Actor Ben Prendergast takes up boxing to play Australian icon Jo Sparro

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Ben Prendergast

Ben Prendergast says his love of film is genetic. His mother’s side of the family constantly watched classic “talkies” on repeat, watched Sunday matinees, and had a general love for iconic starlets and stories. His father’s side still had that same love for movies, but there was a passion for science-fiction and action films, with regular trips to the video store. As a child, Prendergast was immersed in all aspects of film from a young age, loving Star Wars and Casablanca before even Mickey Mouse.

“In Australia, the notion of being in the movies is so foreign, but as I got older and started to build a profile it became evident that I could actually make a go of being involved in an industry that I’d loved for decades,” he said.

As an acclaimed film and television actor, Prendergast has many notable projects on his resume. He has worked alongside Hollywood’s best, including Ethan Hawke in the feature Predestination, and starred in award-winning films like The Marker and Post Apocalyptic Man. Australians everywhere recognize his voice and face from many national commercials, and his versatility is constantly evident, ranging from genres and mediums. With every character he embodies, he does not just portray them, he becomes them. This is perhaps most evident when he took on the role of the iconic boxer Jo Sparro in the celebrated film Punch Drunk.

“Punch Drunk deals with a very real issue in Australia: the marginalization of the elderly and mentally unwell. I loved that the main protagonist was a hero in his day, someone that was very much valued as part of society, but after an unfortunate event he’s literally left to rot in an institution until he fights his way out. I wanted to be a part of the project as it dealt with a sport I love and tackled a real issue within the heart of a fantastic story,” he said.

Punch Drunk is the story of the Mighty Joe Sparro, a champion boxer who is cut down in his prime. Years later, he is in a care facility that shuts down and he needs to fend for himself one last time. Prendergast played the younger Joe Sparro, depicting his early career, showing his courage and man-of-the-people charm, and illustrating for the audience what might have been.

“Jo Sparro was a post-war young man trying to make a living to support his wife and child, so in a lot of ways his natural gift for fighting made him a more loving partner. He loves his wife Millie to death, so when they are separated it is heartbreaking. For so long, he has been confused about where he is, but when the film starts we realize he is coming out of an extremely long coma,” Prendergast explained.

Punch Drunk was distributed to a number of festivals, including Telluride and the New York Short Film Festival where it played in Times Square to an estimated 50,000 people. From there it went to the St Kilda Film Festival, where it was nominated for best screenplay, Young at Heart Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award for Best Film, Adelaide Shorts Film Festival, where it took home the Audience Merit Award, Byron Bay Film Festival, winning Best Cinematography, and an Official Selection at Dungog Film Festival, Heart of Gold International Film Festival, Little Rock Film Festival Official Selection, and Woods Hold Film Festival. After its film festival run, Punch Drunk was distributed digitally and has since been viewed millions of times online. The Director, Sam Wark, believes Prendergast’s portrayal of the young Jo Sparro was pivotal to the film’s success.

“Ben is a pro. He is so proactive in finding the way into his characters and has a limitless supply of positivity and fresh ideas. As a director looking to fulfill a vision and shape a story, it’s a joy to have someone who can bring me a hundred different bold choices on any one idea and then go further and further into the rabbit hole as the story unveils itself. He’s an actor’s actor, so he goes way beyond what you’d think an actor should do in order to prepare for a role, not only mentally and spiritually, but also physically. In the boxing scenes, he worked over the course of three months to not only become fit enough to perform the role, but also to perfectly imitate a 1950s’ boxer style, and then also the stunt falls required. The miraculous thing though is he’s able to do all of this while embodying a character and creating the empathy in the audience needed to touch people. Our audiences fell in love with that character,” said Wark.

Wark had the script for Punch Drunk in his drawer for seven years with no real plans on making it. He knew the script was a gem but didn’t know just how to turn such an important story into a film. That was until he sent the script to Prendergast, who was so passionate about the project, the director knew he had something there. Immediately, Prendergast was the only choice for the role of Jo.

“The film needed someone who could play a champion boxer without the arrogance or coldness that we see from boxers in the modern era. He needed to be a people’s champion, and completely likeable, even to his opponents. By doing this, the film could create the payoff needed to touch audiences and make them think about the mentally ill in a new and perhaps impactful way. That is what I kept in mind when preparing, and while filming,” Prendergast described.

When preparing for the film, Prendergast relentlessly trained for three months to not only get in the shape of a professional boxer, but to realistically fight in required scenes. He also took extensive stunt training in order to be ready to be hit and fall on command. In one boxing scene, he chose to fall a lot heavier than he had initially planned and ended up knocking himself out. The shot was so brilliant, it was used in the final cut of the film.

“I was introduced to the sport of boxing in a new way. I always loved to watch, but to participate and continue to practice to this day is something that the film gave me. I was also drawn into the world of past champions and the history of the sport,” said Prendergast.

Punch Drunk depicts an Australian sporting hero that never made it, someone who showed so much promise but was robbed of it, and audiences ultimately see him victorious after 60 years of solitude. Getting to be a part of such a story was truly one of the most satisfying parts of working on the film for Prendergast, beyond all the awards and accolades they later received. The best part for the actor, however, audiences may not have noticed.

“This ended up being a family affair. My Nana was featured as an extra in the film,” he said.

Check out Punch Drunk to see Prendergast’s outstanding performance.


Acclaimed Director/Photographer Liam Cushing’s Mix of Substantive Realism and Ethereal Beauty

With a world-class resume of successful, high-profile collaborations with such famed luxury brands as Jimmy Choo, Valentino, H&M, Sandro Paris and Tommy Hilfiger, director/photographer Liam Cushing is one of the most acclaimed craftsmen in his field. But his extraordinary international renown and impressive achievements came about almost as a fluke, the unlikely result of a loving mother’s thoughtful gesture to her teenaged son.

“I was going on a [student] exchange in Spain and my mother took me to a second hand camera store,” Cushing said. “She bought me a Nikon F5 with 50mm lens and I was hooked right away, but had no real technical knowledge. There was a lot of trial and error after I arrived in Spain, but it really started to shape my eye, knowledge and love for photography. I took photos of everything, anyone and everywhere and I really attribute the growth of my style to my time in Spain.”

An entirely new world opened up for the Toronto-born, London-based Cushing. “My mother had always had a love of photography and it was always a part of my life growing up, but I had never really learned how to shoot,” he said. “She thought it would be great for me to learn on my own camera as I embarked for Spain and as I learned Spanish and adapted to a new culture, my photos deeply reflected this new curiosity. I still own that Nikon F5 to this day, and every once and a while I will use it just too once again have that feeling of shooting for the first time.”

Cushing quickly parlayed that youthful enthusiasm into a dedicated career path. Having completed studies at the University of Toronto with degrees in Art History and Cinema Studies, Cushing’s romance with photography—and his readily evident aptitude—enabled him to gain a foothold in this particularly fast-paced arena.

“After graduating, I applied for an internship where I could learn from the best photographers in the world,” Cushing said. “I ended up at the prestigious fashion photo agency Art Partner’s London office, which subsequently connected me to the highest levels of the industry and propelled me to get a job working for world famous photographer Mario Testino. Mario was famous for shooting the campaigns for brands such as Burberry, Versace, Gucci and Dolce and Gabbana, and who had also shot the royal family, and countless celebrities including Katy Perry, Madonna, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts.”

Testino, of course, wouldn’t hire anyone who wasn’t an absolutely first rate talent, and Cushing really came into his own, developing the visual style which became his very formidable calling card.

“During my time working under Mario, my career really started growing,” Cushing said. “I spent countless days researching, learning about my craft, investing in my tools, pursuing personal projects, chasing clients, all of which helped me get to where I am today in my career.”

“I developed I strong affinity for directing video and while I was hesitant to stop working for Mario, I felt as if I wouldn’t be able to have creative independence if I did not take the jump—I subsequently left and pursued an independent career as director/photographer.”



On his own, Cushing was compelled to make his mark, a feat that required considerable drive and fortitude.

“Finding my own path was difficult as first,” Cushing said. “I was competing with some of the most talented creative minds in the world. In the first year it became apparent how difficult it was to find my place and stand out in a city where I had very little professional connections. Rejection started to feel familiar, but I persevered and began to pursue my interest in video work. My deep passion for video rubbed off on my photography, I felt more engaged than ever, and I really started to hit my stride.”

Cushing’s ace-in-the-hole was a deep passion for a particular type of communicative aesthetics unique unto himself. “I always thought of my work as something like a dream—the imagery can be abstract and ethereal while emotions and tone feel real and weighted,” he said.  “I look at every project as a challenge, so if there is no element of discomfort then I know I am not getting better at my craft. I also really value working with creative professionals at the top of their respective crafts, as it forces me to continuously push myself to higher levels of excellence.”

This creative zeal quickly distinguished Cushing from his contemporaries and his career began to ascend.

“Around this time I was hired to do stills and some video work for a Tommy Hilfiger campaign with world famous models Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer. As my skills sets grew, I felt my confidence and client lists grow as well. I felt very fortunate to have worked with Mario as it opened doors for me and illustrated the standard of professionalism I had to live up to, but also the confidence to find my own path, which I continue to be on to this day.“

An in-demand professional with a sterling international reputation, Cushing’s peerless instinct and ability to wed technology to human emotion in a way that evokes power responses from his viewers—a gift that’s elevated him to the very pinnacle of success. Cushing’s gorgeously rendered evocative visuals have led to assignments in fashion with his highly successful Jimmy Choo/Off White and Sandro Paris campaigns but also in the entertainment industry, taking jobs with Capitol Records and a memorably spontaneous collaboration with UK indie rock band Glass Animals.

“I was introduced to the band Glass Animals when I was hired to be still photographer during a video shoot for the song ‘Black Mambo,’” Cushing said. “There was some downtime during the shoot, and their manager asked if I could take some band shots, so I obliged. The band and the label liked them so much, they commissioned me to shoot the press photos for the release of the upcoming album. The photos were then featured in all promotional materials and could be seen in the New York Times, Billboard magazine, SPIN and many others. I was really encouraged about the success of the images—then, Capitol Records contacted me to have my photo featured in their commemorative, Taschen-published 75th anniversary coffee table book, where the photo would be featured alongside some of the greatest photographers of the last 100 years. The book was distributed globally and elevated my work and name to a worldwide level that I had yet to experience.”

That type of creative serendipity is typical of Cushing’s methodology, a wide open, perceptive approach based as much on instinct as it is technical skill. As one Cushing collaborator, the famed Global Creative Strategist for Facebook/Instagram/Whatsapp Dr. Jane Han, said “Having worked with many producers and directors in my lifetime, it was clear that Liam was on top of his craft with an expert sense of his work both on a technical and artistic level.  In the capacity of director, he ensured the deliverables were at the highest of levels and showed a vast amount of skill in his trade.“

The key to his impressive commercial success is, uniquely, based almost entirely on his need for purely creative expression.

“I gravitate to anything that demands emotion and exists beyond the world of pure aesthetic,” Cushing said. “That is not to say I don’t continually strive to create incredibly beautiful imagery, but it has to evoke some feeling inside the viewer that goes beyond the present physical world. It is why I always have thought of my work as falling between the abstract, ethereal world of the mind and the sheer beauty of the physical world.  Where imagery can be both associative and dissociative as it moves between real and abstract, thus giving the viewer’s imagination the opportunity to run free—where the imagery exists on a level beyond the confines of the superficial and reaches something more human and emotive.”

Brazilian triple threat Rita Shukla is an indomitable force on stage

Rita Sjukla
Brazilian Performer Rita Shukla

You may have seen performer Rita Shukla on stages across Los Angeles as a lead singer with the classic rock band Lloyd Moss & The Rock Collective, singing jazz-style Brazilian bossa nova with the Electrobossa band, or heavy rock n’ roll with Redemptrix. Her strength and dynamic range as a vocalist coupled with her lively and magnetic stage presence has made her a go-to performer for a number of bands in need of a strong lead singer.

As part of Lloyd Moss & The Rock Collective, Rita is a vocalist alongside Andrey Tsvetkov Nazarbekian, who made it to the semifinals on the incredibly popular TV series “The Voice Russia” season 2, and was also a contestant on the 8-time Primetime Emmy Award winning “American Idol” season 15.

“Working with Rita is a constant exchange. Her vast knowledge in music and her stage experience are the factors that give all of our band members a new perspective on the way things should be done, how harmonies should be written and songs should be sung,” explains Nazarbekian. “What really makes her good at what she does is her natural gift for music supported by the education and training she acquired in Brazil ”

Rita began cultivating her talent as a performer at the age of 4 whilst growing up in Campinas, Brazil where music and performance are a vibrant part of the country’s colorful culture. First immersing herself in music classes, Rita immediately fell in love with the way music made her feel.

It’s just like being in nature for me… I feel joy when I sing. it brings me so much peace and happiness, as if I don’t think of anything else. I’m just there present in the moment,” admits Rita. “For you to be able to sing well, you first need to breathe well… the whole process of singing is just therapeutic and healing.

Knowing the competitive nature of being a lead singer, Rita didn’t rely solely on her natural vocal strengths as a high soprano. Instead she devoted herself to perfecting her skills by training with some of the best in the industry internationally, including vocal coaches such as Molly Rocklind (who’s shared the stage with the likes of Stevie Wonder, popular classic rock band America and Chaka Khan), Dawn Bishop (who’s performed with household names like Brian McKnight and the Black-Eyed Peas,) Brazilian soprano Lucila Tragtenberg and maestro Thiago Gimenes, among others.

It didn’t take long for Rita to be tapped to begin performing on stages across Brazil. By the age of 16 she was playing starring roles in popular theatre productions such as “A Receita” by Jorge Andrade, followed by “Um Cadillac Para as Estrelas” and “Quero a Lua” at the Tao Theatre.

With many of her major theatrical projects back home in Brazil utilizing her talent as an actress and singer, she quickly stood out as a rarely gifted performer capable of flawlessly executing both with equal pizazz. But there’s another area of Rita’s ‘gift’ as a performer that has made her so unique amongst others in the industry– and that is her skill as a dancer.

In the same way that her impressive vocal range and natural rhythm has led her to lead bands with musical styles ranging from jazz and bossa nova to classic and hard rock, her skill as a dancer has given way to a multitude of dance performances ranging from flamenco and belly dancing to jazz and tap for musical theatre.

Beginning flamenco dance training at 11 and belly dance at 13,  Rita explains, “First, I fell in love with flamenco, for its strength, rhythm, passion, and history, but dancing in general makes me feel good as I feel the energy of the music and the beat flowing through my body.”

The way she translates music into her movements as a dancer, embodying the rhythm in human form on stage, has not only been a highlight for the audiences who watch her, but a draw factor for those who cast her in their shows. Whilst in Brazil, she was cast as a lead dancer in numerous shows such as “Noche Caliente,” “Bombardeio de Dança” and “Noite Flamenca” with leading Brazilian flamenco dancer and choreographer Karina Maganha. She also made a name for herself as a lead dancer with the Jimena Lourenço Dance Company, starring in shows like  “A Arte Milenar Da Dança Do Ventre,” “1° Festival de Dança Do Ventre,” “2° Festival de Dança Do Ventre,” “Clip” and many more.

By college Rita had not only perfected her individual skills making herself known among the country’s best young performers in each area, but she had blended all of these talents, making her an undeniable triple threat– an asset that boosted her reputation within the world of musical theatre.

About her beginnings, Rita explains, “Growing up studying and doing theatre [in Brazil], and feeling on my skin the importance of embodying the character as a dance, the music as a text and the acting as music, made me a very open, strong and vulnerable actress and singer.”

After completing her bachelor’s in drama at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, scholarship offers began rolling in from schools in the U.S. for her to continue her education in the performing arts. And in 2013 she packed her bags and relocated to California on a scholarship to study Musical Theatre at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.

As a singer she’s quickly became a lead member in several bands in the states, while also writing her own songs and embarking on many other fruitful collaborations. After being recognized by music producer and songwriter Ted Perlman, who’s known for his work with renowned stars such as Whitney Houston, Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan and Diana Ross, the two collaborated in writing a praise and worship rock tune.

Perlman recalls, “As soon as she sang one note, I knew she was special… Rita is one of the most soulful white girls anywhere! She has everything- talent, beauty, brains, and joy. She’s as close to perfect as it gets.”

In the states her seasoned skill as a performer coupled with the fiery nature of Brazilian culture pulsing through her veins, led her to be viewed as a unique talent in the industry.

Last year Rita was personally invited to perform as a singer and dancer alongside some of the most recognizable Broadway stars in the world in the production of “Broadway to the Rescue.” A concert gala for charity, Rita shared the stage with the likes of Tony Award Winner LiLlias White and Tony Award nominees John Tartaglia and Sharon McNight where she gave a memorable performance in numbers from the hit Broadway shows “Hair,” “Memphis,” “Hairspray” and more.

“Training and performance skill once you reach a higher level is not hard to find in Los Angeles. But one thing that I look for in performers, and Rita is one of a few that has it, is personality and unique instinct,” explains Rodrigo Varandas, one of the choreographers behind “Broadway to the Rescue.”

“I feel that her Brazilian culture makes her unique already. But she is able to incorporate American culture in her performance as well and that is just impossible to find. She mesmerized me every time she sang and danced.”

Rita Shukla is one performer who’s managed to excel as singer, actress and dancer, and while she spent years training in order to get where she is today, the natural and vibrant energy she brings to the stage is something that just can’t be taught– and it’s definitely something that has set her apart from the pack.


Editor Xiaodan Yang refines artistic story in upcoming film “Summer Orange”

Xiaodan “Christy” Yang was a teenager when she realized she was meant to be a filmmaker. At the time, she and her friends at their high school in China were just having fun with a video camera. They were so excited and curious about the tool and would pretend to interview students during lunch breaks. Quickly, this transformed to casting classmates in small productions, and Yang was the leader.

“The most classic one was a Titanic parody where I picked two leading characters to play Jack and Rose from the “audition”. Then we shot the “I’m flying” scene. Their acting was so hilarious and the whole process was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it and that’s the first time I started thinking that maybe I could be a real filmmaker someday. I wanted to bring larger audiences to tears of laughter and allow them to experience all sorts of emotions through my work,” said Yang.

Despite being in charge of her high school short films, Yang found her way to a more behind-the-scenes role in editing. Now, she is an award-winning editor and is recognized far beyond China for her talent. Through her work on dramatic films such as Kayla, Witness, Sixteen and It’s Not Just About a Film, Yang’s contributions as an editor shape these important stories into pieces of art, and all those who work with her know what an asset she is.

“I worked with Xiaodan on my film, Ashram, as well as a short film called The Review. I directed the films and she was my editor for both of them. To work with Xiaodan is to have a very smart, skilled and sensitive creative partner. She is very thoughtful about her editing decisions, and a very even-keeled and well-balanced guiding creative force for the project. She’s very competent and efficient, but also artistic and intuitive. She has strong communication and learning skills, which make us work efficiently,” said Matt Marlin, Writer and Director. “Xiaodan is a strong creative presence and also very flexible with working with different types of personalities. She often juggled multiple projects when working with me, and still made me feel like my project was at least an equal priority with the other things she was working on. She can roll with any notes I throw her way, and also push back when she believes in a creative decision strongly. She has a great intuition for how to best bring out the story from the footage provided.”

When working on the upcoming film Summer Orange, an artistic story, Yang knew it would be defined by the editing. When she first read the script, she was immediately captured by the characters and could feel the desolation they felt in every word. She instantly said yes to the project.

Summer Orange is about a filmmaker dealing with his real life and the film he’s shooting. As a filmmaker myself, I felt close to him. As I was editing the film, the film also affected me in many ways. I was thinking deeply while working on this one,” said Yang.

The film follows Da, a film student in Los Angeles. During the time shooting his thesis film, his old friend, Lu, comes to visit him. It has been a few years since the two have seen each other, and they both have changed. At the same time, the relationship between Da and Xintong, the leading actress of his film, becomes ambiguous. With so many things going on, Da feels confused about film and reality.

“This is a very personal story for the director. Some plots and details come from his actual life experience. If other films are considered novels, this one is more like a prose. The story is sincere, but also abstract. Although nothing dramatic happens, the tone of the story is attractive. Sometimes life is just overwhelming, and people can’t do anything about it. The best part of this story is the dynamic between the characters. That was also my emphasis during editing,” said Yang.

Summer Orange is directed by Chen Xu, who also wrote the film. He had previously worked with Yang on Witness and It’s Not Just About a Film and knew her extraordinary editing talents would help captivate audiences to his subtle story. As the editor, Yang understood the director’s intentions of this story precisely. When going through the footage, every decision Xu made while shooting made sense to her and she knew just how to approach the editing. She could transform and breakdown the script without disrupting the artistic conception. As it was a calm story, the director chose to shoot the film in an objective way, meaning most of the shots were long takes. When Yang was editing, she watched each shot over and over to make sure she was choosing to highlight the best performances from each actor. After doing this, she still made sure not to cut the long takes, therefore ensuring the dynamic between each character was as close as possible to how it was originally shot, refining every take. She also slowed down her pace while editing and instead of simply thinking about what would be useful, she cared more about what felt right for the atmosphere.

Undoubtedly, Summer Orange will be a tremendous film and showcase what a formidable editor Yang is. It will premiere this May at none other than the prestigious Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner and will expectedly make its way to several more festivals in the coming year.

“I feel so excited about the Cannes Film Festival, since it’s one of the best film festivals in the world. I believe this is just a good beginning, and more and more will come,” Yang concluded.

Cinematographer Alberto Bañares’ Creative Serendipity

ALBERTO-1Spanish cinematographer Alberto Bañares’ unerring eye and passionate involvement with all things visual have won him a reputation as one of the top hands in his field. Bañares’ style—driven by a singular flair for creating evocatively composed shots that deliver a communicative impact—enhances any film, video or television assignment, and is distinguished by a consistency of tone and rich atmosphere that is irresistible to any viewer.

His immediately recognizable, arresting technique seems like the work of a dedicated craftsman with generations of deep experience, but the astute, ambitious Bañares achieved this striking of level of quality while barely out of his teens. At age 18, the Barcelona native was studying Economics when a sudden realization took hold.

“At university, I realized quite early that my future wasn’t behind a desk,” Bañares said. “So I started writing and taking photographs on my own while studying International Business. I did a small 5 day course on script writing, and was completely astonished by what I saw and learned. That gave me the courage to move straight to film academy in 2003.”

“I studied at one of the best film schools in Spain, ESCAC [Cinema and Audiovisual School of Catalonia],” Bañares said. .”It was a very intense experience.  After two years, you had to choose your specialization, and I quickly understood that between script writing, directing and cinematography, I would naturally pick the last one.”

“Suddenly, everything made sense to me,” he said. “I was always very attracted to the camera and highly intrigued by light. Cinematography teachers seemed to me more like wizards than anything else!”

After obtaining his degree, Bañares wasted little time. Working as on-set electrician and in camera and light crews at first, gaining experience and making connections, by 2012, he decided to accept cinematographer jobs exclusively, and in 2013 prestigious talent brokers L’Agence were representing him throughout Europe.

His recent job as director of photography for a commercial from a high-end German auto maker, the striking, effects-laden Audi: The Invisible Man. The spot, promoting Audi’s pilotless vehicles using the famed horror character as protagonist, mixes wry humor with impressive visual effects and epitomizes Bañares’ signature combination of creativity, problem-solving and technical prowess.


This was no simple task. “As a DP my role started some weeks before the shoot,” Bañares said. “This was a highly technical project for all of us, so starting the preproduction earlier than normal helped us to arrange meetings with Metropolitana, the post-production house, in order to understand their needs and the way we were going to shoot it.”

“It was a highly technical job, for sure,” director David Verges said. “To create an Invisible Man we had to shoot different layers of each shot in order to remove the actor who was ‘performing’ his moves. We used a Motion Memorizer which required us to be very accurate during the shoot as well as having to mentally “compose” the shot in our mind from the different layers we were shooting. Alberto was very helpful in this regard, as his comprehension of the technique was complete. He also has this natural quality that puts everyone at ease and is greatly appreciated by his crew and the rest of us. “

Bañares’ holistic grasp on the assignment’s complex challenges proved invaluable. “We had to be very adaptable during the shoot as we had to bear with constantly changing weather,” he said. “We had determined to shoot the main table scene during the morning but we had extremely grey skies so we had to go inside the house meanwhile the weather improved.”

“After several hours we realized that the motion memorizer shots took more time than initially thought, so we had to be very quick with any shot that didn’t use this tool,” Bañares said. “Being fast on set is something that no one teaches you when you are in film school, but after all these years as a DP I’m very used to have a high-speed on set plus gently pushing everyone in order to keep a good pace.”

The results, thanks to Bañares’ formidable skills, were nothing short of spectacular, and the spot generated significant buzz in professional circles

“Due to the unique creativity of the Audi commercial, it gained a big reputation amongst the family of filmmakers,” Bañares said. “I consider myself to be a useful asset no matter what. I like to help my directors get what they want, but I also want them to know what I like and dislike, which elements could be improved and which ones must be improved.”

His flexibility and instinctual grasp on how best to complete a shoot have allowed Bañares to rack up a spectacular roster of achievements and placed him at the forefront of the contemporary DP community.

“DPs must dissolve their egos within the director’s ideas,” Bañares said. “Sometimes a DP must be like a medium or psychologist, in order to be able to understand the director’s vision and their original vision of the project. When it’s fiction, I like to talk to the director as much as I need so I can see where everything comes from. Once I get their original idea, I subtly transform it into a light and camera concept. I love to communicate and express ideas using my tools, it’s such a rewarding process.

“Lately I’ve been quite attracted towards creative serendipity and subconscious intuition,” he said. “In order to operate the camera in a genuine way, I’m constantly exploring different, new ways to reach that state. I love that too.”

His rare mixture of technique and aesthetic sense qualify Bañares as a force to be reckoned with. “I’ve known Alberto for years but we hadn’t been able to work together until this one,” Verges said. “I was very happy to have his good taste and discerning eyes in this project. He was very focused and he always brought a creative input to each shot, to each take, in order to improve it. I’m looking forward to collaborate with Alberto on future projects.”

Producer Kegan Sant helps TELUS give back with inspiring charitable campaign

It seems funny to Kegan Sant that there was once a time where he thought he wanted to be a director. Many people going into filmmaking initially see themselves leading the film set, and Sant was no different. However, when he found his way into producing, he realized it was exactly where he was meant to be. Sant understands the nuances to the role, that it isn’t just balancing a budget. The producer is responsible for making sure every single aspect of the production goes off without a hitch. That, for Sant, is what makes it so thrilling.

“I like to be busy and being a producer, there is always something to do. No matter how simple a project is, attention to detail is everything to me. I find that fun and challenging. Not many positions offer the flexibility in schedule, opportunity to see the world and ability to employ thousands of people over short periods of time. It’s invigorating to work with different directors as everyone has unique ways of working and dynamic thought processes. It’s incredibly satisfying to conceptualize a project with a director, budget it out, execute it, and see it come to life in post,” said Sant.

Sant’s passion for what he does translates into every project he takes on. He is perhaps most well-known for his work on the Westjet Christmas Miracle, one of the first real people/real time commercials that went viral online. He also made the award-winning Grey Cup flagship commercial for the CFL, What We’re Made Of, and last year, his work on Woods Is There campaign celebrated the company’s 100th anniversary and Canada’s 150th birthday while captivating viewers across the country with stunning scenery. His work extends to film, and his movie The Bear went on to several international film festivals, taking home prizes and impressing viewers and critics alike.

Sant’s creativity is ignited when he believes in what a project represents, and his 2016 commercial for TELUS was no different. The commercial promoted #TheGivingEffect, a campaign to encourage acts of kindness. With every act of kindness, big or small, TELUS encouraged citizens across Canada to share themselves giving back to their community with the hashtag #TheGivingEffect, with the goal of having the entire nation help each other. TELUS would then select up to five individuals who took part in the challenge and award them with $5000 to donate to the charity of their choice.

“I think this campaign is important because it sways social consciousness in the direction of doing something about problems and issues they see. It lets people know that everything counts – small or big and that it doesn’t have to be material or monetary to count. Having more of that in the world is inspiring change in the right direction and I believe this stemmed from the actual employees of TELUS giving back to their own organizations, which inspired the corporation to do the same. Truly the spirit of giving,” said Sant.

The campaign began with a 90-second video with short stories ranging from an informal bottle cleanup on a beach to a young woman shaving off her long hair to support a sick friend. The tagline is “every act of giving inspires another.” The commercial was shot in over five locations in just one day in April of 2016. There was a national TV buy for this campaign and it also lived on an online platform. It was also picked up and recognized by a couple of national marketing magazines.

“I liked that we were able to defy all norms on this project, like shooting in several locations in a single shoot day with actresses that had special FX makeup, and first-time experiences like shaving their head. I liked that this project pushed boundaries and forced me to constantly think on my feet. Being able to produce a job that matched the director’s vision was incredibly satisfying and having a happy production company, agency, client and director means I did my job well,” said Sant.

What is perhaps the most interesting and challenging part of the commercial is the scene with the girl donating her hair for her sick friend. Sant had to find an actress that was actually willing to shave her head for the scene and donate her hair. He vowed that they would make it happen, despite the casting director being confident they wouldn’t find one. The director, Stash Capar, had a vision, and it involved an actress actually shaving their head. Sant made sure to deliver. At the last minute, Sant found an actress who was happy to show her support for the cause, really selling the authenticity of the piece. Because of his commitment to the project, Sant immensely impressed all those he worked with, who he now continues to collaborate with to this day.

“You know you’re in good hands with Kegan. No matter what problems befall the project, he will find solutions and the show will go on. Kegan is the hardest working producer I know.  He finds efficiencies and strategies that other producers later mimic. He is an agent of change in the world of commercials.  An example of this was the Westjet Christmas Miracle spot, which Kegan masterminded. His methods were later copied, spawning an entire genre of copycat “surprise and delight” commercials,” said Stash Capar, Director.

When Sant was given the opportunity to work on #TheGivingEffect it felt like he had come full circle. As a teenager, his first “real job” was working for TELUS in their customer service department. He remembers wondering what it would be like to produce a commercial for them one day. Getting to do so while promoting a good cause and giving back to his community was more than he could ever have dreamed of.

“It’s a great feeling to know that the project was so successful. I’m happy to have delivered a job that met the expectations of everyone involved and was instrumental in reaching people, promoting the idea of giving back. It’s on my reel as a heartfelt piece of emotional storytelling, not only for the final product itself but the messaging it shares,” he concluded.


Photo by Kevin Sarasom

Staying True to Their Roots: NYLON Magazine’s “To The Authentic” by Jessica Pantoja

Upon shutting down their print magazine at the tail end of 2017, NYLON Magazine wanted to remind readers that despite moving into solely digital-based content, their founding roots wouldn’t waver. With their focus moving more towards engaging with their audience through striking video and digital content, it made total sense to release a commercial that spoke to their continued dedication to the diversity of their audience despite the change — so they joined forces with cinematographer Jessica Pantoja to create “To The Authentic.”

“As NYLON is currently evolving from a print to a digital publication it was important to state that regardless of the change they would continue to be true to who they are and who they have been,” explains cinematographer Jessica Pantoja.

“‘To The Authentic’ had the intention to express NYLON’s commitment to the audience and the bond between the publication and the readers… NYLON is part of the audience as the audience is a part of NYLON, they both influence each other.”

In creating “To The Authentic,” Pantoja captured 25 models, influencers, dancers and actors, essentially asking them to come as they are, with the ultimate goal of revealing their authentic selves on camera. Using such a culturally and aesthetically diverse cast that collectively blurs the lines of traditional gender ‘norms,’ which are so yesterday it’s not even funny, not to mention the broad range of personalities brought together in the commercial, Pantoja nails the mark with her creative vision for “To The Authentic.”

From the minimalistic yet bold bubble gum pink opening frame featuring the words “BE YOURSELF” followed by the hashtag ‘#Benylon,’ to the progression of models who hit the screen, the commercial flows seamlessly and expresses what the brand stands for. DIVERSITY.

This is ultimately one of the key reasons tens of millions of readers look to them as a source of information on everything music, fashion and pop culture each month — they’ve never covered what every other glossy on the newsstand does, and they’re not going to start now. Their mission is furthered by the audio narration that accompanies the visual content, which adamantly reassures: Through media changes, political changes, cultural changes — you keep true to yourself. We see you. We are here for you. Always have been. Always will be. NYLON.

Pantoja says, “The meaning behind [To The Authentic] lay on the changing social climate… we were just trying to express the belief that diversity is beauty.”

Capturing each model (moving around to their own tune) in front of various backgrounds that visually fit their individual aesthetic, style and personality, Pantoja’s selection of backgrounds, which include recognizable murals, architectural structures and other interesting locations across Los Angeles, also speak to the magazine’s ceaseless attention to design and local culture, something they’ve covered in extensive detail since their alternative beginnings back in 1999.

She explains “We asked all the models to play a song they liked so they would feel comfortable showing us who they are. They could dance or just stare at us. It ended up being super fun because they would feel really comfortable and share their personalities and style with us. Each person brought something completely different.”

From the way she fluidly pans her camera across each model as they grace the screen and creates an engaging flow from frame to frame, it’s easy to see the seasoned nature of Pantoja’s skill on a more technical level in terms of her work as the cinematographer behind the project. Key in eliciting the authentic personalities we see from each of the talent featured in the commercial, Pantoja manages to capture model after model through her camera lens in a way that never gets boring.

“It’s never easy to photograph 25 models and build and light more than 20 different sets, to pull off 25 different outfits and looks in a 12 hour day. The team was amazing and thankfully we had very talented and professional people with us. At the end I think that it’s all about having the right people as your team,” explains Pantoja. “In film you are only as good as the people who stand by you and they are only as good as you help them be. It’s a very collaborative industry and if you fly solo you will never be able to make it.”

Some of the models Pantoja shot for the commercial include influencer and beauty blogger Katie Joy, model Matt Jones, actress and poet Portia Bartley from the six-time Los Angeles Film Award winning rom-com “You Have A Nice Flight,” actor Ido Samuel from the Carlo di Palma Award winning film “Fill the Void,” dancer Stacy Gaspard and other notable pop-culture figures and influencers.

It’s not at all surprising that NYLON chose to lean towards featuring social media influencers rather than supermodels, A-listers and red carpet frequenting celebrities in the commercial. The content is all about being authentic, and featuring unique in-the-know creatives is what they’ve always been about. The plethora of music, beauty and fashion collaborations they’ve executed over the past two decades have influenced millions, in the same way that their relationship with their incredibly diverse audience has influenced the content they release.

At the end of the day, “To The Authentic” really does scream to viewers at the top of its lungs: Be yourself, THAT is what’s beautiful.

“Being you is ok. No matter what that means, you should always be true to who you are in order to achieve the better version of you,” adds Pantoja about the overall message of the video, and her personal feeling about the kind of self love and acceptance each and everyone should focus on cultivating.

With the concept of beauty being one that has remained in flux over the ages, what more and more people around the world today are coming to regard as ‘beautiful’ is reserved for those who remain true to themselves, those who unapologetically expose their strengths and flaws with fearless authenticity. And this is something that directly connects with the attitude and voice of NYLON and their readers.

Cinematographer Jessica Pantoja
Cinematographer Jessica Pantoja

Aside from being the cinematographer for “To The Authentic,” Pantoja, who’s originally from Queretaro, Mexico, has made a strong name for herself as a cinematographer in the film industry, something she’s dedicated herself to for the past decade. She’s earned extensive international acclaim for her work as the cinematographer behind countless films including “Mute,” “Cold Night,” “Harvest Moon,” “Evanescent,” “The Wind Outside” and many more.

“Jessica and I have collaborated on many short films and commercials in the past… Nylon was a very special project where I saw and experienced great energy and drive from Jessica, as a DP and as a leader,” explains “To The Authentic” production designer Clarisa Garcia Fresco, who production designed the 2017 WorldFest Houston Platinum Award winning film “Clarity,” as well as “Evanescent” and “Harvest Moon” where Pantoja served as DP.

“I enjoyed our teamwork efforts as we were striving to create an image and identity for the project. Her enthusiasm and drive for film and storytelling are truly an inspiration to me and everyone around her.”

In 2017 Jessica Pantoja also earned a nomination for the Best Cinematography Award at the 2017 Camerimage Etudes Competition, arguably one of the world’s most prestigious competitions in the field of cinematography, as well as nominations for the Best Cinematography Awards at 2017 VIZIO + DOLBY filmmakers Challenge and the 2017 Cine Gear Film Competition for her film she as well as the film “Manners of Dying.”

In a way, “To The Authentic” marks her foray into creating branded content, and it’s a powerful one at that.

“‘To The Authentic’ was the first project I created for [NYLON] and it opened the door to build an ongoing collaboration with the magazine,” explains Pantoja, who has since created the videos “True Beauty. By NYLON” and “Fashion as Art. By NYLON” featured below.

With NYLON magazine being revered for their bold colors, in-your-face graphics and the kind of cutting-edge style and groundbreaking pop culture that appeals to Millennial and Gen-Z audiences, the video really does embody the brand’s unique attitude and their commitment to readers. It’s definitely the perfect commercial to be featured on their About Nylon page; and we can’t wait to see the next collab from cinematographer Jessica Pantoja and NYLON Magazine.

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