Tag Archives: Producer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shelley Madison - Ghosts of War
Ghosts of War film poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Empathetic Approach to Filmmaking with Producer Summer Xinlei Yang

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Producer Summer Xinlei Yang appears to have the golden touch when it comes to filmmaking. There are equal portions of passion and commitment applied to her work, the results of which speak for themselves. Her films repeatedly become Official Selections of Academy Award Qualifying Festivals and are met with overwhelmingly enthusiastic responses from the audiences who view them. As with anyone in the film industry, success is met when talent chooses the stories that they are most suited to tell. These days, Hollywood is discovering more than ever that certain individuals are perfectly suited to tell a certain kind of story. For Xinlei, this often means the tales of people involved in multicultural situations. As a native of China who has experienced success in both her home country and the US, Summer always finds the connective tissue of her experiences and that of the characters in the lauded films she has worked on.

The Way Home is director Yiran Zhou’s heart wrenching tale of the modern day immigrant and an Official Selection at Academy Qualifying Film Festivals, including the 35th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, the 10th BronzeLens Film Festival, and winner of the International Vision Award at the Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival. The Way Home is the story of two immigrants; 18-year-old Chinese-American Jimmy who seizes the opportunity to prove himself to a Chinatown hooligan and thirty-year-old Haiyang who followed a Coyote through the US-Mexican border years ago while his younger brother [Bin] fell ill. As Jimmy and Haiyang venture toward their own goals, it becomes clear that there is a very high price to pay. The film intimately follows them on their emotional, physical, and moral journeys, providing a timely exploration of family, identity, and sacrifice. The story was inspired by the director’s acquaintance with some Chinese factory workers in a Chinese food warehouse. Most of the employees at the establishment worked ninety hours or more per week. Contrasting the misconception that they were looking for a free ride, these workers came to America for the opportunity to make money to send home and support their loved ones. The film’s producer informs, “This story is about two different generations of Chinese immigrants is relevant and meaningful for the director and I as we are both from China. From the beginning of creating this story, both of us were adamant that the film should have a retrospective and dark tone to show the gap between the reality and immigrants’ American Dreams.” The Way Home was also selected by the 22nd Shanghai International Film Festival for its longest running competition, the Golden Goblet Award.

Xinlei worked with director Angela Chen on the film Our Home Here which was an Official Selection of the 22nd Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival (Past winners and attendees include Oscar nominated actress Rosie Perez; Emmy nominee JT Takagi; Sundance Film Festival nominee Terence Nance; Golden Globes and Emmy nominee Issa Rae, Ebony Jo-Ann, Screen Actors Guild Awards nominee Margot Bingham). This story centers around four individuals in a Texas city; nineteen-year-old Dylan, his older sister Rose, fourty-three-year-old fast-food worker Celine, and a twenty-one-year-old addict named Sean. Unbeknownst to these four, their lives will soon come together in a violent clash at the Sunny Meals drive-thru when Sean’s drug-bender takes a sinister turn, forever changing the trajectories of their lives, their careers, and their relationships. The film explores the desires for control, identity and family, as we intimately follow these characters during the day leading up to the incident. Although the story takes place in Texas, the actual filming location was in Los Angeles.

An even darker tale is found in the film When the Shadow Falls which Summer produced for director Jeseung Woo. After witnessing the suicide of a stranger, a woman named Jane becomes overwhelmingly haunted by the question of whether she could have done anything to help. Inspired by the director’s actual witnessing of a stranger’s suicide in Seoul, the subject matter hearkens back to the idea of many of Summer’s films which asks, “What is the pain that other’s experience which I am unaware of and how would this knowledge allow me to change my view of them?”

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If there is one unifying thread here, it is empathy. Film may be the most powerful tool in helping society feel what goes overlooked in the challenges of its members. To this end, filmmakers like Summer Xinlei and her peers offer the most benevolent choices for us all. The producer plans on maximizing this with her talent on an upcoming project, the documentary feature tentatively titled Frozen Fertility. She relates, “Soon after I decided to make a documentary about reproductive rights for women in China, a director friend of mine forwarded me the news of Teresa Xu, a women rights activist who hopes to freeze her eggs while she works to save money for a future family. Since China bars single women from the procedure, she decided to mount China’s first legal challenge of a law that limits fertility treatments to married couples only. I was so excited when I saw the news, and right away I reached out to her lawyer and herself about my documentary. Our shared understanding and first-hand experience with the subject immediately led her to agree to join our documentary filming. We were able to capture her story of going through the court and facing both local and international media. Her unique story appeared just as I was looking for subjects for my documentary feels like fate. I am just following my heart. The minute I saw the news I thought ‘I must take action now to film this significant moment.’ Summer is prompting all of us to take action with the incredible films she produces.

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

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Helena Sardinha

Before pursuing her now prolific career in filmmaking, Helena Sardinha was a professional dancer. The more she danced, however, the more she realized it wasn’t what she wanted to spend her life doing. She had always been passionate about the various forms of artistic expression and found filmmaking to be one of the most complete art forms there is.

“If you breakdown a film, you find elements of every single art in it. In screenwriting, you have literature, poetry; in acting, theater; cinematography, painting, photography; in original scores, music; in set and costume design, architecture, sculpture, fashion; in the camera and actors movement, dance. To make films is to reproduce life the way you want it to be, and to be able to do that, I feel very privileged,” she says.

Now, Sardinha is a celebrated producer in her home country of Brazil and abroad, with many acclaimed projects on her decorated resume. Films like That Girl and Walter have gone on to win several awards at prestigious festivals around the world, a pattern that occurs with most projects she takes on. Her success as a producer is undisputed, and she believes that her experience in dance has allowed her to understand her role in filmmaking that much more.

“I believe that growing up in a dancer’s discipline environment and having an early start on my artistic endeavors was key for my development as a producer. Being connected to diverse content made me develop artistic skills and sensibility to art forms that accompanies me in my career,” she says.

One of Sardinha’s first major success stories after transitioning from dancer to producer came back in 2016 with her film Pumpkin. The film follows Alice and her best friend Dan, who lives in another country. When he tells her he’s been diagnosed with cancer, she faces the scary feeling of being away and powerless. So, Alice tries to show him support and love. Even if that means pushing away friends that are physically close to her.

Pumpkin is more than a project, it’s a life statement about love. But it’s also about pain during a time of our lives that is definitive for building our characters and notions of values. It’s not often we see teen films talking about those issues, about grief, dealing with pain. It’s important for other teens to watch this film and be able to feel a sense of belonging. To understand that pain is a part of life, and it’s healthy to talk about it. It’s a real story based on the director’s life and it really resonated with me. Losing a friend is not easy, and that was the way she found to cope with it,” says Sardinha.

The film was written and directed by Paula Neves, who was telling a true story based on events in her life. She knew she needed a talented producer to do her story justice, and reached out to Sardinha. They worked very well together, as Sardinha felt extremely close to the story and the project, knowing its background and the inspiration. Sardinha understood quickly what was fundamental to deliver Neves’ vision, and she put a crew together quickly and efficiently.

“It is always great to work with Helena, she is really pro-active and organized. Being on set with her or on a project produced by her is always an easy and fun experience. She is really responsible and smart-thinking. She always looks for a way of making things better without compromising time or money. Also, she is empathic to others, making sure everyone around her is well and in the best mindset. When she commits to something, you know she’ll be giving her ultimate best,” says Neves.

Pumpkin had its premiere at the world-famous Short Film Corner at Cannes in 2016, and went on to win awards and receive great praise at countless other festivals over the course of the year. Those rewards were secondary, however, for Sardinha and Neves, as they had a financial campaign to help kids with cancer through the project.

“I believe working on a project that generates awareness to any kind of issue and makes audiences move and try to change something is just a blessing. Pumpkin was one of those. Our goal as filmmakers is to be able to reach out to audiences and emotionally connect with people. Being able to receive so many notes and comments from people on the film, really pays off the entire journey of making a film,” Sardinha concludes.

 

By Annabelle Lee

Producer Gaurang Bhat terrifies audience with horror flick ‘Vengeance’

As a celebrated film producer in his home country of India, for Gaurang Bhat, the most fundamental aspect of his role is simple: storytelling. Every captivating film tells a powerful story, and Bhat never takes on a project unless he believes in the script. He knows that the filmmaking process is a collaboration, and he always makes sure his team has the same goal as he does, to create a great film that entertains the masses, and to tell a great story.

This devotion to his craft is evident on every project he takes on. He has been pivotal to the success of many acclaimed films, including Never Too Late, Sushi Man, Nimbus, and SPARSH: A Leprosy Mission, which has received great praise at many prestigious international film festivals. He also has contributed to popular television shows, including Netflix’s hits Chefs Table Season 6and Street Food Asia as a consultant.

One of Bhat’s first tastes of international success came back in 2015 with his film Vengeance. The horror flick tells the story of four friends who, when a common friend dies in a car accident, decide to go in a house away from the city to film their own eulogies before the funeral. The situation turns dark when a fifth person menaces to kill them.

Vengeance“I always wanted to be part of a horror film. I have been a fan since I was a kid. I wanted to try my hand at a fun slasher movie, but this film has so much more than just gore, blood, and violence. That’s why as soon as Luca Ripamonti completed the script, I knew I was working on the film. This story takes a little bit of a different approach as its more about the creeping human fear of a mysterious masked figure. You rarely see the masked figure in the film. It’s all very grounded and psychological,” said Bhat.

From the moment Bhat began working on Vengeance, everything was smooth sailing. He and his team completed the project with ease. Bhat had a lot of creative inputs on the project. He worked on securing the funds and marketing and was involved in making sure that they completed the film as efficiently as possible, overlooking the whole development and production of the film. Based on the ease of filming, he more than did his job.

“It was a very good experience and it’s always great to work with friends. Luca and I have known each other for the longest time now. We still speak every day discussing films and new projects,” said Bhat.

Bhat’s work in marketing the film made it a tremendous success, as the film was selected for many prestigious film festivals, including Infinity Film Festival, Roma Doc and Visionaria, and the world-renowned Cannes Short Film Corner.

“I am ecstatic that the film was such a success. Not everyone can say that their project has been to Cannes. It’s such an honor. I am delighted beyond words. It’s sure been a long project but we got there, and it was great. It was always a dream to have film at Cannes,” said Bhat.

Needless to say, Bhat is at the top of his game as a producer, constantly creating successful projects that captivate audiences in India and around the world. He spends every day living his dream, and although it wasn’t always an easy road to get to the esteemed point in his career he is at now, he knows that working hard does indeed pay off.

“If you too want to be a producer, just keep working and do whatever odd jobs you get. Keep making connections in the field, keep being productive. You never know when you’ll meet someone who might offer you their next project, sometimes it just depends on luck and being there at the right moment. Also, be nice to everyone and be patient, it’s the most important thing in this industry, I can’t stress enough. When I was young, I might have burned some bridges, but I hope others don’t make the same mistake,” he advised.

 

By John Michaels

Director/Producer Jamly Yang shoots moving commercial for Nike

As an industry leading producer and director, whenever Jamly Yang steps onto a film set, she is a leader. She is in charge of both the artistic and business sides of the production, ensuring everyone works harmoniously to make the best piece of art possible. When directing, she is highly creative, looking at each shot from an artistic standpoint to make the film a success, and when she is producing, she ensures each project she embarks on reaches its maximum potential.

“The responsibility of a producer is not just making sure the production makes a profit, but also to have eyes for stories that can change people’s lives,” said Yang.

These stories are what Yang is known for and are evident in her films The Screenwriter in the Restroom, The Invisible Superman, The Milk Tea, and many more. She also brings that sense of storytelling to her commercials, and with award-winners like the Alpha Browser Commercial, Doritos Campaign, Folgers Coffee, and beyond, she knows how to make an advertisement that not only resonates with consumers, but also entertains.

Yang has worked with many renowned brands throughout her career, including Nike. Yang shot for the iconic sporting wear company back in 2017 for a campaign that went on to win Best Commercial at the San Francisco International New Concept Film Festival 2018.

“This is a trend in the commercial industry, using stories to sell products. It is a trend I both enjoy and believe in, and I love making commercials that move audiences not only to buy something, but also get them to feel something,” said Yang.

The commercial tells the story of three generations of a family. A man gave all the best to his son, and now that the son is a father, he tries to impart some of his own father’s wisdom to his son, and Nike is a part of that. It is a beautiful story.

“Most Nike commercials we see are all about strength and power, but how do you bring more customers who are not entirely about that lifestyle, but who are just normal people who need to exercise every day? You need a touching story. Everyone has a father, everyone runs. Everyone has something from their parents that they cherish. For this Nike commercial, it’s a pair of running shoes that ties to three generations,” said Yang.

The commercial was shot at Land’s End, one of San Francisco’s most iconic spots and a beautiful scenic backdrop for the video. Yang directed, produced, and wrote the commercial, handling the majority of the responsibilities from casting to distribution. She is thrilled to play such a large part in such a successful commercial, especially because she is and has always been a fan of Nike.

“Everyone likes Nike. It’s so iconic to the point where they almost don’t need commercials at all. It is more like a culture than just a sporting wear company, and that’s how Nike differs from other brands,” she concluded.

Check out Yang’s moving Nike commercial here.

 

By John Michaels

Producer Katy Lopes’ Brilliant, Engrossing ‘Inner Self’

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By Jeff Monroe

Producer Katy Lopes has enjoyed significant professional success thanks to an extraordinary methodology, one that mixes her precisely ordered grasp on big picture logistics with a soulful, artistic need to explore and express the depth and nuance of the oft troubled human condition.

It’s a knock out combination which lends each of her productions a distinctive flair and appeal, and her current project, the engrossing film Inner Self perfectly crystalizes the Brazilian-born Lopes’ remarkable skills. An emotional tour de force, Inner Self is a passion project, one which her entire life has steadily built up to.

I was born and raised in Sao Paulo and grew up in a family with a strong artistic side,” Lopes said. “My mom was a theater actress and my dad worked as a music manager. When I was 11, my mom signed me up to acting school, where I spent seven years doing theater and also helping her manage entertainment events.”

Lopes grew up in the middle of a rich creative milieu, experiencing both sides of that world by acting onstage and organizing details in the back of the house. She quickly realized where her interests lay.

“I figured out that my passion was actually behind the scenes,” she said. “I was always fascinated by the production side.”

Lopes was just 18 but she plunged into professional life with full grown zeal.

“I decided to do my BFA in Radio and Television Broadcast,” she said. “I also started working in the industry, producing for ‘Panico na TV,’ one of Brazil’s most famous comedy TV shows. I had the most amazing and great experience of my life, in terms of professional and personal growth.”

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The ambitious Lopes was balancing studies at Sao Paulo’s distinguished Universidade Anhembi Morumbi with her work on the series—and both proved invaluable.

“The great college I went to made me a better professional” she said. “But the best training I had was working and living the reality at ‘Panico na TV’ which taught me a lot of things about how to be a producer and also how not to be.”

Lopes’ acutely discerning perspective allowed her to gain critical knowledge at an accelerated pace, one which her professional career path easily matched; she relocated to Southern California where she earned a certificate in producing at the prestigious New York Film Academy.

With her degree in hand and based in the film epicenter, Lopes quickly began to establish herself as a force to be reckoned with. She produced a series of arresting short films (‘Blurred,’ ‘Blades,’ ‘Incomplete,’ ‘UnHappy,’ ‘Misfit’s Prick’), handily accomplishing everything from story and script development to budgeting, scheduling, location scouting and securing locations—the always demanding check list of requisite elements at which Lopes’ excels.

All of this led up to her most ambitious project to date, the altogether extraordinary ‘Inner Self,’ a film focused on an unusual and compelling subject—depression.

“Inner Self was an experimental project that inspired me,” Lopes said. “As the producer of this film, I want to depict the naked day-to-day truth of a young girl who suffers from severe depression.”

Lopes’ deftly handled examination of such raw psychological realities shrewdly mixes emotional subtlety and societal insight.

“Today’s social media generation ends up making it very difficult to identify depression as a disease,” she said. “The social mask teenagers wear also masks the problem, because they may show us a happy person with a happy life, but the problem is hidden inside, and they end up in a deep black hole of their inner, unrevealed self.”

Lopes aimed—and succeeded—in raising awareness and aiding the cause of suicide prevention with the engrossing production and the remarkable contributions of her marvelous star player.

“I was blessed to find an amazing and extremely talented young actress, Ester Vasquez,” Lopes said. “She brought so much life and value to this film and, in addition, she wrote a song especially for Sara, her character, who is a young musician that is trying to live her life with the disease.”

The actress was equally impressed with her producer. “Katy is a great producer because she is passionate and persistant,” Vasquez said. “she knows what she wants to achieve, has excellent pre-production organization She and smpathizes with her crew. By istening and treating everyone with respect, she makes us give the best of ourselves. Katy allowed me to freely explore my character while the camera was rolling—she let me improvise a song in the middle of the shoot! She truly values the people she’s working with.”

Lopes with Ester Vasquez

Lopes with Ester Vasquez

‘Inner Self’ is currently making the rounds of the festival circuit and has just been recognized as a semi- finalist at the prestigious Los Angeles Cine Fest.

“It’s been well received and people are very touched by the movie,” Lopes said. “After all, 99% of the population have someone close who suffers from depression or suicidal thoughts. As a producer and filmmaker, I feel completely responsible to try to influence this generation for the better.”

‘Inner Self’ epitomizes Lopes’ signature combination of prescient professionalism and socially conscious creativity, defining attributes with which she will continue to deliver even more significant creative contributions.

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

Behind the Scenes Greatness with Bohan Gong

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Bohan Gong. You probably don’t know the name of this successful film producer but then again, you don’t know the name of many film producers unless you’re in the film industry or a cinephile. It’s a better bet that you know the marquee names of the films he has enabled. Tom Cruise, William Hurt, Pierce Brosnan; these names might be more familiar and they’re all part of the productions that Bohan has contributed his talents towards. Gong is a key player in facilitating the collaboration of Hollywood and China’s film industries. With Kylin Pictures and other companies, Bohan has worked on multiple Oscar-winning films and delivered the kind of compelling stories that are captivating regardless of one’s geography and culture. This newly burgeoning association has already proven itself beneficial to both the professionals who create these films and the public who hungers for them. Still, expanding this territory requires navigating the laws of both countries and the operating structure of the insdustries themselves; something which Bohan has continually proven himself adept at managing.

The Mel Gibson directed Hacksaw Ridge is the story of Medal of Honor winner Desmond T. Doss, a conscientious objector who served at the Battle of Okinawa and saved many lives. The recipient of two Oscars, the story depicted bravery in union with opposition to taking the lives of others. As co-executive producer, Bohan researched and created a marketing strategy for this film that appealed to the Chinese market and resulted in its status as a massive success. From obtaining the legal obligations for displaying the film to analyzing the data concerning its release, Bohan was the springboard to this film’s embrace by Chinese audiences. Gong repeated this for the Tom Cruise film American Made, based on the true story of an American pilot who smuggled for government agencies. As lead producer for The King’s Daughter (starring Pierce Brosnan and Oscar-winner William Hurt) Bohan negotiated distribution with companies including Disney, Fox, Universal, SONY, Open Road, and others. Additionally, he oversaw the 2D to 3D transfer work that took place between LA and China based companies. His varied responsibilities, which often require a comfortability in both languages and decorum of America and China, confirm that this producer’s talent is matched by his ability to work easily in different environments with professionals of vastly different backgrounds.

As the world becomes an increasingly smaller community, international collaboration and films about the mixing of cultures become more popular. 2016’s Birth of the Dragon tells the story of the iconic Bruce Lee. Recipient of the Golden Angel Award at the Chinese American Film Festival, this feature film amassed a loyal audience in both the US and abroad. As producer on Birth of the Dragon, Bohan returned to a familiar role of facilitating interactions between filmmakers and foreign markets. His most recent work with Kylin Pictures is producing on the upcoming feature film Shanghai Sojourners. Notably, Bohan helped secure the acclaimed Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook, My Sister’s keeper) to direct. The film is a love story of a man and woman from different cultures set in World War II Shanghai

Streaming films have become much more than a safety net for the industry, it has provided a viable means of supporting filmmakers. Hits in the Chinese market like Los Angeles Kidnapping (seen on China’s iQiyi) and Hot-Blooded Youth (available on the Youku streaming platform) have received millions of views. Both of these films share the common point of having Bohan Gong as the producer. It’s essential for the viability of the global film industry that the most accomplished of professionals like Bohan take part in a variety of productions. Delivering exceptional stories on any platform gains the trust of audiences and ensures that a great story is always that…simply a great story. Across international borders and across different platforms, great talent produces loyal audiences.

 

Cultures Clash in Producer Yuanhao Du’s Kung Fu Western Good Friend from the West

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It’s difficult to make a film about the wrongs that have been done by the people of one culture to another, while still making something unusually fascinating and enjoyable. Quentin Tarantino did this with Django Unchained in recent times. It’s a delicate balance that is precarious in its manifestation. Good Friend from the West evokes shades of this, juggling the cultures of White settlers, Native Americans, and Chinese railworkers in the Old West. Late nineteenth-century United States is a vibrant petri dish for exhibiting this trio of vastly different cultures and their perceptions of each, as well as their confrontations. Executive Producer Yuanhao Du is more than a talented filmmaker; he has the perspective to bring essential elements to this film. A native of China who has made films in the US and throughout the world, Yuanhao was void of the template of manifesting this era of US history even though he was well aware of it. Lacking a pre-imposed idea of “how” a story set in the Western US Frontier “should” be told, this EP and his cast & crew created an immensely unique modern Western film. With some obvious nods to martial arts filmmaking techniques, there’s even a bit of whimsy to this story which is most certainly dark in its lesson.

Good Friend from the West takes place in 1873 as a Chinese railworker (played by Zhan Wang) makes a hasty escape from his indentured servitude on the expanding westward rail system construction. During his journey, he encounters a wounded cowboy (played by Dan Rutkowski) who is himself avoiding capture by Native American soldiers. When these Native Americans descend upon the duo, one of the most satisfying, surprising, and unintuitive scenes is presented. The film integrates 70’s Kung Fu film stylings as the railworker fights off the Native Americans. Not since films like Shaun of the Dead have we seen such an unusual and positive complementing mish-mash of genres. Producer Yuanhao relates, “This story combined three cool elements for me; a Western, a physical film, and Chinese and American sensibilities. At one time,  films about Chinese and American people working together were very hot; like those Jackie Chen movies. But now, people barely can see these kind of movies. Filming has magic that can influence people’s minds. If we want to reduce the misunderstanding between these two big countries with two different cultures, then as filmmakers we need to make more of these films. We have a lot of films to show how American and Chinese people are different but more importantly, we should find out what we share in common. If we want to survive, we need to know each other and work together.”

Shot in the desert on 35 MM Film, the production costs were ample. A blending of traditional Western meets Kung Fu action is also not the most obvious and easy concept to sell to investors. Yuanhao turned to crowdfunding to ensure sufficient funds for the film. While it has the obvious result of raising the necessary capital, Yuanhao reinforces that he saw this approach as being an added source of advertisement which greatly benefited the production as well. More than most, the concept of the film was a gamble. The physical and creative efforts of the cast and crew are obvious in the truly cinematic presentation of grand vistas and cultural clashes that are visible on-screen. The film’s cultural appeal and resonance is vetted by its status as an Official Selection at important events including the Hong Kong Film Art International Film Festival, Miami Independent Film Festival, Los Angeles Film & Script Festival, and awards from WordFest-Houston International Film & Video Festival (Gold Remi Award), International Independent Film Awards, European Cinematography AWARDS, and numerous others. For Yuanhao, it’s more about the reception he sees in the audience as he states, “It always feels good when I see that people like my films because I know deep down in their hearts, they agree with the philosophy of my films. I believe that this will eventually be the foundation of reducing the misunderstanding between different cultures.”

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