VERONICA LI USES CREATIVE SOUND DESIGN TO CONNECT TWO DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE WORLD AND TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS IN MANDALA

One of the key components of any renowned artist is the ability to achieve popular success while simultaneously keeping their artistic vision intact. This is no small accomplishment and can be quite a balancing act. The yin and yang of this  (whether it is music, painting,  film, etc.) is required to both satisfy the masses as well as lift the art form to new places. When executed at its highest level, art can challenge us to consider our thoughts on love, life, and the world. Technology has created a world in which we are more in touch with other cultures and lifestyles; it seems intuitive that it would bring the elite of the artistic world into a closer community. Sound Designer Veronica Li is an example of this very ideal. She has made a name for herself as a talented and in demand sound designer in Hollywood. Working on box office hits like Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (grossing 53MM) as well as artistically praised films such as STAND (for which Li won the Outstanding Achievement in Sound Award at the First Film Festival) has displayed Veronica’s ability to match the tone and scale of her work to any film and assist the filmmaker’s desired emotional impact.

Ask any director what they require to make a great film and they will tell you that it takes a highly skilled and talented team in order to achieve their vision. Ask Guan Xi, the director and writer of Mandala, about Veronica Li and she will reinforce that statement. Mandala received multiple nominations at the 2015 Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards including a win for LAIFF’s Best Foreign Language Film in July, as well as being recognized by the film community in Italy and India.  Guan Xi states, “Veronica’s work was critical to the success of the production, as evidenced by the numerous official selections to the industry-renowned film festivals in the U.S. and around the world.” Veronica’s achievements on award winning films like Looking at the Stars captured the attention of Xi while they were working on this film and solidified the director’s resolve to enlist Li to work on Mandala. Remarking on the experience, Guan Xi comments, “Veronica’s work as a Sound Designer and Sound Editor on the production was absolutely crucial, as the sound in a film is one of the most important facets of filmmaking. Mandala was critically lauded by some of the industry’s most prominent directors and producers. The Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, journalist, and novelist Mark Harris called the film ‘Beautifully shot and impressively produced…’ while Amanda Pope, the Emmy Award-winning director called the film ‘A visually exquisite story of an artist torn between her modern life and her Tibetan Buddhist culture.’ Many more luminaries in the field have voiced their praises for the film.”Li 5

Mandala is a timeless and universal story of the loss of a loved one and the attempts of a female artist to overcome her pain while at the same time reconnecting with her roots. The story grounds itself in the physical world and its day to day realities, while the emotional upheaval creates a bridge to a metaphysical world. Only by dealing with the less familiar “higher plane of consciousness” does the heroine stand a chance at living a life once again free from sorrow and unattached to the tragedies life can bring. The sounds required to make viewers accept both visions of life as reality are equal to the demands of the visuals…if not even greater. Li is highly aware of the subtle yet highly important nature of her role professing, “I think sound design helps to bring a film to life. It definitely makes the environment more believable. Most of the sound designs in Mandala are so subtle that the audience won’t notice them but they will help to set the proper mood. They can really sell the shot.” The dichotomy of the setting of New York City’s Gotham and Tibet’s peaceful mysticism is stark and the sonic environment must reflect this in a “not too obvious” manner. Li’s expertise was called upon to meet this lofty goal. Guan Xi praises Veronica’s ability to exceed expectations recalling, “I needed the sound of the film to be at an exceptionally high-quality level. Veronica perfectly combined and contrasted Tibetan and NYC sound elements together, and as the Sound Designer and Sound Editor, she spent countless hours collaborating with the Composer, working seamlessly on the sound design and score of the film. Not only was I able to entrust Veronica with the sound design and sound editing of Mandala, but what most impressed me was the fact that she really understood the story and my needs as the director.” Veronica used her talent as well as some creative ideas to help link the main character’s two geographic anchors of NYC and Tibet. Li reveals, “In addition to contrasting the two places, we also wanted to connect them. Helena is someone who belongs to Tibet but is currently trapped in the city. We decided to use a very subtle Tibetan musical cue whenever we saw Helena’s Tibetan painting. The horns of the cars passing by would gradually change to Tibetan musical bells, as if Tibet was calling from inside Helena whenever she and Lobsang Lama walked by each other on the city street.

Authenticity was paramount in the approach to producing Mandala. With the exception of the lead roles of Helena (Sarah Yan Li, also know for Fast & Furious 6) and Paul (Omar Avila, also know for The Punisher), all the other lead actors were Tibetan. To ensure that the original Tibetan Buddhist culture was presented correctly, the production team consulted eight living Buddha about every detail in the movie. Tibet contains the highest plateau in the world making it quite difficult for non-Tibetans to do strenuous activities. Even though the filming could have taken place at a less “difficult” location, the audience needs to feel, see, and hear the real Tibet. In the rare cases that a modification needed to be done, they were delicately handled with the highest level of professionalism.  Since shooting is forbidden in a real Tibetan temple, a temple was recreated in Los Angeles for filming interiors. Editor Cheng Fang describes his experience working on the film with Veronica commenting, “In Mandala there is a scene in which the female character is taking a test in a Tibetan Buddhist Temple to see if she is the reincarnation of the Rinpoche that passed away several years ago. During the scene, the character has several ‘visions’ and eventually has a mental breakdown. We finished the picture editing of the scene but everyone knew there was something missing. The picture itself was just not powerful enough. The mental breakdown of the character seemed to end abruptly. Veronica went to work on it. After she finished, we viewed the scene again…it was now so powerful! Veronica successfully combined the sound of Tibetan music instruments with mysterious murmuring; transforming the mental journey of the character into a crescendo as the music got louder, resulting in an intense ending.”Li 6 When a poem that was already recorded was unable to fit due to time constraints, Guan Xi once again called on Veronica Li and her expertise. The director explains, “Veronica helped me choose the certain words from the poem, and reorganize them so they could fit the style of the movie but still deliver the message I wanted to tell. To be able to change such an important sequence in the film, yet stay true to a Director’s vision is one of the most difficult tasks in filmmaking, but Veronica was able to flawlessly execute it.”

Veronica Li and the message of Mandala share a few striking similarities; each is the story of a woman from one culture, living in another culture, striving for excellence in the arts, all the while using the best of each part of the world to tell the universal stories we all share.

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Teddy Fan’s Pan-Pacific Guitar Blazes from West to East

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Rock & roll has an almost supernatural power—it reached half away around the world, took hold of guitarist Fan Tsz Him and won’t let go. But the Los Angeles based musician, best known for work with YouTube sensation Jason Chen, wouldn’t have it any other way. The Hong Kong-born Him, known professionally as Teddy Fan, arrived in Los Angeles in 2013, completed a two year course at Hollywood’s famed Musician Institute and, upon completion, was immediately offered a position there as teaching assistant.

Fan is an in-demand musician who specializes as a guitarist. His versatility has well served him, leading him to steady work with the disparate likes of Los Angeles-based contemporary country singer, Christie Huff, Mexico City born singer-songwriter Daniel Sobrino and Chinese singing stars Lilia Duan, Yogo Jiang—an international roster of talent, each trading in very different genres, a fact that underscore’s the guitarist’s impressive flexibility and skill

“To me, watching a rock band playing on stage was always one of the coolest things ever,” Fan said. “When I was 12 years old, my school required every student to either learn an instrument or decide on an art form to study, so I chose guitar, and that was the first time I played music.”

He quickly mastered the instrument. “Of course, at that time I was only playing for fun, but, from the start, I really liked to do it. And I was not really a ‘school person,’ I didn’t make very good grades on my school work, so that was when I started thinking about making music my career.”

Following his graduation, Fan hit the ground running and was able to gain significant professional traction almost immediately. “It’s a long way from where I first started—I never thought I’d be traveling all around the world because I could play guitar!” Fan said. “So far, I have played in so many different venues, everywhere from Los Angeles to Chicago to Boston and in casinos and auditoriums all over Asia.”

Fan is adept and astute not only as a musician but also in the way he conducts his professional career path, eschewing the near-extinct business model of major label record industry in favor of a new, web based digital-age approach. Collaborating with Los Angeles independent artists and established international stars like Jason Chen, the Asian pop YouTube sensation with 1,300,000 subscribers and astronomical multi-million video views, Fan navigates this exciting territory with an instinctive skill and natural grace.

“The job I am proudest of definitely, has been touring with Jason Chen. I am a long way from where I started,” Fan said. “In Asia, it is really hard to get support for doing music as a career, but ‘never give up’ is my first philosophy–without that I wouldn’t be here today.”

Fan’s impressive cache of talent is matched only by his drive and perfectionism, as his mentor, producer-arranger-composer and Hollywood Musicians Institute Vocal Program Instructor Katsuya Sezaki detailed.

“Teddy has always displayed a high degree of integrity, responsibility and ambition. He has a very strong work ethic and has shown tremendous improvement as an arranger and guitarist,” Sezaki said. “The results are clear to see–now, he’s playing for Jason Chen’s shows at  all the big venues, and has successfully done many sessions for artists I’ve produced.”

“He’s always had a great presence on a stage as a performer. Teddy started out as pop-rock guitarist, but was always ready to try new styles–folk, blues, country, and funk,” Sezaki said. “The level of his musicality has improved significantly, and now he constantly receives calls to play with Chinese celebrities and local artists who are seeking a ‘great guitarist.’”

With outstanding merit already established, Teddy Fan is in that sweet spot where he steadily works as in-demand session and touring player, yet he is poised to one day make the big break out as a solo artist.

“Even though I am mainly known a guitarist now, I really want to be a singer-songwriter too. Most importantly, to me, is doing the music that I like rather than doing music the market likes. Trust me, it’s no fun at all to trying copy the music other people like all day,” Fan said. “My goal is take the knowledge and experience that I learned here in the U.S. back to Hong Kong and create a whole new style. The music industry in Hong Kong is dying, there is no quality new music and people are so tired of hearing only pop. So, I hope I can save the industry and make some real impact back in my hometown.”

 

Actor Peter Fall takes aim on ‘Little America’ comedy series and Alexander Pushkin western ‘Colt’

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Peter Fall will star in the comedic “Little America” YouTube series and the feature western, “Colt.”

 

Russian-Australian actor Peter Fall, known for his roles in Stan Harrington’s award-winning feature mystery film, “Perception,” and director Yaitza Rivera’s award-winning drama, “Red Poppies,” has attached to two exciting new productions — “Little America” and “Colt.”

“Little America” is a forthcoming YouTube and funnyordie.com comedy series from Cobblestone Productions that is being produced by Morayo Orija and Sam Marin. The series satires the different ethnic communities — such as Little Odessa, Little Tokyo, Little Italy and so on — that are present in metropolitan cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.

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“For me, it sums up America,” Fall said. “All these little communities are living together as a whole. It is a hilarious, satirical look into differing minority communities that’s intended to be not only funny, but a real eye opener. It breaks down stereotypes and is a show anybody will be able to relate to.”

Fall writes for the series and will star as Harchko, the central character of the Little Odessa segment. “He is the local famous Russian American whose nephew from Russia comes to visit. Harchko thinks his Russian nephew will be unworldly and backwards, but it turns out he is a hipster who finished boarding school and college in England, and is more in-tune to American culture than his uncle. Harchko considers himself a well-assimilated migrant having American, Latino, Asian American and African American friends, something not many of his other Russian comrades can claim.”

“He is a comedic spoof of Russian hip-hop mafia hoodlum of the 90s, a tough guy who gets inebriated as much as he can, living off other people, mostly swindling them for their money. It’s a stark contrast to his straight-lace nephew, who plays ice hockey and soccer, doesn’t drink and speaks better English than him. But they still find some common ground, chasing girls, getting high and generally helping Harchko with his mischief.”

Fall described the role as a juxtaposition of characters that will throw people’s stereotypes out. “It’s a hilarious segment of the show and Harchko interacts a lot with other wacky characters from the different segments like the Latinos, Italians, Koreans, Armenians, Ethiopians, etc.”

Each “Little America” episode will be about seven and a half minutes. Season 1 principal photography is scheduled to begin March, 2017 and the series is eyeing a premiere in December, 2017.

Orija, who has acted in Victor Trevino’s feature drama, “Spit,” Stan Harrington’s award-winning feature music drama, “Lost Angels” and TV One’s “Fatal Attraction,” is attached to direct “Little America,” along with producing.

“It’s a thrill to be a part of and has been the highlight of my past three years,” she said. “This is going to be a milestone in web series, a national coast to coast production, can’t wait. The energy and talent that Peter brings to this is only matched by the scripts being put out for this web series – it is going to be a riot!”

Joining Orija is Tim McNeil, who will also direct and is an award-winning actor-writer-producer known for his roles in hit films such as “Forrest Gump,” “Contact” and “Starship Troopers.” McNeil has also acted in many TV series including “House M.D.,” “ER,” “Joan of Arcadia,” “Seinfeld” and more.

Marin, an actor and animator known for his extensive work on Cartoon Network’s Primetime Emmy-winning series, “Regular Show,” will also star in “Little America,” along with serving as producer. Actress Tiedora DeGrigo (“Coast Mafia”) and many to-be-announced Stella Adler Los Angeles alums will make up the cast.

Fall said audiences can expect “a powerhouse of comedy delivered with truth and energy that hopefully will be both fresh, highly entertaining and something that’s going to stick with them. “Little America” is pop comedy, kind of an SNL like show, where nothing is out of bounds and things will be broken. Stereotypes will be shattered and it’s going to be lough out loud funny.”

Fall is also attached to the leading role of Alexander Pushkin in the feature western drama, “Colt,” that tells the story of the final week of the famed Russian poet. Fall is also producing and teaming again with Orija and Marin, who will produce the project under the Cobblestone banner.

Pushkin was a beloved Russian poet, playwright and novelist during the early 1800s who died at the age of 37 in the aftermath of a duel with French officer Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d’Anthes. The dispute arose once Pushkin believed de Heeckeren d’Anthes was seducing his wife.

“It’s such an important figure in Russian history, claimed as Russian Shakespeare, one of the greatest love poets who ever lived,” said Fall. “Many titles are bestowed on Pushkin, yet he died so senselessly and ultimately young. It’s a story that needs to be heard and told, and his poetry needs a voice. What better way to bring it to the 21st century audience than as a Western set in the post-Civil-War era? The movie will take place in a small, passing-through town in the far west, giving western audiences a dynamic, relatable setting. It’s an untold reimagining on Pushkin, a good old classic western that’s mixed in with romance and poetry. It’s so surprising this ‘true story’ has such similarities with the Western genre itself.”

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Famed Paramount Ranch will serve as a filming location for “Colt.”

“Colt” is to film at Paramount Ranch and Melody Ranch in Los Angeles. Fall says “Colt” is a dark look at family, adultery, honor and gun violence. In fact, as Fall explained, Pushkin is a Russian term that translates to gun or cannon.

“Pushkin is a notorious womanizer,” Fall said, “which his poet celebrity gives him access too. But when his wife is ambushed by an admiring French lieutenant, Pushkin is unable to resolve it civilly. His own jealousy takes hold of him. The drama escalates when Pushkin’s father, a general in the Civil war, pushes him to man up and confront his wife’s rumored foreign lover, a confrontation that ends with his death.”

Fall co-wrote the script with fellow Stella Adler alum, Austin Iredale. “Austin’s background in English literature, his talent and his understanding of dramatic content blew this off the page. This is a story that needs to be told. It’s something that can break borders today and is relevant. “Colt” is a window into one of the greatest Russian souls that defines the humanity of its people. Pairing that in a setting so accessible to a western audience will hopefully shine a light on racial doubts and fears that still very much exist in this ‘post-Cold War’ time we live in.”

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The Alexander Pushkin western film, “Colt,” will feature on-location filming at Melody Ranch.

The presentation of Pushkin will include Fall’s narration of Pushkin’s poems and recitations by the character himself throughout the film. “This film will also bring to the world Pushkin’s poetry, letting people into the richness of the Russian verse and the melancholy of its history and heart,” he said.

Orija said, “This character of Alexander brings a monumental human being, a giant to such human form, with everyday problems and flaws that it hopefully makes people see humanity in everything. It is a dream come true of a role for a character actor. Plus, it’s set in the American west, but is about a Russian poet. The whole discourse of that makes it not only relatable, but genuinely original.”

“Colt” is scheduled to begin filming in September and is aiming for a summer 2017 film festival premiere.

Producing Greatness is the Reality for Brazil’s Daniel Ariano

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Producer Daniel Ariano was a force behind Brazil’s “O Aprendiz.”

 

It is pressure-packed, inspiring, impromptu and thrilling all at once. Daniel Ariano described it as a job where everything can and will happen.

“To be a producer for reality TV,” he said, “you have to be aware that everything is possible. I have to be ready to face an unexpected challenge every day. You have to be calm, easy going and most of all, you have to love it.”

It’s that passion and formula for success that Ariano has subscribed to, which has made him one of Brazil’s foremost film and TV producers. Specializing in the reality genre, Ariano has produced for hit shows such as Brazil’s “Ídolos,” “O Aprendiz” and “TUF Brasil,” which are his home country’s equivalents to the states’ “American Idol,” “The Apprentice” and “The Ultimate Fighter.”

Through it, he’s developed and refined the tools of a seasoned producer – leadership, enterprise, communication, management, problem solving and creativity. Ariano has taken on leadership roles as a producer that demand high-ranking responsibility, shifting challenges and his close collaboration with top talent who went on to compete in front of national TV audiences.

Ariano’s rise to producing prominence began with his initial inspiration and love of media. While growing up, his friends had dreams of becoming lawyers, doctors and engineers. But it was Ariano’s love of music and movies that guided his heart toward a career in film and TV.

Influenced by legends such as Woody Allen, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Jerry Bruckheimer, Ariano said, “All of those and more did something that made me watch and think, ‘I want to do that.’ I want to do something people will admire and watch.”

From there, it was a matter of taking the idea of what he wanted to become and putting it into action. While attending high school, Ariano, of São Paulo, worked as a music teacher. When he assimilated into college, he worked for Jovem Pan, the biggest radio station in Brazil.

His mind was still set on TV though, and the foot-in-the-door opportunity materialized. Ariano was invited to do some camera operator work and parlayed the experience into a production assistant position on the São Paulo-based “Amaury Jr. Show,” a talk show covering celebs and luxury. After learning TV production from the inside for a half a year, another opportunity arose.

“I received an invitation that changed my life,” Ariano said. “It was to be a part of the “Ídolos” production crew, my first reality show and it was a music one. After that, I knew I wanted to produce for the rest of my life! I fell in love with the storytelling and the big productions.”

Ariano began producing for “Ídolos” Season 4 in 2009. The show, created by the 14-time Emmy nominee Simon Fuller, is headquartered in São Paulo and distributed by Rede Record. Pop singer-songwriter Saulo Roston won Season Four and signed with Warner Music Brasil.

“I had the responsibility to deliver to the show and all the outside shoots with quality and with the proper storytelling,” said Ariano. “The big challenge was the winner was there in the middle of the crowd. And we had to have him since the start of the process.”

The contestants being vetted were voluminous, many with marked talent and merit for the televised competition. Ariano estimated he’d listened to thousands of hopeful voices positioning for musical glory on “Ídolos.”

“I’ve seen so much talent, so much really good singers and really good people with amazing histories,” he said. “The Idols have to have talent. This is the most important thing we look for – talent. But the story behind the talent is something that brings the Idol closer to the audience. Brazil is an enormous country filled with talented people. I just wish all of the good ones could make it.”

Ariano returned to produce “Ídolos” Season 5 in 2011, and Season 7, the show’s final run, in 2012. He also produced in 2012 “Ídolos Kids” Season 1, which followed the same premise, but searched for talented kid contestants.

In 2010, one year after Ariano’s inception into “Ídolos,” he expanded his producing career and joined the show, “O Aprendiz,” for Season 7. In the hour-long Brazilian apparent to the Donald Trump-hosted “The Apprentice,” contestants compete for employment contracts with leading companies such as the WPP Group or for investments. The show was created by five-time Emmy winner Mark Burnett, longtime producer of “Survivor” and “Shark Tank.” It was hosted by Roberto Justus.

“The Apprentice” was the most challenging job I ever had,” Ariano said.

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During filming for “O Aprendiz” in Turkey, producer Daniel Ariano (left) studies the scene setup.

Ariano worked in producing “O Aprendiz” for Seasons 7, 8, 9 and 10. Contestants ranged from college students to entrepreneurs and celebrities. The production traversed Brazil-wide and traveled to shoot in Orlando, Washington, D.C., South Africa, Italy, Turkey and Colombia. With it came droves of producing duties for Ariano.

“When you give the contestants a task, and time to do it, you never know where will they go and what will they do and it’s up to you to be ready to face everything,” he said. “Working on the show taught me everything is possible. It opened my eyes to the infinity. There is no limit. What we see on TV is just the tip of the iceberg. The production is the entire Arctic.”

Also in 2010, Ariano would produce for a season of the Brazilian version of “Artzooka,” a Gemini Award-winning kids TV show that was produced in Toronto, Canada. The series guided parents, teachers and daycare providers how to create art projects using recycled materials. It was broadcast in Brazil on Discovery Kids and featured Ariano producing in a rare role.

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Producer Daniel Ariano (right) worked closely with host Daniel Granieri to deliver “Artzooka.”

“I loved to do it because it got me into working with a Canadian crew,” Ariano said. “I do believe that this was a unique opportunity in life, that just a few people got the chance to do. I was the only Brazilian producer for the show, so I had a really big responsibility to make it great.”

“Artzooka” host Daniel Granieri said of Ariano, “Without him, “Artzooka” wouldn’t be able to happen. He was vital to the project. He has a look in his eyes all the time, like, he is thinking further, like he is always producing! He is an easy guy to work with and to deal with. He is very professional and very intelligent. You have to have someone like him in your production crew, if not just him. There’s a few people in the world who has an ability to deal with production like him!”

Ariano has served as producer for other shows such as Latin America’s “The Amazing Race,” HBO Brasil and for the Season 2 of “TUF Brasil” (The Ultimate Fighter Brazil), which was distributed by Rede Globo. The latter producing taught Ariano much about the globally popular UFC world, while also showing him a different side of the fighting-based programming.

“It’s talented fighters, focused on their dream and working hard to do it,” he said. “This was different than any other reality TV. It is about how do you control your body and how do you make it do the extraordinary. I loved the experience and it made me admire even more this world of art that is UFC.”

Continuing his producing prowess, Ariano is attached to work on the forthcoming debut season of “X-Factor Brasil,” and he is attached to produce writer-director Albert Dabah’s “Extra Innings,” a coming of age feature baseball drama film set in 1960s Brooklyn.

“He can do everything. I got a nickname for him: “Superman,” Dabah said. “Besides having a good eye for production and being very organized, when the time comes, he is up to everything! He can be an addition in every department. It’s hard to find someone like him, and I’m glad I found him.”

Of “Extra Innings,” Ariano said, “I’m hoping that the movie can open eyes of people about real problems of life that is there around us, in our family, in our lives, and we don’t realize it or we pretend it doesn’t exist. I think the screenwriting is perfect. I know it’s going to be a big hit.”

For more information on “Extra Innings,” visit: http://www.extrainningsmovie.com/

Check out Daniel Ariano on IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm8028896/

 

Brazilian Actor Lucas Zaffari Stars in Anticipated Short Film

For Brazilian actor Lucas Zaffari, acting comes naturally. Every role is an opportunity to better himself. Every role is a chance to learn. And because of that, he is continuously sought after.

Zaffari has a starring role in the short film Locked. Zaffari plays Simon, a 1970’s photographer the finds the love of his life while filming in a park. As time goes by, their relationship starts to have conflicts. One night everything goes south and a series of events occur to make Simon’s life unbearable.

“My character, Simon, is very timid and never had a purpose in life,” described Zaffari. “His life was dull and monotonous until the day Lily crossed his camera and fills his life with color.”

At first, Zaffari was invited by the director Xueru Tang to play to role of a policeman, but instead was asked to audition for the leading role of Simon.

“As soon as I read the script I was drawn to it. That was the first click. The way it was written made me imagine it beautifully in my head,” he said. “After the audition I remember Xueru hugging me and happily saying I was Simon.”

“I knew Xueru would really commit to her film and she did,” he added. “Her directing was on- point, I could understand what she wanted just by her behavior and it was amazing to see her passion towards this film.”

Tang believes that Lucas embodied the role of Simon, and describes him as the “one take king.”

“I really like working with Lucas, he is an exceptional actor and super talented,” she said. “During the whole process Lucas’s performance really touched me. The first day, for the first shot, we took a long time to set the scene up, and as soon as he finished makeup and wardrobe, I saw him lying on the bed. I asked him why he was there and he said ‘I need to get familiar with my bed, my room, here is my home, I lived here for 5 years, I’m Simon.’ That moment really, really touched me. I’ve never seen an actor do this.”

“Lucas will do everything he can to help the film. I’m super happy to choose Lucas as my Simon, and I’m so proud of him,” she added.

The film, which was shot on a sound stage built for the project, presented some challenges for Zaffari, but provided great learning experiences.

“The underwater scene was challenging in many ways. Besides the water temperature not being ideal to stay for more than 2 hours, I was supposed to fall on my back in the pool, but facing up underwater I had to constantly blow air from my nose, otherwise I’d drown, so I could never stay too long underwater,” he said, describing the first underwater scene he has had to film. “But with all the commitment and talent of the crew I strongly believe that we captured a beautiful moment.”

On set, Zaffari was recognized for overcoming any challenge he was presented with, which the cast and crew found very impressive.

“Lucas is really good at what he does because of his devotion and passion for the character he plays. For one shot, he had to sit completely still for over 30 minutes, and he did it with no complaints,” said Johanna Coelho, the director of photography on the film. “Working with Lucas was an amazing experience. He was extremely professional on set, always very cooperative to work with the cinematography department to make the shot work. I was always impressed behind my lens, watching him getting into character so fast and always succeeding performance every take.”

Zaffari also said that although he and Simon have their similarities, there is a large part of the character that is the complete opposite from himself.

“I was really interested in studying and working on that character because that is what I’m passionate about acting,” he said. “Every job, and every character is a new opportunity to learn and to study human behavior, and to be able to show that in a character is so rewarding for me.”

Zaffari believes that the most rewarding part of being cast in Locked was being able to work with such a talented crew.

“The cooperation with so many talented people created a wonderful creative environment that undoubtedly made this film extraordinary. It was beautiful to see this cooperation working, they really commit to the tasks and that flourished the environment with productiveness and creativeness. I remember when an unexpected blackout of the whole block stopped the production and in literally less than 10 minutes the crew got the generator on with all the lights of the set back on, ready to be filmed. That was impressive,” he said. “My partner Alyona Chase was incredible. She was really opened to rehearse and to talk about the scene and motivations of the characters. She really committed to the project and it’s great to work with talented and determined people. As an actor it’s really important to use stimuli for your performance and Alyona was amazing in giving 110% for every shot.”

“I was reminded of the importance of group collaboration,” he added. “Being part of this project and paying attention to the crew showed me how important is to have a good solid group working with you. I saw in everyone working on this project the common goal and that created a perfect environment for it.”

Locked is intended to be released at next years big film festivals, including Cannes and Sundance.

Canadian Actor Nigel Vonas: Far More Than the Average Bad Boy

From his role as a cunning and egotistical prisoner who is hated throughout the kingdom for killing the king’s son in the mythological drama series “Olympus”, to a dark and brooding demon in the premiere episode of the hit series “Supernatural” season 10, Nigel Vonas is an actor whose ability to tap into dark and meaty roles has put him on everyone’s hot list. A shoe in for the bad guy role, the Canadian born actor has taken on an impressive list of characters over the years, appearing in practically every hit series on network television.

Audiences across North America and much of Europe have also had the opportunity to watch Vonas display his dynamic talent as a natural bad boy on screen in the Leo and Prism Award winning series “Arrow,” the Primetime Emmy nominated sci-fi series “Falling Skies,” FOX’s “Almost Human,” Showcase’s Gemini Award winning series “Continuum,” the action packed crime drama “True Justice” and many more.

In the past decade Vonas has transformed himself into the skin of hardened criminals, hired guns, unscrupulous thieves and mysterious demons– to put it simply, any character known for striking fear in onlookers is one that Vonas has probably brought to life at one point or another in his career.

In season one episode nine of Syfy’s “Olympus,” appropriately titled “Pandora’s Tomb,” Vonas gave a brilliant performance acting alongside Graham Shiels (“Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Yes Man,” “General Hospital”) who plays King Aegeus and Wayne Burns (“Murdoch Mysteries,” “Mr. D”) who plays Aegeus’ son Lykos. When Lykos, who is merely trying to protect his father and help him keep his identity a secret as he sits in prison, gets into a heated brawl with Vonas’ character, things take a turn for the worse for Lykos, who is clearly no match for Vonas’ character and is ultimately killed by him.

About the role Vonas explains, “This character is the one that really brings out both the weakness of King Aegeus, and also his belief that his ruling of the people comes before the love of family. His unwillingness to protect his son, or to even show any love or empathy when his son is dying from the wounds he received when trying to protect his father from my attack, shows the king’s lack of care for family or perhaps even his heritage.”

So much can be said about actors and the methods they explore in order to prepare for a given role. From adapting his posture to creating the right mannerisms to fit his characters, the amount of effort that Vonas has put into crafting his believable bad boy image in all of these characters is easily overlooked due to the fact that he is just so good at it. Aside from just being a talented actor though, Vonas’ humble nature and ability to trust and hold space for his fellow actors, allows true connections to form on screen, and is one of the reason why he has become such a success over the years.

 

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Still of Nigel Vonas on “Supernatural”

 

About his work on “Supernatural,” Vonas admits, “I was given the opportunity to work with an incredible director and crew. Jensen Ackles, who plays the lead role of Dean Winchester, is incredible to work with. He is so relaxed and so connected to all of the actors he works with, which made my work so easy. All I had to do was listen and he gave me everything I needed as an actor to bring this character to life. This was a great role in the story, because I believe I was able to bring out even more of the cocky side of Ackles’ character. Even more so than he already was at this point in the story.”

Getting his start in Vancouver B.C, back in 2002, Vonas quickly discovered that acting is what he was meant to do. His dedication to his craft and the relentless drive to push himself to grow helped his career skyrocket with astonishing speed.

“I work very hard at my craft in order to be ready for any acting opportunity that comes my way. I learned very early in my career that you better be ready when the door opens, or you may miss out on something very big,” explains Vonas.

After getting his feet wet on set, shooting a Disney commercial, the actor quickly landed his first TV role as Ryk’l on “Stargate SG-1” back in 2003, before going on to land a series of pivotal roles in films including “The Chronicles of Riddick,” “The Gutter Diaries,” “Thralls,” “Chaos” and “The Harvest Project.”

Anyone who knows Vonas personally will recognize beyond a shadow of a doubt that the actor is the exact opposite of most of the characters he plays; but for him, that is all part of the excitement of acting. His role as Cisco in Ron Oliver’s vampire horror film “Thralls” is the perfect example of just how dedicated Vonas is to abandoning himself and fearlessly tapping into his character, no matter how repulsive they may be.

He recalls, “Getting to play such a cocky character was an interesting experience. I consider myself a very calm person, so this role was quite a challenge. I have always preferred playing characters that are the least like the person I am in life. Those roles are the most challenging. This one was definitely one of them. Day after day I was challenged on set to make sure I was doing justice to this character. But I have to admit, it was kind of fun making many of the other actors squirm at my character’s behavior at times.”

Starring alongside Golden Globe nominee Lorenzo Lamas (“Grease”), Leah Cairns (“Interstellar,” “88 Minutes”) and Siri Baruc (“Writer’s Block,” “Law & Order”), Vonas portrayed his womanizing character Cisco perfectly. Not only did he turn him into a character that audiences easily love to hate, but Vonas’ ability to show his character’s over the top cocky side also allowed the female vampires’ witty, dominating and all around superiority to shine through effortlessly.

Being a great actor is more than just being able to give a great performance, it’s about being able to hold space for other actors, to trust them and give yourself to the story with vulnerability– and Nigel Vonas is one of the rare few who is able to do this with total grace.

Up next for Vonas is FOX’s highly anticipated revival of the television cult favorite “Prison Break,” which went off the air in 2009 and is slated to return to television for its fifth season at some point in spring 2017. The actor has already begun shooting episodes for the new season with the rest of the cast, and although little has been disclosed, we do know that Vonas’ recurring role on the show will draw upon his talent for playing the kind of role that very few will want to mess with.

You can check out the trailer for the show, which was released earlier this week, below:

 

 

From the Pages of Magazines to his Most Recent Film “Il Sonnambulo” Rob McLoughlin Continues to Turn Heads

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Actor Rob McLoughlin featured in an ad for Spoke Pants

 

For English model-turned-actor Rob McLoughlin, the ability to embody a character comes genuinely and naturally. With a scope of work ranging from commercials to live theatre to feature films, this London based performer is grabbing the attention of industry leaders worldwide with his captivating charm and organic believability. Enthralled by the opportunity to get into the heads of characters both real and made up, McLoughlin has delivered memorable and unparallelled performances over the last six years that are enough to impress even  the toughest of critics.

McLoughlin’s roles have been as diverse as they have been challenging. He has played everything from the nerdy, hyperfocused computer technician in BBC’s Micro Men to a cheeky and daring journalist in the award winning feature film Il Sonnambulo and a hostage-taking, weapon-wielding gangster in Sam Walker‘s black-and-white noir film, Suspect 13.

While he currently works predominantly in film, McLoughlin’s roots began in the live theatre, where he worked for eight years at the Royal Opera House in London, where in addition to acting, he brought his stunt and combat skills to the stage.

“I’ve worked with world renowned director David McVicar many times,” McLoughlin recalls of his time at the theatre. “One of the things I worked with him on was Le Nozze Di Figaro, or, ‘The Marriage of Figaro,’ which won several awards. We actually devised an opening scene during the overture which has never been done in the two hundred years of its production, so there’s a little bit of history there.”

With talent extending from the stage and onto both television and film screens across the globe, McLoughlin demonstrates his versatility and depth of skill wonderfully in Il Sonnambulo. Having already won “Best Horror Film” at Vancouver Web Fest and both “Best Cinematography” and “Best Director” at Seattle Web Fest, Il Sonnambulo is sure to win even more awards in 2016 as it is slated to travel to Buenos Aires Film Fest, Toronto Film Fest, New Media Film Fest and Montreal Web Fest where it has been chosen as an Official Selection. You can get a taste of the film through the trailer below:

 

 

The film, whose Italian title translates to “The Sleepwalker,” is gaining momentum in the film festival circuit for its macabrely gripping storyline. The feature tells the tale of photographer Atticus Hurst, a distraught though numb father of a missing girl, as he teams up with reporter and all around badass Roberto Aurelio to chase the scent of Il Sonnambulo, an ominously threatening boogeyman-like murderer who has been taunting Atticus over the past twenty years.

Proving that nothing is out of his wheelhouse, McLoughlin breathes life into the complex and peculiar character of the reporter superbly and naturally.  Before the shoot, McLoughlin sat down with director Doug Rath to develop more of a backstory for his character. While the backstory would never be directly mentioned in the film, the work that goes into character development bleeds through into every scene of the film and is instrumental to the overall success of the project. In fact, it is in large part due to McLoughlin’s dedication to the project that it is being seriously considered by many networks in the United States to further develop into a series.

 

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Still shot of Rob McLoughlin as Roberto in “Il Sonnambulo”

 

Able to pull from his own experiences, McLoughlin relates to his character, comparing Roberto’s dichotomy to that of an actor feigning confidence. “Roberto thinks that Atticus is completely mad, that this is all some spooky crap that Atticus has made up after too many absinthes. However, it’s all too enticing and could get him back on track professionally. I mean, who knows that feeling better than an actor right? Pretty much everything we do is a shot in the dark.”

It is this very confidence, willingness to take risks, and belief in the art that has gotten McLoughlin to where he is today. Never type-cast, McLoughlin proves his range and flexibility as he tackles role after role, some serious, some funny, and everything in between. For instance, he played a hostage-taking, bar-robbing, roughed-up gangster in Suspect13 and, while he says it’s “fun to play the bad guy,” his talents don’t end there. McLoughlin makes for a genuine and believable hopeless romantic in the six-part Mark’s and Spencer Valentine’s Day commercials.

“I can scrub up ok,” McLoughlin says with a smile. “I can don a suit or scruff up quite easily for a role. My normal style is jeans and a t-shirt. I’m witty, I’m intelligent; I was given a good brain and I like to use it. I’m relaxed. Maybe too much sometimes but I’m also professional. I do my job to the best of my abilities every time.”

Stopping at literally nothing to live out his dream, McLoughlin can be seen in a recent Audi commercial, strapped to a car travelling at 80mph down an airport runway in a hundred degree heat, reading a newspaper. “That was so much fun,” McLoughlin admitted, “I wanted to do it all week.”

With a passion met only by his charisma, talent, and motivation to succeed, Rob McLoughlin is an actor whose portrayals will not soon be forgotten.  The ability to take viewers on an emotional journey while maintaining their credibility and telling a story is truly the mark of a good actor, and McLoughlin demonstrates this with modesty and enthusiasm every single time.

 

Canadian actor enters the ‘Black Forest’

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Actor Cesare Scarpone plays Paul in writer-director David Briggs’ horror film, “Black Forest.”

 

Cesare Scarpone was drawn to “Black Forest” upon first reading the script and considering all the potential in its premise. The slasher-styled horror feature from writer-director David Briggs (“Sleepwalking,” “Blood Night”) would berth an opportunity for Scarpone to act in dynamic, high-paced movie set in the woods of northern Ontario, Canada.

The story follows best friends – Bree and Jess – who have designs on a summer camping trip, but instead find themselves trapped in nightmare when they encounter Isaac, a seemingly madman with twisted visions of post-apocalyptic survival.

Scarpone’s reaction after taking the script in for the first time?

“I loved it. The story was great. It had me imagining scenes the instant I started reading. It does follow the classic style of a slasher, though the story doesn’t give you any time for rest. It leaves you in the minds of the two women leads feeling lost and trapped in the beauty of the forest.”

Starring as Bree is Marie-Josee Dionne, who acted in Danny Perez’ horror feature, “Antibirth,” and in the forthcoming “Theories” horror film from director Mike Tyrrell. Actress France Huot debuts in the role of Jess. Jayson Stewart (“REZilience,” “The Pasta Killer!”) plays the crazed Isaac.

Scarpone carries out the role of Paul, a local who acts as a guide in helping Bree and Jess navigate their way through the terror. “Paul is an easygoing guy, quiet and not too ambitious,” said Scarpone, who hails from Brampton, Ontario and grew up later in Maple, Ontario. “He cares for people and always looks for the best in them.”

A celebrated and revered talent, Scarpone is previously known for his roles in director Rob Comeau’s “Chance,” Mark Korven’s “Dead Monday,” Gabriella Bevilacqua’s “Aftermath,” Rebecca Carrigan’s “All I Need” and Omii Thompson’s “Modern Romance is Dead.” He’s acted on TV in Cineflix’s “Dual Suspects” and History’s “Curious and Unusual Deaths.”

Coming from a robust theatre background, Scarpone has studied acting at the esteemed London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Among his impressive stage acting career, Scarpone received the Sears Drama Festival award of excellence for the York, Ontario region for his stalwart performance as Jerry in Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story.”

Regarding acting in the horror genre in the case of “Black Forest,” Scarpone said, “There is freedom to make bold choices and enjoy playing characters with a limitless palate of justifications.”

With performing charisma, intuition for characters and a veracious passion for his art form, it comes as no surprise Scarpone’s decisive role in “Black Forest” returned an affirmative commendation from his director.

“His sense of humor and enthusiasm elevated everyone on set,” Briggs said. “Cesare’s a cool guy and a great actor to work with. I’m definitely looking forward to the next chance we have to work together.”

The film’s forest setting loomed large and fundamental to the story. It proved to be a filming location with challenges, but also attributes to the production that were felt within the cast.

“It was hard dealing with the incontrollable sounds of nature,” Scarpone said. “We’d have the odd squirrel or bird that wants their time to shine. But it was also charming and beautiful exploring areas I’d never seen before and essentially having the freedom to use whatever the forest had to offer.”

Scarpone added, “Found footage is featured in sections of the film, adding the characteristic element of being directly part of the action, keeping you on the edge of your seat.”

“Black Forest” is from Distant Field Productions. The 2015 film released at the Northern Frights Film Festival and won the Best Original Soundtrack award. It had a theatrical release across northern Ontario and has a DVD release forthcoming.

Ultimately what made “Black Forest” a success, to Scarpone, was the swiftly-paced story that drives the film. “The story being fast-paced without time for rest keeps the viewer engaged the whole way through,” he said. “The visuals and effects are also pretty good.”

Of his favorite part of participating on the project, Scarpone explained it was “working with everyone in the cast and crew and getting to enjoy the great outdoors of Ontario!”

It might not be the end though for “Black Forest” as Briggs teased: “A sequel might be in order.”

Check out the trailer on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/55137390

Follow “Black Forest” on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BlackForest

Prolific Dancer Brings all the right moves to A World Fit for Kids!

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Latoya Webley has for more than a decade been one of the world’s premier dancers. She has performed with star music artists including Rihanna, Drake and Shakira, and brings her expertise to noted organizations such as A World Fit for Kids!

 

Toronto-born dancer Latoya Webley has graced many of the world’s biggest stages and performed with superstars Rihanna, Drake, Shakira, the Black Eyed Peas and more over the last 16 years. She’s dispatched her outstanding concoction of dancehall, African, Soca, hip-hop and street jazz dance styles internationally, on tour and for music industry leading events including the Grammy Awards, BET Awards and Much Music Video Awards, to name a few. Webley’s dance career has been characterized by persisting success that’s spanned from North America to Asia, propelling her to a coveted position at the pinnacle of the industry in which many strive for and few achieve.

Webley’s indelible, sought after talent keeps her name rolling off the lips of artists, choreographers, decision makers and audiences aplenty. But there’s a lesser known chapter of her story that’s of essential importance to her career and journey as a dancer. Webley dedicates a segment of her craft in giving back through teaching, guiding, mentoring, inspiring and empowering youth through dance. She has the rare ability to make her moves move others.

The trend can be traced back to her own origins when Webley first began dancing and teaching at community centers around Toronto, including the East Scarborough Boys and Girls Club. And since 2013, she’s engaged the same for A World Fit for Kids! (WFIT), an afterschool expanded learning program based in Los Angeles.

For the community based non-profit, Webley teaches a dance program for Virgil Middle School students that’s complete with educating in fitness, health and nutrition.

WFIT program director Ian Keiller said, “We’re a community-based non-profit in the afterschool world. With the resources we have, to have that top notch talent, it’s very difficult. We felt honored to have someone of her caliber working with her our kids.”

Webley said, “These are all life skills. It’s not all just dance. It’s a fitness package. It’s a life package.”

Founded after the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, WFIT provides award-winning, daily programs at Title I schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where 84 percent of students come from economically disadvantaged homes, according to WFIT’s website. Programs are for students of every grade level in elementary, middle and high schools. Parents get in on the action too. Programs feature core areas of physical activity, nutrition, academics and mentoring.

The goal is to promote physical, mental and emotional wellness, and the goals have been met. WFIT received the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Gold Medal award and a National Community Leadership Award from the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.

CEO Normandie Nigh explains on WFIT’s website that WFIT has brought more than $46 million to underserved LA communities, served more than 300,000 children and young people, trained over 10,000 teachers and staff and employed more than 2,900 local community residents. WFIT has also trained more than 1,500 Nike employees as physical activity volunteer leaders and Community Ambassadors, as well as others in the U.K., Australia, Canada, France and South Korea.

“What I really like about World Fit is throughout the year we do various training that tackles different aspects of health and wellness,” said Webley, who more recently is participating with the program’s Nike training extension. “As much as people may think I know, I’m always a student and learning. They always have ongoing programs that inform us on what’s new and healthy, and what we should be doing. It’s not only for us to teach the kids, it’s also for our self-awareness.”

Webley developed the dance program that serves Virgil Middle School, located north of Koreatown. Her students undergo a training program to begin and rotate different activities for different days ranging from health, fitness and nutrition that each supplement dance instruction.

“We strive to improve kids’ grades, get them to build friendships, physically release energy and sharpen problem solving skills,” she said. “We demand that from them and they have to maintain grades to participate.”

The program, which runs throughout school years, draws student dancers of all skill levels from beginners to those experienced. Some go on to compete at dance events such as Beyond the Bell and Sharp International at Knott’s Berry Farm.

“There is an array of all skill levels, so we have to create a program that has balance,” said Webley. “We start off by assessing where the kids are at. We teach routines to them. The bulk of the routines are usually hip hop, but we incorporate other styles like dancehall, breaking, African, jazz and ballet. Aside from dancing, there’s also running and strength training. We incorporate elements of stretching, flexibility and acrobatics, and we encourage kids to participate in the dance teams at their schools.”

The WFIT dance team from Virgil Middle School is this year’s Beyond the Bell reigning champion.

“She’s got a great presence and rapport with kids,” Keiller said of Webley. “She was the right temperament for middle school. It’s a tough age group to reach.”

Webley has been serving in similar roles for years. She currently choreographs for the Los Angeles SparKids, the official kids dance team of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, along with dancer Brandee Evans. She has taught dance at the Osaka School of Music in Japan and conducted dance workshops at Osaka’s Myster Dance Studio, AX Dance studio, Alley Opp Dance Studio and the Unity Dance Studio in Hiroshima.

Webley’s music video debut came in Sean Paul’s “Temperature/Breakout” video in 2005. She danced in Rihanna’s first video, “Pon de Replay,” in Drake’s first video, “Replacement Girl” and in the Diddy, Lenny Kravitz, Pharrell Williams video, “Show Me Your Soul.”

Webley danced in many recurring performances with the internationally famed singer, Shakira, including her “She Wolf” promo tour, NBA All-Star Weekend performance, Yahoo and Clear Channel shows, on George Lopez Tonight, Good Morning America, The Late Show with David Letterman, So You Think You Can Dance (USA) and at the 2009 American Music Awards.

She has danced and toured with Kardinal Offishall, who opened in part of the 2005 50 Cent and G-Unit tour. Webley has also toured with Sean Paul, JoJo and Jamie Foxx in America, and with Destra Garcia in Trinidad and Tobago. While working in Japan, she danced at the 2009 Japan MTV Music Video Awards with the Black Eyed Peas.

This year, Webley danced in Rihanna’s smash hit video, “Work” featuring Drake, and she’s featured in a forthcoming Drake video that recently filmed. Last year, Webley danced in Will Smith and Bomba Estereo’s “Fiesta (remix)” video and at the Latin Grammy Awards with Fifth Harmony and Maluma.

Keiller credited Webley’s credentials as an asset to her work with WFIT and said the students “respond to people who really know what they’re talking about.”

It’s all collectively made for a positive experience that Webley helps cultivate.

“Her teams were always top notch, very organized and not only good performers, but a good group of kids,” said Keiller. “That stems from the leadership and the example she demonstrated. She was able to give them something to strive for to give them focus, keep them committed and set goals for themselves to strive to do their best.”

Moving With the Times: Canadian DP Colin Akoon

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Cinematographer Colin Akoon (center) tests the lighting on set

 

Following the progression of cinematography from 16mm to digital over dozens of years, the devoted award-winning cinematographer Colin Akoon not only keeps up with the art, he evolves with it. Originally from the suburbs of Toronto, Canada, Akoon’s love for movie making began at an early age, and the footage he has captured throughout his career has graced our screens with unforgettable, moving, and compelling images alike.

With a resume that is as diverse as it is extensive, Akoon has lent his talents to feature films, commercials, music videos and documentaries. His body of work includes the more poetic and eerie film “Incident(s) at Paradise Bay,” the hilarious Power Rangers’ spin-off “Space Riders: Division Earth,” the ever powerful and gripping “Together Alone.” He is even the eye behind international rap star Booba’s music video “Validee” featuring Benash, which takes viewers through Barrio Pablo Escobar, home of Colombia’s most violent and notorious drug lord, and much, much more.

Thinking back to the beginning of his career, Akoon recalls, “When I started in the camera department, there was no digital… Film cameras are simple; they’re just motors. They are highly precise motors, but they are motors nonetheless. There was only one factor that dictated the look of your image – what film stock you chose.”

In a world gone digital, Akoon realizes that the image is not dictated simply by lens and film selection, but frankly “a million electronic factors.” But this does not stop him; rather, it inspires him to use groundbreaking, top-of-the-line cameras to the absolute best of their abilities.

“I use the RED Epic [camera] often,” Akoon explains. “Not primarily for its inherent image quality, but more for its form factor and work flow design. It’s small and contained-no tethering to another recording device is necessary-  yet I can build it to suit on-the-shoulder hand held work. It easily rigs to any movement device…and it shoots RAW, digital cinematography’s answer to a ‘film negative’ like work flow.”

Akoon also brings up a fascinating point about on-set viewing of the images he captures: “When shooting film, no one on set has any idea what the image will look like but the cinematographer. The cinematographer had a lot of control in making sure the lab and daily colorist followed their instruction to achieve the desired look. But with digital, everyone from the producer to hair and makeup can see what the image actually looks like on set, so it’s important that the quality of the image they see is what you intended.”

Akoon understands the weighted value of live viewing image quality, and uses the technology built into the RED Epic to show the director and others on set what, in the past, would have just been up to him to process later on with negatives. Where he used to instruct very specific manipulations of negatives like underexposure with the intention to print up, pushing to create contrast and pulling to lower it, he now can use his artistically trained eye at point of impact and create a look similar to what he envisions in post production, while not affecting the RAW file itself. This often overlooked touch, while small, is critical to the success of the film, and because of Akoon’s understanding of cinema from the film days, he possesses a deeply rare and invaluable talent.

It is because of his on-set grace and this ability to translate images instantly that directors work with Akoon time after time again. In fact, after working with director Mateo Guez on on a music video entitled “Smokin’ Lounge” for acclaimed jazz performer Molly Johnson (which you can check out below), Guez approached Akoon again to work on another project- this time, a feature film called “Together Alone.”

 

 

This film, inspired by Shakespeare’s sonnets, did not strictly adhere to any one script or blueprint, but rather it evolved through improvisation and experimentation, and, as a result, the filmmaking process was an intimately creative experience. With a limited crew and no camera assistant, Akoon valiantly undertook the project.

He recalls, “The process of making this film was very organic. Almost nothing was preconceived. Not a frame of this film was storyboarded. Every creative decision was made on set, in the moment.” A cinematographer without Akoon’s highly refined skill set would never have been able to capture the essence of this film.

Aside from being able to think quickly and creatively on his feet,  it is also where he places the camera itself that separates Akoon from the pack. He even admits, “As much as I enjoy lighting, and sculpting the image in shadow, camera placement is the most important aspect of my cinematography. Where you place the camera is literally where you put the audience for that moment in the story.”

He demonstrates his uniquely stylistic camera placement beautifully in the thriller “The Body Tree”, which has also been among his most challenging projects. The film follows a group of American youths to an isolated estate in Siberia, where they plan to honor their recently murdered friend, until they discover that the murderer may, in fact, be one of them.  While the story is not overly original, Akoon tells the story cinematically in such a way where viewers have truly witnessed the revolution of the cabin in the woods horror cliche into a tactfully maneuvered character piece.

Good work, of course, doesn’t come without its own set of challenges, but Akoon excels in problem solving, and often his solution to problems that arise with a shot leave audiences with images more stunning than if everything had gone as planned.

Thinking back upon the challenged faced while filming “The Body Tree,” Akoon recalls, “We lost quite a few key locations, both during pre-production and throughout production. The schedule was very tight and more than half of our script was night exteriors. On top of that, we had a cast of almost a dozen actors, that’s a lot of coverage to accomplish in a short number of days.”

Akoon met this challenge with great victory, leaning into the character development aspect of the film, giving the director a final project sure to impress and captivate audiences for years.

To this end, the relationship that Akoon builds with each director is individualized and tailored in a way not all cinematographers in the industry can offer. Truly staying in the mindset that nurturing the relationship with the director is where a cinematographer should spend most of their time has paid off for Akoon, as he typically works multiple times for directors who are impressed with his modesty.  

FDirector Chris Macari, for example, has worked with Akoon on three music videos for international rap star Booba; “Validee,” the first video shot of the three, has over 11 million hits on YouTube.  While on location in Columbia, Akoon noticed many locals hanging around the location and watching the shoot.  A good cinematographer will find a way to use use what the location gives naturally to boost and enhance the credibility of the project, and that is just what Colin Akoon did. “Chris ended up using a lot of that footage in the cut,” he recalls, “and it gives the sequence this authenticity, realism and danger that sets the stage for the rest of the video.” Any other cinematographer may have simply overlooked the value of these potential shots, and the outcome of the final product would have been left craving something more.

Akoon believes that a cinematographer must learn how they fit into a director’s process and adaptation and that over time, the synergy makes him a better cinematographer. “As a result,” he admits, “the cinematographer is only as good as the directors they are working with.” Likening the director’s job to weaving a complex and detailed quilt, Akoon explains that “ I believe that nurturing the relationship with the director is where a cinematographer should spend most of their time. It’s important as a cinematographer to be aware of where you best fit into that fabric.”

Perhaps these views have helped to opened creative doors for Akoon, as he has been able to work with friends professionally on many projects. One particular project, “The Incident(s) at Paradise Bay,” grips audiences with linguistic and visual storytelling alike. Captivating from the very first moment, the film, which is loosely based on the controversy surrounding disciplinary academies like Tranquility Bay in Jamaica, explores the ethics of their practices and intrinsically begs the moral question: were the procedures adopted by these type of institutions successful, or were they simply just abusive?

While the story itself is an interesting one, it truly is the remarkable camerawork that makes this piece so memorable. Raw and yet elegantly framed, Akoon puts viewers barefoot in a cage on a shore with the captives; with beautifully balanced handheld shots, he makes us forget we are watching a film, and with sparingly used zoom techniques, he bookends the film in an unpredictably foreshadowing twist of cinematic genius.

All in all, Akoon’s collaborative mindset and his seemingly limitless technical and creative skill combined with his understanding of the industry has made him the highly sought after cinematographer he is today.

“I love the energy you receive working with other people,” says Akoon. “You feed off of the other’s creative energies. I love that our creativity is about building upon other’s creations. A film is a living animal, listen to it. It will tell you what it really wants when you least expect it.”