Tag Archives: international Talent

PRODUCING LOVE’S 2ND CHANCES: MING QIU

(By Winston Scott)

Leo Johnson - on set

Like many of us, Ming Qiu is fascinated by the complexity of relationships. Her secret superpower which separates her from most mortals is that, as a film producer, she has the power to give life to the stories of relationships which she finds interesting. Making a film is part discovery, part catharsis, and a whole lot of work. The diversity of the films she produces mirrors the vast array of relationships and their emotional toll that each of us can experience in our lives. This is what filmmakers do, they present stories that makes us laugh, inspire us, and hopefully help us to understand each other and ourselves. One day Qiu is making certain that furniture is burning properly (wait for it, you’ll find out) and the next she is reverse engineering the weather…it’s all a part of movie making and the wild ride that draws creative personalities such as Ming into an industry that gives something to the world.

Evan Bluestein gave Ming the script for his film “Leo Johnson” and she immediately knew that it was too good to not be a part of. The genre was comedy and romance but it was the deeper meaning that cinched the deal for this producer. At its core, “Leo Johnson” is about fear in a relationship and what we are willing to face. It’s an idea that Qiu would like more people to believe in, the notion that we would not only reject the fear which makes relationships so hard but that we would also face our personal fears down for those we love and cherish. Her way to promote this sensibility was to produce this film which espouses such notions.

Leo Johnson - location scout 1

Director Evan Bluestein wanted Qiu to produce because, in addition to witnessing her consummate professionalism on previous projects, her dark humor and fearlessness reminded him of the female lead in the film. He notes, “It’s always tricky to find the balance between humor and heart, and I was fortunate to work with Ming because she is such a collaborative, creative, and a passionate producer. From the beginning of our development process, Ming was an advocate for the love story and for making it the central dynamic from which the plot would grow. What I truly appreciated about working with Ming is her passion for the possibilities of the medium. She has a unique point of view that I’m sure I cannot sum up, but I know it has to do with dry humor and love and seeing the best in people. And that is something that makes its way into all of her films and is the mark of an artist.”

Leo Johnson - location scout 2

Qiu’s determination was challenged at several stages by factors which sought to impede or stop the film’s creation. The usual expected schedule conflicts, rental break downs, and even the Director of Photography leaving near the completion of film could not hamper the film and its producers resolve, in fact…it may have reaffirmed this determination. As sometimes occurs, the characters in the film itself were a metaphor for the cast and crew in so far as love kept them from giving up on their shared goal. In “Leo Johnson” the male lead (Ben) is extremely afraid of fire but he distracts his friend by setting her couch on fire so that his girlfriend Donna can escape during their ring-stealing crime scene; extreme limits for love, just as Ming wished. Being able to keep a cool and positive head during challenging times is made easier by a sense of humor. Qiu boldly states, “I can’t imagine a producer who isn’t able to be funny during these challenging moments. It’s a quality that keeps you and your team healthy during all the production headaches. In fact, all great producers I know are funny people. Film producers who are not funny probably have all pivoted to other careers.”

 

Rosita Lama Muvdi (Director of “Till I See You Again”) echoes that statement proclaiming, “Ming’s amazing sense of humor, coupled with her dedicated abilities as a talented producer, made working with her on ‘Till I See You Again’ an unforgettable experience. Her intoxicating personality made anyone on the production team excited to be around her, which, in turn, made the set a fun and productive environment to be in. With all the demands during production, Ming was always there to make sure production ran smoothly, ensuring both the cinematographer’s and my vision were able to come to life.”

“Till I See You Again” is a benevolent tale about time travel. While most time travel tales are about riches or crime (and end up with karma serving justice), this tale focuses on a father who simply wants to take care of his daughter. An older man (James) calls his daughter but is ignored. He is given a chance to travel back and have a younger version of himself shower his daughter with gifts and love. Through the experience we see that father and daughter in present day have a warm and full relationship.

Till I See You Again - film festival

What was so unusual and challenging for the filmmakers of “Till I See You Again” was that there was essentially no dialogue in this story. Qiu admits that she is fond of dialogue in her productions and this was new territory for her. What was also unique was the writer’s determination to film one particular scene that communicated the time travel effectively to the audience. Ming describes the scene and how it was created, “Rather than use VFX, We shot the scene with everything moving in reverse direction with the rain from a rain tower. Our actor had to rehearse quite a few times to make sure his walking backwards looked 100% like walking forward when the footage was rewound. The visuals turned out amazing. Looking back at our night in/next to cold rain, all of us felt that having certain constraints actually pushed our creativity to a new level.”

There are many attributes which make Ming such a fine producer: an understanding of the workings of each department of the production team, extraordinary communication and organizational skills, insight into story development, and others…but it’s her curiosity which she feels makes her most important. The desire to find a creative solution to a shared goal is one she shares with the characters in these films. For another film she currently produced titled “My Zombie Club” the Art Department was having difficulty discovering a means to attach vines growing around the main characters derriere (a curse given him by a zombie lord). A diligent producer, Qiu researched until she found the perfect wardrobe piece that would serve both the art department, VFX department, and still allow the actor to retain some modesty. While it’s an unusual and humorous example, this is the challenge of any relationship…finding a solution that we can all live with. Ming Qiu is an living/professional model of the ideas illustrated in her films.

 

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Production Designer Laura Santoyo talks new film ‘Falling’

Learning about various aspects of humanity is a passion of Colombia’s Laura Santoyo Dangond. Originally from Colombia, she has also lived in Peru and Canada, and loves to travel to experience different cultures and learn new languages, fluent in Spanish, English, French, German, and Portuguese. This desire to learn about the world and its people is part of what led her into filmmaking. With every new project she embarks on, she gets to tell a different story and learn something new about history, society, the human mind, and more. Beyond the stories, she works with people from all over the world that have different backgrounds and ways of seeing life, and together they share and experience their differences through their art. As a production designer, Santoyo takes everything she has seen and practiced and channels that into creating visually stunning and captivating sets and props that fully transport audiences into what they are watching.

“I make an effort to stay true to the story and what the characters are. I do a lot of research on the characters and the environment where they live. I also try to have many exchanges with the director where we discuss characters and share research and inspiration images, etc. to understand their vision and the direction they are taking the story to. I like to play with colors and used them to imply aspects of the story that are not explicitly spoken by the characters,” she said.

Santoyo is known for her work on award-winning films such as Lockdown and Tim of the Jungle, both of which made their way to several of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. Last year, her film The Plague premiered, reminding audiences of what she is capable of, as Santoyo created a dystopian world. Her most recent film premiered just last month at the Slamdance Festival, and once again Santoyo shows she is unrivaled as a production designer.

Falling set_2
Bill Bowles, Laura Santoyo Dangond and Ewen Wright on the set of Falling, photo by Sam Shaib

“As soon as I finished reading the script I felt like I had to be part of the project. It is one of the most original scripts I have read, very intelligent and I thought that it was a story that had to be told and that I wanted to tell it,” she said. “The script of this film describes a number of absurd situations and uses humor to address subjects that are affecting our society. It was very important that the design of the movie supported the comedic tone without ridiculing the situations.”

The film tells the story of a potentially psychosomatic white man, a woman stuck in a vortex of mansplaining, and a young black man confronted by the racial disconnect of society, each trying to make sense of their lives as their worlds are set on an inevitable collision course in this surrealist comedy.

It was important for Santoyo and the rest of the team to differentiate the three storylines that run parallel to each other and to show the absurdity of the situations without being too over the top. Therefore, they assigned one color to each character.

The first story, about a man who can’t walk, represents the feeling of impotence that someone watching the news at night can feel when they see injustices with no way to help. This character takes the “sickness” he feels to the extreme. Therefore, they decided to use the color blue with him, which is very clinical.

The second story, about a woman who’s caught in male-dominated conversations turmoil, was assigned the color red. She is often angry and frustrated, and all the men that she’s with see her and other women as objects. Santoyo felt red reflected these feelings.

The third story is about a black man, who in the most absurd situation, ends up being shot by the police. The filmmakers gave him the color green, because he’s young and innocent at the beginning and at the end it is his case that makes the man in the first story sick.

“As a society, we are still fighting against racism, social injustice and women’s equality and this film raises awareness on these subjects in a comedic tone. I believe that it is very important to have films like this one because we can start generating discussions that could eventually lead to change,” said Santoyo.

Working on Falling has been one of the most fun experiences Santoyo has had throughout her career. From the first time she read the script, she knew it was going to be challenging because there were many locations with three different stories that at the end become one. Each story had elements of magical realism that could also be difficult to achieve in production design. Santoyo wanted to enhance the experiences of the character through the set, but not overdo it to a point that the messages behind each scene were lost. She managed to find the perfect balance, always keeping in mind the color palette they had decided for each character early on in production.

“I think many things make Laura an excellent designer, collaborator, and professional. The first thing that comes to mind is passion. She’s clearly passionate about what she does – she made it clear that she seeks out work that she connects with on a personal and aesthetic level. Once she’s onboard, she’s obviously all-in. That shows at every phase of a project when you see her initial ideas, the hours she’s putting in, the attitude she brings to every meeting and production day, and the diligence with which she executes. Beyond that, she’s a professional with outstanding training, instincts, and experience. She knows how to present her ideas clearly – both verbally and visually, she has leadership skills, she remains calm under pressure, she knows how to prioritize, stay organized, and keep others motivated to work at a high standard,” said Ewen Wright, Director.

Wright was looking through portfolios and films for a costume designer when Santoyo’s work caught his eye. He asked the costume designer who the production designer was that possessed such talent. He immediately reached out to Santoyo, who was extremely responsive and receptive to the idea of the film. They immediately began a strong partnership and shared ideas about the film.

Falling Set
Ewen Wright, Laura Santoyo Dangond and Yonit Olsen, photo by Sam Shaib

“Laura has a creative voice, and in a key role on a collaboration that can’t be undervalued. She brings her lifelong sense of design, studied theory, and just pure instinct to her work in a way that gives her work a through-line. I really enjoyed developing a shorthand with her. Lastly, she has a phenomenal attitude and work ethic. She went above and beyond for our production – and even when things went wrong, or the hours ran long, Laura was a reliable source of positivity and joy. As a leader on the team, she set a tone for those around her that I know contributed to all of us doing better. When I was stressed or needed a moment, I always knew I could rely on Laura for a laugh – just as the rest of the time I relied on her for her eye on the image,” Wright continued.

Working with such a committed team was one of Santoyo’s favorite parts about filming Falling. She found everyone came together to tell such an intricate story, and she was constantly inspired by those she worked alongside. However, it was the message behind the film that truly made the experience for the production designer.

“I am so proud to have been a part of this film. I think it’s a story that captures the feeling that something is wrong in the world and the willingness to change it, but not knowing how to go about doing so. I think many people feel that now. I’m thrilled to know that it’s being watched by many people and it can maybe inspire some change in our society,” she said.

Now that Falling has begun its film festival run, Santoyo is looking forward to her next project. Undoubtedly, she has a very bright future ahead of her, and audiences can continue to look for her name rolling past their eyes in movie credits for years to come.

“I want to keep exploring and finding new stories to tell and more talented people to work with. I am looking forward to creating more worlds where magic is possible. I want my work to reach even larger audiences and present stories to the public that entertain them and that touches them. I have a couple of projects in line for this year that hopefully will help me accomplish this,” she concluded.

 

Top photo by Jesper Duelund

Ask an Expert: Executive Producer Ed Egan provides insight and advice

I’m Executive Producer Ed Egan, and for over 15 years I have worked in the television industry, becoming recognized as one of the leading game show producers in the world. As Executive Producer, I am responsible for leading teams who produce great television shows, but I am also tasked with developing new ideas to create formats which have the potential to sell all around the world. I have worked on many leading gameshow formats around the world, in the US, UK and Australia, for networks such as NBC, ABC, BBC, ITV, Network Ten among others.

Gameshow formats are notoriously difficult to crack and small, seemingly insignificant tweaks can have profound repercussions if they are not discovered through intensive gameplay testing. The last thing you want is to discover a flaw whilst filming a show, as there can be millions of dollars at stake. This is why an experienced Executive Producer, who can put together a strong team, is vital in the production of any new format. I have become well known for working on pilots and first seasons for my ability to tweak gameplay and iron out any potential problems that could arise.

I believe the most important role of an Executive Producer is to lead a team in a way that ensures every member provides their best possible work on a production and feels valued in what they are making.

Here are my quick tips to leading a production team to produce the best shows possible:

Choose the right team

It all comes from having a great team. Not only does it make your life as an Exec easier, it also makes the best product. Meet lots of people and spend time interviewing them. Some people give great interviews, and some don’t, but it’s important to make a distinction between those that can talk well and those that can actually do the job! Make sure to always check as many references as possible. Personality is also important though, as the people you are employing are going to be a team and will need to work well together. Finding a good, balanced mix with strong abilities is the key.

Stay in contact with people you’ve worked with.

It’s important to know what the availability is of people you like that you’ve worked with previously so that you can plan for when productions begin. Sometimes it can take weeks to get a full team on board and the more aware you are of who is and isn’t available at all times, the better prepared you will be.

Note down ideas

Keep notes in your phone when you see something you like or that inspires you. A film, another television show or even the design of a restaurant you happen to be in – if there’s something visual you like it may be useful in a show at some point. Commercials are often very useful starting points when trying to explain your vision of a project to people for the first time. Also, keep notes on possible talent that you see, whether this be TV, film or theatre, as you might want to use them in the future.

Enjoy it

We’re very fortunate to work in a creative industry that often affords us the chance to go to exciting places, meet interesting people and we get to be creative. Enjoy it, encourage it in others and aim to inspire those who you are working with. They will be running teams in the not so distant future, so try to set a good example.

Believe in yourself

Like so many other Execs, we question ourselves and our abilities all the time and that’s not a bad thing. But, you are at the level you’re at for a reason, so make those decisions and stick to them. It’s important to remember that at times, especially when the going gets tough.

And finally…

Work hard and be nice to people!

STUNTWOMAN EBONY DE LA HAYE HAS AN EXCITING CAREER BUILT ON WATER

Film and TV 2

The saying goes, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life.” Those who have found a way to monetize their passion and interests are considered lucky. You could say that Ebony De La Haye is one of the lucky few but that would be a complete misnomer as luck has no part in her story. While still in the early stages of grade school, Ebony began training in her lifelong love of water skiing. Countless competitions and awards later, she took a foray into performing as a stuntwoman and morphed into a new career that became very successful. There’s no denying her ability to turn her love of what she does on the water into an internationally praised body of work, just as there is no denying her incredible abilities. For anyone who feels that you establish yourself and then sit back, De La Haye serves as an example that you are best served doing the antithesis of this. She has systematically built her beginnings as a child prodigy in waterskiing into that of an acrobatic/fight trained entertainer…sometimes doing so while delivering lines in an array of different languages. Whether it’s a calculated plan or simply her ability to continually embellish her skill set, Ebony is literally and figuratively constantly in motion.

When Ken Clark of Action Horizons contacted De La Haye about the position as stunt double for actress Kiersey Clemons in the film Sweetheart, she was already interested in more film work. The fact that filming was taking place in Fiji certainly didn’t dissuade her compulsion to accept the position. Ebony served double duty, arriving two weeks prior to filming to train Clemons for the scenes which would not allow for a stunt double. In addition to being a physical match for the stunt scenes, serving as a mentor/trainer to the actress strengthened the trust bond between the two…resulting in an ease of performance in the more physical scenes of the film. Director J.D. Dillard had worked to take full advantage of De La Haye’s abilities by creating highly dynamic fight scenes that incorporated weaponry and aerial wire work. Because the filming took place on an island, the rigging set ups had to be assembled on site in an environment atypical for normal productions. The film also contains a great deal of underwater work like scuba diving. Countless opportunities for danger required immense planning and preparation to ensure the safety of the cast and crew. These environments were familiar to Ebony, as was the climate (De La Haye spent time starring as the female lead Helen in Universal Studios Singapore’s live Waterworld production). She relates, “The climate in Fiji was very similar to Singapore. The sun took a toll on everyone but we took advantage of filming on an island and took lunch dips in the ocean. It was important to stay incredibly hydrated and take electrolytes in order to do the job with energy and focus. The ocean caused some difficulties as the water conditions were unpredictable. The cast and crew would travel to and from the island we filmed on by boat every day, sometimes in very rough water conditions. This was a daring task. We also encountered some difficulties with the unpredictability of the ocean when filming underwater scenes. Natural elements such as rain or tidal movement would affect water clarity and therefore the overall quality of the shot able to be produced on that day. We very much had to work in sync with mother nature.

This same skill set and exemplary performance led Action horizons to enlist De La Haye to become a part of their stunt team for the Horror/Thriller Prey. The second (and most demanding) part of filming took place in Johor Bahru, Malaysia where an enclosed submergible set was built. For twenty days of filming, Ebony’s role as stunt double required her to be submerged in confined spaces utilizing controlled breath holding and scuba safety. While not as outwardly/visibly demanding, the risk levels were perhaps much greater. The experience of working in Malaysia presented some challenges. Due to shooting on remote islands off Langkawi, the entire production had to be loaded onto small local taxi boats before each shoot day, including all equipment. This meant preempting any stunt or safety equipment needed and preparing contingency plans for all the possible scene variations and running sequences of the day. Travel boats were small and space was limited. Some of the islands are only accessible during high tide, requiring the use of tide charts to map the tide conditions and ensure the production would be able to get on and off the islands safely. All of this served to increase the potential risk for Ebony and increased the need for someone of her skill and experience. She adds, “Prior to working on Prey I had done stunt work on two television productions, “Serangoon Road” and “Indian Summers”. Prey was the first feature film I had worked on. I was excited to be doubling the lead actress and to be on set for the full duration of the shoot. To begin with, I was nervous as it was something I had wanted to do for a while. I felt pressure to do a good job for both the production and myself. We had two weeks of prep time for stunt training with the actors. We created the fight choreography for the action scenes and worked in a pool to establish swimming skills and the underwater action scenes. By the time it came to shoot I was no longer nervous and just really excited to make a movie.”

Stunt coordinators and stunt performers are a highly proficient group requiring immense trust and respect between them. Ken Clark of Action Horizons declares, “Both these films required not only talent but also intelligence and quick thinking. While our goal is to get an amazing and thrilling take, our number one priority is safety. A lot of the time this means performing while being hyper aware of your surrounding and anticipating the potential for danger. On both the features Sweetheart and Prey Ebony was the stunt double for the lead actress, which required her to be on set for the duration of the shoot. Whilst filming Sweetheart Ebony was required to execute numerous stunts involving aerial wire work, performing fight scenes, and the use of her scuba skills to achieve deep under water scenes with a specialized scuba film crew. The filming of Prey also required these scuba skills, working in submerged sets and deep water film tanks, as well as utilizing Ebony’s stunt fighting skills in the choreography and performance of multiple fight scenes. As the stunt coordinator of Prey and Sweetheart, Ebony impressed on both of these projects. A stunt performer is the ultimate team player. They take all the risk to make the star look great. Ebony De La Haye makes her stars look incredible!”

 

SILENT NIGHT IS A FRIGHTENING SOUND

On Lounge Close 2

Composer Jayden Lawrence has always embraced the path less traveled. While it hasn’t always been the case that this leads to success in the film industry, advances in digital media distribution, streaming services, and overall music recording technology have led to a diversity in the industry which has created numerous opportunities for him. Both traditional film and more contemporary mediums have benefited from Jayden’s talent. Feature films, documentaries, shorts, and many other types of productions have included the musical contributions and enhancements of this composer. He’s known for an eclectic palette that encompasses everything from symphony orchestras to Hip-Hop to just about anything you can think of. A major reason for his success and popularity among filmmakers is because he is a listener. His approach is best stated in one of his favorite quotes from jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. The be-bop icon stated, “It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.” More specifically put in regards to Lawrence’s compositions, he often sounds different because he isn’t trying to announce his prowess as a composer but rather focuses on only what will complement the action on screen, whether it be marching parade drums, a string section, or a modern grooving dance beat. Lawrence’s score to the film Silent Night is shining proof of this.

The film Silent Night takes place in Australia. The year is 2036 and the government has imposed a system purging anybody considered undesirable or a burden to the society. In the opening scene, a woman gives birth under the supervision of a nurse. The infant’s DNA is tested for any signs of illness or “detrimental” conditions and when a positive result is received, the child is taken away amid the mother’s wailing. This sets the dark tone for the film. Much of the story follows the perspective of Carly, a different Nurse at a purgation clinic. Her duties are to process and see out the purgation of individuals who are admitted to the clinic, having been deemed a burden or risk to the advancement of the race and population. A series of different “victims” are seen being euthanized in a chemical bath. These range from elderly homeless people to young children with infirmities. Videos play on a screen to distract these victims until it is too late. All the while, Carly struggles with her role in this culling of society. There’s a none too subtle statement about society’s indifference and paranoia as it relates to those who fall outside the fortunate “mean.” The tale is disturbing and applicable to virtually all cultures and geographic locations. Lawrence’s score is the nail which allows this picture to hang on the wall for all to see. His emphatic musical “hits” force the audience to turn in the direction that the filmmakers who created Silent Night wish the audience to observe.

One of Jayden’s most important contributions on any film is his focus on individual characters and the ability to make their emotions and motivations have an audible presence on film. While it’s a major part of what he does, he concedes that it’s not always a conscious decision on his part. He often watches the film and is intuitively inspired by it to manifest an emotional counterpoint in the music. This is where his familiarity and being well-versed in different styles and instrumentations pays off, giving him a greater pool of musical options to pull from. In Silent Night, the score is primarily composed of a string ensemble which is used to represent the story world and most importantly, Carly. As an ensemble, a string section is one of the most versatile instruments available in terms of range of pitch, dynamics, mood-setting, and articulations allowing for textural techniques like tremolo, trills, flautando, harmonics, and more. The composer describes, “Carly is portrayed to be quite a warm & caring personality but juxtaposed with the harsh grittiness of using razor blades to inflict pain and cut herself. I wanted to add an element of fragility to Carly, and highlight the pain she is going through so I incorporated a bit of ‘edginess’ into the tonality of the strings and used techniques such as tremolo to represent the fragility and inner turmoil she was experiencing. The strings are also used to bring a softness and warmth to Carly’s character, most notably towards the end as she is deeply touched by what is happening with the young boy.”

Sitting in front of studio (best)

Creating a film, any film, is no small feat. The finances, schedules, and most importantly the desire to do great work can often mean working under a considerable amount of stress while being expected to deliver emotional performances. Even for a composer, often in the studio alone, the demands are great. For Jayden, it’s not a matter of if the pressure will come (that’s a foregone certainty) but how you handle it when it does come. Keeping a cool head about things is absolutely essential for a career in film scoring. Tight deadlines and team dynamics are not always pleasant. This digital age has brought with it enormous flexibility when it comes to media creation but it has also thrown the concept of a “final cut” out the window. Spontaneous last minute changes by someone in the production line necessitate momentary flexibility. When it comes to scoring a film this can mean considerable alterations. In the end, a composer’s job is to serve the film, whatever the demands. This often means creating at the highest level while ensuring the environment is copasetic. Silent Night producer Danielle Reston professes Lawrence’s exceptional abilities on all these points stating, “Working with Jayden on Silent Night was the best experience a producer could hope for. From the first spotting session he was already throwing out ideas and it was clear that he understood the director’s vision. Jayden and I had worked together previously on a film called Oedipus which met some complications during the post-production stages that resulted in a complete re-edit of the film; a composer’s worst nightmare! Jayden simply embraced the change and took it in his stride, delivering a fantastic and memorable score. Unsurprisingly, the score to Silent Night was no different. It created the right amount of tension, despair, and impact that made the film tug that much harder on the heart strings. Jayden’s music has a craftsmanship about it that is not always present in film scores. It was this craftsmanship that ultimately helped propel Silent Night into the success that it has achieved.”

JL CloseUpWorkAtMixingDesk

Producer Annick Jaëgy sheds light on anorexia in award-winning film “Mackenzie”

A child’s imagination is what makes them so special. The ability to envision all new worlds while in sitting alone in a bedroom is something that tends to dissipate as we age. However, artists still possess such imagination for their entire lives, and filmmakers not only have the capability to imagine new worlds, they create them. Annick Jaëgy knows this well. As a producer, her creativity knows no bounds, and it is because of this that she has quickly become one of Europe’s most sought-after in her field.

Throughout her career, Jaëgy has worked on a variety of high-achieving projects, showing the world what she is capable of. She has worked alongside Oscar winners such as Mahershala Ali in the critically-acclaimed film Gubagude Ko, and her work on the musical That Frank garnered international attention.

Another highlight of the producer’s career came from making the film Mackenzie. The film tells the story of a teenage girl who is dealing with the emotional distress of moving to college and leaving behind her severely anorexic sister. On the day of her departure for college, teenage Alison wants it to be about her for a change and not her sister Mackenzie, who she thinks is extremely self-centered. But, as the day progresses, Alison’s true feelings about her sister come to surface. She worries about how Mackenzie will battle her anorexia without her around. And when the time comes to say goodbye, an honest confrontation between the two could jeopardize the future of their relationship. It’s a teen drama with a lot of heart and also some humor. Such a story required a producer who was not only dedicated to their work, but also the message the film was trying to convey, and Jaëgy was the ideal woman for the job. 

Because this script was about a woman struggling with anorexia, Annick was very concerned that we go about the task of casting this actress very carefully, making sure we found not only a good performer but one who would not herself become anorexic in order to do the role. ​I was very impressed with how protective Annick was with her director’s process, making sure she was not rushed to make any decisions, making sure I allotted plenty of time for callbacks and work sessions with the actresses. This is very rare in a producer, most want casting to happen as quickly as possible without a thought to the nuances that a director needs to see in order to make a decision. I’ve worked on many AFI films, but Annick stands out as particularly talented at her job. I had such a positive experience doing Mackenzie with Annick that I jumped at the chance to work with her again on her next project.  I hope to continue to work together,” said Lisa Zambetti, Casting Director.

The idea for Mackenzie came from Sofia Åström, the Writer and Director. Initially, Åström had an idea for a feature about two sisters going on a road trip, which eventually transitioned to a film about two sisters separated by anorexia. She wanted to explore anorexia from the point of view of a family member, in this case the younger sister Alison (Jessica Wingenbach). Such a stance is uncommon in films tackling the disease, which are more often than not told from the point of view of the anorexic person.

Åström struggled with anorexia as a teenager, and now having long recovered, she wanted to use her tools available as a Director, educating audiences on the impact of the disease. However, when Jaëgy came on board, she wanted Åström to work with another writer to give Åström some distance to her script and allow her to direct more clearly. The decision, although sometimes challenging to work with multiple writers on one project, proved to be the right one, as the story is told with the protectiveness of Åström’s connection but also her artistry as Director.

“A lot of people wrongfully think anorexia is a vanity thing when it’s actually a deeply psychological struggle,” said Annick.

Åström and Jaëgy had previously worked on the film Soledad Canyon together prior to Mackenzie, a beautiful short about mourning and grieving. The two had a perfect collaboration, calling it “professional love at first sight”. Therefore, when Åström wrote a film that was as dear to heart as Mackenzie, she knew she needed Jaëgy as her producer to bring her idea to life. Åström was always impressed with Jaëgy, and had faith in her as a producer, trusting her taste and the fact that she could rely on the producer for every step of the filmmaking process. Jaëgy is known for her ability to create an environment where the talents of the cast and crew can flourish. In addition, she raised almost 75 per cent of the funds for the project. Each and every one of her decisions was backed by Åström, knowing that the producer’s instincts would prove fruitful and beneficial for her film.

“This is a story where women have a tendency to recognize themselves or at least their relationship with their siblings. Our main team is almost entirely female apart from William, the cinematographer. Sofia wanted an entirely female main crew. I am glad that William stepped as I think it is important to have the balance of the two genders. I am not in favor of an entire female crew to be honest. On set, we had a good balance men and women,” Annick described.

Jaëgy spent almost two years working on Mackenzie, from start to finish. Finding the correct location took some time, as they were in search of a house with a “jack and Jill bathroom”, a bathroom shared between two bedrooms, with doors entering from each room. This was extremely pivotal to the film, as it is where the sisters have most of their issues, such as Alison making fun of Mackenzie, and Mackenzie struggling with her image in the mirror, and also where they reunite. It was essential to find the right home with such a bathroom. After finding a fit, one of the rooms was too small to shoot, but Jaëgy and her team used a green screen to manipulate the footage. Both bedrooms were entirely repainted and redecorated to make it look like two teenage girls’ rooms and show the two different worlds the two girls are evolving; Alison’s being a messy teenage world and a tom boy with Mackenzie very neat, meticulous, and very girly.

The only leading roles in the film were that of Alison (Jessica Wingenbach) and Mackenzie (Reid Cox). Because of the nature of the project, Jaëgy and her crew also had to cast models to be able to replicate magazines covers. These models animated themselves when Alison was facing them and the mirror, a representation of what Mackenzie wants to be. Although these models had a few lines that made them cast, the film is essentially supported by two female leads. Engaging an audience with such a small cast can sometimes be difficult, but everyone’s commitment to the story translates to the screen.

“It was a very long process but the result is there. We have a beautiful film entirely financed through fundraising, that has gained recognition in renowned festivals around the world,” said Annick.

After its premiere, the film was an Official Selection at prestigious festivals like the Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner, HollyShort Film Fest, Newport Beach Film Festival, Madrid International Film Festival, and Palm Springs International ShortFest – The ShortFest Film Market. It received a Silver Palm Award for Narrative Short at the Mexico International Film Festival, a Platinum Remi Award Winning for Short Subject Film Award/Dramatic Original and a Remi Winner at WorldFest Houston, and it was nominated for Best Short Film at the California International Film Festival and Davis Chinese Film Festival. Mackenzie has also just been selected to the Academy Award-qualifying Bahamas International Film Festival and we are thrilled as it is a very important film festival. It also pleased the investors. Once the film premiered, one of them told Annick that she would invest in her next film, and is now helping finance her next project. As a filmmaker, such validation is invaluable.

“To see months of work unfold in front my eyes when I was looking at the monitor watching the scenes while on set, these short moments made me think that when you are passionate about narrative visual storytelling, never give up. The road is bumpy and sinuous. It’s hard, don’t get me wrong, but there is nothing more magical to see months, years of work to unfold in front of your eyes while you’re on set,” said Jaëgy.

Annick is immensely proud of Mackenzie, not just with what the film accomplished amongst festivals, but how it resonated with audiences. Each and every member of the cast and crew felt what they were trying to convey in the film, and one of the most rewarding moments for Jaëgy was when one of her leads, Reid Cox, sent her a note.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity you gave me to work on such an incredible project with amazing people. Thank you for creating a safe environment for me to go to an extremely vulnerable place within me. You are such a bright light and I can’t wait to work with you again,” the note read.

Cox was one of many that was impressed with Annick Jaëgy.

“Annick is one of the most qualified people I’ve ever worked with. Her job requires a rare personality, involving management and creativity. There are no models to make a good artistic project. The ability to adapt to each unique configuration is therefore required. Economic and artistic understanding, time management, identification and resolution of often unprecedented problems, social skill, knowledge of the different jobs specific to the movie industry, ability to act for the project and not that of the ego, huge work capacity , especially in rush phases, which often exceed expectations, reliability, intelligence, project appropriation, passion and great humor, are all qualities that allow me to consider Annick as the best collaborator that anyone may wish to have to carry out on a film project,” said Marc Chouarain, a celebrated Composer who worked on Mackenzie.

Be sure to keep an eye out for more of Annick’s work in the future.

 

MAKING FILTH CREDIBLE: CHRISTINA SPINA

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The world of politics can be gritty and rough. The task of telling the stories of politics can resemble that as well. Both the process and the look requires a consummate professional to do it properly; makeup artist Christina Spina is such a person. Taking over for fellow artist Jessica Panetta when she was called away early in the filming of Filth City, Spina stepped in and created a seamless transition. Working with both Jessica and director Andy King, Christina established a tone congruent with the tone of the productions. Whether maintaining the design continuity or creating on the spot looks for day players, Spina used her skill to assist the director’s vision, empower the actors, and be a vital part of what would result in the film winning the award for Best Comedy and Best Cast at the Canadian Film Fest 2017.

The 2017 action/comedy/crime film is based on true events inspired by Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford. Filth City tells the story of a city’s crack smoking mayor competing for reelection whilst in the heat of a scandal. When local kids record Hogg smoking crack on video, numerous media outlets compete to get their hands on the footage. Hogg’s campaign staff and syndicate of dirty cops work to keep the video’s existence a secret while others want to use this to put an end to the mayor’s political career. Crime, corruption, and the largest garbage strike in York history are all components as the plot follows a wide range of characters through this neo-noir crime tale. The film itself was provocative similarly to the real life events it was based on. During the world premiere at the Canadian Film Festival in March 2017 (at the Scotia Bank Cinema) Filth City received a massive amount of attention from the media, stoked by intense negative public comments by the city’s late mayor’s brother. His comments created a media frenzy and the film received tons of media attention as a result, creating buzz and selling out tickets; the very definition of turning a negative into a positive.

The director and the designer (Panetta) had created a look that was inspired by modern television crime dramas, and classic film noir crime films. All of this was communicated to Christina when she took over. While the public often thinks of makeup in TV and film as making the actors more attractive, the goal was anything but this for Filth City. The filmmakers knew that the story was about the reality of politics and the people involved, not the pleasant way these individuals project themselves. To this end the goal was to present what they referred to as “hyper realism.” The look of the characters was to be very specific and not the somewhat bland “wallpaper” approach commonly seen in film. Christina describes, “For example, a lead cop character had a specific flip to the front of his hair. The Mayor had redness in his face and was intentionally sweaty and shiny on camera. The cop turned drug addict character had a dry red patch on his neck and darkness under his eyes. A young woman in one of the lead roles wore gold eye shadow. All of these choices are so simple but specific in forming the visual language of character. In comedy, depending on the circumstances of the script and the nature of the show, characters tend to have bigger makeup design elements to increase the comedy aspect. Since this was a crime drama comedy, the ham factor was turned down and simplified into hyper-realism.”

In the work of a makeup artist, what appears “normal” on screen is every bit as challenging to establish as that which seems striking. That might seem counterintuitive but anyone who has appeared on camera without the benefit of makeup can attest to the fact that it can greatly aid or detract from your appearance. In TV and film productions, extremes at both ends of the scale can be challenging. If the viewer finds themselves paying attention to the makeup, it’s done incorrectly. Christina concedes that it is very difficult to produce a makeup look that appears flawlessly natural, as if the person is wearing nothing at all. This type of makeup is erroneously confused with being easy and fast, which is not at all the case as it takes refining and attention to the most minute details and should never be seen. The makeup style Spina used for lead character Mayor Hogg (referred to as breakdown makeup) displayed redness all over his face to resemble broken capillaries from substance abuse. This makeup design was very specific and required both written and photo documentation to ensure perfect replication for each scene.

Not all of Christina’s work on Filth City required painstaking recreation for the lead characters. She often got the opportunity to improvise looks for a number of day players (actors on the set for a single day, often performing peripheral or background roles). It wasn’t uncommon on this production to have an actor with four different look changes in one day. Because the story was set in current times with an emphasis on politicians, law enforcement, and the media, Spina often took her inspiration from the generalization of these types on day to day television. The proper simple choices can have a dramatic effect on camera. It’s this type of wisdom which augments the talent that Christina is lauded for. Her quirky versions of real people benefited both the comedy and the crime sentiments of the storyline. She agrees stating, “I am actually able to execute last minute requests successfully with a combination of methods. It mostly comes with years of experience. I am always facing challenges and learning from experience, and am lucky to have those experiences to move forward so that I am more prepared each day. I have learned so much over the years, and am learning still. Each experience encourages me to revise and restock my kit. I have learned so many valuable things, one important tip is to be able to improvise requests on the spot by having a fully stocked kit with all the tools and items to execute any request. It could be stressful when requests are made and crew is forced to wait on me or my department, a general rule on set is that you do not want to be the cause of holding up shooting. But with thorough communication and a solid plan of execution everyone can get their respective jobs done and not feel stress in a way that would compromise the outcome.”

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