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 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.

 

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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

Romantic Comedy at its best: Producer Ricky Cruz captivates audiences with ‘Mixed Orders’

Love has been the inspiration of art since the dawn of time. From Shakespeare writing “I love thee with a love that shall not die, till the sun grows cold and the stars grow old” to the Beatles harmonizing “All You Need Is Love” to Jack giving Rose his share of the iconic door in Titanic, love has been one of the most captivating themes throughout art, literature, and film. Throughout his life, it has been the unsuccessful pursuit of love, intimacy and relationships that, for Ricky Cruz, have made such great stories. These stories were always something that he wanted to share with the world because they are so universally enjoyable and uncomfortable.

“I began working on an anthology of quirky romantic comedy short films centered around unsuccessful endeavors into love and relationships. These were supposed to highlight the flip side of the coin when it came to conventional love stories. I always wanted to see the growth behind the guy who is left at the altar, because there’s something so familiar with that element of tragedy,” said Cruz.

With a celebrated career as a producer, Cruz had dedicated his life to telling stories that enchant audiences, and love is an underlying theme in most of his most decorated works, from the LGBTQ coming of age story Foible to drama Honor, telling the story of a woman forced into an arranged marriage by her parents. Another of his more recent projects, Mixed Orders, dives deep into such ideas. Cruz was keen to create the film because he believes seeing love stories through this specific lens is a great way to get a sense of the sort of films he is eager to bring to life in the future.

Mixed Ordersis the first film of the anthology and introduces audiences to the main character and repeat offender of the series, an offbeat lovable innocent who hopefully most will relate with because of his terrible instincts regarding intimacy. It explores the idea of knowing who you are and the importance of patience. Embracing a light-hearted tone and quirky voice, Mixed Orders gives a glimpse into Darren’s uncomfortable and premature marriage proposal to his girlfriend Clare, who is finally coming to terms with her own homosexuality.

Mixed Orders is a film that is pleasant and bitter sweet with a moment of incredible self-realization and personal growth and sometimes that’s what we need or want to see as an audience. I love the unconventional and going against the grain, and what I believe this film does is turn what would and should be a messy scene into a beautiful feel good exchange in a display of the unconventional being made easily palatable. The film has such an honest and charming tone that it’s hard not to just smile at the end of the whole thing. There are no bad people in this sort of situation, just two people who are trying to be honest with themselves and happen to generate some friction because they’re on different pages, which happens in life all the time,” said Cruz.

Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 1.26.20 AM

Not only did Cruz produce Mixed Orders, but he also wrote the script and directed the film. He wrote the series of films a while ago and was eager to get the first one off paper. He wanted to articulate his quirky twist on a love story. He felt he owed the material an accurate rendition of the story he saw in his head because he wanted it to be familiar with some variables that he threw the audience, which is why he also took on the role of director. Leading the team, he knew he could create just the masterpiece he envisioned.

“I think selfishly, I considered myself the expert on these sorts of situations in real life which made me feel more than qualified to bring the story to life on screen and show the audience how absurd but true this character and story may be.

Cruz wanted the film to be a short and sweet story with unconventional and off beat elements. There was a lot of footage, with the actors often going off script and improvising certain takes, and Cruz managed to keep his vision throughout while incorporating such unique twists and turns. Often, some of the lines he never expected to be memorable when writing became his favorites once the scene had been shot and edited, creating a final cut he couldn’t be more proud of.

“I recommend Ricky Cruz for any and all projects, he will not only bring them to life but make them better than you could ever imagine,” said Reinaldo Garcia, who played Darren in the film.

Mixed Orders has won Best Actor and Supporting Actor in a Short Comedy at the Actors Awards, Best Romantic Comedy at TopShorts Film Festival and Best LGBT Short Film, First Audience Award, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Editing and an Honorable Mention for Direction at the South Film and Arts Academy Festival. Such success could never have been possible without Cruz, as the film was his brainchild.

Mixed Orders‘ successful reception makes me excited for the release of the remaining films comprising the anthology of unsuccessful love endeavors. It’s a huge relief to finally have a reference film to ensure the tone and approach remain consistent. While the styles of the upcoming films may differ, I feel more settled knowing that this comedy is understood and appreciated by audiences so I’m very excited at the prospect of being able to watch our repeat offender from the series in back to back short films and truly explore the uncomfortable and bittersweet romance I’m very familiar with on screen,” he said.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the remaining films in this delightful series.

 

Top photo by Arthur Marroquin

Producer Elena Bawiec brings Flamenco dancing to the big screen with new film

ElenaAs a film producer, Elena Bawiec works tirelessly each day to ensure a project comes together, and that is what she loves. Each time she steps onto a set, she is living her dream: sharing stories with a worldwide audience. She has always had a predisposition for this type of work, where it is a mixture of communication, organization, and managing people. Most importantly however, she knows that as a producer she has to understand the story, what works and doesn’t work dramatically, and what will resonate with audiences. It is this final piece of the puzzle that has allowed Bawiec to excel to the forefront of her field, as a natural born storyteller. She knows that no matter the project, film or stage or even a commercial, it comes down to people and the story that is being told.

“I enjoy watching a story begin as an idea on a blank page and then morph into a screenplay draft; then into a bustling film set with hundreds of people making one vision come to life; to visual effects, sound, and music taking over in post; and finally, when we see the first shot in a dark movie theater with an audience,” she said.

Throughout her esteemed career, Bawiec has worked on countless acclaimed films, showing the world just what she is capable of as a producer. These include award-winning hits such as The SuitcaseBlood Brothers, Megan, Only Light, and much more. She has a lot to look forward to this year as well, with many projects in the works. Her highly anticipated film, Incendium, will soon be making its way to the festival circuit.

Incendium is about the essence of creation and the correlation between life and death, visually expressed through movement. This story takes audiences on a breathtaking journey that emphasizes the equilibrium that everything with a beginning inevitable must have an ending; this is the beauty of the inescapable cycle of life. The concept behind this cinematic essay is that contrary forces cannot coexist without one another.

In conjunction with cinematic beauty, this filmic essay focuses on dance – in particular a bold reinterpretation of Flamenco.  The language of dance is universally relatable, as dance is communicated via showing, not telling. Creation is further displayed through the interplay between the heroine and the four mighty forces of nature: water, fire, earth and wind. The film explores an unpredictable force of kinetic grace, centering on the personification of the cycle of life.

“When do we get to work on something so purely visual, so raw, so fascinating? Incendium is a rare visual feast. It is one of those projects that seldom comes along, and you just have to grab it. Incendium completely captivates you with its beauty and power,” said Bawiec.

The director, Greg Strasz (VFX: Independence Day: Resurgence, Stonewall It Follows) has tremendous experience in Visual Effects and Bawiec knew that he is an exceptionally visual person who could create magic with a project like this.

“There was no question as to whether I wanted to be part of this project. The dancer, Mariam Vardanyan, is so talented, passionate, driven. The sheer hours and effort she put into training for this shoot were awe-inspiring. Now I, as the producer, needed to create the support system to have this project come to life,” said Bawiec.

As producer, Bawiec handled budgeting, scheduling, hiring and managing the crew, pre-production, location scouting, logistics of the production, and post production. Elena had agreed upon keeping the footprint small. This was a very intimate experience for Mariam, and for her performance it was beneficial to have as few people as possible, and Bawiec and her team accomplished great things with a much smaller crew than they are used to.

“We went all out with this film. We shot underwater stunt sequences, we shot with fire, we shot on a dry lake bed, and in Death Valley, at night, during the day, in the heat and in the rain. This was quite an adventure. Sometimes we literally fought the wind,” said Bawiec.

The result of the crew’s efforts is a visual spectacle that is a can’t miss. Be sure to check out Incendium and to be carried away by the artistry of the dance and the film as a whole. It is exactly films like Incendium that drive Bawiec, and she plans to spend the rest of her life dedicated to bringing powerful and visually stunning stories to the big and small screens.

“My goal is to tell stories that matter, stories that come from the heart and take the audience on a journey. Entertainment will always be a business; there will always be the bottom line and the investors to get paid, but I do not think you can really be financially successful in the long term if you do not make films that mean something to people, that spark a reaction. I think finding this balance between the creative aspect of our work and the money aspect is very important. Projects that I have currently lined up, are these kinds of stories, which show complex characters trying to make sense of the world around them. Some are based on true stories, some are thrillers or action, and others may be sci-fi, but it’s always the human condition we talk about no matter the genre. Films help us make sense of this world and to understand ourselves better,” she concluded.

Producer Guoqing Fu brings China and America together with award-winning film ‘Underset’

GUMGUM.jpg
Guoqing Fu

Filmmaking allows China’s Guoqing Fu to explore the unknown psychological world and explore his endless creativity. He feels a thrill whenever he embarks on a new project, with the purpose of reflecting and exaggerating social phenomena, to arouse resonance in people’s hearts.

“As the eighth art form of humankind, film is the crystallization of the first seven art forms, which perfectly interprets the inner artistic passion of filmmakers. The artistic and creative pleasure that cannot be obtained in the real world can be infinitely expanded in the film world,” he said.

Throughout his career, Fu has shown why he is an in-demand producer in his home country and abroad. This is exemplified with his films Gum Gum, La Pieta, and Over, to name a few. He has a sincere desire to educate and entertain the masses through his work, with no plans on slowing down.

“My goal is to better disseminate Chinese and American culture, making more collaborative projects and bringing more culture and art into the film world,” said Fu. “I feel that the film and television cooperation between China and the United States has great potential. I am willing to be a pioneer and keep working hard.”

The producer became one step closer to that goal with his film Underset. Taking place in the Republic Era of China, after the main character, Qianyue Zhang, was married, he went to his hometown to find his friend, Mingtang Wang, but he accidentally finds a dead body in his hotel room. The police take the owner of the hotel, his wife, and all the hotel customers into custody. Qianyue’s wife and her father arrive to learn about the incident, but it is all too much for him to accept, eventually leading to his death.

Premiering last June in Beijing, Underset was a great success in both China and America. Not only was it an Official Selection at many prestigious festivals around the world, it took home several awards. These include Best Feature Film and the Diamond Award at the Hollywood Film Competition, Best Feature Film at the Hollywood Film Competition, Best Original Music and Best Production at Macau International Movie Festival, Best Feature Film and the Platinum Award at the NYC Indie Film Awards, and Best Feature Film at The European Independent Film Awards.

“I am very honored as one of the most vital members of the team. It’s my first time being a producer on a truly Chinese feature film. When I heard about the awards from my friends and crew members, I was excited,” he said.

Fu was a co-producer on Underset, taking on key responsibilities like script selection, hiring team members and setting up the team. He coordinated every single department, solved any and all problems on set, ensuring everything went smoothly without any delays. He always did what needed to be done to stay on top of things, making a strong team and a great film.

Most important for Fu, Underset is a Chinese domestic film. The production environment is very different from the United States, but this producer is determined to be a bridge between Chinese and American film cooperation, a large and challenging task he is more than willing to take on.

“It was hard, but I think it was worth it. It was my first time managing a whole production in China. In the beginning, I needed to care about all the parts, because it makes me learn more about the Chinese film industry. It has some advantages, but it also has disadvantages. I love those experiences, some of them are challenging, but challenges make me stronger and a pro for next time,” he said.

Keep an eye out for Fu’s future works.

Sound Mixer SiYao Jiang terrifies audiences with ‘Slicker’

As a sound mixer, SiYao Jiang spends his day on film sets and television productions, always experiencing something new. He comes to work each day prepared to not only excel technically, but creatively as well. He knows the importance of sound when watching your favorite movie, being able to take audiences to a different place and time through what they hear.

“I am not that kind of person who can sit in an office all day, I need to move around, and production sound mixer is the perfect job for me where I do audio and recording in different locations every time. Secondly, I get to meet different people during different sets,” said Jiang.

Jiang has spent his career impressing worldwide audiences with his talent. He has worked on national commercials with leading brands, like the Japanese air conditioning company Daikin, and on award-winning film productions, such as Apple, as well as Bag of Worms and Starf*cker. He is incredibly versatile, knowing just how to bring on the laughs or terrify audiences, just as he did in the horror Slicker.

Slicker is a suspenseful horror film about Eddie, a cocky businessman who is lost in the middle of nowhere with an empty tank of gas, and no idea what direction to take next. He finds himself seeking help from a pair of locals who are hiding a deep disdain for outsiders, and a dark secret. The help he finds is not what it seems to be, leaving Eddie fearing for his life. He is faced with a decision, and his choice leads to grave consequences.

It was the first horror Jiang mixed, so it was an interesting experience for the sound editor. He found the story fun, but also slightly disturbing, and he wanted to help scare the audience. He also found that the film was more than just a scare tactic, as it teaches something at the very end.

Slicker has gone on to see tremendous success at many film festivals around the world. It even went on to win several awards, including second place at the International Horror Hotel, and was selected into the End of Days Festival this past summer.

“I feel great that Slicker did so well. After all the challenges that the sound team faced and working so hard to overcome them, it is great that other people recognized our efforts,” said Jiang.

The setting for this film was in a forest, and Jiang found shooting in such an environment challenging but fun in terms of sound. The environment was pretty difficult, with lots of people being bitten by fire-ants, including him, and the weather was very humid, so it really restricted the range of the wireless. The first day of shooting, the system wouldn’t turn on and the mic wasn’t functioning as it was getting wet. Luckily, he had a backup and it was smooth sailing from there. He made sure to come prepared with alternative options every day afterwards.

“I like challenges, and this project is really challenging. Lots of wide shots, limited space, and super humid environment which makes the sound team very difficult to work with. Luckily the production gives us enough time to sort the problem out,” he said.

Watch Slicker and prepare yourself to be terrified.

Producer and Director Ace Yue tells heartwarming LGBTQ love story with new film

As a filmmaker, Ace Yue takes an idea and brings it to life. Originally from Shenyang, a north east city of China, Yue has always had a passion for the art form and has dedicated her life to bringing captivating stories to the big and small screen. As a producer, she finds just the script and team to make a vision a reality, and as a director, she follows her instincts and provides a sound voice of leadership for her entire team.

“I like to give every character in my stories an entire life, no matter how old they are. I am building up an entire world for my cast, allowing them to feel the character, making friends with them, then, becoming them. I want the audience to be taken away by the story, creating a cathartic experience for every viewer,” said Yue.

This in-demand producer and director made headlines last year with her award-winning film Gum Gum, which she wrote based off her own life experiences, but Yue is no stranger to success. She also has highlights on her resume such as By Way of Guitar, La Pieta, K.a.i., and many more.

“I think this is a job that requires a sense of responsibility. It’s fun and full of creativity. In fact, creativity and on-the-spot ability are my most important skills of being a producer and director, because we can never predict what will happen on the set. So, having a very high ability to adapt is key,” said Yue.

Recently, Yue has seen great success with one of her newest films, the drama Hank. The film tells the story of Hank and his husband Tommy who are struggling to save their 15-year marriage and entertain the idea of an open relationship. While this might be working well for Tommy, Hank struggles to cope with the change as well as the challenges of being old.

Telling an LGBTQ story was important for Yue, who immediately said yes to the film after reading the script. She has worked on many genres and is incredibly versatile, but this was her first time telling a story about this community. She feels film can provide a voice for underrepresented groups and educate viewers on key issues, and taking such a heartfelt look into the loving marriage of two homosexual men touches on all the reasons she wanted to become a filmmaker to begin with.

“Learning to understand who we are, and respect everyone as they are, is of the utmost importance. It is the greatest aspect of this film. In real life, most people like to look at things with a preconceived perspective. In other words, people just want to see what they want to see. Rarely will we analyze and understand the problem from the perspective of others, and then everyone will have such a state of mind that they are freaks and not understood by others, and then generate inferiority and escape from life. What this film tells is that no matter how others treat themselves, they must first face themselves honestly, don’t treat themselves as aliens, bravely accept themselves, pursue what they want, each of us is equal. The gender orientation, the preference of the things themselves can be different. Don’t worry about the eyes of others. It’s right to be happy for being myself,” she said.

Hank premiered at the Burbank International Film Festival and was an Official Selection at the Hollywood International Film Festival. It was an Honorable Mention at the Los Angeles Music Awards 2019 and has a lot more expected for the year. This month, Yue and Hongyu Li, the director of Hank, are heading to HRIFF 2019, the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival Red Carpet Press Event on February 15th.It is also an Official Selection for the world-renowned Cannes Film Festival later this year.

“The success is sensational. We use our profession to tell meaningful stories in a visual way, working hard on every detail. Being recognized by audiences around the world is also a way to make us more motivated and more determined to go do what we want to do, to tell the story, to shoot the film,” she said.

As the co-producer on the film, Yue made sure that any unexpected situation that arose on set was instantly taken care of. She helped the director create a good working environment, allowing everyone to focus solely on creating a work of art.

Yue knew the importance of the film they were creating, making it her sole focus and drive every day she was on set. The feeling was infectious, with the entire cast and crew feeling the same.

“I have a lot of LGBTQ friends. We are just like them, everyone is human, there is no difference. What I want to say is that they are not special groups. The discrimination of many people is that their own starting point is wrong. True love does not mean that men and women together breed the next generation, but a soul meets another soul that can truly understand each other,” she concluded.

Andrea Mercado designs detailed and memorable characters for cartoon web series

Andrea Mercado has been an artist for as long as she can remember. She had no distinct memory of the first time she held a pencil, ready to begin drawing; for the Peruvian native, it was her natural instinct to create. She was inspired growing up from her grandmother, a talented artist, and other family members with similar talents. She was encouraged to continue pursuing her dream as she aged, going from crayon drawings as a child to detailed illustrations. As she grew, her love for the arts transformed into much more, and she began to take a keen interest in both animation and graphic design.

“As a kid, and even now as an adult if I’m honest, I loved watching cartoons and was constantly drawing the characters. I even made my own paper dolls and comics about them,” said Mercado.

Now a sought-after Graphic Designer and Animator, Mercado spends every day living her childhood dream. Whether working on passion projects, like her viral film PINOF Animate! or her current work with the leading animation and design company Fractl, Mercado impresses the masses with her many artistic talents and sheer drive.

In many cases, Mercado also allows others to see their dreams come true while doing just that for herself. This is just the case when she teamed up with Mark Udarbe, a software developer with a passion for animation and characters, who commissioned Mercado to animate character-introduction videos for his indie online comic web-series called Paradigm Spiral. Ubarbe contacted Mercado directly after being vastly impressed with her portfolio.

“I like that Mark took the chance to create something of his own. He had a story and characters and wanted to bring them to life, and that is something every storyteller and animator should aspire to do in their lifetime. I think it’s important to have projects like this because it inspires other people to create their own. It has even inspired me to make more films in the future,” said Mercado.

Paradigm Spiral explores Techoon City, a marvel built from the efforts of humanity and an alien anthro race known as the Kin. Many different types of people have come to this city for their own reasons: Aura Sarim, a young mage, seeks to change the future. Riselle Suna, Kin commissioner of the police force, desires a place to call home. Dreyc Hawking, a novelist, hopes to find inspiration for his next book. Discover how all their stories come together in the series.

“I wanted to work on this project because it has always been my dream to be a part of something big. And an indie animated show is something big. The story, the characters, and the setting all had great appeal, and that motivated me to work on this even more,” said Mercado.

On top of animating the characters, Mercado was also in charge of creating the logo for the series, the web design, and the Kickstarter and social media graphics. After that, she also created the icon and header for Mark’s personal Twitter.

“As a freelancer, Andrea is very professional. She is able to keep regular communication and was very accommodating to schedules. It was not difficult to get her up to speed and have her work on different parts of the art pipeline. If possible, I would look forward to working with her again,” said Mark Udarbe, Developer at Kroger.

Mercado was absolutely essential for the animation and continued success of Paradigm Spiral. Her work animated the characters, and her graphics have not only promoted the series and the website, but Udarbe himself.

Mercado continues to have success as both a graphic designer and an animator, with many more upcoming projects to look forward to. She loves expressing her creativity and versatility with her work, and Paradigm Spiral is just one example of what a talent she is. She encourages all those looking to follow in her footsteps not to give up on their dreams, and not to be afraid to create their own work whenever possible.

“I would encourage anyone to work on their own projects since they are young and start building a portfolio. Because the world is so competitive nowadays, you have to be willing to challenge yourself and constantly improve both your technical and artistic skills. Get acquainted with the software being used in the industry. This is very important because it will be your main tool when working,” she advised. “Other than that, work hard and be curious, eager, accountable, and responsible; because that’s the kind of person everyone would like to work with.”

You can check out Paradigm Spiral’s website to stay up to date with this fun series.

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