Tag Archives: Producing

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.

Producer Yayun Hsu talks new film ‘Next Door’

Taiwan’s Yayun Hsu sees her role as a producer similar to that of a magician; she is often required to make things appear out of nowhere, with the end goal of enthralling audiences and providing a temporary escape, and a source of entertainment. With each new project, this revered producer analyzes what she can do with the resources she has, looking to see how to make things happen no matter the budget. Whenever she wraps a project, she reviews what steps were taken to ensure everything is the best it can possibly be. Despite constant success, she always feels a slight sense of surprise and delight by such good results, giving her the positive power to make more movies and tell better stories, and audiences around the world are thankful for such a commitment to her craft.

Throughout her esteemed career, Hsu has worked on many films and various projects that exemplify what she is capable of. This year alone, Hsu worked on a series of successful endeavors. She created a video for the Westfield Century City Mall Grand Opening Event, made a national commercial for the Whisk Wiper, produced the inaugural American Influencer Awards, and worked on several successful films.

“I give myself the rule of ‘practice what you preach.’ For example, if I expect my actors and crew to be to set on time, then I need to be there even earlier; if I hold a vendor responsible for delivering a quality product, then I need to make sure I’m delivering the same quality both in my word and work ethic. I find this strategy pays off for everyone involved,” said Hsu.

This strategy has indeed paid off for Hsu’s most recent film, Next Door. It is a horror film that conveys the message to not always trust what you see. Next Door follows Lily and Earl, who have just moved into a new home and become Morgan’s neighbor. Lily makes Morgan think her father, Earl, is an abuser, but it turns out Lily has dark secrets of her own The script is what caught Hsu’s interest in the film, and she knows the importance of a good story.

“A good storyline and a plot twist will always make a film memorable. Leaving a lasting impression on an audience is of course the ultimate goal of a filmmaker. I prefer thought provoking storylines and I hope that this one inspires change after viewing,” she said. 

The film had its premiere at the Asian World Film Festival at the beginning of November, and impressed both audiences and critics. It is expected to make its way to several other film festivals over the next year.

“It was amazing to see all the footage we made come together into a real film. It feels nice that it is now doing well at festivals. Receiving recognition from the professional filmmakers is a compliment especially from people I admire. We worked hard on this project for almost half a year, so to see it on the big screen was definitely is a pleasure,” said Hsu.

In her role as Unit Production Manager on Next Door, Hsu was involved in casting, location scouting, applying for permits, arranging catering, controlling the budget, and working on set to solve unexpected problems. In one instance, the Director of Photography realized he forgot to rent camera batteries for the shoot. Hsu knew exactly who to contact at the last minute to help the shoot continue without delay. Additionally, before Hsu joined to the team, the director already had completed casting, but he couldn’t get the right actors for the performance. Hsu then was invited to take part in the casting process, and she posted casting information on different platforms, which led to the right actors being cast for the film. There is no doubt that the film would not have achieved what it already has without her extraordinary talents.

“Yayun is very well-rounded and able to help out the team in numerous different roles. As a producer, Yayun has a strong leadership ability to solve problems. As a partner, she is dependable and reliable when I need support. As a worker, she always does her best to find the best solutions in a time efficient manner. These are all very desirable qualities in a team member. Yayun gives every working partner a relaxed and happy environment, while also supervising the filming process. We have worked on many projects, and I foresee Yayun’s support as an advantage for any team she is on in the film industry,” said Mimi Masters, Producer of Next Door and CEO of IMC Production.

Masters specifically sought out Hsu to work as her partner, as she was working on several films at the same time, and she knew she needed someone like Hsu as an on-set producer to make Next Door a success. Hsu’s commitment to every project she works on was invaluable to not only Masters, but everyone she worked with.

Despite working on many acclaimed films, Hsu had never before produced a horror film. She says it was an adventure everyday on set. They planned many things ahead, but the plans could never keep up with the changes, which is where her ability to work under pressure and problem solve proved vital. After a long 12 hour a day on set, the cast and crew’s energy began to dip, and a happy crew is of course a first priority for Hsu. It was 7 p.m., and she knew the next break wasn’t until 1 a.m. Most of the restaurants were closed by then, and she thought, “How am I going to feed my crew?” Putting her strategic thinking abilities to use, Hsu contacted the catering person she worked with earlier that day, and they made a special hot and fresh meal at midnight and delivered it to set.

“A story about food may not seem too exciting, but I learned that as a producer, the key to any projects success begins with resourcefulness and a full stomach,” she said.

Be sure to check out Next Door and keep an eye out for Producer Yayun Hsu’s future work. It is evident with everything she does that she is a “magician” when it comes to filmmaking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Producer Sherry Yang scares and educates audiences in new thriller ‘Under the Pieces’

The moment Sherry Yang steps onto a film set, she falls in love with what she does all over again. She is an extraordinary producer, and her passion for her work translates into each and every film she has done. She loves the feeling of working tirelessly night and day, as it allows her to see the magic of the filmmaking process in its entirety. She loves that as a producer, she nourishes a project from beginning to end; she works with every department; she is the go-to person for any problem that may arise and always has a way of solving it. For Yang, her work is more than satisfying, it is addicting, and that is why she is in demand all over the world.

Yang has produced many high-achieving films, and the success of each comes down to her talent and work ethic. Her versatility is superlative, and whether working on a historical story, such as the award-winning film The Letter, a telling comedy, exemplified by her films Jiaozi and Cash Back, or meaningful dramas like Te Echo de Menos, Yang’s producing is continuously top-notch. She has now also extended her resume to the thriller genre with her work on the new film Under the Pieces, and she has once again showed the world what she is capable of.

“I had always been very interested in the human psyche, which sparked my interest in Under the Pieces. I have been especially fascinated by the notion of dual personalities. This film decided to take a step further and make it multiple personal identities, and that made me excited. It was going to be another challenge to see how a mysterious murder would play out. I wanted to be one of the key elements that help in bringing this story to its successful,” said Yang.

Under the Pieces - Yuki Yoshimatsu, Brittany Fisheli, Sherry Yang - photo by Vera Zhang
Yuki Yoshimatsu, Brittany Fisheli, and Sherry Yang – photo by Vera Zhang

Under the Pieces follows a detective as she tries to put the puzzle pieces together of a horrendous murder that occurs inside a loving couple’s home. Yang was responsible for gathering the team, setting up meetings and rehearsals, and running daily productions. She also had to hire a writer and director. When she found Yuki Yoshimatsu, Yang then was involved in the creative aspect of the film. She would go over each draft and work with her team to ensure they were telling the right story. This made her extremely attached to the script, and she had to make sure she found the right actors for each part. Finding someone who can convincingly portray multiple personalities is not easy, as they had to be someone who could change their entire disposition just from the look in their eyes, but eventually she found just that in Mikael Mattsson. Her work was not done after that; once filming was completed, the team then looked for the ideal editor, one who would display the story in a manner that the audience would understand what happened whilst keeping the mystery of it until the very end, which they found in Monge. Undoubtedly, the film could not have achieved what it did without Yang, and these thoughts are echoed by her team.

“Sherry demonstrated exceptional problem-solving skills and communication abilities within and outside the production crew. In particular, when working with her, I don’t remember having a single problem with other departments or locations. When a producer is talented and particularly adept at their job it often goes unnoticed, because everyone else can tend to their own responsibilities without unexpected distractions. In this respect, Sherry was always an unsung hero on set by solving every ongoing problem that we were unaware of at the time. She is the best kind of producer, one who provides an environment where everyone on the crew can excel up to and beyond their individual abilities to collaboratively make the best possible product. I don’t even know much about her past work and accomplishments because when I’ve worked with her she has always been focused entirely on the job at hand rather than talking about herself. The filmmaking business is often correctly characterized for its narcissism. It is an industry where many people prop themselves up by tearing others down. It is notable that I have never heard a negative comment about Sherry from anyone else or a diminishing remark from her about anyone else. This might seem like a small thing, but it is a significant asset to the film industry because she has the type of work ethic and personality that sets a cultural and social example for an industry that is too often lacking,” said Edwin Beckenbach, a gaffer on Under the Pieces.

After premiering at the Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood in February where it won Best Student Film, Under the Pieces has had quite the film festival run. It was a selection at the celebrated Cannes Short Film Corner, as well as the L.A. Shorts Awards 2017 where it won Best Short Film Silver Award and the NYC Indie Film Awards 2017, where it took home Best Short Film Platinum Award.

“It is exciting that the film did so well. I am happy that many audiences and festival juries were able to understand the story and enjoy it. It assures us that the film was understandable and that we were able to tell the story correctly. We hope that this film has not only surprised audiences with the ending, but that it allowed them to connect with its message. We wanted the audience to understand that although perhaps not to the extreme of murder, but any individual in a stressful situation can snap with one simple push,” said Yang.

The film started out as Cinematographer Royce Gao’s passion project. Gao approached Yang knowing she was the best producer possible for her cherished film. Yang was not only eager to tell the story, but also to take on a more creative producing role, finding the correct writer and director, and being a part of the writing process. This made communication critical for the project’s success.

“I truly liked how I got to be involved creatively. The fact that I was able to put a few inputs to the story made this project a lot more personal to me. It made me more passionate to make sure the story was told right. I enjoyed being valued not only for my skills as a producer, but also for my creativity,” she said.

Above all else, however, Yang wanted to tell the story not just as a thriller that would excite and terrify audiences, but as a teaching tool. She wanted to educate viewers on multiple personality disorder, and put in a lot of research to make the story as authentic as possible.

Be sure to check out Under the Pieces and get a glimpse into Sherry Yang’s outstanding producing talents.

 

Top photo Victoria Geske, Sherry Yang – by Yuki Yoshimatsu

Katie Horbury works with Hollywood’s A-listers during BAFTA Awards

Katie Horbury says it is her job to bring ideas to life. As a producer, she takes in every aspect of the production and ensures it all runs smoothly. Without her, the television shows you know and love may not have made it to the screen. She takes on a lot of responsibility, but she loves what she does.

Originally from Pontefract in the North of England, Horbury broke from the norm. She wanted more than a quiet life in a small town, and became determined to do what she loves most: telling stories. She left for the big city when she could, and immediately started working with some of her country’s most iconic shows, such as The Only Way is Essex, Big Brother and Celebrity Big Brother, Celebs Go Dating, Don’t Tell the Bride, and Come Dine with Me. She has worked with ITV, the second largest network in the UK, as well as Disney Channel. There is no limit to what she can do.

I like telling stories and creating something that has a reaction in other people. Whether they are laughing, crying, learning something or just entertained in some way, knowing that I created an emotional response in another person is what I love doing. I love the night before a shoot when I can’t sleep because I have that nervous excitement in my stomach. I love waking up at 5 a.m. on filming days and running on adrenaline all day because your creative juices are flowing, and this is me at my best. What I love the most though, is the first few days in the edit, when it all starts coming together and you begin to see your vision come to life,” said Horbury.

While living her dream, Horbury has the opportunity to work alongside Britain’s best. Perhaps this is best represented with her work on the BAFTA Film and BAFTA TV Awards. BAFTA, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, hosts the two prominent award shows every year, honoring Britain’s film and television stars. Horbury grew up watching the award shows, inspired by the actors, directors, and especially producers that won the awards. When she was given the opportunity to then work on the award shows, she was eager to take part in the new experience.

“Working there was a completely new and different experience to any other show I had ever worked on. This was a hugely prestigious event and it is essential that everything runs smoothly,” said Horbury.

Having worked on the award shows every year since 2011, Horbury has many responsibilities, ensuring the shows go off without a hitch. She assists presenters like Stephen Fry and Graham Norton with full rehearsals. She also manages the event timings to ensure that all chaperones and their A-list citations readers are fully rehearsed, their scripts are finalized and they are backstage promptly on time to present their award, and that they go to press and are interviewed and photographed with the award winner.

Essentially, Horbury ensures that everyone is in the right place at the right time, making her essential for the live awards ceremony. Some of these talents include A-list actors such as Leonardo Dicaprio, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Emma Stone and Meryl Streep. The ceremony also hosted royals Prince and Princess William and Kate.

“Working on this show is insane. The pressure is like nothing else I have ever experienced,” said Horbury. “I decide to go back every year because I love being part of such a celebration of British film and television, and British Culture.”

Horbury is repeatedly asked to come back to the awards shows, as her talents are imperative to the shows’ success. Initially, a fellow producer had recommended Horbury for the role, knowing that someone with a lot of skill and commitment was needed. She now works with the same team every year. In 2011, Horbury made sure one presenter was back stage at the correct time. Since then, she has been promoted and ensures every single presenter is where they need to be. Without her, there would be no one to present the awards, and fellow producer Matthew Edmondson, who worked with Horbury on the BAFTA Awards, was extremely impressed.

Working with Katie is always a pleasure and a rewarding experience. She’s hard working, easy to work with and she brings high quality production values to the productions she works on. I would love to work with her again.  Katie is an honest, trusted and experienced producer who has very high standards. She is fantastic with people which makes contributors and crew respect her. Katie is extremely well organized, confident and imaginative. She never gets flustered and never and never gives up and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend her for future jobs no matter how big or small the production is,” said Edmondson.

While Horbury has ample experience in television, the BAFTA Awards are the only award show she has been a part of. The foundations are the same, and she remains cool, calm, collected, and professional during the award shows, as she does with each project she takes on. However, she allows herself a moment to fully appreciate the event each year.

“It is such a beautifully presented event that celebrates the most amazing film and TV productions. While the show day itself is incredibly challenging, I am so proud to be part of something that rewards the most talented people in the world when it come to my greatest passion – story telling. This is the night when you see real emotion, pride and honor in those people who are rewarded for telling exceptionally moving, honest and often heartbreaking stories through Film and TV production,” concluded Horbury.

Canada’s Cassie Friedman found intriguing stories for Global TV

Cassie Friedman says being a producer is synonymous with being a storyteller. Sometimes she will become bogged down with logistics – coordinating schedules, booking locations, finding potential characters, etc. But when all those pieces come together, she is telling a story. As a producer, she ensures every part of a production is in order, and at the same time finds the most compelling stories to keep her audience engaged.

Now, Friedman is an internationally sought-after development producer, working with the independent production company Studio Lambert in both London and Los Angeles. Before that, however, she was working with one of Canada’s largest broadcasters, Global Television. Not only did she help produce The Morning Show, The News at Noon, and the station’s ‘Child Safety Awareness Week’, but she also greatly contributed to various other newsroom projects.

“Global is one of the major networks in Canada and I’d been watching Channel 3 my whole life. Global’s reputation was already top tier for me. It was a no-brainer for me to try to start my career there,” said Friedman.

Global Television is a privately-owned, Canadian English-language broadcast television network, now owned by Corus Entertainment. Friedman worked on many projects for the network, like the bi-weekly Making a Difference segment, the Ontario General Election in 2011 and covering Canada’s National Ballet School’s Assemblee Internationale in 2013. Her responsibilities included researching, shot listing, booking stories, and assisting cameramen on shoots.

The Global Toronto Newsroom was always abuzz and working there always felt like you were right where the action was. I was always driven to do my absolute best, because I was surrounded by the best journalists in one of Canada’s most respected newsrooms. So, I took extra care working on major projects. I used my research skills to tell a great story and ensure there were no errors,” she said.

Friedman’s contributions were essential to the newsroom’s success on a daily basis. During her time there, Global News won the 2013 Edward R. Murrow award for Overall News Excellence in Network Television, and Global Toronto won four RTDNA Edward R. Murrow awards in 2013, including the Bert Cannings Award – Best Newscast. For Friedman, the acclaim was absolutely fantastic.

“I always felt so lucky to be part of such an iconic, respected newsroom and working with a smart, committed team. It was so rewarding to be recognized for all the hard work we all put in day in and day out. I don’t think any of us did it for the recognition, so to be acknowledged, it definitely made me feel more appreciated. And confident that what we were doing was having an impact,” she said.

For a large part of her time at Global news, Friedman worked on anchor Susan Hay’s Making a Difference segment, where Hay would showcase inspiring people in the community who were doing charitable acts and helping others. Hay had been at Global for more than 20 years, and served as an inspiration for a 21-year-old Friedman. Friedman booked shoots, worked in the field and helped with scripts. On one occasion, when Friedman thought she may not find a story in time, she found out about a woman in the community who offered yoga programs for the elderly, and it ended up being one of the show’s best segments.

“What makes Cassie incredible to work with is her positive attitude. That goes a long way in the news industry. She was always full of energy, ideas, and willing to help. Her determination and passion for creativity has placed her where she is today – which is far ahead of many of her peers,” said Susan Hay, TV Host and Journalist.

Working on the show also allowed Friedman to discover new passions. While covering the provincial election, she found she had an affinity for politics. She looked at every riding, who might win, who’d won previously, which ridings swung in the federal election. She ended up choosing two Conservative and two Liberal locations. She also had to choose one for the New Democratic Party, and chose a seemingly random riding north of Toronto because it had swung NDP in the federal election. Her instincts proved fruitful.

“After lots of research, I had a feeling it would swing NDP again. I sent our cameras to the NDP candidate’s event, and low and behold, that candidate won and had a huge celebration with music and dancing. It made for great television and showcased a community that had never really been seen before. It was very exciting and what I took away from it was that digging deep into research pays off,” said Friedman.

There is no doubt that Friedman is an extraordinary producer, with natural instincts and a complete commitment to her craft. She will continue to bring success to whatever she works on, and audiences will enjoy watching her do it.

Britain’s Rosie Kinane-Adams is not just a producer, but a true storyteller

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Rosie Kinane-Adams

Rosie Kinane-Adams has always been aware of the power of storytelling. She understands the connection one can feel with someone they have never met, simply by hearing their story. She has felt this obsession since she was a child. She wanted to know everything about everyone that ever existed. She became fascinated with television and its ability to share the story of a child her age going through much different circumstances; from her house in London, England, she was able to see far beyond her city, and into the happenings around the world.

It was only natural for Kinane-Adams to want to do her part to tell people’s stories, and the answer was simple. She would be a producer. She would spend her life showing people who overcome all obstacles, whether it be the story of a dancer who overcame a disability to perform on the biggest stage in the world, or a couple trying to overcome their lifestyle differences and fall in love.

“I wanted to be responsible for inspiring people around the world and showing them what’s out there and what people are capable of,” she said.

Kinane-Adams has worked on many successful projects throughout her career. She produced Married at First Sight Australia, which has been nominated for Best Factual Program Silver at the Logie Awards. She also produced two seasons of Simon Cowell’s hit show America’s Got Talent, impressing audiences and colleagues across the globe.

“The simplest way to describe working with Rosie would be like a ‘breath of fresh air.’ That is why she stands out among other producers I worked with. Her approach to the job, her attitude, and her overall presence are something all producers need to strive for. She brings excitement, positivity, and new ideas in every situation she is in. She is the best producer I have ever worked with; and hopefully will again in the near future,” said Chase Marbumrung, Line Producer of America’s Got Talent. “Rosie is so amazing at what she does because she is dynamic. She is full of energy and new ideas; and she adapts to any situation without sacrificing her character. Everyone I know who worked with her can vouch for this. Every production would be lucky to have to her.”

Earlier this year, Kinane-Adams once again put her touch on a popular television show, this time being for the ninth season of Masterchef Australia. The Masterchef franchise is one of the most successful cooking shows in the world, with a presence in 52 countries, and on every continent. The Australian version differs slightly from the original British version. The initial round of the show consists of a large number of hopeful contestants from across Australia individually “auditioning” by presenting a food dish before the three judges in order to gain one of 50 semi-final places. The semi-finalists then compete in several challenges which test their food knowledge and preparation skills. The contestants will then be whittled down through a number of individual and team-based cooking challenges and weekly elimination rounds until a winning MasterChef is crowned. The winner plays for a prize that includes chef training from leading professional chefs, the chance to have their own cookbook published, and $250,000 in cash. Working on the show has been a mission point of Kinane-Adams’ career.

Masterchef is the most successful cooking show format in the world, and a lot of that comes down to story. People at home love to see home cooks like themselves succeed and achieve their dream. It’s about good people wanting to follow their dream and learn from the best in their business. It’s a feel-good show, and they never go out of style,” said Kinane Adams.

After her success with Married at First Sight, the Endomol Shine Group recruited Kinane-Adams to work on Masterchef. They were looking for the best, and Kinane-Adams’ results from Married at First Sight showed she was just that. Her episodes did incredibly well in the ratings up against tough competition. Her episodes came in at number one in the ratings the night they aired, and were up 98 per cent year on year from the timeslot the year before. She continued a similar pattern on Masterchef.

“Having an internationally renowned producer like Rosie on the team brought an invaluable source of knowledge and creativity to the show. Working with her inspired creativity for myself and the rest of the team. Rosie’s unique approach to storytelling is what makes her one of the best in the business,” said Kelly Maycock, Senior Producer of Masterchef Australia.

Kinane-Adams edit produced two 60-minute episodes of Masterchef Australia. To do this, she took the raw content from the field and crafted it into a clear, concise and compelling episode for the viewers at home. She would watch through over a hundred hours of footage and create a clear timeline and story from the many stories that existed within the episode. From there, she would work with her editor to polish it into an episode that met the high standard that Masterchef has the reputation for. She was vital to the success of her episodes, and the season as a whole.

Working on such a respected format within my industry, and one that has been around in one form or another since I was born, is an incredible milestone for me. To have such final creative control on such a successful and complex show is a wonderful feeling. With just myself and an editor working on it gives you a real sense of ownership over the episode. The success of that episode is, in a large part, down to storytelling,” Kinane-Adams said. “The show has a lot of integrity. It’s all about encouraging growth for the everyday man, proving that anyone can follow their dreams and achieve them. It has a really positive vibe to it, and that’s a wonderful thing to be a part of.”

Masterchef is known in the industry for being one of the hardest shows to post-produce and edit. It is said if you can do Masterchef, you can do it all in the reality world, and Kinane-Adams can truly do everything in the reality world. She is one of Britain’s best, and there is no doubt that we can continue to expect great work from this storyteller for quite some time.