Tag Archives: Producer

Producer Melina Tupa talks upcoming documentary ‘Slaves Among Us’

Melina Tupa always has always had two passions: film and journalism. Growing up, it never really occurred to her that there was a way to combine both of these things. Then, one fateful day, she had an epiphany that changed her life. She could be a documentary filmmaker. Being a journalist, she believes, gives her an extra responsibility as a film producer to pursue stories that are of public interest and that will help the communities she lives in. Since coming to that realization, Tupa has been committed to making impactful documentary films, and that is why she is so sought-after around the world for what she does.

Over the past few years, Tupa has delivered hard-hitting documentaries that share truths many are unaware of or afraid to talk about. When producing the PBS Frontline film Rape on the Night Shift, audiences everywhere became aware of the horrifying stories of many janitorial workers who have dealt with sexual assault. With her film The Search, she told the story of a grandmother’s search for her long-lost grandchild, which dives into the Argentinean “Dirty War.” All who work alongside Tupa are not only impressed, but also inspired by her commitment to her work.

“I had the honor of being a Consulting Producer with Melina on her documentary The Search. It was a pleasure working with Melina: she’s smart, driven, tenacious, creative, and yet is open to different perspectives and ideas that are not her own, which means that she is also confident. What makes Melina good, but great is a better word, is that she always has a big vision for her work,” said Director and Producer Spencer Nakasako.

Soon, audiences will once again have the chance to see Tupa’s formidable producing abilities in the upcoming Investigative Reporting Program (IRP) film Slaves Among Us. The documentary will expose the many layers of human trafficking, from the recruiter in the home country to the smuggler, trafficker and subcontractor that make it possible for major corporations to profit from forced labor in the United States. The documentary will tell the story of a group of teens from Guatemala who, with the inadvertent aid of the American government, fall into the hands of a criminal enterprise. This investigation will show who makes money off such victims and how the American consumer benefits from their mistreatment.

“I wanted to work on this project because I believed this was a very important story that needed to be widely known by the audience. The fact that in 2017 we still have forced labor is outrageous,” said Tupa.

Tupa was approached to work on Slaves Among Us after her success with the Investigative Reporting Program on the documentary Rape on the Night Shift. The producers of the documentary knew she had a very good reputation and she had an asset that was key to work on the field: she is bilingual in Spanish and most of the characters on this story are Spanish-speaking individuals. As a field producer, this was vital.

“I liked that I had direct contact with the sources of the story. I did old school reporting: just knocking on people’s doors and asking what they have seen or heard about the case. I was able to get to know the community I was reporting on thoroughly. And I was also able to gain the character’s trust. A lot of them are undocumented immigrants and many times they are afraid of telling wrongdoings because they are afraid of the retaliation they might get,” Tupa described.

Working in Ohio, Tupa reported on the trailer park where Guatemalans (adults and minors) trafficked to the United States were living. She was able to conduct interviews with more than thirty individuals there. She was able to secure three interviews (one in shadow, two full face) where the sources confirmed the story about the trafficking scheme she was after. She was also able to establish a connection with a very important source who had worked with the main characters of the story. This led to finding and securing and exclusive interview with one of the victims of labor trafficking.

Back at Investigative Reporting Program office, she worked as a Researcher. She found archival videos, photos and newspapers on the DeCoster Egg Farm violations, unaccompanied children entering the United States across the border, egg industry facilities, and the case of immigrant minors working on an egg farm. This information was pivotal to illustrate the story.

“I believe it is important to tell this story because nobody should be living in slave conditions in 2017. It’s important to let people know this is happening so this could result in a change of policy, for example, in unaccompanied minors entering the United States or for the poultry industry to have highest safety standards for its employees,” said Tupa.

Slaves Among Us is expected to be released in 2019. Based on Tupa’s track record, audiences can expect an outstanding film once again.

 

Photo by Vanessa Arango Garcia

Director and Producer Sonia Bajaj has fast success with new film ‘Bekah’

Sonia Bajaj realized her true calling while in Pune, India. During this period of transition, she was introduced to people from different cultural backgrounds and varied interests. She was in constant touch with daily happenings in the world and she also began to have a better understanding of art forms like music and literature. She was introduced to several films, television series and documentaries from all over the world, thereby exposing her to different styles of filmmaking. She began experimenting, and soon these experiments translated in experiences. She knew she had to be a filmmaker.

Originally from Mumbai, Bajaj has been able to travel the world doing what she loves. She thoroughly enjoys the aspects of making a film. As a producer, she is responsible for overseeing all five stages of filmmaking: development, pre-production, production, post-production and distribution. She creates a business plan, budget, and schedule, handle creative and business affairs, and gather cast and crew. But that is not all she does, she also is a successful director.

“While making multiple short films, I realized how thoroughly I enjoy myself during the entire process of making a film. Being a director is similar to being the captain on a ship. You have your entire team helping you, yet the responsibility of a successful sail lies entirely on your shoulders. When I direct a film, I have the opportunity to take the audiences to the world of my characters through my eyes. That’s what I like about being a director,” she said. “I look forward to narrating stories that touch the heart, that inspire an individual to overcome obstacles and live his dream, stories that educate and entertain.”

As both a director and producer, Bajaj has had a formidable career. She has worked on award-winning films such as Rose, Hari, The Best Photograph, A Broken Egg and Impossible Love. She is also the curator for the women in film series at Downtown Los Angeles Film Festival, where her responsibilities include reviewing and judging films around the globe. She has an esteemed reputation, and is respected by all she works with.

“Sonia is a professional and a pleasure to work with. She has a superb eye for truth when it comes to filmmaking and making an actor feel connected and safe on set. I would work with her again in an instant,” said Tony Ruiz, who worked alongside Bajaj on her film Rose.

With her new film Bekah, Bajaj is impressing both audiences and critics yet again. The film was just completed in May, and was first recognized at LA Shorts Awards where it won an award for Best Drama. Since that time, it has already been an Official Selection at the UK Monthly Film Festival, a Semi Finalist at Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival and Los Angeles Cine Fest and a Finalist at Eurasia International Monthly Film Festival. It won the Award of Merit at Accolade Global Film Competition, the Gold Award at NYC Indie Film Awards, and the Platinum Award at Mindfield Film Festival, with many more film festivals expected for the powerful film.

“With Bekah, I had the opportunity to direct and produce the story of a young African American woman. Our entire cast comprised of African American Actors, and crew from different parts of the world, giving me the opportunity to work in a culturally diverse project. Our goal was to inspire and encourage our viewers through Bekah’s eyes. We’ve been successful in achieving that in a short span of time,” said Bajaj.

Bekah is the story of an idealistic young writer and college dropout who pursues her dream of becoming a full-time writer, motivated by the spirit of her deceased fiancé. She leaves her dysfunctional home and goes it alone facing a world that is less idealistic.

The story focuses on the struggles of a young writer trying to break into the real world. It’s a tale of overcoming the loss of love, by fulfilling a promise that was made. At the end, it becomes all about how families need to be connected and support each other.  We wanted to tell this story to encourage families to support each other, encourage youngsters to pursue their dreams despite the difficulties that they may face,” Bajaj described.

After looking at Bajaj’s success of her other films, the main lead and co-producer Charlie Cakes, also known as Charlotte Makala, asked her to be a part of the project, knowing her needed someone of her caliber to make the film the success it has already become. Looking at the diverse nature of the film, Bajaj instantly got on board. As they began producing the film, they realized that 80 per cent of the cast and crew were all women.

“This definitely was refreshing experience to produce a film made by women and about women,” said Bajaj. “The very fact that our team was so diverse, it was essential to have a director who wasn’t familiar with the culture of the characters. I had my own take to the production, which helped us to create a fresh outlook to the story we wanted to convey.”

There were many rehearsals, and script revisions, and Bajaj, both the director and producer of the film, experimented with different techniques before filming. This enabled her to create a fast-paced productive environment on set, allowing her to get all the shots she set out for in a skilled and quick manner.

“I enjoyed directing my actors in their accent. The lingos were so different that it was a learning experience to get out of my comfort zone, learn a different style of talking and build emotions out of that. It helped to broaden my horizon and work on building varied layers to the characters,” Bajaj described.

Bekah is just one of many films that Bajaj has put her winning touch on. She is a formidable director and producer, and one that audiences can expect to continue hearing about for years to come.

Producer Xueru Tang connects with her heritage on upcoming film ‘Hot Pot Man’

headshot 1
Producer Xueru Tang

Xueru Tang has two mottos by which she lives her life. The first is “work hard”. Her friends call her a workaholic, but to her, she is focused. She loves what she does and she strives to be the best, and she makes no excuses for that. Her second mantra is “believe in yourself”. The world “believe” is important to her. Every project she takes on, she truly believes it will succeed, and this belief keeps her pushing through any tough times, or any problems that may arise, causing her to face her fears. These two qualities, hard work and faith, combined with an innate talent, are what have allowed Tang to become the film producer she is today, and she is recognized around the world for what she does.

Having worked on award-winning films like Locked, Inside Linda Vista Hospital, and Emily, as well as last year’s popular commercial for Chinstudio’s Fall Collection, Xueru Tang has had a career filled with success. However, with her upcoming film Hot Pot Man, she got to feel a sense of accomplishment that she has yet to feel in her esteemed career, telling a story of her hometown.

“I was born and raised in Chengdu, China. The hot pot was created in Chengdu, and it’s my home food. It really important to me. All the story in the film happens in Chengdu, and it is shot in Chengdu. This really excited me when I heard about the project. I want to show the world how beautiful my city is,” said Tang.

The film, which will premiere in October in Chengdu, has received a lot of media attention. Newspaper Xin Cheng Kuai Bao and Jin Ri Toutiao reported about Tang, calling her a New Power filmmaker from the generation after the 90’s. They interviewed her about her experience in U.S. film industry, how she combined the differences between China and U.S. in film production and operated the whole project from funding to future distribution.During these interviews, Tang also shared her opinions about helping Chinese independent filmmakers spread their strength in U.S. market and form its own way to distribution and achieve a greater personal, marketing and social value.

“Five years ago in China, not every filmmaker studied film, and we don’t really think about the professional and how it is important. For today, we still don’t request professional producers who study producing or filmmaking as their college or university major. Everyone just works, never studies, and they just use their way or someone’s way to do thing. For me the kind of the producer who studied and worked in Hollywood, and knows about Hollywood style, is really difficult to find in China. I think this is similar to what it is like in Hollywood, they don’t know a lot about the Chinese market there. When they call me a New Power Filmmaker, I think it is because I understand both markets. In that way, I am a unique producer,” Tang described.

This understanding of both the Chinese and American film markets is vital for Hot Pot Man. Tang brought the Hollywood style of thinking to her hometown. She did the funding and location scouting for the film, and dealt with the stars, like the famous rapper Di Xie and the Chinese comedian Jian Liao, and their agents. She checked all the contracts with crews and locations, and made sure there was insurance and the required permits. She made sure labor was fair and didn’t allow for too long of work days. For distribution, she got the film into Chinese cinemas, negotiating in what she calls the “Hollywood” way.

“Xueru is our excellent producer. She delivered a business plan and pitch book in english and Chinese in one day. This work efficiency we have never experienced from one person in China. And Xueru was a very responsible producer. I remember, another producer couldn’t find the location and couldn’t make a deal with talent, so we called Xueru. She didn’t blame them, she just bought a plane ticket and came to China to solve all the problem. I really like working with her. She has respect for the views of others, and she brings a lot Hollywood working style to us, making our shoot very smooth and all the crew members very happy,” said Dage Zhang, Director of Hot Pot Man. “Xueru loves her job, she crazy loves what she does. She told me she believes the movie will change the world. She wants to produce good movies that will affect the world. And most importantly, I never once heard her say she could not do something, she always tried first, and I think that is remarkable not just as a producer, but as a person.”

Tang found the story of Hot Pot Man very interesting, and when she got the call asking for her help, she didn’t care that she was on the other side of the world, she wanted to come and do what she could.

“No one thought of this as a job or work, everyone thought of it as a film. It was really great team work. But working for this project, it’s my passion. I have special feelings for my city, my city helped build my personality,” she concluded.

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

Other - CAAM Film Festival
Albee Zhang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writer-Producer Stuart Reid Sets New Standard for Kid’s TV

Writer-producer Stuart Reid’s appealing combination of talent, good humor and ambition has an unusual effect on just about every project he’s attached too. As soon as he joins a team, Reid’s high quality contributions typically elevate not only the task at hand, but also his role.

His first writing credit was for DHX Media and Nickelodeon’s Make It Pop, but since then, the charming Canadian has gone on to story edit, write or co-write nearly a dozen episodes of children’s television, develop original series for Sesame Street and NBCUniversal, and even been hired to simply write jokes, ‘punching up scripts’ on shows “looking for a little extra oomph in the comedy department”.

Earning industry-wide recognition is a characteristic aspect of Reid’s sure-footed career path, a journey that led him to film and television even before he finished school. “One of my first summer jobs as a teenager was with Corus Entertainment at Treehouse TV in Toronto,” Reid said. ”Working at Treehouse sort of piqued my interest and got me interested in television and production, and specifically kids. Next thing you know, cut to ten years later, and I’m living between Toronto and Los Angeles, staffing regularly and working with brands I grew up loving, like Doozers and The Jim Henson Company.”

For Reid, his professional life was firing on all cylinders. “It was a lifelong dream for me to work with Henson – a legendary brand with such a cherished and iconic history,” Reid said. “To me, it was a great accomplishment. The Doozers are those little green guys and gals from Fraggle Rock. The Doozers are always building, inventing things and engineering solutions to overcome the obstacles in front of them. There’s a real curriculum there, teaching kids to overcome adversity, and nurturing essential skills to help them creatively problem solve.”

From there, Reid continued to distinguish himself, working with writing partner Mark Purdy on an unannounced series for DHX Media and Mattel (the toy company). “Stuart is one of our primary writers,” story editor Shea Fontana said. “And he also one of the few writers that we could rely on to generate solid episode premises for a series. I knew I could always count on Stuart to deliver high quality, funny and entertaining stories. His work has been integral to our success.”

His gift for mastering the tricky balance of heart and comedy is Reid’s calling card, one that affords him many opportunities. It’s a comprehensive set of skills that allows him broad professional latitude. “Right now, now I writing on an upcoming show for Air Bud Entertainment, but mainly trying to find the time to develop more original material. It’s been a busy year.”

Reid always has one eye on the horizon, and he knows exactly what he wants. “I really enjoy working in animation, but really anything involving comedy that lets you flex the creative muscles. We love to play in big worlds with supernatural elements and larger than life stories. As long as there is heart and something real that makes our characters tick.” Reid said, “we’ve been writing on a lot of existing franchises or other people’s shows. Our ultimate goal is to get a series of our own on the air… Something original, in the truest sense of the word, that came from our tiny, tiny brains.”

JOHN ALBANIS BECOMES A GLOBAL SENSATION WITH HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS

There are times when you hear about someone taking on a task so difficult, so trying, that you wonder, “Why would you put yourself through this?” Mind you, we’re not talking 127 Hours/James Franco difficult. The film Hector and the Search for Happiness (starring Simon Pegg as Hector) is truly a global experience in terms of the action on the screen and the filmmakers journey to create it. A virtually army of professionals (numbering nearly 600) shot on four different continents, dealing with differing time zones, languages, and currencies to create this masterpiece. To coordinate as well as lend creativity required a very special producer, which is exactly what John Albanis defines. The film’s director, Peter Chelsom, brought John onto this project because of his practically inhuman ability to coordinate and facilitate, all while lending an artistic eye. In order to keep the integrity of the script, a number of producers contributed financially to the film while Albanis’s role was to be the “boots on the ground” in charge. Attesting to the accomplishment of the film’s intact vision are the many awards and nominations it received. These include: 2015 nominated for a Canadian Screen Award, 2015 Leo Awards – nominated Best Motion Picture, nominated Best Production Design in a Motion Picture, nominated Best Musical Score in a Motion Picture, and many others (including a win “Jury Prize” for Peter Chelsom at the Monte-Carlo Comedy Film Festival and a win for Best Foreign Comedy Trailer by the Golden Trailer Awards). A truly stellar cast including: Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Toni Collette, Stellan Skarsgard, Christopher Plummer, Jean Reno, and others was required to deliver incredible performances. Peter Chelsom was required to direct and guide the performances while Kolja Brandt captured them on camera. All of this would have been for naught if John Albanis had not set the table perfectly for all of these artists…and the table required was massive!

When Chelsom requested Albanis to join the film as a producer, it was primarily because of their successful work history (the two have worked together on multiple feature films). When you are about to spend a year of your life biting off more than you can chew, you want someone you trust sitting next to you chewing even faster than yourself. Proving that he was much more than a coordinator or purse string guardian, the relationship between John and Peter would be based on encouraging and advising creatively. Albanis notes, “I had a history of working with Peter and by this point, we’d also become close friends. I wanted Peter to bring more of his personal artistry into this film. I’m a huge fan of his early two films, which were European indies: Hear My Song and Funny Bones. His direction is masterful in those films because the tone is so unique to him. The films he’s made in Hollywood are also fantastic (and certainly financially successful), but they didn’t showcase everything that Peter was capable of achieving. For Hector, Peter needed to get back to his roots and be more creative. This mandate spilled into every decision we made. A lot of the more creative aspects of the film were brainstormed between us early on. A good example of this is the treatment of Hector’s travel journal, which we decided to animate because it afforded us some wonderful thematic and editorial transitional opportunities.”

It’s impossible to separate the diversity of stories in Hector and the Search for Happiness from the diverse situations in which the production was placed to create it. The essence of the story is that Hector (Simon Pegg) is a psychiatrist who feels disillusioned by the mundane nature of his life and emotional experience. On a quest for his own happiness, he seeks out what it is that cultivates this emotion in others. He travels the planet, interacting with and experiencing lifestyles and people completely unlike himself…only to discover that the source of happiness was always with him. The filmmakers were insistent on not using soundstage trickery to “resemble” the feel of each location, meaning that the production travelled to each location, spanning the planet with John Albanis leading the charge. Because he was in charge of scouting locations, this meant that John travelled the globe twice for this film. He explains, “We felt it was crucial to the film’s success to physically go to each country to follow Hector’s journey. And yes…we all wanted to prove it could be done. Hector was an extremely ambitious project with a modest budget — yet we still managed to film across 7 countries and 4 continents including: Vancouver (Canada), London (UK), Johannesburg (S. Africa), Shanghai (China), Los Angeles (USA), Ledakh (India), and Germany. From the very beginning, we viewed it as four indie films that made up one larger story.” A larger studio may have requested a different tone for the film so, rather than rob it of its heart…multiple entities were called upon to aid a financial hand to the artistic integrity. Ultimately, London’s Bankside Films understood the filmmakers vision and agreed with it.

Travelling to exotic destinations with world famous actors may seem glamorous, and it is at times. Producing is a demanding job that requires a clear head and split second decisions at times, especially when in foreign lands. Sometimes the situation calls for a calm demeanor in the most troubling of circumstances. Relating a particularly unsettling experience during the filming of Hector and the Search for Happiness, Albanis recalls, “There’s a section in the film where Hector travels to a Tibetan monastery. We were originally going to film the monastery sequence in rural China. During my initial scout, I sourced the most beautiful monastery in the remote Kangding, Sichuan region of China, which we’d planned to shoot immediately after Shanghai. However, upon arriving at the location, there was unrest between the local monks and the Chinese military police (unrelated to us), so we could no longer film there. This was disastrous for the film and a horrible way to end the production. We went on a hiatus for a few months to game plan how (and where) we were going to film the monastery sequence, which was pivotal to the story. Ultimately, we discovered similar-looking monasteries in Ledakh, India. However, by this time, due to budgetary restraints and cast availability, we were unable to get our entire crew to India. So we decided that I would go to India to produce and direct all of our wide exterior shots, working with a 100% Indian crew and casting a double for Hector (Simon Pegg). I then met back with the rest of the crew along with our cast in the Bavarian Alps in Germany to shoot the interiors, mid-shots, and close-up shots. Coordinating how these shots worked together was quite complicated and each shot had to be precise and storyboarded in great detail.”

IMG_6102

Hector and the Search for Happiness is a warm and tender film yet; it is also uncomfortable. What happens to Hector and those around him is sometimes joyful and affirming and sometimes frightening and unsettling. The adage, “It’s about the journey, not the destination” is accurate and somehow too simplistic to convey the tempering which we humans need to be forged into thankful creations. If the experience solidifies a sense of self, then John Albanis might be the most actualized producer in the film industry today as a result of Hector and the Search for Happiness.

Director and Producer Ron Grebler talks living his dream and captivating audiences

Ever since Ron Grebler was a child, he knew he wanted to direct for the big and small screen. Growing up in Toronto, Canada, he loved watching movies. He always enjoyed being transported to a new world through a film, with each image impacting his emotions. When he would watch, he felt fully engaged, and knew from early on that he wanted to be a cinematic storyteller. Now, he is a top Director and Producer in Canada.

While working with AXE and “Canada’s MTV’s MuchMusic”, Grebler helped take a revolutionary advertisement to the next level. Promoting AXE Hair Products, Grebler produced and directed a series of branded videos for the network’s “Spring Break Special.” The first of its kind on the network, three segments were seamlessly integrated into the hugely successful special to look like programming, not commercials.

“It was flattering to be chosen to work on a new concept of content with such an entertaining and iconic brand. As a commercial and branded content producer and director, it’s a rare opportunity to be asked to launch a new product for a successful brand. AXE was known for its body sprays and very entertaining commercial spots. When they were launching their first line of hair care products it was hard not to jump at the opportunity,” said Grebler.

What made the project fun for Grebler was the “hidden camera” aspect of the commercial. Part of the videos featured the main talent of the commercial asking vacationers questions about his hair, and the unsuspecting vacationers were unaware they were being filmed. This created a fun energy that was maintained throughout the three videos.

“It’s easy to work with Ron. He genuinely loves the craft of producing and directing and wants to put as much as possible into every commercial. We continually chose Ron because of his reliability, professionalism and his creative style. He was a ‘one stop shop’ for production, and we were confident that the final product would be engaging and of high quality. He has a producer/director’s ‘personality’. He’s creative and quick thinking, clear-headed, and dedicated to crafting the best programming possible with the budgets he’s given,” said Randall Graham, the Creative Director of Brand Partnerships and Commercial Production at Bell Media.

The campaign went on to be a large success for both AXE and MuchMusic. Despite the challenges that arose from shooting in Cancun, Mexico, the most popular Spring Break vacation destination, Grebler rose to the occasion. Without him, the campaign could not have achieved what it did.

“Working with Ron is often a fast paced and well thought out environment. Ron is always determined to exceed the expectations of his clients which often means maximizing every available minute. Being in a foreign country with limited tools at our disposal outside of what we brought allowed Ron and crew to think and operate outside of the box yet maintain high standards of production. Working with Ron is, at its core a job but also a classroom. Ron is a vast vault of production and creative knowledge which he is happy and eager to share. In all my years of knowing Ron, he’s always had the mentality that learning never stops and teaching others is always an available opportunity. Ron is always encouraging, positive and motivational on set which makes the complicated and sometimes unpredictable production days not just manageable but fun as well,” said KJ Fuhrman, the Production Coordinator of the campaign.

Grebler is known for his outstanding and memorable commercials. In addition to the AXE campaign with Much, he recently worked on a group of national  commercials for Belair Direct. The campaign was seen by millions of viewers across Canada and was highly successful for both Belair Direct and Grebler.

“Working on a commercial of this magnitude was a lot like juggling 300 hundred balls at once. There were so many little details, all time-oriented and interconnected, and if one falls, the others fall too. It was crazy but it was fun,” said Grebler. “There’s also that satisfying feeling of turning on the TV and seeing the spot I worked on for 3 months appear on different major networks. It’s also cute when my mom and dad call me to say they saw my spot on TV.”

Working with FUJI, Grebler reached an even bigger audience than Canada, as his advertisements were seen all around the world. Working as the director for the campaign, Grebler created two separate commercials, one for national television, and the other for internet use.

“It was an intense, short project that necessitated a lot of focus and particular attention to detail. I was strongly involved in the pre-production and production design, especially when it came to sourcing props and building sets. I was very hands on because for both the agency and client, the overall look of the set was extremely important. Since the concept included having a hand built craft to be used as a ‘hero’ prop, I specifically chose the artist to construct it and oversaw and approved the construction and color scheme,” said Grebler.

The decisions that Grebler made for the commercials led them to be immensely successful. FUJI then decided to launch the commercials in Japan, and are considering a roll out to other international markets.

Ron brings a fresh creative perspective as well as a lot of focused energy, enthusiasm and organization to every project. He has a depth of experience across many different brand categories and demographics and knows how to make every video unique, visually appealing and successful in its goal. He excels at translating the agency creative and client brief and crafting it into engaging video content that will keep consumers and audiences tuned in … and that’s the whole point of a commercial,” said Rebecca Hamilton, Chief Executive Officer Fish Out of Water Design, the agency that created the commercials.

Grebler’s reputation of being extremely thorough while working extremely quickly make him extremely sought-after not only in Canada, but internationally as well. He is truly exceptional at what he does, and his passion for what he does shows in every project he works on.

You can watch the FUJI commercials here.

 

Xiaoyuan Xiao on how to Manifest a Masterful Solo

Screen Shot 2019-09-09 at 12.25.33 PM

Solo may refer to a musical statement which announces mastery and emotion. It may also refer to piloting a course by one’s self. Both of these definitions find their union in director David R. Liu’s film of the same title. Known for his New York Jazz Film Festival award-winning film Bebop, Liu’s enlistment of “Ivy” Xiaoyuan Xiao (at the behest of producer Xin Li) to help him manifest the story testifies to the renown this Chinese born producer has amassed throughout the Indie film community. Solo’s status as an Official Selection at festivals including CAAMFest, the FARCUME International Film Festival of Faro, the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, and numerous others confirms his trust was well placed. Solo is as moody and ethereal as the Jazz music which serves as the backdrop for the journey of the young boy who is so central to its plot. His interaction resonates with dissonant harmony against his father, while his challenging situation is the moving picture personification of the beautiful awkwardness of Thelonious Monk or tempered uncomfortability of Charles Mingus. This film is as much for Jazz lovers as those who understand nothing of the genre but appreciate emotional struggle.

Screen Shot 2019-09-09 at 12.25.09 PM

Max Tepper stars as Jeffrey, a teenage saxophonist who is adjusting to life after his parents’ separation and impending divorce. His troubled father Alex (played by George Tsai of the FX series Mayans and Netflix’s two-time Golden Globe Winning original series The Kominsky Method starring Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin) is at a point of crisis, having lost both his marriage and his job. The comfort Alex feels with the presence of his son is counterbalanced by Jeffery’s musical desires; a nagging reminder of his soon to be ex-wife’s imprint on their offspring.

Screen Shot 2019-09-09 at 12.25.17 PM

 Solo offers no huge effects or complex production numbers; which is precisely what stands out about this film. The producers, director, crew, and cast have cohesively created a mood of gravitas that permeates the entire story. The intensity of life’s uncomfortable relationships and moments are to be channeled into Jeffery’s artistic expression. It’s a fitting parallel to that of the artists who created this production. In the same way that “Birth of the Cool” featured Miles Davis rejecting the template of jazz of that era for a slow moving artistic statement, Solo echoes this tempered language with a fictional tale of a present day aspiring horn player. It’s not so much a jazz story as a human story. Ivy confirms that you don’t need to be a music aficionado to connect with Solo, stating, “I am actually the opposite of Jeffrey if I have to make a connection. My parents bought me piano when I was interested in learning but the passion only lasted a short time. I had so many interests learning an instrument growing up but unfortunately, nothing lasted. Solo reminded me how lucky I am to have open-minded parents and opportunities to explore. That’s the essence of our film and why I wanted to be involved in telling it.”

Screen Shot 2019-09-09 at 12.25.43 PM