Mohit Soni Refuses To Slow Down

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Producer Mohit Soni

While there are many international talents that come to Hollywood from across the globe to pursue their filmmaking dreams, few have been able to seamlessly transition quite like Mohit Soni. Having worked on over 30 projects since 2013, the Rajasthan-born producer and director made major headway in the industry in a relatively short amount of time.

A testament to his incredible work ethic and ability to network within the film industry, he has worked on movies starring international celebrities such as action star Paul Logan from the films Code Red, American Warfighter, The Sandman, Circus Kane and more. Soni collaborated with Logan on Loss of Grace, a high-profile film that has been shrouded in secrecy, for which he not only managed day-to-day operations but the overall production.

While there are some producers that strictly handle the logistics of a particular project, Soni is more involved, and is genuinely interested in the motivations of the artists that he works with. He also has collaborated with writers with respect to polishing and writing skills, hiring the right talent for certain roles, and assisting with conflict management and logistics. He has also has negotiated showings in various festivals and competitions with respect to projects that he was involved in, as well.

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Mohit Soni’s film “Hinjews”

Soni truly realized his love for production when he worked as a producer on Hinjews, and realized that he loved putting the puzzle pieces together when it came to completing a successful film project. He also loves putting his social skills to use, whether it involves mediating between personality clashes, figuring out the financial breakdown of projects with others, helping to oversee post-production, or marketing the project on a large scale.

Another notable project that Soni was heavily involved in was the 2017 movie Bridging Color, a touching South Korean drama directed by Chang Hyung Park. The movie follows a world-renowned arrogant artist that goes colorblind, and the resulting revelations that he has about his ego, status, and life in general. The touching movie has been widely praised in festivals around the world. The film was awarded at the 2017 Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards, the 2017 Rochester International Film Festival Awards, and the 2017 Short To The Point International Film Festival, and earned nominations from six other prestigious festivals.

Exploring themes of perception and individuality in a meaningful way, Bridging Color,  which was released on Amazon this week, served as Chang-Hyun Park’s first commercial film, and Soni was integral to bringing his creative vision to life. From inception to completion, Soni’s participation as the film’s producer ensured that the production was executed smoothly.

"Bridging Color"
Poster for “Bridging Color”

In addition to his long list of film credits, Soni produced the music video “Ishq Nashila” by actor, rapper and film star, Sapra. Exploring the dangers of substance abuse, the video emphasizes the idea that love is more powerful than any drug, with Sapra conveying a positive message over a hypnotizing, pulsating instrumental. The expert cinematography and lush imagery helped propel the video to over 100,000 views on Youtube. Soni was inspired by the personal connection that Sapra had to the subject matter, considering that one of his close friends had fallen prey to drug addiction. Soni says he was attracted to the idea of creating a musical narrative rather than a typical music video, and the fact that it also had such a positive message.

The collaboration also led to Soni producing Sapra’s music video “Coco,” which explored the idea of how detrimental cocaine addiction can be. Here, Soni was able to experiment more with cinematography while again communicating the idea that passion is more important and real than a drug can ever be, and that drugs are a momentary escape rather than a real solution.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, Soni displays his versatility through his work on Blood and Water, a Victorian-era period piece about love, family, and deception. Soni was able to step in when necessary, adapt to different personalities, manage conflict, and fill in for certain roles for emergency purposes, as well.

Unlike many other producers, Soni is deeply passionate about the products that he is involved in, and enjoys working with other like-minded creative spirits. It is clear that Mohit Soni truly feels rewarded on every unique project that he has been a part of, and his abundant passion will only lead to new projects and broader horizons.

 

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South African Producer Ricky Cruz starts Production on Horror Film “Night of the Macabre”

Producer Ricky Cruz
Producer Ricky Cruz

When award-winning filmmaker Taylor Paluso (“Unholy Night”) of Standard Motion Pictures  was looking for a strong producer to join forces with on the upcoming feature film “Night of the Macabre,” South African producer Ricky Cruz instantly popped into his mind. Though Cruz has only been in Hollywood for a few years, he’s quickly made a noteworthy impact– the proof lay in the 15 or so awards he’s earned from festivals around the world in a relatively short amount of time.

In search of a producer with a celebrated track record of award-winning films and a strong grasp of the film’s concept and desired tone, the production team behind “Night of the Macabre” didn’t need to look further than Cruz. Having collaborated with Cruz on several occasions before, such as the film “Red Christmas,” which was chosen as an OFFICIAL SELECTION of the Horror Haus Festival last year, director Taylor Paluso knew Cruz was the perfect producer to bring on board his new horror film.

Paluso says, “I have had the pleasure of collaborating with Ricky on previous projects. He is a hard working, results driven individual who would be a valuable asset to any production. Plus we collaborate extremely well together so it was imperative to have him onboard Night of the Macabre.”

The upcoming horror film “Night of the Macabre” centers on a despondent traveling nurse who finds herself in an increasingly dark and menacing situation after accepting an invitation to spend the holidays with a colleague.

“The sinister and creepy atmosphere of the film sets the stage for a powerful narrative following one woman’s journey to find the will to live again,”  explains producer Ricky Cruz. “‘Night of The Macabre’ played directly into the current preferred genre I was looking to explore. After reading the script, I also realized I had an ideal location available and in mind to be used for the film, which production was still looking to secure and access to and some potential name talent who were a great fit for some characters in the script.”

With an upcoming slate of horror and thriller films on deck, such as the film “AntiHero” directed by Screen Actors Guild nominee and 48 hour Film Project Award winner Michael McCartney, Cruz felt that “Night of the Macabre” was the perfect addition to his creative roster.

“I have been a fan of horror films for as long as I can remember and have always wanted to contribute to the genre I hold so close to my heart. There’s something so wonderfully twisted about the juxtaposition of a holiday like Christmas, which is typically associated with joy, filled with horror and terror,” says Cruz. “With the recent success of the short film ‘Red Christmas,’ I was eager to return and creatively explore the horror genre. Horror films have time and again proven their commercial potential and repeat viewership and ‘Night of The Macabre’ is a horror film that offers the opportunity to produce a terrifying film with the interesting backdrop of Christmas.”

Last year Cruz dazzled horror fans with his performance in the starring role of Rico in Paluso’s film “Red Christmas,” which revolves around a serial killer’s plan to dispose of his most recent victim on Christmas Eve and the mishaps that ensue with the arrival of an unexpected guest.

“You don’t have to speak a certain language to get scared or appreciate the powerful contrast present in a Christmas horror film,” says Cruz.

Without giving too much “Night of the Macabre’s” plot line away, we can say that the film’s main character, the nurse, finds herself in a dark situation where ill-intentioned individuals work to overpower her through the use of ancient rituals– an element of the story that Cruz found particularly exciting.

He says, “The script explores a personal area of interest in the form of pagan rituals and sacrifices, that I have long considered to be a great fuel for suspense and horror films, with some of my favorite films in the genre centering around cults and their respective terrifying practices.”

Set to begin principle photography early next year, Cruz and the team behind “Night of the Macabre” are already fully involved in the planning phase of the production. Cruz is currently handling the pre-production logistics for the film, such as location scouting, facilitating communication between film departments, acquiring permits, insurance and scheduling the actual day to day flow of the production’s filming schedule. Once filming begins Cruz will also be an active member of the production team as a multi-faceted coordinator taking care of the film’s talent management, general production office and unit management.

“The opportunity to demonstrate my versatile producer abilities excites me not only because of my love for the genre but because of the opportunity to bring and implement my signature brand of off beat character humor into the genre,” says Cruz.

Through the plethora of award-winning projects he has brought to the screen over the years as an actor, director and producer, such as the films “Foible” and “The Neighbor,” which were awarded at the 2018 IndieFEST Film Awards, and “Pigeon Hole,” which took home the Jury Prize from the Lisbon Film Rendezvous, Cruz has become revered for his offbeat style. With more than 15 awards under his belt, all of which lend themselves as proof of his extraordinary talent and unique creativity, Cruz brings a special flavor to the modern film market.

“I love a hybrid blend between outlandish characters and awkward and uncomfortable humor because not only was that the humor I grew up on, but I think it is the most honest depiction of life,” explains Cruz. “I am attracted to real and relatable stories told through the perspective of a dynamic character. The projects that I produce differ from on another in very extreme ways but they all share a root in that the message being conveyed is being told through and/or by a quirky and unconventional means.”

With several projects on deck, such as the upcoming film “Anti-Hero,” a hand full of music videos that are yet to be announced and now, the film “Night of the Macabre,” Cruz is busy doing what he loves and bringing exciting stories to the screen.

Costume Designer Lucy Song’s Attention to Detail Shines in “The Poison of Grapefruit”

Often times, the way in which a person is dressed offers one of the biggest and most immediate insights into who they are as a person. A viewer, if looking closely, forms a judgement, whether consciously or not, in regard to this person’s attitude, mannerisms, and beliefs. In a way, one’s costume becomes a visual introduction to their story, and the same thing goes for the characters in a film. A film’s costume design is a key component in building its characters and pulling us into their story, something world renowned costume designer Lucy Song knows all about.

Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Song was always fascinated and inspired by the world of costume design, but it was in Los Angeles while studying fashion design where she leaned fully into her passion.

Costume Designer Lucy Song

“Having a strong fashion industry background built the necessary foundation for me to bridge the move to being a costume designer,” Song explains. “They are very different jobs, but they utilize a lot of the same skill sets, which allowed me to marry both fields together and develop a unique style and approach to the costume design industry.”

Without question, Song’s cross-training in the field sets her apart from others. With a larger understanding of the garment industry, her ability to dress her actors exceeds far beyond the industry standard. In fact, Song’s extensive training has even enabled her to craft stunning and elaborate costume pieces by hand, if necessary.

A critical part of the costume designer’s job is the ability to capture what a director wants to articulate about a character on a visual level. In this sense, Song is nothing short of brilliant.

“Many directors have a vision of the film’s mood and tone, but not the exact costume design or look,” says Song. “[I then do] the necessary research to present key costumes based on mood, color, texture, tone, time period, and character personalities presented in the script, so that the director’s exact visual statement is captured.”

From her research, Song creates a lookbook and costume plot for each character with hand-made sketches and photos to present to the director and the production team. Once the script is cast, she goes in again, this time tailoring her vision to each individual actor. What audiences see on screen is, in essence, the final step in a much longer process, that of which Song makes look easy and, well, rather seamless.

Costume Designer Lucy Song
Poster for “The Poison of Grapefruit”

A beaming example of her strength as a costume designer can be seen in “The Poison of Grapefruit,” which was chosen as an Official Selection of the Marina Del Rey Film Festival and the Los Angeles Film and Script Festival.

A film set primarily in a courthouse, “The Poison of Grapefruit” takes the audience into the heart of a murder trial, and into the mind of an “obnoxious but fascinating anti-hero.”

The film’s costume design is poignant and beautiful, without being distracting or cliche. As Song tells it, “My job as a costume designer in these types of situations is to provide costumes that serve the characters so the story can be conveyed in an authentic tone. I enjoyed designing the formal prison guard uniforms from that time period, as there were several details to capture; all the shapes, textures and accessories were very interesting to research and put together.”

"The Poison of Grapefruit"
Actors Mason Shortland, David Air (center) & Timothy Haug in “The Poison of Grapefruit”

When designing clothing for a film, precise attention must be paid to the color pallet. Too bold, and it can result in upstaging the action and importance of the scene itself, and too mute, and the action can be swallowed by the surroundings. To avoid this, Song refrained from using orange or white prison uniforms, and instead chose dark blue and sage uniforms to ensure an effective result. Her ability to blend while still drawing enough attention to detail is profound in the industry.

It’s easy to be pulled from the context of a film by background costumes in a scene that don’t fit into the film’s visual statement. Song didn’t only focus on the main players in the story, but she paid close attention to the background actors in “Poison of a Grapefruit” as well. Song dressed the actors in complementary tones, all while staying on schedule and true to the film’s budget.

Song’s commitment to the director from beginning to end was also exemplary. “The director needed a very specific time period to be represented, so it took some time to ensure we met that vision, but I honestly had so much fun doing it that it got me through some sleepless nights,” Song recalls.

“The vibe I wanted to create with the costumes styles was in the vein of a period drama. I ended up going with tones and colors of browns, cold navy blues, and blacks to represent and stay within the tone of the story.”

Lucy Song
Actors Mason Shortland, Mike Capozzi, and Timothy Haug in “The Poison of Grapefruit”

Not only has Song created such a world, but it all works together aesthetically– each actor’s costume seems to compliment the others, all while staying visually exciting and perfectly executed.

While many people are involved in the production of a successful film, the costume designer is an integral and often overlooked part of the equation. Lucy Song is an exceptional costume designer, creating masterpiece after masterpiece, giving each actor the gift of furthering his story visually, and sometimes even enhancing an actor’s performance by providing confidence and believability. The film industry is truly lucky to have talents like Song, and audiences everywhere await her next project with excitement and anticipation.

Producer Clara Levy Brings Powerful Stories to the Screen

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Producer Clara Levy at the Deauville Film Festival

Producing a film or television series requires an immense amount of planning, impeccable attention to detail in terms of financing, a unique style of diplomacy and the capacity to work with a plethora of different personalities and the ability to see the overall picture and end result before filming ever begins. While the actors and directors often earn the most credit in the public eye, the producer behind a project is arguably the most instrumental contributor. Without them, a project simply wouldn’t happen.

One of the beautiful things about the film industry is that every once in a while a motivated leader who’s eager to help others tell their story comes along, and that’s certainly the case with producer Clara Levy. Hailing from France, Levy moved to Los Angeles in 2017 where she helped kickstart Blackpills’ US production branch. Helping to place the Blackpills’ name on the tongue of everyone in the industry, Levy has continued to produce award-winning and globally recognized productions for the company, such as the film “Dead Women Walking,” the series “Junior,” “Do Not Disturb,” “Bonding,” “First Love” and more.

Though she is now a highly sought after producer, her entry into the film industry several years ago unfolded after a stint of working in Parisian politics. In 2013 Levy was working at Paris City Hall for Anne Hidalgo, who made history and international headlines for becoming the first female mayor of one of the most well-known cities in the world. There, Levy coordinated press campaigns for the mayor and organized massive campaigns such as the Global Conference Of Locally Elected Women, all experiences that would prepare her for the logistical skills necessary to become a Hollywood producer.

After her stint at the Mayoral Office, Levy embraced her love of film, and joined Canal+, where she helped with marketing critically-acclaimed series such as The Bureau and Spiral, and was also instrumental in creating unscripted content and documentaries.

Soon after she was hired on as a creative executive at the Blackpills office in Paris, which eventually led her to Los Angeles where she was the lead producer on the critically-acclaimed film Dead Women Walking, a film about women on death row directed by Hagar Ben-Asher. Hagar Ben-Asher had previously been nominated at the Cannes Festival for The Slut.

Dead Women Walking received standing ovations at some of the most respected film festivals in the world, including the Tribeca Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, and dozens more, which has led to many discussions about a distribution deal with various major studios. The production featured an almost all-female cast and crew, including well-known actresses such as Ashton Sanders (featured in the Oscar winning-film Moonlight), Dot Marie-Jones (Glee), and Lynn Collins of X-Men fame.

"Junior"

Since entering the film and television world as a producer, Levy has continued to work with the best of the best. In 2016 she began working closely with Zoe Cassavetes, daughter of the legendary John Cassavetes, on the Gotham Award nominated series Junior.

Junior is one of the first projects that Levy worked on as part of the Blackpills team, and it is special in that Zoe Cassavetes had such as specific vision for the film. Centering on the theme excitement and danger of adolescence, Junior follows a 16 year-old whose mother’s new boyfriend tempts her to explore a darker side of herself. Zoe captured the coming-of-age experience in a fresh and modern way, and Levy helped bring Zoe’s subtle genius to life.

“[Junior] tackles adolescence in a way that we can all relate. It makes you travel in time and go back to this place when you are still exploring who you are and discovering it slowly,” says Levy. “I loved being so close to an auteur such as Zoe. Her directing is very special as it brings so many additional layers to her story. It’s something very hard to achieve and she mastered it.”

Levy recently worked on the soon-to-be-released anthology series Do Not Disturb, which marks the directorial debut of internationally-known actor Jude Law. The upcoming series was chosen among thousands of series for the Cannaseries Festival, which takes place before the Cannes Festival, one of the most well-known film festivals in the world.

Do Not Disturb takes a unique look at the private lives that we hide from the world, and is unique in that the series isn’t loyal to a specific genre. Starring celebrated actors such as Monica Belluci (The Matrix Reloaded), Jack Huston (Kill Your Darlings), Ralph Ineson (The Witch) and Edward Holcroft (Vampire Academy), Do Not Disturb brings to life the wide array of experiences that take place behind the “Do Not Disturb” signs on hotel rooms. The series is dedicated to telling personal stories that incorporate different genres and unique characters that hail from all over the world, and explores the more private and dark aspects of human nature in general.

“Do Not Disturb is really an unidentified artistic object ! It brought together so many talent and artist on such an intimate theme,” says Levy. “The theme of the project, looking into how people deal with their secret life and their dark side was amazing to tackle, and it felt that the anthology format gave us the opportunity to really explore so many side of this human problematic.”

"Bonding"
Poster for “Bonding”

As if all of this wasn’t enough, she has also been working diligently on the upcoming series Bonding, which was co-produced by Anonymous Content, the production company that was instrumental in such critically-acclaimed series as True Detective, The Knick, and Mr. Robot. Netflix purchased the series and the series is expected to launch sometime this month.

Levy’s curated and managed several writer’s room in Tel Aviv, all while developing and producing an astonishing portfolio of award-winning series during her time at Blackpills, which has been praised as “the future of TV” by French newspaper Le Monde. She has proved quite instrumental to Blackpills’ success, most notably because of her motivation, work ethic, and discerning eye for talent. That is why it is no surprise that in March 2017 she was promoted to Director of Development at Blackpills, where she works in her present capacity. Levy is responsible for signing talent of all kinds, including writers, directors, and digital talent to help create compelling content and grow the company. She now builds and maintains partnerships with all major US agencies and management companies.

Clara Levy is not afraid to sign new talent, shake up the status quo, or introduce new ideas to the companies that she works for, so she often proves to be a much more incredible asset than they first realize. She consistently stands out as being able to help true visionaries tell important and relevant stories, and it’s very clear that Clara Levy is not stopping anytime soon.

 

Compositor Ranran Meng takes audiences back to 1970s NYC for HBO’s ‘The Deuce’

For Ranran Meng, compositing is like decorating a building; as the final step of the filmmaking process, her role as a compositor, is to make a scene look complete and beautiful, just as an interior decorator would a room. She makes the footage look the best it can possibly look, ready for audiences all over the world to be taken in by the story, transported to different places and time, and to be purely entertained.

Meng has put her extraordinary touch on many of the world’s most popular recent films and television shows. These include Netflix’s hit rom-com Set it Up, Amazon’s award-winning television series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and the Emmy-nominated film Fahrenheit 451, to name a few. Her talents extend to commercials, collaborating with iconic brands like Microsoft, as well as virtual reality, having worked on the Harry Potter franchise award-winning video game The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them VR Experience in 2018.

Last year, Meng also worked on the second season of HBO’s Golden Globe nominated series The Deuce, starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Based in 1970s New York, this show gives a raw and gritty portrayal of the prostitution business that was so publicly executed at that time. As a result of police crack-down, the characters are forced to venture towards relatively safer and more discrete forms of the same work.

Meng, already a fan of the show’s first season, was happy to use her talents on such an enticing story, even if it meant she would be exposed to some spoilers.

I have not watched any show talk about the porn industry before, so this was a really unique project to be a part of. The story involves the government and police corruption, the violence of the drug epidemic and the real-estate booms and busts that coincided with the change. It really allows viewers to imagine what 1970s New York City was like,” she said. “I love the old stories and the older looking sets, it’s like seeing something from the past, even if it is not a true story. It gives an idea of what the old society was like, making it real for audiences.”

When working on The Deuce, Meng had a tremendous amount of responsibilities, making sure the VFX would really allow audiences to transport back in time to the 1970s without being noticeable. To do this, she used compositing techniques like 2D tracking, 3D tracking, roto and paint skills. In the original footage, there were modern things in the background that wouldn’t work with the time period, so she used her software to replace this with older images, making every detail work for 70s New York City.

These small details included erasing modern road stripes or signals and replacing them with the older styles, which meant she had to 3D track the scene and simulate a 3D scene of it, and then use paint techniques to paint out a newer, cleaner, no-stripes road image. She would then project the new painted road image on the 3D space and bring in a 2D plate, and then add new render stripes footage. Finally, after bringing back the cars, she used 2D tracking and roto/paint skills to do the motion work and to simulate the exact same traffic lights and shadows to bring them back to the scene. This made the scenes still have the same shooting elements, but with a perfect, older environment. Viewers may not notice things like the road signals in the background of a dramatic scene, but they would notice them if they were modernized, which is why Meng takes such care and pride in her job.

“This project is the story about the 1970s in New York, so it is interesting to make a modern city into an old-time city. I enjoyed the process of seeing how the city changed. It let me know how accurate the scene should be for output, as even a little light sign should be changed back to that period. It really magnified my attention to detail,” said Meng.

Meng’s work allowed The Deuce to be more believable and precise, allowing viewers to have the ideal entertainment experience from the couch of their homes. She used advanced high compositing techniques to achieve photoreal effects, making her indispensable to putting together such a high-end television show.

“I am proud of myself to have been a part of this great project. The post-production did a very good job and presented a real 1970s New York City to the audiences. I had a good experience working with my team and I am very much looking forward to the show’s next season,” she concluded.

The Deuce will return later this year on HBO.

Zichen Tang uses cinematography to show a story, not tell it

The importance of cinematography, says Zichen Tang, a master of his craft, does not lie with whether an image is real or not, but if one can make the audience believe it is real. With this approach, Tang continuously transports audiences to different places and times, immersing his viewers in the world he has created through his work. He likes to express himself through his art, knowing his fans enjoy his individualistic approach.

“Cinematography is sharing your story not by telling it, but showing it,” he said.

Throughout his esteemed career, Tang has proven time and time again why he is a sought-after cinematographer in his home of China and internationally. Whether creating a viral video, like the humorous and enlightening Unspoken Rules of Chinese Gift Giving or an award-winning film such as The Last Lesbian, Tang’s talents are always on display.

Yet another success story for Tang came last year with his award-winning film The Somnium. It is the story of a single mother who can’t recover from the loss of her beloved son and joins a research program to live in a dream state of her memories, while her mom fights with her to keep her in the present reality.

“The story was interesting. When I first read the story, it reminded me of an episode of my favorite show, Black Mirror. I always wanted to make a film like that. I like it because it’s not an ordinary ‘happy ending’ film, but the type of story that makes people think. On the surface, it alarms the potential harm that technology could bring to us, but deep down it was the mom’s choice that caused the tragedy. So, the core is really about humanity,” said Tang.

The Somnium premiered last year at the Los Angeles Independent Film Awards, where Tang was nominated for Best Cinematography. He was awarded Best Cinematography at the Los Angeles Film Awards, where the film also took home Best Director and Best Editing. The film made its way to several more festivals throughout the year, winning more awards and enthralling audiences all over the world with the help of Tang’s work.

“I was thrilled when the awards started to be announced one by one, while at the same time I feel we deserved it. Everyone on this project was talented and worked really hard. They believe in the story,” said Tang.

Tang was asked to come on board by Director Jingyu Liu, who had always wanted to work with the cinematographer after seeing his work. Tang was eager to form a partnership, advising her on her previous film, Shallow Grave, which was nominated for Golden Reel Award. When Liu sent Tang the script, he knew instantly this would be a great project for them to take on together.

“I was thrilled after reading the script. It was still a draft, but I could already tell its potential. The director and I have very similar tastes, so during pre-production, instead of trying to convince each other of things, we were inspiring each other. Often there would be many disagreements between cinematographers and directors, but on this project, we seldom had a disagreement. Instead, we have been focusing on finding better and more creative ways to tell the story, making the process rather delightful,” said Tang.

Making The Somnium was fun and rewarding for Tang. As a cinematographer, he was heavily involved in the script, putting his heart into the project from the very beginning to the very end, going through almost 20 drafts as it changed from the first draft to the final production.

“I was developing the story with the director all the time, and during that process, we had been talking about how we should shoot it as well. Often filmmakers have a problem when they find out something in the script is wonderful in theory but can’t be expressed visually. That was never a problem for this project. I was a visual consultant during script development and made sure this is a story that would be best told in the form of film,” he described.

The Somnium was just one of Tang’s many award-winning projects last year, and he has a lot lined up this year to continue his success and keep showing the world his outstanding talent as a cinematographer. It wasn’t always an easy path to get to where he is today, but he always persevered, and it was well worth it. He knows he will never stop learning new tricks of the trade and is eager for every new project he takes on.

“The best way to make it in cinematography is to learn from others. There’s a saying, ‘good artists copy, but great artists steal.’ It’s not encouraging plagiarism or anything, but saying that we should watch what other artists have done, think why they did it, and learn from them,” he advised.

Storytelling for Social Justice

Ishita Srivastava
Digital Content Producer Ishita Srivastava

Human beings have been reminded, time and again, thanks to history, that they haven’t always thought and acted in the best interest of society. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are in the world – there’s a good chance that the country that you live in might have a history of violence and injustice that still affect the way it operates today, from an individual to a systemic level. However, thanks to media, technology and the overall awareness it’s led to, more people today are focused on social justice than ever before.

One of the individuals at the forefront of this movement is Ishita Srivastava, who is a major influencer in the world of culture change. Art and entertainment are becoming more and more deeply intertwined with social justice efforts. We need not look further than examples such as the Time’s Up movement against sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood, led by actors and creatives like Reese Witherspoon and Shonda Rhimes, and Jay-Z’s work against mass incarceration, including helping to finance a documentary about Kalief Browder, a Bronx high school student who was imprisoned for years without ever being convicted of a crime.

Ishita Srivastava understands the valuable intersection of pop culture and social justice, and how all scale and influence of Hollywood on people’s attitudes and beliefs make it an effective conduit for creating a discourse about important social issues. Through her work as a digital storyteller, producer, and culture change strategist, Srivastava is dedicated to challenging society’s traditional ideas about caregiving and  gender roles and helping audiences understand that in order for us to live in a more equal and just world, these norms need to evolve.

During her seven year stint as a digital content producer at Breakthrough, a human rights organization based out of both the United States and India, Srivastava helped challenge norms and attitudes around gender by leveraging a powerful range of storytelling media and tactics.

While working as Breakthrough’s multimedia producer and deputy director, Srivastava tirelessly created content ranging from satirical films to documentaries, such as Mansimran, which was featured on MTV, and Deport The Statue, a satirical short film that was featured on globally-known media outlets such as CNN, Huffington Post, and BBC.

She was also instrumental in creating the #BeThatGuy campaign that urged men to take a concrete stand to interrupt gender violence, also a key theme of Breakthrough’s “Ring The Bell” campaign. She makes no secret of her ambitions and optimism, stating in an interview about the campaign: “We believe that it is especially important that men act as leaders and allies in what we call The Breakthrough Generation: the generation that will reach a critical mass and trigger a global tipping point that makes violence against women unacceptable in this lifetime.”

The “Ring The Bell” campaign was an incredible success, and it included sports star and former NFL quarterback Don McPherson, in addition to the critically acclaimed Colombian poet, actor, and author, Carlos Andres Gomez, who recently won the Atlanta Review International Poetry Prize. With an entertaining edge and poignant message, several of the videos went viral and one of them was even shown during the NASCAR Speedway Championship. Another example of innovative, edgy content that she produced  for Breakthrough was the Breakthrough U Puppet series conceptualized by Srivastava herself for a college-age audience, it addressed pertinent issues such as domestic violence, sexual harassment, hypermasculinity, and non-consensual image sharing. She was able to create and present the content in a manner that was relatable to college students nationwide, and the series even included such notable puppeteers as Paul McGinnis and David Bizzaro of Sesame Street fame.

Ishita Srivastava
Ishita Srivastava with puppets form the “U Puppet” series

Ishita Srivastava has an incredible and unique set of skills that she is now utilizing as the Director of Culture Change at Caring Across Generations. She is a key founding member of Storyline Partners, a collective of some of the most well-known social justice organizations in the U.S, collaborating with the entertainment industry to seed and influence stories and increase the visibility of those who are either misrepresented or underrepresented in pop culture. In her role at Caring Across, her most recent campaign was inspired by the film On The Basis Of Sex, which focuses on the early career of legendary Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and features well-known Hollywood staples such as Kathy Bates, Armie Hammer, and Felicity Jones. The campaign, titled #WeKnowYouCare, has already gained a tremendous amount of traction, and aims to reimagine the idea of masculinity in the context of male caregivers, urging a wide range of people, especially men, to understand how important the issue and work of caregiving truly is to society as a whole. The #WeKnowYouCare campaign has been featured in notable media outlets such as Bustle and PopSugar, as well.

Those who have worked with Srivastava have pointed out that she is simultaneously “generous and mission-driven,” and the fact that she has been behind so many successful campaigns is certainly proof of that. There is no doubt that storytelling has been an effective way to challenge and transform cultural norms throughout history, and Srivastava understands the need to use all the resources at her disposal to help create change.

“Ishita’s greatest strength is her ability to tell stories that have the power of transforming cultural norms. She knows how to identify which stories will resonate with an audience, and work closely with the subject of the story in order to ensure that their experience is represented authentically and in the most compelling way possible,” explains digital strategist Mihika Sapru, who worked closely with Srivastava at Breakthrough.

“She also has the unique ability to take heavy subject matter and convey it in a way that drives positive action, making her work effective and valuable in the social change space… She’s also not afraid of taking risks and creating edgy and provocative multimedia campaigns that reach beyond the usual suspects and spark important conversations with non-traditional audiences.”

Story Movements
Ishita Srivastava Speaking at the Story Movements Conference in LA

As an experienced digital storyteller, producer and someone whose work has been at the cutting edge of culture change strategy, it’s not surprising that Srivastava is often invited to discuss her work at forums and conferences about leveraging media for social change. Most recently she was asked to take part in the prestigious Story Movements conference hosted by the Center for Media and Social Impact at American University. During the conference, which was held on March 1 and 2, Srivastava gave a powerful talk about her cultural change work at Caring Across Generations and the #WeKnowYouCare campaign, for which she leveraged partnerships within the entertainment industry and the film, “On the Basis of Sex to engage men who are caring for family members in the U.S..

It’s clear to see that Srivastava’s instinct, intuition, and skills for visual storytelling are valued by many, she understands how to tell effective stories in a way that engages people, and most importantly, she’s using those skills to uplift the voices of those who are the most invisible or marginalized in pop culture.

 

Art Director Li Li talks living her dream and working with Only in Beverly Hills

10625162_10202971608393258_9079929232043761374_nLi Li spent her teenage years captivated by the popular television series Mad Men. The iconic series, following Don Draper and one of the most prestigious advertising agencies in the world, did not only entertain Li, but inspired her. She wanted to be a part of the same world, working with prolific brands and creating unique advertising content. With a passion for the arts and business savvy, it didn’t take her long to emerge as an in-demand art director in her home country of Taiwan and abroad.

Li spends every day doing what she loves, and that passion translates directly into her work. Award-Winning Jewelry Designer Evelyn Huang has been greatly impressed with Li’s work, bringing her on board to promote both her brands EvelynH Jewelry and Light Legion, seeing tremendous growth from Li’s efforts. She saw similar success working with lifestyle brand Neon Beige and has no plans on slowing down.

“There’s no limitation to how you want to complete a project as an art director, as long as you have a great team and good connections. It is always interesting to work with various talents around you. It is also very rewarding when I can bring the best out of someone and put everything together as a masterpiece,” said Li.

Li currently works with the exclusive brand Only in Beverly Hills. One of the city’s newest boutiques has become the number one spot for gifts that celebrate the inimitable glamour of Beverly Hills.

“I like the idea of celebrating Beverly Hills and especially that the products are not limited to apparel but accessories, home goods, and books. I thought it would be a great opportunity to discover art direction in a different category,” said Li. “I like how the owners are very open to new ideas and are always willing to try something new. The idea of the brand is also original, and I think it’s one of the keys to success of building a business.”

Li took over as Art Director for the store almost a year ago and has a variety of tasks that are essential to its success. She arranges/directs photoshoots for marketing materials and lookbooks, manages the social media and creates original content for the channels, and designs promotional artwork such as posters, store cards, and flyers.

“I love to be included in the design process as well as promotion decisions. The two owners value my marketing ideas and aesthetics. This gives me a lot of opportunities to grow the business,” said Li.

Processed With DarkroomOn top of her everyday responsibilities, Li has found other ways to help the brand grow. She brought in Vogue model Hanna Gebrehiwet to be featured in the promotional material for Only in Beverly Hills. Besides photoshoots, she also brainstorms with the owners each week regarding new promotional ideas.

Li has improved the aesthetic of the brand, allowing the new business to emerge as a Beverly Hills staple. She feels grateful when she sees continued sales increases due to her efforts, her hard work paying off. Most importantly, in her opinion, she builds content for daily posts online.

“When people hear of a brand, they go on its Instagram and scroll through to get an idea of what the brand is about, especially millennials. This is why social media is so important to business nowadays. It can be a good catalogue as well as a bridge between business and consumer,” she concluded.

Go to Li’s website and follow her Instagram @li58li.

Artist Marie Peter-Toltz and Psychotherapist Tracy Sidesinger to Present at the Art and Psyche: The Illuminated Imagination conference

“Tristes Tropiques” Acrylic and spray paint on canvas 55 x 55 inches 2018
Marie Peter-Toltz’s ‘Tristes Tropiques’, Acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 55 x 55 inches, 2018. ‘Tristes Tropiques’ is currently on view at Show Gallery’s (Los Angeles)

Beyond its aesthetic appeal, art gives viewers insight into the inner workings of an artist’s mind, their values, desires, culture, the society they live in, and so much more. Along with the ability to shed light on the artist’s world, art also reveals a great deal about the inner psyche of the viewer in the way that they personally experience it.

The deep connection between art and the psyche is one that renowned painter Marie Peter-Toltz and esteemed New York psychoanalytic psychologist Tracy Sidesinger will be exploring next month at the University of California, Santa Barbara during the Art and Psyche: The Illuminated Imagination conference, which runs from April 4 – 7. Sidesinger and Peter-Toltz will be presenting their ideas on Friday April 5 in the workshop “Constructing a Life of Jouissance from Feminine Desire: Voices from Psychotherapy and Painting.”

Marie Peter Toltz Olivia Fougeirol
Artist Marie Peter-Toltz photographed by Olivia Fougeirol, Los Angeles, 2019

Artist Marie Peter-Toltz explains, “Jouissance is reclaimed as ecstatic, sacred development of the individual fostered by collaboration between psychotherapist/patient and artist/viewer, requiring desire over its inhibition.”

Discussing their work from the standpoint of desire, the two women, both respected figures in their fields, will cover the psychoanalytic history of desire and its inhibitions, develop conflict theories while also drawing attention to relationists and French feminists. Sidesinger and Peter-Toltz propose that desire is ‘accessed through the imaginary, on an individual level but also co-experienced with others.’ They will dive into the way desire manifests in practice within the realm of the creative space and through artistic expression.

Tracy Sidesinger
Psychologist Tracy Sidesinger in New York, 2018. 

“To speak about desire, we also have to speak about what inhibits it. This is particularly true for women who are still much more understood as the objects of desire, than as those who also have their own desires,” says Sidesinger. “Yet the tension between desire and inhibition is psychologically present for everyone, to the extent that desires are seen as culturally disruptive, dangerous, or limited by the traumas of life.”

Peter-Toltz says, “I think a lot of the artistic impulses and desires or lack of desire are embedded in our psychological state of mind. A lot of the creative process and/or the work in the studio is about each individual’s psychology, one doesn’t exist without the other one.”

Bringing together experts from the art and psychology worlds, the Art and Psyche Conference is designed to engage the imaginative processes of psychotherapists of all kinds alongside members of the art community in order to creatively expand one’s understanding of depth psychology.

Peter-Toltz is known throughout the art world for her intimate and expressive paintings, many of which weave in biblical and mythological themes with a heavy emphasis on feminine sexuality. Though the natural evolution of her work reveal a marked change in her subjects and the way she has portrayed them over the years, it is near impossible to look at any one of Peter-Toltz’s paintings without experiencing an emotional response.

“Each artist has different methods of working, each series has a different purpose, the way our cells are constantly renewing themselves, the creative process is in constant ‘mutation’. I want the paintings to make me feel a particular way which often is completely opposite to what comes out as paint,” admits Peter-Toltz.

“The sadder I am the brighter the colors become. I am interested in this dichotomy, how sadness, frustration, fear can be expressed with bright happy colors and how bright happy colors can be fueled with despair and hopelessness.”

Marie Peter-Toltz
Marie Peter-Toltz’s ‘de Toi à Moi et de Moi à Toi’, Oil on canvas, 52 x 48 inches, 2018. ‘de Toi à Moi et de Moi à Toi’ is currently on view in the Sydney CBD at the UBS/ Chifley Tower (Courtesy of Nanda/Hobbs Gallery), Sydney, Australia

Since childhood Peter-Toltz has immersed herself in the arts with the unceasing courage to allow her inspirations to come out through creative expression. However it is in the past decade that she has really come into her own. The presence of desire is clearly apparent in Peter-Toltz’s paintings and with desire being a cornerstone of the presentation she will give alongside Sidesinger next month, she’s the perfect art expert to talk about its unignorable presence in the creative process.

“I have been asked to participate in diverse conferences, although this particular one, is very specific and will mainly relate to the divine feminine and the illuminated imagination,” explains Peter-Toltz. “I am thrilled that our proposition was accepted, and it will be the first conference that I will give on this particular subject of third wave feminism, human psychology and creative process.”

Sidesinger has practiced clinical psychology for over a decade, emphasizing unconscious processes in healing and creativity. When asked why she focuses on desire, she says “returning to the emotions of what one desires is to enter the true space of loss, creativity, and being. What we think of as feminine desire is particularly suited to healing because it is more comfortable with the unknown. It takes us to what remains yet in possibility.”

Earning widespread recognition for her work as an artist, some of the accolades Peter-Toltz has accrued in recent years include praise for her “Tonight Think of Me” exhibit at Australia’s renowned Nanda/Hobbs gallery in Sydney, as well the most recent Artist Award from the University of California (Santa Barbara) for the “Art and Psyche” upcoming conference, the  LCU Award for Women, the New York Studio School’s Concordia and Fellowship awards, the National Association of Women Artists Membership Award, and more.

Marie Peter-Toltz
Marie Peter-Toltz’s ‘Le Monde Retrouvé’, Oil on canvas, 52 x 48 inches, 2018. ‘Le Monde Retrouvé’ is currently on view at the UBS Bank / Chifley Tower (Courtesy of Nanda/Hobbs Gallery), Sydney, Australia

Peter-Toltz’s voice as an artist is one that strikes a chord with international audiences, so it’s not at all surprising that galleries across the globe such as those in Paris, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles have chosen to exhibit her work.

“I believe we are all born artists. Every child is born a natural artist, a creator, a maker. The only difference is that some of us – as we grow and become adults – continue to make art and others stop. There are so many factors and reasons that come into play as to why one person becomes an artist and another person moves away from it.  Maybe this could explain why people are so drawn to the arts, because art is in each and everyone of us.”

 

Producer/Director Xueou Yu experiments with magical realism in award-winning film

Xueou Yu was just a teenager when her mother bought her a book titled Top 250 IMDb Ranking Films.  At the time, it seemed like a simple gift, but it quickly changed her life forever. She began watching some of the films in the book, and before she knew it, she had watched all 250. After immersing herself in the dynamic artform, Yu became in love with cinema. She could travel to far lands, go back in time, learn about different cultures, all while sitting on her couch.

Now, Yu is a celebrated film director and producer in China and abroad. She is known for her work on films like VincentKa Ka Ka Ka, and Donna, as well as commercials such as Sirui Pocket. She is known for her expertise in her craft, with over 60 thousand followers on social media, who look for her posts providing feedback on current movies and television shows.

“I think film is a tool to expand our lives. To me film can maximize our life experiences. I want to spend my life giving others this kind of experience,” said Yu.

One of Yu’s first tastes of international success came with her dynamic drama Asa Nisi Masa. At the time, she was very drawn to magical realism in film, the mix of surreal and reality greatly attracting her artistic mind. She wondered what she could create with this in mind, and began exploring ideas that would draw people in while also challenging them. That is when Asa Nisi Masa was born.

Asa Nisi Masa follows a man who has never believed in magic, when one day he walks into a bar and finds out the bartender has found his true love by the help of a genie. The genie lives in the men’s bathroom in the bar, and is there to grant wishes. Yu also wrote the script, on top of producing and directing the film. It is a simple and funny story, and she wanted to convey that one never knows what will happen, even if it is something you never thought possible.

When Yu first started working on the film, she had difficulties finding a cast and crew as many were unsure of what they deemed a “weird” story. However, Yu had an important outlook: when making films, if the crew doesn’t believe in what they are creating, they won’t create a work of art. Commitment, she finds, is one of the most important aspects of filmmaking, as it is such a collaborative effort. With that in mind, she worked tirelessly to find the right people who not only could execute her vision, but who believed in it as well, and her hard work paid off.

By Reina Du
Xueou Yu on the set of Asa Nisi Masa, photo by Reina Du

Asa Nisi Masa premiered at the 2017 Blow-Up International Arthouse Film Fest, where it was an Official Selection. From there, it saw great success, and went on to win awards at the International Independent Film Awards and the NYC Indie Film Awards 2017. Such success could never have happened without Yu, who was the driving force of the film.

“I created this project to experiment with the language of film. I think I successfully created a mysteriously odd world. I was able to spread many of my weird thoughts and I had a lot of freedom to really do what I wanted, because I was also producing it. Experimenting is always fun, and even though there are some technical aspects that some would question, I created exactly what I wanted, and it really resonated with audiences. It is a reminder for myself to never stop experimenting,” she said.

At the early stages of pre-production, the most pressing question was asked: how will they show a genie? Was it going to be animated, or an actor in costume? Yu decided on the latter. She thought that by making the genie seem like a regular person, it further portrayed the idea that although the idea was magical, it could happen in the real world, with genies walking among us. To blend the magical aspect, she had two characters sitting at the bar based on a painting by René Magritte, adding that artistic touch for viewers. She truly mixes the surreal and real together to create a unique feeling.

“They call it magic realism, but to me the realism part is always more important because that’s how we live in this world. In this film you still see the realism play a big part,” she said.

Needless to say, Yu is a determined and talented filmmaker. She is a leader and an artist, and knows how to captivate an audience through her work. Asa Nisi Masa is just one example of what she is capable of, and audiences around the world can continue to expect great things from this filmmaker.

She believes her passion is why she has seen the success that she has, and encourages all those looking to follow in her footsteps to truly be in love with filmmaking.

“Don’t go into filmmaking because you think it looks cool or can bring you fame and you make what would please a crowd. Do it because it is what is in your heart and find the subjects you really love and just keep going. Don’t pretend to be the person who you are not, and don’t be ashamed of what you can’t become. Focus more on doing the things that you really love. This is an art, it takes talent and a lot of commitment,” she advised. “If you have both those things, never give up.”

 

Photo by Daren You

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