Tag Archives: Producing

Mariana Mendez on helping open discussions about important issues

Now, more than ever in society, it is acceptable to take important world issues and start meaningful conversations about them. With topics ranging from mental health and sexual assault, to human rights, education, and everything in between, individuals are feeling increasingly comfortable debating the moral and ethical conducts underlying each category. One of those individuals is film producer, Mariana Mendez. For as long as she can remember, Mendez has been passionate about starting conversations before the eyes of her audiences and doing so in such a way that allows the conversation to carry on beyond the screen. Ultimately, she wants to help contribute to a society that speaks freely about change while she freely changes society through the quality content she produces before her audiences. This mentality has made her a highly sought commodity in the film industry; however, she remains simply humbled by the fact that she gets to live out her dream every day and call it a job.

In 2017, esteemed director, Luis Téllez set out to complete a stop motion animation film that tells the story of a black pawn who watches the chessboard around him crumble when a game ends due to the battles it has been subjected to. This, in turn, creates a new opportunity for both sides in a “game” that gathers new dimensions. The character that Téllez was looking to portray was one he had had in mind for the better part of seven years. His issue was the he couldn’t seem to make the character fit anywhere. It wasn’t until he and Mendez began discussing the feelings that human beings undergo when something undesirable happens to them. They determined that the true signs of character show in the way in which an individual reacts to these situations and from there, Mendez and Téllez knew that they had to bring this character, and these realities, to life before their audiences. What followed ended up shaping one of the best experiences of Mendez’ career.

“After we decided where we wanted to go with the script, it was fascinating to watch crew members of all different ages, from all different walks of life, come together. I am a fan of animation, but it definitely amounted to a very significant learning process. In many ways, I learned to appreciate animators and the work that they do in ways I hadn’t previously understood. Animation sets are so different than live-action sets. There are issues that arise from the puppets or software that you wouldn’t otherwise encounter on a live set. This had a large impact on the day-to-day decisions we made and I’m so glad I got to be a part of it,” she described.

For the film, Mendez proved herself to be invaluable as she handled regular production duties that had to do with scheduling, organization, and more; however, she also managed to attract investors to the project and have them help fund she and Téllez’ dream for the script. Her philosophy, as a producer, is to always lead by example and set a precedent for everyone around her. She remains respectful and welcoming, always ensuring that she fosters an environment of open communication, hard work, and dedication. She also aims to hire people based on both their abilities, as well as their personalities. Above all else, however, she prioritizes the selection of projects that reflect what is going on in society and to help spread awareness of major and minor issues alike.

Mendez, being a very detail-oriented individual, gained a new-found appreciation for the level of detail that goes into producing a stop-motion animation. She dedicated herself to learning how to shoot a stop-motion scene properly and planned her timelines and budgets accordingly. Ultimately, what she loved most about the project, was the fact that every day on set served as a reminder that we have the technology and resources available to tell just about any story out there and given her passion for storytelling, she can’t think of anything more exciting.

“Production-wise, it was an honor to be able to immerse myself in the world of animation and I gained a new-found respect for all the animators, designers, and visual effects people working in the industry. Story-wise, I loved to be able to tell such a crude and real story via such an innocent art form. I’m a very detail-oriented person and I was impressed by the amount of detail that went into it. In general, I was reminded that due to technological advances and the software we used, our own imagination is the limit, which pretty much instilled in me that I could potentially tell any kind of story in the future,” told Mendez.

When Viva el Rey premiered at Sitges Film Festival in 2017, audiences were drawn to its relatable storyline and expert animations. It later screened at other film festivals around the world and is still completing a festival circuit today. Mendez’s success with the film is the reason that she was asked to work with the same team again for their latest project, Inzomnia. She is eager to learn how audiences will receive the new film and hopes it will be just as great as the result of their work on Viva el Rey. Keep an eye out when it premieres in festivals near you.

 

Written by Joyce Cameron

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Conducting a Reality Competition Interview for TV, a how-to by Supervising Producer Emma Greenhalgh

Being a reality producer certainly comes with a lot of preconceptions, but the reality of producing, in my experience, is actually a very warm and rewarding career.

My name is Emma Greenhalgh, and I’ve spent fifteen years producing on reality competition shows for TV. It’s fair to say I’ve produced and directed hundreds of people’s life stories along the way, whether it be with the Got Talent franchise, Dancing with the Stars, and more. It’s been my job to bring people’s personal stories, experiences and emotions to the nations TV screens as part of a carefully crafted TV show. The core of sharing these stories is an on-camera interview, the moment where our subject gets to share a piece of themselves with the show and in turn the nation. It’s an opportunity to open up, to explain the road that lead them to appearing on that show and essentially garner the sympathy or empathy of the viewer at home, and it’s my job to help them do this in the most effective way.

Interviewing for reality TV is something one learns over time. I think the biggest misconception is that contestants are told what to say by a team of producers no one ever gets to see, and whilst yes, we are working hard to bring your favorite shows to your TV screen, we are not telling contestants what to say…we are helping them structure their truth in a concise way to have maximum impact. The key to conducting this kind of interview is to take a story, a personal experience, and present that to an audience in not only the most relatable way possible, but also in a very short amount of time.

The foundation of this kind of interview really is listening. Sounds obvious, right? I have met many producers over the years who have gone in to their interview armed with a list of great questions and a plan of how they want the interview to go, but then forgetting that they have to listen and respond. Sure, ask your first question, make small talk to create a bond and put the person you’re interviewing at ease (they’ll likely be nervous) but from that point on you should be listening and responding. Hear the story you’re being told, enter the world of the person you’re interviewing, imagine how it might feel to have their life, to feel their feelings, to have seen what they’ve seen and feel what they feel. It’s surprising how often even the most hardened of interviewees can be telling you a story but the second you ask them how it feels, it leads them to emotionally connect with the experience again and the regaling of the story changes, now you have the connection and the true feelings.

Ensuring you understand how a person feels is the core of any successful interview and if I could only give one piece of advice that would be it. That said there are a number of ways you can ensure your interview for TV is as thorough and successful as it can be.

So, as you head in to a reality interview think about the following list:

Research your subject

  • Always go in to an interview knowing your interviewee’s background. Who they are, what their life has been like. Know their story in advance and how you want to tell it and have a clear idea of the structure.
  • Ideally talk to your subject in advance for a pre-interview conversation. If that’s not possible, then do your research and know as much as you can about them before you sit down.
  • Write your interview structure/questions in advance. This gives you a guideline to ensure that a) you hit all the beats and don’t miss anything and b) stops you veering off track. Of course, things may change in the interview, but that list of questions acts as your guide and will keep you from losing your way.

Start Light

  • This may seem obvious, but when you have a lot to cover in an interview and perhaps a short amount of time to get it all done, it can be tempting to get in to the heavy or core of a story straight away. This is not a good idea. Let’s face it an interview is a pretty unnatural situation. I always find it’s a good idea to have a chat off camera first, kind of outline what’s going to happen but generally just put them at ease, so they feel comfortable talking to you.
  • Once you begin the interview, always start with the light topics, who they are, where they’re from, their background, growing up etc. No one tells a story by going straight to the middle of the book, you need an introduction to ease in.

Sentence Structure

  • Always get the person to answer your question in a full sentence. The interviewers voice is rarely used. If you asked where a person grew up, if they simply answer ‘Denver Colorado’ there is no context for that answer or what you were asking. The person being interviewed needs to incorporate what was being asked in their response e.g. I grew up in Denver Colorado.

Stay Silent

  • A little less natural, but as you listen to what the person you’re interviewing says it’s important for you to remain silent. You need the audio of the interview to be clean. Thankfully, you can convey a whole range of emotions through your face without making a sound. Using your eyes and facial expressions you can easily nod, shake your head, be sympathetic, be surprised, laugh, but all without sound to encourage the person you are interviewing but not messing up your audio recording.

Be reactive and flexible

  • Often even with all the research and pre-chat before the interview starts, sometimes they just don’t go the way you expect them to. Maybe the timeline is different than you thought, maybe the person doesn’t feel the way you expected, maybe the person doesn’t want to talk about something you were hoping would be the heart of the interview, it happens. The key here is being reactive, being able to work around the hurdles, find a different story or change the direction of what you hoped to get and adapt to the new facts.

Engage and be empathetic

  • An interview shouldn’t just be a list of questions. It’s essentially a conversation. Don’t ask a question to hear an answer and then simply ask the next question on your list. React to the response, maybe it sparks another question, maybe it brings up something you never thought of, ‘hear’ what the person being interviewed says and respond to it, offer empathy, offer sympathy, ask more questions that feel natural. It’s important to remain human and imagine how it must feel for the person you’re talking to, give them space to feel and show that emotion within the interview

Respect

  • Respect the story, it’s someone’s life. Whether you are shocked, saddened, or find it funny, it’s important to respect the story and allow the person being interviewed to tell it their way in their words.

Pacing and Space

  • Don’t rush! This is both for the success of the interview and for post. Always allow room and space at the end of each response for the person to complete what they’re saying or feeling and for your editor to have a clean end before your voice starts again.
  • It’s also very important to allow the person you’re interviewing to talk at their own pace. If they clearly think something is funny, let them laugh, if they are super sad and start to cry, give them room to cry. You can of course be empathetic and sympathetic, but this is where you have to go against natural instincts a little. It may feel uncomfortable but it’s real and it allows the viewer at home to connect with the person.

Obviously there a so many variables when conducting an interview and no two interviews are the same, but ultimately an interview is a carefully crafted conversation where the interviewer is in control but the person being interviewed is still being given the opportunity to speak freely and honestly.

The best way to get better at TV reality interviews? Work in the field but ALWAYS work in the edit too. This way you can see precisely the mechanics and process of how the interview becomes the one-minute piece on TV. The best producers are those that work in both field and post, no question. Oh, and practice, practice, practice; like with anything, the more you do it, the better you will be.

Producer and Director Gianlorenzo Albertini’s new film explores PTSD in veterans

Director-Gianlorenzo Albertini
Gianlorenzo Albertini

Hailing from Naples, Italy, Gianlorenzo Albertini was drawn to film at a young age. At the time, he believed everything that was happening in the movies actually occurred at that moment in time, somewhere in the world. As he grew, he realized that they were in fact stories, but the magic of movies was not lost on him. He daydreamed about all sorts of futures, from being a professional athlete, a rock star, an army pilot, a poet, a doctor, a detective, the pope. Although he knew that these were not all reasonable options, he knew the one path he could take where everything was possible: filmmaking.

“Films combine all the best things that I love in life: music, photography, writing, painting with light, portraying different characters, and any art,” he said.

As a celebrated director and producer, Albertini is currently releasing his most recent film, The Ribbon on the Kite, to worldwide audiences. The film follows a woman who, after discovering a homeless man living on the riverbank, tries to help him against his wishes. As you watch, you begin to see there is a greater history behind the homeless man than initially seems. Albertini, who also co-wrote the film, wanted to explore the emotional effects of war on individuals and draw attention to the hardships and the devastating effects of physical and psychological trauma that vets who have severe PTSD and are forced to endure due to governmental neglect. He wanted to place emphasis on veterans’ life after war upon, on the grief and horror of the battlefield they are forced to endure, oftentimes keeping the struggle to themselves, and on their difficult transition adjusting to civilian life. The film shows how frequently veterans end up being deliberately homeless because of their psychological inability to cope with the mental abuse inflicted on them, ultimately choosing to suffer in isolation.

As the writer and director of the film, Albertini did not have the experience and the full understanding of the plight of war. However, during his childhood, he often heard the stories told by his grandparents, about the horrors and atrocities during WWII they lived in their youth; they were his first understanding of the harsh and frightening conditions of war. He knew that, as a filmmaker, it was his responsibility to show the world just what so many veterans go through as realistically and explicitly possible.

poster the ribbon on the kiteThe Ribbon on the Kite is making its way in the festival circuit. It’s been screened at and won several awards at various festivals around the world such as the Richmond International Film Festival, Maryland International Film Festival, Kansas City FilmFest, Garden State Film Festival, Soma Film festival, Oniros Film Awards, L.A. Shorts Awards, New Filmmakers New York, Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, Los angeles Independent Film festival Awards, Los Angeles CineFest, St. Lawrence International Film Festival, European Independent Film Award, and Largo Film Awards. After the festival run, Albertini is planning on distributing the film through VOD platforms such as Amazon and Fandor.

During the research and writing phase, Albertini made sure to research exactly what life is like for war veterans. He talked with friends of his, who gave the director vast insight regarding their physical and psychological traumas and what might ultimately drive them to isolation. This created an even deeper drive for Albertini, who had the chance to perceive and recognize their struggles and eventually apply them to the film.

The authenticity of the script was mostly achieved on set during filming, due to the fact that the script barely contains any dialogue. Therefore, all the real emotional traits are not said but instead shown by the work of the actors. This also made Albertini’s work as the director that much more vital, as he had to choose just how to visually convey the authenticity and purity of the story in every shot.

While filming, one of the most significant challenges was working with natural lighting and the unpredictable changes in weather; the natural light of course would eventually fade away, meaning shooting would stop for the day, even if Albertini and his team were in the middle of a scene. For the last scene in the film, they shot at sunset during “magic hour”, which may be short, and took more effort to finalize, but was incredibly worth it.

They shot the film along a riverbank in Los Angeles. The location was beautiful but is known for flooding. During production, the water level began to rise. The crew quickly began packing up their things, but the shot ended up being quite beautiful.

“The equipment almost got swept away by the strong current – that was quite an adventure, but we filmed the flooding of the river and that ultimately ended up in the movie,” he concluded.

Be sure to check out The Ribbon on the Kite. In the meantime, however, you can watch the trailer here.

 

Top photo from left to right: Actress Julia Yusupova, Actor Greg Hill, and Director Gianlorenzo Albertini

Producer Kegan Sant talks award-winning film ‘The Bear’

Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Kegan Sant moved to Canada at just six months old. Growing up just outside of Toronto, Sant was constantly drawn to filmmaking. He has worked in varying capacities on set since he was only a teenager and enjoys shooting photography to keep the creative juices flowing. While trying out the many roles that a film set offers, there was one that spoke to him, and he ultimately decided there was only one option: he was meant to be a producer.

“As I worked through the different roles on set, I realized that my skill set led more heavily towards the management and overall execution of a project. I’m a big believer in knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses and always playing to your strengths; in this case, it set me down a path of working in production and ultimately producing. Being a professional comes with the job description and something I pride myself in – running sets with integrity and calm amidst the chaos,” said Sant.

Throughout his esteemed career, Sant has worked mostly in the commercial sector primarily dealing with advertising agencies to make commercials for brands. This includes large companies such as WestJet, Woods, the CFL, and TELUS. Each and every commercial he has taken on has received national recognition in some capacity, exemplifying just what makes Sant so formidable. However, his talents are not just limited to commercials, and his track record with films is no different.

In 2015, Sant began working on The Bear. Isolated, exhausted, alone: the dramatic thriller follows three miners in a remote Yukon mining camp in Canada’s far north who swap tall tales that lead to a violent showdown with the camp’s bitter owner. Part story of man in the wilderness, part neo-noir, The Bear takes the audience into the Canadian ‘heart of darkness’.

“I think this was an important Canadian story to tell and describes an environment that not many people think about but is a reality for many miners. I liked it because it was loosely based off someone the director had met working on a documentary many years ago and it allowed for different departments to flex their creative muscles. Being able to cast the characters the director had envisioned made the story come to life that much more for me,” said Sant.

After premiering at the 2015 Fort McMurray International Film Festival, where it won for ‘Best Direction’ and ‘Best Cinematography’, The Bear went on to several other prestigious film festivals around the world. It was also an Official Selection at the Yellowknife International Film Festival, Toronto International Short Film Festival, Edinburgh Short Film Festival, Atlantic Film Festival and Austin Short Film Fest. In 2017, it was then acquired by an online VOD distributor.

“I’m proud to know that the film has been so successful and screened around the world. It means that all the hard work myself and the crew put in, was worth it. It impresses me when I think about how many films are made all over the world and what the competition is like in festival screeners these days,” said Sant.

Sant was the team’s first choice for the producer of their film. Long Format Director, Warren Sonoda, knew Sant’s reputation for being able to assemble great crews and bring a high level of production value to the project. When the Director of the film, Peter Findlay talked with Sant about the project’s merits and goals, he felt at ease that Sant was the one who could make his first narrative project come to life.

Although he works on commercials more frequently, Sant knew he wanted to work on The Bear the moment he read the script. He was happy with the team, and admired Findlay’s commitment to the story. He couldn’t pass up the opportunity to help bring the project to life.

“I had the good fortune to work with Kegan as my producer on my award-winning film The Bear. I found Kegan to be extremely professional, creative, and always working calmly behind the scenes in the best interests of the production. What makes Kegan such an asset is that he has the steely focus it takes to deliver on time and on budget – and he also just flat-out loves telling stories. A great compromise between the art and business of filmmaking,” said Findlay.

When shooting, Sant and his team worked outdoors in a remote location. He extensively prepped, knowing that once out there, it would be difficult to change anything. Sant had to build a miner’s camp set from scratch and work with the Director of Photography to find lenses that worked to help it appear that the film was shot in the Yukon rather than rural Ontario.

On top of this, he also offered the director multiple options and a chance to exercise his creativity. Sant wanted to let Findlay feel like he wasn’t rushed, knowing the importance of allowing a director the freedom and flexibility to feel comfortable with their process. Findlay had no prior experience in the narrative world. He didn’t have the crew contacts or resources to bring the project to life in a way that it needed to be produced. Sant was able to introduce him to the right key crew for the job, specifically the cinematographer and production designer.

“I enjoyed working with an experienced director that came from a different world of storytelling – it was enlightening to see the differences in process and to learn from it as well. I could learn from him and likewise, he could learn from me. It was a great working relationship and I was able to hire the best crew for the job, giving some crew opportunities that they hadn’t had before to help build their reel and portfolio, in addition to creating a short on a cool subject,” said Sant.

The Bear is just one of Sant’s many successful films, and he looks forward to working on more in the near future. He is an extremely versatile producer and is constantly adapting to be successful. Audiences can continue to expect great things from him, and for those looking to follow in his footsteps, he offers insightful advice.

“I would tell aspiring producers that they need to get their hands dirty. Producing is not a glamorous job, but it is fulfilling. Work in a variety of capacities on set and make sure that production is what you want. Production manage before you produce; it will help you understand the crew and different departments and needs versus wants. Know your strengths and weaknesses; it will determine whether producing is for you or not. You have to have a thick skin…you will face much rejection in your life if you choose producing as a career path. You must learn to be empathetic, as you will be the boss of an eclectic group of professionals. They will have their quirks, they will have wildly different personalities and you’ll have to learn how to manage them, understand them and realize what you as a producer are willing and able to handle and what you are not. There are many production companies and crews in the industry – if one or two don’t work out, it doesn’t mean you should give up. Perseverance is key – it is the defining difference between you and everyone else who is not a producer,” he advised.

 

Pictured left to right: Kegan Sant, Peter Findlay, Rob Comeau on set of “The Bear”, photo by Stephanie Langzik
By Sean Desouza

Tips from the experts: Supervising Producer Jonathon Ridgard

My name is Jonathon Ridgard, and for over ten years, I have been working as a successful television producer all around the world, predominantly on prime-time entertainment shows such as The X Factor, American Idol, Got Talent franchises, Undercover Boss and Dancing with the Stars. As a Supervising Producer, I am responsible for leading teams of producers, associate producers and production assistants to create great television shows. I have worked on many leading entertainment formats around the world, in the US, UK and Australia, for networks such as NBC, ABC, FOX, BBC, ITV, Network Ten, and more.

No two jobs are the same; no two days are ever the same. To thrive in this industry and have a successful career, you will need perseverance, commitment, and to be prepared to put in a lot of hard work. It certainly isn’t an industry that nurtures the bewildered – you’ll want confidence to work on your skills, experience and contacts and not be afraid to work from the bottom up – with no ego.

Here are my tips, insight, and advice on what it takes to get into television and become a successful producer:

STARTING OUT – PRODUCTION ASSISTANT

My biggest advice to those starting a career in television is to start at the bottom. Irrespective of whatever degree you got in university – leave the ego at the door and learn your craft from the ground up. As a production assistant, you will get to work in every department on a show, work with equipment, and get a real insight into what life is like as a producer. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for advice. Showing a keen interest and being pro-active with your role will only make you stand out to a producer. But remember, choose the right time to ask those questions! Approach every single task, however big or small, with enthusiasm as if your life depended on it. Do the coffee run, make perfect notes, anticipate the needs of your producer and you will be off to a good start.

WATCH TV / HAVE IDEAS

One of the things that I am always surprised at when speaking to people starting out in television is the amount of time they spend watching TV – or lack of. It is so important to watch TV, films, commercials, music videos, short films – anything that might give you inspiration. Mark Twain once said, “There is no such thing as a new idea”, but what a successful producer can do is look at and take inspiration from what they see around them. I have drawn so much inspiration from the stuff that I have watched, adapted it and created something myself.

Constantly make a list of your ideas, whether it’s for a new type of show, a segment of a particular type of show, an interesting game or a particular shot that you liked. You will never know when that might work.

BE SOCIAL

I can’t stress how important it is to get to know as many people as you can, especially in the first few years of your career. Making connections is the key to success in the television industry. Jobs are rarely, if ever advertised. Most people get jobs through word of mouth, reputation and recommendation. So being a strong, creative worker with a good network is definitely an advantage. I haven’t had a ‘job interview’ in seven years and I have worked consistently. All of my work is through recommendations and network executives or executive producers reaching out and wanting me.

And finally…

ENJOY YOURSELF AND BE NICE

Working in television should be a fun, creative experience – remember that, even when things get stressful. This career has given me the opportunity to work and travel the world, meet some of the most interesting people and have the most amazing, life changing experiences – take a moment to take them in.

Remember, always be nice. It’s very easy to develop an ego in this industry, but the one thing I always remember is while it’s nice to be important, it’s important to be nice.

 

Jonathon Ridgard is currently working on the newest season of American Idol, premiering March 11th on ABC.

Producer Mickey Liu brings music and drama together in acclaimed film ‘Nocturne in Black’

Growing up, Mickey Liu always found himself stuck between two different pathways as a child. He studied business, but he loved the arts. However, as a teenager, he realized he could combine both these passions and become a professional producer. A producer is a leader, a problem-solver, a caretaker, a doer, a negotiator, a storyteller and an artist. Liu aims to be all of them, and he has achieved his goal, becoming one of China’s leading producers.

“The lack of professional producers is one of the biggest problems in the film industry of my home country. I feel the responsibility and urgency to become one. It’s very challenging, but also very rewarding,” said Liu.

Liu’s work in Chinese film is renowned. His movies such as Sail the Summer Wind, An Ill-Fitting Coat and Tear of the Peony exemplify Liu’s determination to transform the Chinese film industry and allow for more professional producers to take lead. However, one of the highlights of his career comes from his work on the 2016 film Nocturne in Black, which is actually in Arabic.

“I wanted to work on this project because of its powerful script with a musical element of the story. It was one of those rare cases where I immediately knew I would regret not being part of this. It was definitely a very ambitious and challenging project, but if we could pull that off, we would send a powerful message,” he said.

Nocturne in Black takes place in a war-ravaged Middle Eastern neighborhood, where a musician struggles to rebuild his piano after it is destroyed by terrorists. The film premiered and was an Official Selection at the 2016 Telluride Film Festival in Colorado along with Liu’s film Tear of the Peony. From there it was an Official Selection at the Los Angeles Shorts International Film Festival, won Best Director at NDU International Film Festival, The Marion Carter Green Award at the 2016 National Board of Review, Gold Circle Award Grant Winner at the 2016 Caucus Foundation, and Best Short Film Narrative at the Long Beach International Film Festival. What was the most exciting for Liu, however, was when he received the news that Nocturne in Black was shortlisted for Best Live Action Short for the 89th Academy Awards.

“It was definitely the highlight of my career. I remember receiving an email from Producer Felecia Hunter with the subject line “JESUS CHRIST” and a link to the Hollywood Reporter article in it. I was literally shaking while scrolling down the list and found out that we were shortlisted. I had no idea it could go that far, and I still feel very honored and blessed to be a part of it” said Liu.

When putting together a team for the film, Producer Felecia Hunter approached Liu, knowing what an asset he could be as a co-producer. The two had worked together in the past, and she knew he had great experience putting together and designing posters. Once he was approached, Liu read the script and immediately decided to jump on board. He then created the pitch book and designed posters when the film was just a script, which ended up being essential in the success of their Kickstarter campaign, and he also designed the look of the Kickstarter page. Half of the film was financed by the crowdfunding campaign. Liu also contributed editing notes in post-production.

NIB at LA Shorts Fest with producer Felecia Hunter
Mickey Liu and Felecia Hunter at the LA Shorts Fest

Hunter and Liu attended several film festivals and awards to help promote the film. During the film’s festival run, he helped with coordinating the transportation of the film’s DCP copy and created promotional postcards for Nocturne in Black. Liu played a critical role in financing and marketing of Nocturne in Black, and that is exactly why Hunter approached him to begin with.

Mickey is organized, thorough, and possesses a very keen eye for details. He knows how to communicate with department heads quickly and effectively, ensuring a productive working environment on set and throughout post-production. Mickey is an asset on any project or event he works on. He always goes the extra mile by working long hours; triple checking details; and doing much more than is required of his job description. Through our work together, I had the delight of experiencing his extraordinary talent shine from pre-production to having films he produced screen at the Telluride Film Festival and other notable festivals worldwide. Mickey Liu is a gifted artist, but also a skilled professional and invaluable collaborator. His writing, producer’s vision, and narrative insights have always been revelatory – the sign of a mature and talented film producer – and add an unforgettable quality to any project he takes on,” said Hunter.

The story is set in Syria, but for safety reasons due to the civil war in the country, the production took place in the director’s home country Lebanon. Liu was working long hours just to put together a good pitch book; he did a lot of the research and exchanged notes with the Director, Jimmy Keyrouz, to ensure the look of the pitch book matched Keyrouz’s artistic vision. He then worked on the typography and details of the book for days, and this was only the first step.

“Everyone on the team pushed themselves to a whole new level because we wanted to have the best possible version of the film. It was really a labor of love and I could feel it when I was working on it,” Liu described.

The team was one of the best parts about working on Nocturne in Black for Liu. He was extremely impressed with everyone’s commitment to the story and with the professionalism on set. Everyone was at the top of their game, and they were having fun. More than anything, however, Liu was most inspired by the story they were telling. He knows the importance it has and encourages audiences to see it.

“It’s imperative to remind people about what is happening in the forgotten parts of the world – murderously effective, half-ton barrel bombs are constantly dropped on innocent civilians. It’s a story about human spirit standing up to oppression, evil, and terrorism. In the story, playing music is the protagonist’s ultimate act of defiance in a world where music is banned. I think it sends out a powerful message. Our director once said, “Art is a mighty tool that helps us fight extremism and terrorism.” In some way, making this film is our way to join the fight,” he said.

Be sure to check out Nocturne in Black so you too can join the fight.

 

Top photo by Lingyun Zheng

 

By Sean Desouza

Dixie Chan talks honor of producing China’s most viewed documentary of 2015

For as long as she can remember, Dixie Chan recalls having a deep passion for the art of filmmaking. When she was a child, she would actively search for the “behind-the-scenes” footage of her favorite films and study the styles and techniques through which they were created. Particularly, Chan found herself interested in the making of documentaries. There was something so intriguing about how the lives of the individuals or concepts presented in narrative documentary style films would tell themselves. As she got older, Chan began exposing herself to film festivals around the world and her fascination with the visual and narrative power of documentary films grew stronger the more that she watched. She could often be found in the back of a film screening, jotting and scribbling notes about the techniques and ideas that interested her most. Flash forward to today, and Chan has developed a remarkable career as a film producer, exploring her love for documentary style films and forming a livelihood around it.

“What I love is that every documentary project has a certain theme, message, or vision. My role as a producer, then, is to flesh that out by searching for the right people and the right places to tell those compelling stories. In the field of documentary storytelling, you look for these compelling characters and you let their lives tell their stories. With that, preproduction work often involves extensive research, most of which is done in the field with locals. As a producer, I am always the first one to access the location and characters, so a big part of my job is to gather as much intelligence for the shoot as possible. Subsequently, I cast characters and scout out the best filming spots and angles. I also brainstorm with the field director about how we can bring our narrative ideas to life, from the types of scenes that can be shot to the kind of questions that we can raise during interviews,” shared Chan.

During her career as a producer, Chan has worked on some of National Geographic and The Discovery Channels most prestigious documentaries. Her work on documentaries such as Frontier Borneo, The Bridge, Warriors of Wood and Stone, and Expedition X — Silk Road Rising, are the reason that she has earned such a strong reputation amongst her peers. She is well known for her ability to see a project through from conception to post-production and her unique style makes her a force topple reckoned with in the producing community. In fact, the caliber of work that Chan is capable of producing typically earns her a significant amount of praise and award buzz in her field. For instance, it is no coincidence that after Chan produced Frontier Borneo, it went on to receive a nomination for Best Documentary Series at the 2017 Asian Television Awards, as well as an Official Selection for the 2017 Eco Film Festival in Singapore. These awards were little, however, in comparison to the recognition she received for her work on National Geographic’s hit series, China From Above.

China From Above is a 2-part documentary commissioned by the National Geographic Channel which takes an aerial perspective showcasing how China has transformed its cities and infrastructure over the last three decades, whilst still retaining its strong traditions. From the monumental engineering feats of the Great Wall, to innovative and unique farming techniques, and a massive water splashing festival, the show illustrates how these strong traditions have shaped China’s landscape to make it uniquely recognizable around the world and truly magnificent, especially from the air.

Chan began working on China From Above in 2014, partway through the show’s production. Given that aerial cinematography was still a relatively new style of filming, she was eager to explore her own personal production style along with it. At the time that Chan was asked to join China From Above’s production team, management had identified a gap in communication between the show’s Chinese and Australian partners. Fortunately, Chan had experience working on Chinese documentaries and being bilingual, she was able to communicate extensively in both Mandarin and English on all logistical and editorial matters. She was thrilled that she was able to bridge the gab between Chinese and Australian work cultures. Though it was challenging at times, she was rewarded by the opportunity to expand her experience within the field of documentary style film production, as well as to explore her potential as a bilingual producer.

As the show’s lead producer, Chan had a very large task on her hands. Given the fact that aerial documentaries were so new and unexplored, she had few points of reference to go by when researching and planning the film’s production. For this reason, she motivated herself to utilize the skills she had already established throughout her career and adapt them for this new and unfamiliar style of filming. In addition, she had her work cut out for her when it came to scouting characters and locations to feature in the show. She was in constant battle with climate and terrain conditions, travelling through extreme winter and desert conditions at even the best of times. Beyond that, she carefully and considerately searched for characters who would bring a certain degree of unpolished authenticity to the footage. For this reason, she spent countless hours grooming candidates and refused to stop searching until she found the best possible individuals for the job.

“There was one instance where I arrived on location to work on a story about Kazakh Eagle Hunters and realized that the characters that were introduced to us were not ideal for our project, and had to spend another 5 hours traveling in the snow to find a more authentic candidate. I am a perfectionist in that regard. I never take the easy way out especially when it comes to characters and stories,” told Chan.

Though daunting at times, her hard work eventually paid off in the end and Chan considers her work on China From Above to be one of the greatest highlights of her career. For anyone who worked with her on the project, it is no secret why. She placed a great level of dedication and effort into ensuring that each second of film was edited and refined to shed China in the most compelling light possible. Felix Feng, Vice President of Operations: China, Natural History New Zealand, worked very closely with Chan when researching and scouting locations for the show and knows how particular she was about capturing high quality content throughout the duration of the filming process. He credits her as having been the reason that the project was executed so smoothly and considers himself fortunate to have been able to collaborate with such a high performing producer.

“It was a great experience working with Dixie on this award-winning and breakthrough project about China. Her patience, hard-work, smart and creative thinking, persistence, and proper communication skills were very valuable in the production of China From Above. This helped us in an extremely smooth execution in both the research and ground shooting of the production. Today, the show has a viewership of over 200 million people and is one of the best rated documentaries in China. Dixie was a hero behind the scenes and is one of the biggest reasons why it was so successful,” added Feng.

After it premiered, China From Above went on to earn a slew of awards and praise at film festivals across the globe. For instance, the film won the award for Best Camerawork and Best Cultural Issues at the New York Festival Gold Awards in 2016, as well as a Gold Panda Award at the 2016 Sichuan TV Festival, and more. In addition, it received over 130,000,000 views within the first two weeks of premiering in China and was later named China’s most viewed documentary TV series in 2015 by China Mainland Media Research Co., Ltd. Its widespread success and praise was above and beyond what Chan had dreamed of for the series and she feels fortunate to be able to have played such a prominent role in creating it.