Prolific, versatile a nd boundlessly engaging, actress Scherrikar Bell is one of the most well established and recognizable forces in contemporary British television. From her earliest appearance small screen on venerable BBC series “EastEnders” Bell’s gift for creating authentic characterizations has made her a familiar and in-demand talent.
With an impressively spectrum-spanning skill set—uniformly adept at comedy, drama, action or horror—the London born-and-bred Bell is also equally at ease doing feature films, TV commercial spots and cutting edge hip-hop music videos (her mesmerizing performance as the lethal hit girl/assassin in rapper SL’s viral “FWA Boss” clip has been viewed almost 5 million times).
Along the way, Bell has become somewhat of a staple at the famed BBC network. Following her “EastEnders” debut, she graduated to roles on popular soap opera “Doctors” and currently co-stars on top sketch comedy series “Famalam” (the program earned both BAFTA and Royal Television Society UK Awards nominations in 2019).
Bell’s appreciable renown and popular cachet with viewers made her a natural choice for another significant BBC assignment, the leading role of narrator on “The Victorians.” Produced by the networks educational online Teach division and aimed at elementary school students. the collection of cross-curricular films explores contributions made by innovative 19th century Britons in the fields of science, geometry, history, arithmetic, art and music.
While the concept may sound dry as dust, the series focuses on both the familiar (Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Queen Victoria) along with lesser known characters (Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Pablo Fanque) and Bell’s light-hearted delivery—deft, loaded with charm and easy going appeal—is anything but tedious.
The presentation may seem deceptively casual but Bell, throughout, is actively involved with the instructive aspect and its particular subject—she slyly interacts with each historic figure via quips and conversational asides—creating a captivating overall tone that affords each topic an ideal showcase.
Bell’s knack for impeccably timed witticisms, put over with irresistibly cunning ease, creates a perfect persona for her youthful audience, one that thoroughly engages and informs the viewer—and making over Industrial Revolution-era civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel into an intriguing character is no small feat.
Bell pulls it off with a low-key yet spirited joviality that not only holds the viewer’s interest, it enhances and elevates each episode to a level where education and entertainment coexist with delightful effect. “The Victorians” is both a significant addition to Bell’s already notable resume of credits and an impressive first entry to the world of children’s television. Marvelous stuff.
As an industry leading hair and makeup artist in Australia, Zuleikha Stevens does not simply apply some makeup and style hair, she transforms people. Every day, she makes people feel like the best version of themselves, enhancing one’s natural beauty and allowing them to feel good on the inside as well as out.
“You can really change someone’s day or moment in their life. As a makeup artist, there is a beautiful trust that your client enlists in you to transform their face,” she said.
From sporting events like Big Bash and Supercars to renowned channels including MTV and Network 7, Stevens has conquered the beauty world in Australian television. She loves the versatility of her chosen career, with something different to look forward to on every new project.
“You can be a part of so many different and exciting things from red carpet, to live music, sports, advertising, editorial, news, TV drama, breakfast shows, etc. You can take your makeup skills anywhere in the world,” said Stevens.
Stevens mentioned breakfast shows because of her work with Sunrise, Australia’s number one morning show. As one of the main makeup artists for the breakfast show, she is a pivotal part of the team to make sure the looks are current, appropriate and on trend and that everyone gets to air on time and ready for a three and a half hour long live show.
“I love working on Sunrise and have for years; the challenge of live TV is exciting. It’s the number one rated breakfast show on Australian TV. The show covers everything from news, sports, the days hot topics, entertainment and current affairs to everyone right across the country,” said Stevens.
Stevens personally takes care of Entertainment Main Host Edwina Bartholomew, Sport Host Mark Beretta and Co-Host David Koch every day, as well as a variety of guests. The guests vary every day, and can be famous musicians, celebrities, doctors, journalists, specialists, politicians and more.
“It’s people telling their story. I love the variety of people we meet and get to do hair and makeup on. I learn a lot from everyone that sits in my chair and knowing everyone’s story brings so much more to my life. It is so nice to have someone in my chair and watch them transform with makeup. This is vital for them to feel confident and good when going on screen,” said Stevens.
Stevens thoroughly enjoys working on Sunrise as she gets to use her hair and makeup skills, and get the talent looking and feeling good. She makes decisions with the hair and makeup depending on what the hosts are wearing, what their look may be, what they are talking about and basically the overall feeling of the day. She even sometimes utilizes her fashion stylist/wardrobe skills if anything needs to be steamed, changed, or mended. To do all of this, Stevens always has to stay on top of trends and work quickly. Working with the talent and wardrobe department in regard to looks and trends is extremely important for a live morning show. All of the hosts need to look good together. On top of this, Stevens and her team start work very early every morning and are often some of the first people the hosts see, so they need to be energetic and ready for anything live TV can throw at them.
“It is so nice to be part of such an ongoing successful show, seeing your makeup work up on the screen day after day and showcased all over the country. Seeing something that I do that I am passionate about every day is so great, it makes getting up in the middle of the night worth it, especially when the hosts are happy, and you meet so many amazing and talented guests and make them feel good. Being part of a team that brings so many stories and news to everyone’s lives is a great feeling,” she said.
Sunrise is on Network 7 every day at 5:30 a.m. Be sure to give it a watch to see the touching stories and Stevens’ beautiful work.
As a musician, Alex Stewart knew that performing never intrigued him. Instead, it was the avenues of music that didn’t involve a stage. With a passion for television and the movies, he found himself drawn to the power of a score and its ability to alter the emotions of a scene. He realized at only 16 years old that he wanted to be a part of the aspect of movie magic and has never looked back. He is now a celebrated composer with countless esteemed projects on his decorated resume, and as the masses enjoy his work, he knows this is what he was destined to be doing.
Stewart has made quite a name for himself in his home of Australia and in the United States, composing for hit shows like Paradise Hotel, The Contender, and The Curse of Civil War Gold, and films like Cosmic Fling. He knows how to entertain through his music, and how to tell a story. Composing for reality television requires a unique touch, as it is real people’s lives you are conveying through each note. He executes such a large task with perfection with every project he takes on.
“I believe that a piece of music is only as good as its fundamental idea. If your melody, chord progression, or original idea is bad, then there is no way the piece can be good. I often spend the most time working on just the idea because it’s easy to build the piece if the idea is good. Badly written music can easily ruin a project,” said Stewart.
Music is an essential part of the experience when watching any film or television show, and Stewart knows this well. On Fox’s acclaimed reboot of the reality show Temptation Island, Stewart knew that his score was of the utmost importance to keep audiences engaged.
In this social experiment, four couples at a crossroad in their relationship put their love to the test by giving “single life” a try. On the Hawaiian island of Maui, they’ll take a break from each other while living in separate houses with sexy singles to discover if there is another partner with whom they are more compatible. In the end, will the couples leave together? Will they leave with one of the island’s “tempters”? Or will they break up and go home alone? Whatever the outcome, there is plenty of drama along the way.
“As we watch the events and drama that unfolds, it raises questions that many people might not normally ask themselves about their own relationships, both intimate and not intimate. Some of the people in this show rediscover a love and value in their partner, and others realize that maybe they’re better off taking different paths. It’s important for us to question why we choose to have certain people in our lives so we, as individuals, can thrive and not let others stand in the way of us getting to where we want to be,” said Stewart.
Stewart works with the immensely popular music production company Burnett Music Group on the show, who constantly reach out to the composer for contract work, knowing he is one of the best. Burnett was looking for a modern pop style sound with elements of tropical music that underscored the drama. This presented a fun challenge for Stewart, as these are two styles of music that do not typically go together. Therefore, a lot of the music he wrote for the show is electronic, but with instruments that make one think of the beach, like ukulele, steel pan, bongos, and conch shell. They were also looking for a vast range of emotions, everything from deep sadness, to upbeat dancing music, and Stewart delivered. His music captured the show very well, letting the audience be taken away with the cast to the tropical island through the sound, and also amplifying the emotions in each scene.
“I liked the challenge of combining modern pop with tropical/island sounds in various emotions and energy levels. But outside of that, I really liked working with the other people on the project. Everyone involved was an awesome person and easy to work with. I thought it was a fantastic opportunity to get better at writing quickly. Sometimes I struggle with getting things done fast, so I used this project to practice getting music written and mixed within a day. I always enjoy challenging myself,” he said.
Temptation Island premiered on the USA Network on January 15th, 2019. It was a weekly episodic show that ran for 11 episodes, with extremely high ratings. For Stewart, that success is secondary, as he just likes to make music that audiences enjoy listening to.
“It feels nice to know that I was able to be a part of a show that so many people enjoy. It was a great project to contribute to. Seeing all the ads and hearing people talk about it online has been awesome and I’m certainly happy that most of the reviews and talk around this show has been positive. I look forward to the chance to work on another season,” he concluded.
Helen Finnimore always envisioned working in the creative industry. As a child, growing up in Bristol, United Kingdom, she had a fascination with everything that happened behind the scenes. Even at a young age, she would sit and watch the credits at the end of a film or television program, seeing all the different roles it took to make a masterpiece. Now, years later, she still watches the credits, but she sees several familiar names among them, including her own.
In her youth, Finnimore joined the prestigious ITV Television Workshop in Bristol, England, their motto: “training tomorrow’s talent, today!” The workshop was established in 1985 and a resource offering experience for young people aged five to 25 in performance and production skills required for Film, Television, Theatre and Radio. Some very famous faces have walked through its doors! While at the workshop, she secured a children’s presenter role fronting a Channel 5 educational programme for two-five years olds called Look.
“In each programme I would pop up at a different location and chat about where I was and what I was up to,” said Finnimore.
Some 300 programmes later, as well as fronting the programme, Finnimore did everything on camera from feeding penguins, giraffes and lemurs and holding a lion cub to making Easter treats and Christmas crafts.
“I even got to travel to Wilmington in America and present an episode at Peggy Farrell costumes. I absolutely loved it, and it was here that gave me a real sense of what it’s really like in front of the camera,” she said.
Now, Finnimore is currently a Senior Casting Producer in the UK, and a leader in the industry behind the camera. Soon, she will be heading across the pond to Los Angeles to take on the role of Casting Executive for Lazy Bear Productions Inc., and she could not be more excited.
Lazy Bear Productions, based in Los Angeles, has headhunted Finnimore to work on a number of upcoming projects. One of which will be as a Casting Executive on Chatterbox, a new family primetime game show, and another of which is Off the Scale!, a large-scale entertainment show following a cappella groups around the United States. She will be working across both series, from pre-production through to filming.
“I’m looking forward to what the future has in store. 2019 is going to be an exciting year ahead as I’ve been approached by a television company in Los Angeles to work across and head up some of their new major projects, which I’m really excited about. Although I’ll never tire of working in casting in the UK, I am keen to broaden my horizons and pursue other opportunities,” said Finnimore.
While new opportunities and challenges lie in wait across the pond, Finnimore has made quite a name for herself on British soil. She has worked on countless successful film and television projects, and had the honor of sitting on the RTS Awards Selection Panel. She’s also interviewed the likes of Pierce Brosnan, Jake Gyllenhaal and George Clooney on the red carpet at the BAFTAS. She was responsible for securing talent on the UK’s debut series of The Voice Kids, something she never grew tired of, as was constantly amazed by the children she came across.
“I’ve always loved working on children’s programming and of course jumped at the chance to work on The Voice Kids. A big brand format with quite a reputation, I couldn’t wait to take on the challenge,” she said.
After meeting with the Creative Directors at ITV, one of the UK’s largest networks, Finnimore was tasked with finding the best casting talent to join the team, and once they were secured, she had the challenging task of figuring out how to approach the series, from an already well-established format. Word of the UK launching its first Voice Kids series got some serious attention and the pressure was on to deliver, and with Finnimore at the casting helm it did just that.
“We uncovered some remarkable talent over the series, some of which have continued on making an even bigger name for themselves, such as Courtney Hadwin, the Janis Joplin phenom with YouTube clips viewed over 50 million times,” said Finnimore.
Despite her vast success, Finnimore credits working on a bunch of educational programs for a company based in Sweden as the highlight of her career. She was able to travel the world doing what she loves most, casting for what the company deemed as the “project of all projects”. Finnimore had to cast 12 different teenagers living in different parts of the world, ready to tell the story of their life. She worked on her own, scouting and securing the cast, setting up shoots, securing licenses and permits, coordinating with film offices and tourist boards, managing the budget, booking the crew, and more. Once the cast was signed off, she spent weeks liaising with the scriptwriters and talent. When it came to film, she flew out and worked as the sole Producer/Director on location as well as the location stills photographer. She was the driving force of the show and got to meet some incredible teens with captivating stories.
“I met with local crews and filmed in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Nassau, Ottawa, New York, and Los Angeles. When I returned back to the UK I continued to work for the company, casting shoots in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and India – it’s the most I’ve ever learned in my career. Having all that responsibility and workload, working out of an office at home, certainly gave me some incredible skills. It has to be the hardest job I’ve ever done – but I’m so glad I had the opportunity to do it,” she said.
Undoubtedly, Finnimore has had a career many can only dream of, just as she did as a child staring at the names moving across the screen on the credits. Although it is a hard path, she encourages all those looking to follow in her footsteps and achieve their dream of working in the creative industry to never give up, just as she did.
“Don’t let anything stop you. It’s a fantastic career; it’s challenging, relentless, ever-changing, exciting and fulfilling. No two days are the same, no two projects are the same and if you’re good at what you do, you’ll get plenty of exciting offers on the table,” she advised.
Be sure to check out Off the Scale! and more of Finnimore’s exciting new projects throughout the year.
As a Producer, Chandra daCosta wears many hats. She is a manager, financial analyst, filmmaker, and storyteller. It is the latter that she most enjoys in her role and combining creativity with business drives her. Development is a large part of the process, which entails finding interesting stories, people, or cultures, as well as coming up with new angles/spins on ideas that are already successful. In production, it’s all about details, logistics and ensuring things run smoothly and everything is taken care of. DaCosta excels at all aspects of producing, and her talent has led her to being a respected producer in Canada’s entertainment industry.
DaCosta finds herself drawn to the “Lifestyle” genre when it comes to her work, working on shows involving real estate, food, dating, and more. Such projects include Oxygen Network’s A Wedding and a Murder, Global TV’s The Stanley Show, and Animal Planet’s Biggest and Baddest.
“Chandra is a pleasure to work with. She is a skilled negotiator and effective producer. She knows the television industry well and is good at leveraging her many contacts within the industry. She is also a remarkable creative producer. She was the driving force behind Cruise Buzz from both a business and creative perspective in addition to being the on camera host,” said Lori Massini, who worked with daCosta on Cruise Buzz. “Chandra is intuitive and knowledgeable. She brings skills as both a business and creative producer to her projects. She has a sense for what works and doesn’t work and has great ideas for content. In addition to being a skilled producer, Chandra is magnetic on camera and makes an excellent host. Cruise Buzz was a terrific show and I have no doubt Chandra will continue to develop and produce top-notch content.”
It was Cruise Buzz that daCosta calls the highlight of her esteemed career. It was her show; she created it, developed it, found a production company to produce it, and put all the teams together. She was in charge of all the creative and business aspects for the show.
“I remember being on the Windstar cruise in the middle of the ocean and realizing that this was all because of my efforts. It was a real sense of accomplishment because it seemed like we were faced with road block and road block, but I just kept ploughing through. Being on the cruise ship, shooting our pilot episode was epic to me,” she said.
Cruise Buzz highlights the world of cruising, from big ships to small river cruises, all over the world.The premise of the series was “there is a cruise out there for everyone.” daCosta truly believes that. There are so many different types of cruises and itineraries to choose from, and daCosta wanted to show viewers their options. From a River Cruise through China, to the Baltic Cruise on a luxury liner, there is something that can win the heart of any traveler. Whether they want to explore the ports of call or visit foreign ports from the comfort of their stateroom deck. It’s a great and safe way to travel.
“This project was one of the best and challenging projects I’ve ever done. The idea of a travel cruise show was the perfect way to combine my love for travel and TV,” she said.
Every day daCosta worked on Cruise Buzz was an exciting and unique experience. She began with working on the pitch documents, episode ideas and brand integrations. Everyone she approached about being involved was excited about the show.
When she was trying to decide where to shoot the pilot, it was important to daCosta that the pilot episode was shot on a cruise ship that wasn’t the massive passenger cruise. She aimed to find a cruise that had an exciting and exotic itinerary and also show another side of cruising. She ultimately chose the Windstar in the Caribbean, a ship for 300 guests rather than the usual 3000 on large cruise lines. The ship had great visual appeal on camera, complete with sails, and an itinerary that visited ports that were familiar to many travelers, and also some hidden gems.
DaCosta spent almost four years of her life working on cruise ships, and she is extremely passionate about travelling. Being about to share this passion with the world was extremely rewarding for the producer.
“Getting the pilot episode made against all odds was a huge accomplishment. It was such a great feeling to know that Windstar was highlighted in such a great way that appealed to so many different travelers,” she said.
Roma Kong has always been a big movie fan. Growing up in Lima, Peru, Kong’s favorite childhood pastime was taking in the latest flick, whether at the local cinema or on her couch at home. Even from that young age, she knew she wanted to eventually go on to make films like the ones she enjoyed so much.
“The moment I truly decided I wanted to make movies for the rest of my life was back in 2001 when I went to see Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring on opening night. To see these iconic literary characters and worlds come alive on the screen was mesmerizing. I remember how mind-blowing and epic the film was, and I just thought, I want to do that. I want to be one of those people who make magical worlds be a reality before the audience’s eyes,” she said.
Now, Kong is an industry leading editor in both her native country and abroad. Having worked on several prolific projects for none other than Disney, Kong has established her reputation with her versatile talent.
One of Kong’s other long-standing professional relationships is with Nickelodeon. Working on several projects for the company since 2016, Kong’s work has been appreciated by audiences all around the world. Earlier this year, she embarked on a new project for the celebrated production company, taking viewers behind the scenes of their favorite Nickelodeon shows, featuring some of the shows’ biggest creators and cast members.
“I think these videos give the audience an idea of what it’s like to work in the industry. It shows them that we are all human and not this kind of over the top industry where everything is super glamorous. That people that are part of this industry also do all the silly things everyone else does at work, we all joke and we all work incredibly hard to make the content that everyone loves watching. It grounds the industry for the audience and makes it more accessible for everyone,” said Kong.
The online video series includes a behind-the-scenes look into the Fairly Odd Phantom, Butch Hartman’s new crossover animated short, and has exclusive interviews with the casts of The Fairly Odd Parents, T.U.F.F. Puppy, Danny Phantom, and Bunsen is a Beast. They were all published through Nickelodeon’s Social Media platforms, including YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Together they are some of the most viewed social media videos published by the studio, amassing over 400,000 views.
“I’ve always loved working on BTS projects. They’re always fun because not only are you looking to give the audience a glimpse of how their favorite shows and movies are made but also, you’re looking to catch those extra special funny moments that only happen behind the scenes. Making these for Nick and editing videos with some of their biggest creators at work really stood out for me,” said Kong.
Kong was the sole editor for every one of the BTS Nickelodeon videos. As the videos were very time sensitive, the production company needed an editor that was effective working at a fast pace. Even working quickly, Kong excels at catching great moments that not only are humorous and entertaining, but that look good on camera. On top of this, she has a unique ability to edit to the rhythm of the music in the video, making them that much more captivating. The use of music was essential to each videos success, which could not have been achieved without Kong’s touch.
“I loved these because it was awesome watching the footage and seeing these people in action. Being able to catch great moments of their personalities and how much they love what they do and being able to tell a story with those moments was fantastic. It was great watching the action go on and then something completely unexpected and funny would happen and I would just burst out laughing and call my teammates and we would have a great team moment. They were incredibly fun to work on,” she said.
Storytelling was a fundamental element for Kong when editing the videos. Even though they were just going behind the scenes of a show, she knew she still needed to tell the audiences a story. She was given all the footage and went through everything to find the best moments and tell a coherent story. Because they were behind the scenes videos, at the beginning, it was difficult to figure out how to structure it for everything to make sense and not just be a series of funny bits or bloopers. Kong therefore decided to first separate sections of the video, parts where everyone was laughing, parts where they were recording voices, etc., and then, depending on the video, she would either keep the sections separate or intercut them, jumping from one section to the other. She then added small sections from the actual show to help the audience make the connection between the part that was being made and the exact moment in the piece.
“Nickelodeon is one of the big ones. Every kid grows up watching Nickelodeon and adults my age all had their lives impacted by them. Everyone knows them and what they stand for and their great reputation. It fills you with a sense of pride knowing that you’re working for a company that so many consider part of their lives. Whenever I talked to my friends about the shows they used to watch growing up, 90 per cent of those shows are Nickelodeon shows. It feels amazing to work for a company that has been so influential for so long,” she said.
Kong worked on BTS Nickelodeon from January to May of this year. Every video she did provided a new learning experience for the editor, which is why she loves what she does so much. Every time she steps into the editing studio, she remembers what it was like as a child, being so captivated with movie magic, and she strives to engages her audiences the way she was once so engaged. That drive is what makes her such a tremendous editor, and for those looking to follow in her footsteps, she encourages you to never give up.
“Never ever think that you can’t be a part of this industry, you absolutely can. It’s a very intense industry. It’s not glamour and glitz as they like to show, it’s long hours, very short deadlines, hard work and lots of different personalities to deal with. So, you have to be sure this is what you want to do for a living. Really sure. Once that’s settled, educate yourself. Filmmaking is a creative line of work but it’s also very technical. You need to learn how to do it. Watch all the content you can, no matter how good or bad you think it might be. You’ll be surprised how much one learns from bad movies. Learn the tools of writing and storytelling, your job is to tell stories, so learn how to properly tell them. Lastly, talk to people, reach out to people already in the industry, ask for their advice, ask if you can meet up for a cup of coffee. We all started somewhere and we all know how much talking to people already working helped us,” she advised.
Avatar, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings. It isn’t difficult for cinephiles to think of how visual effects broadened their minds, transforming their favorite films and making the impossible, possible. In modern entertainment, it is an essential part of the filmmaking process, often in the most unobvious ways, cleaning up blemishes that makeup cannot, or adding a pivotal piece into the background.
“VFX visualizes the idea and surreal environment the writer has in mind. It enables so many possibilities, empowering the film production. VFX is the most direct way to translate the idea to the viewers. It is just stunning, period,” said Aaron Wei, Senior Compositor.
Wei is celebrated in both his home country of China and the United States for his work in Visual Effects. Using his skills to help make projects like The Americans, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Shades of Blue, and Gypsy the successes they have become, millions around the world have seen Wei’s work, and often didn’t even know it. He strives to make his work unidentifiable and natural, knowing that it will help audiences feel fully immersed in the story.
“Aaron is a passionate and talented artist. His enthusiasm and perseverance was evident in his approach to each project,” said Eran Dinur, Visual Effects Supervisor.
In addition to movies and TV shows, Wei enjoys using his skills on commercials. Companies like Toyota and Smart Car have benefitted from his artistic knowledge, and he loves being able to see his work on a YouTube ad or national television screens, which is just what working on commercials offers on a regular basis.
In China, Wei has worked with industry leading companies, like Canon. In 2013, he worked on the camera company’s commercial. He knew that for such a popular company, he had to ensure every shot was perfect so not to damage their reputation and to draw consumers to the product.
“We needed to composite a Canon camera bag on the model’s shoulder. The work was done by another artist, but I found the shadow casted by the bag put on her was not convincing. Then I took over, looked very closely at the real shadow on her clothes and creatively painted the shadow for the bag. Because I was trained as a painter for a long time, this task was not very difficult for me, but could be very challenging for others,” said Wei.
Wei also worked on a unique project titled The Soul of Dance to promote the work of the Tang Hui Studio Department back in China. It was creative work for building the company’s image, like an experimental lab.
“It’s like there’s no limit of what we can do. No clients’ requirement and no official deadline, it’s like a dream position. This project was one of many I have done in the studio,” said Wei.
Rather than using video editing software, Wei worked in Photoshop, using filters to create each key frame for the video, and then did the final assembling in After Effects. This approach was unconventional, but it worked. Even years later HuiTu image showcases this video as their iconic work in the company’s history.
Undoubtedly, Wei has had an extraordinary career, with many exciting projects lined up. For those looking to follow in his footsteps, he offers the following advice:
“Make sure you understand what the career you are heading into entails. I have seen people complaining about the job, saying things like ‘I don’t want to face the computer all day long in a dark room.’ Yes, that’s exactly what your life will end up being, so make sure you are okay with that. Understand your passion and personality. Before you pick up this job, do some research on the different departments in this industry. There are CG artists, producers, compositors, technical directors, creative directors, and so many more. You may excel better in one concentration than another,” he advised. “But most importantly, love what you do, and try harder. You may be asked to execute an idea that you do not necessarily agree with, and you may strongly believe your idea is better, but you have to give the higher-level executive what they want. You can certainly bring your idea up, but in the end, you are doing whatever your clients ask for, and they are always right.”
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
As a child, Milanka Brooks found herself inspired by her late father, Harry Brooks. He was an actor, and the two would discuss theatre, film and television, and frequented the theatre together. Growing up, Milanka began seeing the theatre world as a magical space where real-time stopped and the world as she knew it only existed within the parameters of the stage. She knew from that young age that she would find herself on the same path as her father and that her future lied in acting.
Now, Brooks is an acclaimed actress, showing audiences in her home country of England and around the world just what a talent she is. Having recently starred in an episode of the popular Netflix original series Black Mirror, and the hit British television show Benidorm, the actress’ versatility is evident, and with her upcoming film Patrick being released later this year, she has no plans on slowing down.
One of Brooks’ most prolific roles was that of Svetlana in the movie Do Not Disturb. The film tells the story of Anna and John, who book into the Stratford-on-Avon hotel where they spent their honeymoon ten years earlier – separately, following Anna’s extra-marital fling, but they had paid for the room anyway. They decide to give their marriage another go but then Anna sees young Luke, the hungover best man from the previous night’s stag party, who mistakes her for a prostitute and whom she rings receptionist Sheila to get rid of. In the meantime, two real escorts arrive and assume that porter Neil is their client, to Sheila’s annoyance. Confusion arises when a blindfold Anna has sex with Luke by mistake and Neil ejects her husband John, believing him to be Luke. By the time Anna’s mother turns up there is much explaining to do.
“Do Not Disturb is a really fantastic romp made for audiences with a penchant for farce. Even when reading the script, I could feel the pace and energy of the film. It doesn’t shy away from being a purely energetic, entertaining spoof, full of thrills and turns that leave the audience feeling fully satiated by the end,” said Brooks.
The character of Svetlana is a very intimidating, confident and forceful escort from Russia. As one of the two escorts, Brooks’ character is hired to entertain the groom-to-be on his stag-do in a hotel in Stratford-Upon-Avon, a town that is definitely not known for this kind of behaviour. They storm in to the hotel and demand to be taken to his room. They end up entering the wrong hotel room and seducing the wrong man, which is the catalyst for the train of events to follow.
Svetlana came in to destroy what was already a fairly shattered environment, in Brooks’ opinion. The humor in the story came from a degenerate group of people, all finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Svetlana highlighted this by her stature, attitude and insolence of the whole situation.
“The men are quite paradoxically the scared characters in the story, and the women end up incredibly domineering and commanding. Sometimes I feel like this came a little too naturally,” Brooks joked.
Do Not Disturb also stars British icon Catherine Tate, which was the initial reason Brooks wanted to be a part of it. Working alongside such talented comedians inspired Brooks, saying the TV movie really felt like an ensemble piece from the beginning. Rehearsals consisted of a lot of improvisation and devising around the script. Writer and Executive Producer Aschlin Ditta was always open to the cast’s ideas and any amendments that complimented the story and supported the characters. This allowed the cast to really become comfortable with each other and their characters, playing off everyone’s comedic timing and creating laugh-out-loud funny scenes.
“Milanka is a very fine actress and comedienne and someone I would work with again without a second thought. As a performer she is brilliant and skilful, with a rare eye for both comedy and drama, and as a professional she is faultless. Milanka is incredibly thorough both in her preparation and execution, an exceptional talent, and while she undoubtedly delivers in performance she is also a team player who is a joy to be around. Her energy, talent, insight and humour make her an actress to grace any production,” said Aishlin Ditta, Writer and Executive Producer of Do Not Disturb.
A lot of Brooks’ performance was based on her on-screen relationship with fellow actress Kierston Wareing. The chemistry between the two, playing escorts, had to be comedic and believable to bring audiences in, so the two spent a lot of time getting to know each other outside of rehearsals and filming. The result was perfect timing between the two characters.
Working alongside such a stellar cast and crew, including Wareing, Ditta, and Tate is why Brooks enjoyed creating Do Not Disturb as much as she did. With such comedic energy all around, it was easy to see the humor of the story on set.
“We ended up shooting in this beautiful country house a little outside of London. If any neighbors were watching they would have likely called the police given the absurd nature of a lot of people running in and out of rooms half dressed, but fortunately for us we were in the middle of nowhere,” she concluded.
For Canada’s Elisia Mirabelli, Production Design is an element of acting, inhabiting another person, stepping inside of their world, and feeling their story. Each time she begins a project, the seasoned production designer tries to imagine herself as the character whose space she is creating. She asks herself why each object in the space remains there, the history behind it, the psychology of how and why a space is divided the way it is. How much time has been spent there? Who a character lets into their space? What it looks like if their alone in it vs what it looks like if a friend is over? She maps out a life in artifacts, creating backstory, revealing loves, interests, experiences, peeling back another layer.
“Production Design for me is really designing and shaping the insides of a person outwardly. In a practical sense, production design is the construction and creation of a film’s overall look through its set and prop design,” she said.
Mirabelli has a decorated resume, with esteemed projects such as Night Owl, Pretty Thing, Let Me Down Easy, and many more. She has created the background for celebrated music videos and popular commercials and collaborated with some of Canada’s biggest networks.
A highlight of Mirabelli’s career came in 2013 when she did the production design for the prolific network MTV. Working with Bell Media and MTV Canada, Mirabelli designed the promo spot MTV #IN24, a collaboration between FORD and MTV promoting MTV’s new cross-platform series #IN24. It aired domestically across the country on MTV Canada and online at MTV.ca and was winner of the 2014 Media Innovation Awards and also received the Silver Award from Best in Cars & Automotive Services.
For the commercial, Mirabelli designed an indoor forest equipped with real foliage, taxidermy and textured dirt flooring. She and her team built the forest set around the Ford Fiesta. The set included a pathway for actors to dance on and a green screen backdrop for day and night simulated VFX.
“Working with MTV was always a dream of mine. It’s such an iconic production company with a history in creating unique, youth focused, genre pushing content. Additionally, the task of designing and creating an in-studio forest set was super exciting. Designing for a company as iconic and groundbreaking as MTV was a career milestone,” she said.
Mirabelli’s time with Bell Media was filled with exceptional projects. She did the production design for a commercial for CP24, a Canadian news network that reaches more than 3.1 million viewers a week and 3.7 million in all of Ontario. The commercial CP24 Moving at the Speed of Your Morning aired nationally on CP24. It went on to win the 2017 Promax Promotion, Marketing and Design Award.
When working on the commercial, Mirabelli refitted an outdated living room with new furnishings, lighting and small props and set accessories to make the location feel more modern, fresh and bright. She built five custom, faux LED screens that were set in each of the four locations. The LED screens played a pivotal role in the promo as they acted as the transition between scenes, with the camera travelling in and out of each of them. Additionally, her team managed the food styling for forty plus extras.
“The opportunity to create and work on a commercial for CP24’s morning show was really exciting. CP24’s morning programming brings in millions of unique viewers a week, so it was really incredible to work on something knowing that it would be reaching such a large audience,” said Mirabelli.
That same year, Mirabelli also worked with The Space Channel on their holiday programming, creating the commercial Spacemas and highlighting The Doctor Who Christmas Special. To do so, she designed a string of sets that replicated a collection of unique living rooms, fitted with holiday décor. The main set included a 14-foot Christmas tree that sat next to a scaled replica of the Doctor Who Tardis, brought in for the shoot from outside the province. The promo relied heavily on its production design and the ability to design a string of living room sets all captured during a single day of shooting. It went on to receive the 2017 Promax Promotion, Marketing and Design Award: Channel: Holiday or Special Event Spot.
“Space Channel is known for creating content that’s wonderfully lively and ultramodern, an ode to its fantastical programming. Working with props from the BBC’s ‘Doctor Who’ series was a real thrill. Additionally, working with the creative director of The Space Channel was awesome and I’m such a fan of his originality,” Mirabelli described.
Once again in the holiday spirit, Mirabelli worked on Christmas commercials for Gusto, Bell Media’s speciality food channel. The set of commercials launched Gusto and was their first national holiday campaign, an opportunity that excited the production designer. After the commercial series, Gusto was nominated for International Channel of the Year at the 2016 Content Innovation Awards. It aired domestically across Gusto’s sister channels (34 channels total, including The Discovery Channel and TSN).
To create the commercial, Mirabelli built a winter wonderland themed set equipped with half a dozen 8-foot-high white trees, 250 presents, a snow machine, teal lights and custom-made glass ornaments spelling out the names of the program’s hosts, which included Jamie Oliver and Martha Stewart. They were able to design and build two unique, modernized Christmas sets that completely distinguished the promo in an ever-crowded market of holiday programming, which was no easy feat.
“Reimagining the look of a holiday promo into something fresh, modern and cool was fantastic,” Mirabelli said.
Undoubtedly, Mirabelli will continue to be a formidable force in Canada’s film and television industry. Keep an eye out for her work.
Written by Annabelle Lee
International Entertainment, and the Talents that Leave us Buzzing….