film, playing the role of Emma. When writing Nail Bait, she was inspired by visits to the spa with her own mother, questioning its integrity and wondering what could be going on behind closed doors. She and Bakich were interested in creating a film that delves into the often-ignored occurrences at such spas, while diving into the dynamics of the mother-daughter relationship and internal and external facades.

“Chandra is an incredible filmmaking partner. It’s amazing that she was able to balance the demands of playing Emma with producing the film. She was very aware of the needs of our cast and crew, managing schedules and taking care of our production while balancing her demands as a lead performer. Chandra’s got a great instinct for performance and was very involved in the editing process and finding the authenticity. She’s a great talent, shined bright throughout the entire production and was crucial in bringing this film to fruition,” said Bakich.

Bakich’s approach to the story while directing was to embrace the uncomfortable. He wanted to tell a different type of mother daughter story, one that takes place in an unexpected location and situation and see where that would go. He wanted to play into the discomfort of the bizarre juxtaposition of a rub & tug parlor. This would also allow for a project with two dynamic leading female roles, something important for both Bakich and Michaels.

Finding the ideal location was one of the biggest challenges that Bakich and Michaels faced while making Nail Bait. They required a hallway long and wide enough with many different doors to actual rooms. Bakich wanted to create distinct difference between the upstairs reception and the underbelly of the salon. The upstairs being drab, mundane, slice of life, and the massage parlour below being colorful, intense, and almost surreal.

They found a warehouse space, that was previously a grow-op, with the required hallway. However, it was only half as long as they needed. They decided to embark on an ambitious set build for the downstairs hallway and adjacent doors in the film. With a talented art department team that was diligent, the build was achieved within days. Though, even with the build, the doors and rooms still needed to be reused and connected in ways that they weren’t naturally available. The night before, Bakich plotted it all out and did his best to convey the logistics to the team. They successfully turned one hallway into two, connecting many different rooms and doorways that were in different directions and ends of the location, with changing lighting and color schemes as well. Such execution is a real testament to Myke’s strength as a visual problem solver and storyteller.

image2“Part of what attracted me to shooting Nail Baitwas creating the two worlds that the characters inhabit. I liked Myke and Chandra’s energy and commitment as well. It’s always a challenge to elevate visuals on lower budget projects, but thanks to the generosity of Panavision Canada and John Lindsay I was able to utilize some great camera tools. Shout out to the amazing crew as well who worked hard to make it all happen,” said Gregory Bennett, Director of Photography.

Bakich’s favorite scene in the film came when shooting a tracking shot down a flight of two dozen stairs. It was no easy task, but the director was up for the challenge. Filming into the early hours of the morning, he and Bennett did five takes with a heavy steadi-cam rig and totally nailed the shot. Only once it was perfected did they discover that a key prop was missing, and they had no choice but to reshoot.Bennett leapt up the stairs, willing and ready to do it again and they all followed his charge. They shot another five takes, and the end result is mesmerizing.

“Toni Ellwand who played the mother Carol, grounded her in reality, while bringing a comedic spontaneity to the role. She balanced both the serious and ridiculous nature of the situation in spectacular fashion,” said Bakich, who co-wrote and directed the film.

Ellwand is a Toronto based actress who is known for a series of popular projects, including Blindness, Murdoch Mysteries and the Emmy-award winning The Handmaid’s Tale. She had previously worked with Michaels years prior on a commercial for Ontario’s health care cards, so they were happy to reunite as mother and daughter on this exciting new project.

“Myke and Chandra are a dream team, I would work with them in a heartbeat. They both love what they do so much and are generous and enthusiastic. Chandra is an absolute dream to work with as both an actor and as a producer. Working is her happy place and it shows in everything she does when we’re on set. Myke is quietly determined. He’s gentle but he knows what he needs, and he patiently works until he gets it,” said Ellwand.

Nail Bait premieres at the Toronto Shorts International Film Festival on Saturday March 2nd, 2019. From there, the film is expected to make its way to several more festivals, seen on international screens. They are also exploring the possibility of expanding it into a series, as this film is part of a bigger mother and daughter story.

“It’s an honor to premiere at the Toronto Shorts International Film Festival where our local cast, crew, colleagues, friends and family can share in the experience,” said Michaels.

Toronto Shorts has a special place in Michaels’ and Bakich’s hearts, as their first film, Busy Bee, had its world premiere at the festival back in 2015 and ended up winning the Best of Canada award. Here’s hoping for similar success on their latest venture.

“We love making films and we love doing so together. Creating our own projects is empowering and liberating. We really learned so much making this film and look forward to applying that knowledge to future projects. Filmmaking is really a team sport and we had an amazing team on this project,” they concluded.

Torontonians should check out Nail Bait this Saturday at 7 p.m. at Carlton Cinema. In the meantime, watch the trailer here.

Producer Ricky Cruz brings out the laughs with quirky characters in award-winning new film

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Photo by Arthur Marroquin

Ricky Cruz found his way into producing in an unconventional way. Rather than spending his early years dreaming of working behind the camera, he did the exact opposite. It was his love of acting that led him into the film industry, starring in the popular 2010 South African film Spud alongside John Cleese and Troye Sivan. It was one of the more celebrated local films and an incredible experience to be a part of. Cruz loved every second of it; he believed acting was where he could best help people, by becoming a character the audience could project themselves onto.

After Spud, Cruz found himself working in local commercial campaigns, practical joke television series and National Geographic documentary specials. It was the rewarding experience of seeing something he was a part of come together as a final product that ultimately hooked him and helped him decide that he wanted to pursue a career in entertainment and filmmaking, however, the more exposure he had to film sets, the more he realized his true passion: producing. Since that time, he has become an in-demand producer in both his home country and abroad, with a passion for what he does that translates directly into every project he takes on.

Known for films such as the documentary Improv a Saving Grace and the romance Mixed Orders, Cruz is an extremely versatile producer. Branching into the comedy genre, Cruz has another hit on his hands with the flick The Neighbor. The film tells the story of an offbeat and strange character who tries to befriend a new neighbor before finding a friend just like him. It explores friendship and the importance of being you.

The Neighbor is very much my signature tone of a quirky character in an honest situation comedy, but the deeper level of the character actually being considered an outlier by other inhabitants of the immediate world, gave the film a subtle nuance of real loneliness and rejection, which are two very powerful and very well understood emotions. The Neighbor is a comedy sketch yearning to have its message received via unconventional comedy,” said Cruz.

Currently on the festival circuit, The Neighbor has already won an Award of Merit at The indieFEST 2018, an Honorable Mention at The London International Comedy Film Festival and took part in The Battle of the Sketches 2018. It was an Official Selection at Battle of the Sketches, Portland Comedy Film Festival and Rock and Roll Film Festival Kenya. With the onscreen comedy chops of Willem van der Vegt (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and writer Zain Ashar, the comedy short has proven its appeal. It was also one of two projects produced by Cruz that was accepted and won an Award of Merit at the indieFEST 2018.

“The fact that The Neighbor has been such a success makes me consider all the other original and creative characters that have originated from things like off-screen improv comedy or jokes between friends. I think the origin of these sorts of characters has a lot to do with their ability to resonate so profoundly with people. They are an exaggerated but honest piece of someone’s personality and because of the respective truth involved in their creation, people tend to relate very strongly to the character. There are so many other interesting character creations that similarly explore different parts of our personality and with The Neighbor’s success, it makes me seriously consider the prospect of utilizing these empathetic and exaggerated characters in their own respective short films or one that explores many of the mentioned characters in an ensemble driven piece,” said Cruz.

Cruz was ready to produce such a unique comedy. As he started in acting, he has vast experience with improv, making him the ideal producer for this film, knowing just how to embrace elements of improv for a familiar character. He knew what parts of the character needed to be showcased best to get audiences to relate and support such an absurd creation as well as where the character would need to be further developed.

“The project really is a showcase to display the type of message I want to spread with the type of characters and humor I want to use. It’s an example of a stage sketch and improv character that translates really well onto screen and acts as evidence that material discovered or created off screen should be mined and explored and adapted if possible because, such comedically conflicted characters are excellent vessels to relay important information and messages in a way that people can easily understand and enjoy. This film offers the ability to escape and comfort simultaneously and those have always been my favorite kinds of films because it is effortless therapy and can help like-minded audience members through turbulent times without them even realizing it,” he concluded.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee