Featured Film Editor: Said Franco!

Film Editor Said Franco
                                                                                         Film Editor Said Franco

In the world of filmmaking, many groups work together to create a production. The vision of the director, the roles of the actors, and the reach of the production team are all important. That being said, it doesn’t matter how incredible these teams are if the film falls apart in the post-production process.

The skill of a film editor can make or break an entire production. When a production company finds a film editor that can rapidly create quality content, they hold onto them. Perhaps this is why Said Franco, 29, has remained so busy for the last decade.

Franco was born in Mexico City, and found himself fascinated with the filmmaking process from a young age. At 15, he decided that he wanted to pursue a career in film editing. At that point, he set out to complete all the necessary education required to turn his dream into a reality.

Franco began working as a film editor immediately after graduating from the University of Mexico with an MBA in TV and Communications. The first job he secured was in 2008, as an assistant editor for the Spanish TV series Capadocia. To add a dash of prestige to his early resume, this series was nominated for three Emmy awards, in addition to winning numerous awards at other events.

After he began working in film editing, Franco realized that he had chosen his career wisely: “While working on Capadocia, I learned that I had the skills that an editor needs to succeed in the business.” Apparently, many other companies have acknowledged his skills as well, as he has since been recruited to lend his talent to an onslaught of productions.

Recently, Franco has been working for Rancho Studios as a chief editor on many international commercials, including those for Apple, Coca-Cola, Ducati, Hershey’s, Sony, and Wal-Mart. After completing commercials for Coca-Cola and Sony, both companies returned to Rancho and asked if Franco would edit their future commercials.

Microsoft also hired Franco for more work after seeing the results of his holiday promotional commercials for the Xbox gaming system. Franco agreed to edit commercials for many video games, including Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, FIFA 2013, Grand Theft Auto, Halo, and the Need for Speed.

Not all of Franco’s editing work has taken place within the confines of an office though. As a result of his success in his career as a film editor, he has had the opportunity to set forth upon many adventures.

On one of these adventures, Franco travelled to Spain as a representative for Heineken. Heineken, who sponsored the Champions League of Europe football game, hired Franco to edit each game, which was then broadcast to television networks throughout Europe. During his time in Spain, he edited a total of 25 games and six additional events.

While working for Grupo Televisa, the largest media company in Latin America, Franco edited a commercial campaign for the 2010 World Cup. During the month that the campaign for the World Cup aired, he edited five commercials a week, which were broadcast to many major television networks throughout Latin America.

Franco has a wide variety of experience in many different genres of film editing. In addition to his prominent work in commercials and sports, he has expertise in editing television shows, YouTube channels, and music videos.

Several of the music videos Franco has edited have achieved widespread acclaim including the “Voces” video he edited for Division Minuscula, and the “Miedo a Caer” video he edited for Ruido Rosa.

When it comes to film editing, Said Franco is comfortable working within any genre. In the last 10 years, he has repeatedly demonstrated his expertise in his field. This continues to be confirmed as companies return for more work after viewing his product. As important as the film editor is, it’s no wonder they continue to return.

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From Film to Fashion, Production Designer Claudia Simoes Sets the Tone

Born in White Rock, Canada, a small town just outside of Vancouver, production designer Claudia Simoes has used art across various mediums as a means of communication for as long as she can remember.

As a child, Simoes excelled as a painter, dancer and photographer; but if you had asked her at that time what she wanted to do in terms of a career, her answer would have vacillated between the various art forms she loved. In reality, none of them singularly held the potential to encompass all of her talents.

“I changed my mind so much as a kid I was kind of all over the place, I had wanted to be a dancer for a really long time I even thought of opening my own dance studio, but I was about 12 with that dream… I wanted to be a painter at one point – I had a crazy obsession with Frida Kahlo in high school,” says Simoes. “Everything that I had said I wanted to be always had something to do with art and entertainment.”

It wasn’t until Simoes attended the prestigious Vancouver Film School for visual art & design that the young creative found a funnel for all of her diverse talents through production design.

About discovering the career she was clearly destined for, Simoes explains, “It was a great feeling, I got insanely lucky to be able to find a career that combines everything I love, not everyone gets to experience that.”

One of Simoes’ first professional projects in the industry was the music video for Mackenzie Porter’s debut single “I Wish I’d Known.” As an integral contributor to the set and production design of the video, Simoes used her artistry to create a shabby chic look within an old warehouse that perfectly accompanied the sweet country style of the song.

After working with Simoes on the music video for “I Wish I’d Known,” production designer Caitlin Byrnes enlisted the young genius’s contributions on the feature film Preggoland.

Preggoland, which was released last year, starred Oscar nominated actor James Caan (The Godfather, Las Vegas, Elf, Middle Men, Get Smart) and multi-award winning actress Sonja Bennett (YPF, Random Acts of Romance, Stained, Rise of the Planet of the Apes).

The winner of the Best Screenplay Award at the Fargo Film Festival, the Best Film Award from the Omaha Film Festival and the Most Popular Canadian Film Award from the Vancouver International Film Festival, Preggoland followed Ruth (Sonja Bennett), an unwed and childless 35-year-old who fakes a pregnancy in order to fit in with her friends.

Early on in her career Simoes wrote, directed, produced and production designed the film Always Midnight. A beautifully shot black and white silent film, Always Midnight revolved around an abusive relationship brought on by drug addiction.

“It was very dark,” recalled Simoes. “I knew I had to have very strong production design for this film because there was no dialogue, so I did a lot of research on what props would stand out in black and white.”

In 2013 Simoes wrote, directed, edited and production designed the film Sh*t Winos Say for the Vinos Film Festival in Whistler, British Columbia. Yet another testament to her talents as a filmmaker and production designer, the film was chosen as one of the top eight out of over 300 submissions; and it went on to receive astonishing praise as one of the few films selected to screen at the festival.

As a filmmaker, Claudia Simoes knows exactly what it takes to get a story across visually, a facet of her skillset that has made her an integral contributor as a production designer on a wide range of projects. What sets Simoes apart from other production designers working in film and fashion is her vast knowledge of lighting and overall design, and how the two blend together to create a desired mood on film.

Having worked as a professional photographer in the past, her expertise in lighting has been a rare asset to all of the productions she has worked on. Simoes even led several lighting workshops while in Vancouver over the last few years.

As the production designer on Ruby Starling’s video “27 Club,” her work garnered international attention last year when the video was featured on Black Magazine’s BLK TV. What’s more—she even designed the shirts featured in the video!

Talented Film Director Explores the Effects of War Torn Societies Through Film

Onn Nir
                                                                                                       Film Director Onn Nir

Israeli film directing phenomenon Onn Nir is taking Los Angeles and the international film scene by storm with several award-winning projects under his belt. This coupled with his passion to tell humane stories that provoke change, and his direction of characters with great authenticity make Nir a sought after director, and one to keep your eye on.

Serving as a combat medic in the Israeli army led Onn Nir to his true calling as a visual storyteller, with strong roots in the psychology and emotions of the complex world in which we live. Focusing on the primary concepts of image, mood and emotion, Nir creates a sense of social realism through his camera work and creation of real time intensity.

“I am utterly intrigued by the here and now, especially during extreme circumstances that expose the behavior of the characters with great authenticity,” said Nir.

Believing the true mission of a film director is to enhance the story telling on the page by mixing thought provoking story lines and emotional characters; Nir stands out as a director with true vision and spirit.

Born Guilty, one of Nir’s early films, tells a complex story of fear and prejudice. The film’s examination of prejudice through the experience of an unconventional victim caught the eye of the international audience. Born Guilty received the esteemed National Board of Review award.

Pressure Point, Nir’s follow up to Born Guilty, depicts and examines the complexity of the Middle East through a simple, emotional circumstance. Shot in Nir’s native Israel, and featuring the beautiful Judea Desert as its’ backdrop, Pressure Point is a visual and emotional tour de force. The film, which starred acclaimed Israeli actor Danny Geva (Sweets, Marzipan Flowers, Ha-Hamama, Kalevet), was an Official Selection of the Hamptons International Film Festival and the St. Louis International Film Festival.

Onn Nir’s most recent film however, Bamidbar, is one of his most powerful project to date. The film received the Audience Award at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival and was nominated for several awards at the renowned Shanghai International Film Festival and the Champs-Elysee Fesitval in France.

A tale of a father and daughter’s strained relationship, Nir’s Bamidbar explores the subject of trauma in a society of constant war as one character prepares to join the army and the other struggles to forget the experience he had in the war decades before.

Bamidbar is a progressively uncomfortable journey into loss and it’s consequences, a raw story about post trauma, and how one can heal from it in order to survive” said Nir.

Starring veteran Israeli actor Sabi Dorr, Bamidbar is a remarkable work of cinematic beauty that bravely depicts a psychologically complex relationship in a brutally honest way.

Nir has two hot new projects that he plans to begin production on very soon, The Drummers, and Kamel. The Drummers tells the harrowing tale of a lost US Army unit in Afghanistan. Following the real life exploits of famed Israeli spy Eli Cohen, Kamel is an intense thriller featuring the missions of the legendary spy. Onn Nir’s Kamel will no doubt prove an exciting tale of espionage in 60’s era Middle East.

Onn Nir is poised to take his work to the next level of cinema, and is truly an impressive and innovative filmmaker for our ever-changing society.

Breathtaking Spanish Actress, Maria Luna

Maria Luna
Maria Luna shot by Brandin Photography

One of Spain’s most sought after exports, Maria Luna is a dynamic and multifaceted actress who brings complexity and diversity to her every role.

Active in theatre since a young age, Maria Luna was chosen to participate in a number of international drama programs, advancing her education on and understanding of her craft. With a dream of helping to create a global artistic collaboration through acting, Luna’s humanitarian nature is the driving force behind her strong performances.

Starring as Lucy in the film Dada, which wrapped production earlier this year, Luna tackles the very real and concerning plight of human trafficking. Set in Kenya, Luna’s character of Lucy finds herself thrown into a dangerous world she does not understand. The experience forces her to embark on a journey where she transitions from naivety and fear to empowerment, compassion, and freedom. To further the authenticity of the role, Luna prepared by living in Kenya, doing volunteer work, and educating herself on the subject through the real life stories of others.

In the 2014 film Romanian Fairy Tale Luna played the film’s integral role of Sara, a women who wishes to leave her life behind and start anew. Sara finds a kindred spirit in Timo, a young boy on the run from an abusive father. Luna’s character guides Timo through the labors of growing up amidst abuse, and emotional neglect. Sara develops through the film’s progression into both a friend and a mother to young Timo, saving the boy in mind, body, and spirit.

Maria Luna appreciates all genres of film, from the dramatic, to the comedic, or in the case of the 2015 film No Solicitors, the dark world of horror. In Emmy nominated director John Callas’s disturbing and unique tale of a simple solicitor at the door spiraling into a terrifying situation, Luna’s character Martha stands out. Luna plays a woman whose family must come first, at any cost. The terminal illness of her young son forces Luna’s character to push beyond past social acceptability, while still remaining very human. Luna brought this amazing character to life in a seamless manner that exposed her emotional range as an actress layer by layer.

Whether playing a struggling mother, a woman on the run, or a Pentagon Special Agent in 2015’s The Sheriffs, Maria Luna proves she can create a real character of depth in any role. As Mariana in veteran sci-fi director Neil Jordan’s Starship: Rising and Dawn of Destruction, Luna plays the catalyst in an intergalactic struggle for survival. The role as the sister to the film’s hero Lt. John Worthy, places Luna at the heart of the dazzling science fiction series, even having her play a robot version of herself as part of the twisted enemies’ plans.

Summing up her perspective perfectly: “I love everything about acting, doing the research, getting into character, and finding how I can relate to the situation, expressing in a way which I can connect to the rest of the world,” said Maria Luna.

Luna’s greatest desires in her acting career are to bring people together, form new collaborations, and affect change through her roles as seen by audiences across the world.

Providing exemplary performances in a variety of genres, and with such realism and heart, actress Maria Luna is undoubtedly one of the most talented Spanish actresses working in Hollywood today.

Canadian Actress Lisa Jai Stars in the Upcoming Film “Runaway Dream”

Lisa Jai as Birdie in "What of the Night?" at the Vagrancy in Los Angeles
   Lisa Jai as Birdie in “What of the Night?” at the Vagrancy in Los Angeles

Audiences across the world know the work of internationally acclaimed actress Lisa Jai. With an impressive career that has spanned more than two decades, viewers old and young have had a lot of opportunities to see Jai’s diverse talents on the screen in everything from the hit television shows Barbar, Rupert and The Magic School Bus, to the films Balance of Power, Creed and Lost Angels.

Jai recently finished filming Runaway Dream, a film about two Hollywood transplants who get a whole lot more than they bargained for when they make the move to tinsel town with stars in their eyes.

Directed by award-winning cinematographer Daniel Abreu, Runaway Dream stars Jai in the role of Linn, and Vivian Ahn (Sisters, Inside Carly, Trail Mix, Lost Angels, Henry Danger) as Jess.

Jai says, “It is a story of the length’s people could go to when in need of more money than they are earning and what happens to someone when they have lost sight of their dream.”

A sad tale with an unpredictable twist, Runaway Dream follows Jai’s character Linn, a down and out aspiring actress who works as a maid to make ends meet. When things don’t pan out as Linn hoped, desperation leads her to hatch a plan to rob the home of an ex-boss who she believes is out of town—a move that leaves her in circumstances that are far more dire than those she faced before.

The film is currently in post-production and is scheduled for release later this year. Originally from Sweden, director Daniel Abreu received the Best Cinematographer Award for his film James & Quinn from the Sherry Theater’s 120Hour film fest, a prestigious festival run by Scott Haze (Star of Child of God directed by James Franco) and Jim Parrick (True Blood).

“Lisa is a dream to work with, she’s captivating onscreen – a gifted talent,” says Abreu. “She’s improved me as a filmmaker, truly.”

It is not surprising that Abreu says Jai’s contributions to the film improved him as a filmmaker considering the actress’s longstanding position in the industry as both a performer and a producer.

When she first rose to fame as an actress she was barely 4-years-old– an age where it is difficult for a person to be unequivocally dedicated to one thing. For the following decade Jai continued to land starring roles in a long list of international television shows and blockbuster films, as well as innumerable commercials for brands including Hasbro, Ocean Spray, Hallmark cards, Charmin, Ivory soap, Tang, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds and more.

While many children dream of becoming stars on the screen, the spotlight wasn’t always an easy thing to handle.

Jai recalls, “I was being teased at school and bullied for being on television. I was accused of being a show off and also keeping up with schoolwork caused a lot of tension with teachers.”

Despite the difficulties, the foundation Jai laid for herself as a performer in the entertainment industry in her early childhood definitely helped make her the incredible actress she is today.

“I worked a lot for the Canadian Broadcast Company. I was a guest regular on the children show Mr. Dressup where I had to sing and worked alongside puppeteers,” explains Jai. “We would tape live so that truly taught me how to think on my feet as an actress; plus having dialogue with puppets and making that ‘relationship’ believable to the audience only bettered my craft — like, there I was, staring into a pair of man made paper-mache eyes having a conversation: can you imagine?”

Naturally, as Jai transitioned into adulthood, it took a few years for her to affirm her individuality as a person outside of the spotlight, and really discover what it was that she wanted to do with the rest of her life.

She says “Even after trying to quit and go to University so I could get a ‘real job,’ I missed acting so much, even at its roughest points… That’s how I know it’s my true passion and chosen profession. I love it too much.”

After returning to show biz a few years later, Jai realized that her love for performing extended beyond the film and television industry alone. She was immediately recognized for talents on stage going on to land starring role after starring role.

When it comes to acting in comedies in the theater, Jai says, “I love hearing peoples laughter; there’s a joy in bringing smiles to the faces of others.”

She adds, “On stage you’re not limited by being out of frame if you move too much…. as long as the true feeling is there, you can justify every move – use up the whole stage.”

Last year she gave a riveting performance in the leading roles of Birdie and Wang in the Pulitzer-Prize Nominated play “What of the Night?” written by Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornes. The play, which was staged at the Vagrancy Theatre in Los Angeles and directed by Caitlin Hart, was just another opportunity for Jai to showcase her unparalleled talents on stage. The production was so well received that it garnered a prestigious Ovation Recommendation from LA Stage Alliance in 2014.

In addition to “What of the Night?,” the actress has also led several other productions to success with her unforgettable performances as Fiona in “99 Ways to F*ck a Swan,” Masha in Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” at the Irene Gilbert Theater, Ruth in Timothy McNeil’s “Dead Pussy,” Mrs. Banks in Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” Titus in “Titus Andronicus,” Kate Keller in “All My Sons” and many more.

Out of all of the characters she has played on the stage, Jai notes her role as Isela Sanchez from Lynn Manning’s play “The Unrequited: A Tale Between Two Worlds,” which was directed by Shishir Kurup and staged at the Cornerstone Theater in 2011, as her favorite to date.

The production followed Jai’s character Isela, a young woman living in a wheelchair due to Polio during the 40’s in LA, as she prepares to marry a man she doesn’t love; and the mysterious events that arise to keep her from betraying the soul of the man to whom her heart is truly devoted.

Today Jai has established a a glowing reputation for her ability to touch audiences emotionally through her portrayal of characters across genres on both the screen and stage; and with several upcoming projects in the works, and the release of Runaway Dream slated for later this year, there is literally no stopping her.

Alex Luukkonen, A Phenom of the Stage!

Alex Luukkonen
                                                          Alex Luukkonen shot by Bryan Wriggle

A great actor is more than an entertainer, more than an artist, more than the sum of their roles. A great actor has a rare form of empathy—he or she is a student of humanity, a philosopher who uses their understanding of the world and the people in it to become somebody else, even it is only for a little while. Originally from Finland, actor Alex Luukkonen has spent his entire life traveling the world, meeting people from Scandinavia to Japan, China to L.A., Poland to London. He has used his worldly experience to become a master of his craft, and in so doing he has worked alongside visionaries of both stage and screen.

In Slavs!, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America), Luukkonen plays the lead role of Yegor Tremens Rodent. Set during the collapse of the Soviet Union, Slavs! explores love and loss in a rapidly crumbling empire, examining the lives of characters who are suffering from radiation poisoning caused by the USSR’s nuclear programs. Rodent (Alex Lukkonen) is a bureaucrat dispatched to Siberia, where he bears witness to the agony of a family torn apart by the effects of the radioactive waste left behind by the brutal communist regime, which has neither the resources nor the will to protect its own people.

In the Clifford Odets’ 1935 classic Waiting for Lefty, Luukkonen took on the role of Miller, a lab assistant who grapples with the moral issues of a promotion he is asked to accept. The new job would see Miller working with, and secretly spying on, a chemist who is designing a new chemical weapon for the imminent war in Europe. Having lost family in World War I, Miller refuses to become involved in what he views as a wholly unethical project. The production of Waiting for Lefty was directed by Academy Award-winning director Milton Justice (Down and Out in America) and staged in Los Angeles.

“In Lefty, I played Miller, an honest to-a-fault researcher who loses his job due to refusing to compromise on his principles,” Luukkonen said, lending his personal insight to a character with whom he became intimately familiar.

Out of all his work though, Luukkonen’s stage presence shined through with unseen magnetism during his performance as Inspector Ruffing, the lead in Ravenscroft, written by Don Nigro and directed by May Quigley (Murder C.O.D., Picture Perfect). The play, which was adapted into the 1999 hit The Manor, is an Agatha Christie-esque comedic mystery. Luukkonen’s character is dispatched to the Ravenscroft manor to investigate a murder at the secluded mansion.

“Inspector Ruffing is a sure-of-himself Sherlock Holmes-type detective who comes to the Ravenscroft manor to investigate an apparent murder,” Luukkonen said of the character, joking that the character’s impressive investigatory skills are dulled by drinking as the play unfolds. “Throughout the investigation, his sureness in his own instincts slips from him at the same rate as his sobriety does.”

After his arrival at the Ravenscroft manor, Ruffing begins to examine the mysterious death of a man who suspiciously fell headfirst down a flight of stairs. Surrounded by a group of five femme fatales, each of whom is a suspect in the death with their own motives, Ruffing begins to dig through the facts in a story that leaves the audience in suspense until the very last minute.

The intercontinental phenom’s talents on stage are just one facet of his incredibly diverse creative skillset, and his ever-growing repertoire of roles has ensured his place in the zeitgeist across cultural and national boundaries.